My 2017 players to watch in review: Sydney Swans to Western Bulldogs

Anna Pavlou Roar Rookie

By Anna Pavlou, Anna Pavlou is a Roar Rookie

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    In the 2017 pre-season I picked three players per club to preview for the upcoming season – now I’m looking back at how they did, and grading their performance. Today I’m looking at the Sydney Swans, West Coast Eagles and Western Bulldogs.

    Sydney Swans

    What I said: At only 20 years of age, Isaac Heeney has quickly established himself as part of the Swans strong midfield.

    His 2016 finals series was exceptional. His ability to hurt teams on the scoreboard increases his value. He is strong with great pace. This is his year to step up and become an elite versatile midfielder.

    How he really performed: Young Heeney worked hard in 2017, averaging 20.6 disposals, four more than his 2016 average. His immense defensive pressure earned him a 4.7 tackle average and cemented his spot in the strong midfield.

    Dealing also with Glandular fever, Heeney sped to recovery and still dominated when the Swans needed him most. He should be congratulated on his hard grind in 2017 to maintain his high level of football.

    Rating: B+

    Isaac Heeney Sydney Swans AFL 2017

    (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

    What I said: Aliir Aliir had a breakout season in 2016, starring in defence in the second half of the season.

    He showed his amazing intercept marking and ability to read the game while playing shut down roles on key opposition forwards. In 2017, Aliir should look to become a consistent reliable attacking defender.

    How he really performed: Unfortunately was injury-ridden throughout the 2017 season. Aliir played only three matches for the season. Hamstring and soft tissue issues evidently held Aliir back. Was dropped from the Swans Round 7 team for failing to attend training.

    Rating: E

    What I said: Callum Mills. The 2016 Rising Star starred in defence showing the maturity and confident of a well-seasoned veteran. Will he be used to boost the midfield in 2017?

    After a very promising 2016, the football world belongs to him. He will show us why he deserves the same respect in 2017.

    How he really performed: Mills was vital as a small defender again for the Swans. He lead from the front when the Swans needed him most, therefore cementing his spot in the team.

    He averaged 17 disposals, with his best game seeing him collect 26 disposals and nine marks. Overall, Mills emerged as a young leader and confirmed his position on the half-back line.

    Rating: B

    West Coast Eagles

    What I said: Luke Shuey. Won the best and fairest last season and proved to everyone how elite he has become.

    Shuey has impeccable vision and a great ability to break the lines and tackle ferociously. This year, Shuey is expected to keep up the high standard he set and will work hard again to play a key role in 2017.

    How he really performed: Shuey averaged 26.3 disposals in 2017, a career high. He used his agility and strength to burst out of packs and dominate not only in the centre, but in front of goal too.

    Ranked second in tackles for the Eagles also. He dominated in the elimination final against Port Adelaide with 32 disposals, 11 tackles and two goals, rounding off his 2017 season in style.

    Rating: A

    Luke Shuey West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    What I said: Jeremy McGovern, who won an All Australian spot last year, had a great year in defence for the Eagles.

    A great intercept mark and strong in the contest, McGovern will prove himself yet again as an asset to a changing Eagles side. 2017 should be a year for McGovern to continue to grow as a footballer.

    How he really performed: McGovern took on 2017 with confidence, averaging 16.7 disposals, an improvement from 2016. He stabilised himself as a key defender, taking on some of the games best forwards over the year.

    McGovern also proved himself a swingman, using his skills up forward kicking 10 goals. Selected again in the All-Australian backline, there is no doubt McGovern lived up to his hype.

    Rating: A

    What I said: Nathan Vardy has only played 25 games in the past five seasons due to persistent injuries and hasn’t had a proper opportunity to showcase his talents in the AFL.

    A strong mark, he can play alongside Drew Petrie and rotate through the ruck. A steady kick and a fair play reader, Vardy has a massive opportunity at the Eagles.

    Is he the key forward/ruckman replacement for the injured Naitanui? Will he live up to the hype put on him at Geelong, and will his body pull through?

    How he really performed: Nathan Vardy rediscovered himself as a first ruckman, who was versatile up forward too.

    Playing all 23 games in 2017 (almost as many as he played at Geelong over 5 seasons), Vardy became vital for the Eagles averaging 22.5 hit outs per game, as well as kicking 10 goals.

    His ability to play low saw him lay 64 tackles and proved Vardy’s worth after being traded by Geelong the year before.

    Rating: A+

    Western Bulldogs

    What I said: After a break out year in 2015, Tory Dickson proved he belongs in the AFL. An accurate kick in front of goal, Dickson has the ability to hurt teams on the scoreboard, while also applying defensive pressure.

    It is almost forgotten that he can play on a wing, and can be used providing strong run and attack on the ball.

    Dickson has much to prove in 2017 to maintain his spot as an important forward. Needs to kick at least 35 goals if he wishes to stay on top of a young Dogs side who have to show why they deserve success again.

    How he really performed: In his return to senior football in Round 9 against the Cats, Dickson laid a season-high seven tackles. However, the premiership player only played nine games in season 2017, with ‘niggles back and forth’ restraining him from full-time football.

    Dickson did however collect over 70 per cent of his possessions in the midfield this season, up from 56 per cent in 2016 and kicked 11 goals in less than ten games.

    Rating: C

    What I said: Early in 2016 Jake Stringer was being compared to some of the great forwards of the game, however dropped off as the season continued and struggled to maintain his consistency eventually being dropped eventually returning to play his part in the Grand Final win.

    Stringer is a trusty kick in front of goal, reads the play extremely well and finds space. The only question is his focus and hunger for the game, which he must show in 2017.

    How he really performed: Started the season well, however fell away when the Dogs needed him most. Played 16 games and kicked 24 goals, equalling Liam Picken as the top Bulldog scorer of 2017.

    Stringer did not dominate like previous years, only averaging 12.4 disposals as compared to the 14 he averaged in 2016. The obvious distraction from off-field issues proved costly. However, now a Bomber, Stringer has a serious chance at redemption.

    Rating: D

    Jake Stringer Western Bulldogs AFL 2017

    (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    What I said: Clay Smith had a standout 2016 finals series as he proved how his defensive pressure added another element to his game as a forward and midfielder.

    A good, confident, run and carry player with great vision puts Smith up there with the best players at the club.

    2017 will be another big year and he needs to maintain his work efforts to repeat his 2016 performance.

    How he really performed: Clay Smith, who played eight games in 2017, injured his calf in Round 9 and was sidelined for three weeks. Smith did not return to AFL level until round 16. The remainder of his season (minus AFL game in Round 20) was played out in the VFL. 

    It was a downgrade from his burst of 2016, dropping from his average of 14.9 disposals, to a mere 11.5 this season, however Smith took some positives from his year, with a four-goal haul in Round 7 against Richmond.

    Rating: C+

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • December 17th 2017 @ 5:02am
      Mattyb said | December 17th 2017 @ 5:02am | ! Report

      Dicksons drop off in form,granted mainly due to injury problems,was a contributing factor to the dogs epic fall from grace. Giving him a C is setting the bar awfully low.
      Clay Smith returned from pre season unfit and never contributed at all,including his games at VFL level,only ever playing seniors due to other players being injured. He did perform serviceably in the VFL finals though giving some hope for next year. A C+ sets no bar at all,Smith was a clear an F as you’ll ever see.

    • December 17th 2017 @ 11:06am
      Mattician6x6 said | December 17th 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

      Can’t disagree with those wce ratings, shuey is an absolute bull and can change the course of a game in one quarter, with the return of natanui I expect to see his game go up a notch next year. Vards was exceptional and would expect him to get first crack at being second ruck this year, and what can we say about gov other than freo missed out big time.

    • December 17th 2017 @ 5:44pm
      Slane said | December 17th 2017 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

      Well done on this series, Anna. Much respect for anybody who holds themselves accountable!

    • December 17th 2017 @ 7:04pm
      Lroy said | December 17th 2017 @ 7:04pm | ! Report

      Yes great stuff. No question Shuey is a good player, what they have needed is another couple to step up to take the pressure of him, no Shuey no Eagles was the midfield mantra a few years ago.

      So if Yeo slips into the midfield and Duggan can lift a notch to join Redden and Sheed the Eagles all of a sudden have a pretty good looking midfield.

      Redden was great toward the end of last year, Sheed has been a find since day one but has had some injuries of late, so if they all can stay healthy I expect good things from the blue and gold in 2018

    • December 18th 2017 @ 1:22pm
      Doctor Rotcod said | December 18th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

      Redden finally justified his pick last half of last year.Seemed to become more fearless in his approach to the ball and as a result his disposal got better,probably because he had more time/space to deliver
      McGovern would like to ruck as well,so I hear so he’d be the triple threat.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 18th 2017 @ 2:01pm
      WCE said | December 18th 2017 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

      nice one about boots (Shuey) he deserves all the accolades he gets. Cant wait for Nic Nat to smack the ball down the throat of the WCE mids then onto the chest of legend JK.
      In my opinion Aliir at Sydney was one of the worst performers of the year and must be on the cusp of being shown the door.

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