The AFL’s rising stars: Your team’s breakout candidate in 2017

Maddy Friend Columnist

By Maddy Friend, Maddy Friend is a Roar Expert


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    With less than one week to go until the start of the AFL season proper, here’s one player from each team who could be set for a breakout year.

    Adelaide – Curtly Hampton
    In his 51 games for GWS, Hampton showed glimpses of talent but failed to crack a regular spot in a talent-laden side. The Giants were flush for running half-backs and speedy utilities, so Hampton sought a move to the Crows at the end of 2015.

    His first year in Adelaide began in underwhelming fashion, with injury keeping him out of action until midway through the season. He made his SANFL debut in Round 15, playing every game thereafter and working his way into some good form, averaging 17 disposals per game as he played off both half-back and through the middle.

    Hampton took this good form into the JLT series, where he played every game and ranked second in the competition for total pressure acts, with 67, as well as fourth for goal assists and sixth for score assists. He was also third at the Crows for contested possessions and second for clearances.

    The recent spate of injuries to Adelaide’s key midfielders is likely to see half-back Rory Laird spend more time in the middle – his recent good form should see Hampton establish himself in a half-back role while also pushing up onto a wing.

    Brisbane – Jake Barrett
    Another GWS offcast, Barrett came to the Lions at the end of 2016 in search of more opportunities after playing only one game in his time at GWS, despite excellent form in the NEAFL and a knack for accumulating contested possessions.

    Barrett played mainly as a small forward in the JLT series, a role he could make his own given Brisbane’s dearth of options in that position.

    He found a bit of the ball and looked lively, and has the class to become a regular AFL player. He is a rookie so will need to be elevated to play senior footy, but that should be a mere formality given the talent he brings to a list crying out for more class.

    Carlton – Ciaran Sheehan
    Since being drafted by Carlton in 2014 as a Category B rookie, Sheehan’s career has been cruelled by injury. He’s been restrict to just four senior games, the last of those coming in his debut year.

    Injury concerns last year meant he played only four VFL games, but he displayed encouraging form, using his trademark pace off half-back and developing his consistency.

    Sheehan showed enough in his AFL outings to suggest that, if he can get his body right, he could be the ideal replacement for Zach Tuohy off half-back – Sheehan plays in a similar style to his compatriot, and his pace is a real point of difference at Carlton, so opportunities beckon.

    Collingwood – Tom Phillips
    Phillips made his debut last year in the big Queen’s Birthday clash against Melbourne and looked like he belonged at the level, collecting 15 disposals. He went on to play six senior games for the year, averaging 17 disposals, 5.5 marks and 2.8 tackles, and was ranked 10th in the competition in goal assists per game.

    His final two games, against Gold Coast in Round 22 and Hawthorn in Round 23, were particularly impressive – he gathered 47 disposals, 14 marks and seven tackles.

    Phillips played all three JLT games and impressed with his ability to win the ball. His elite endurance and ball-winning ability should see him be given plenty of time in Collingwood’s engine room/half-forward flank

    Essendon – Darcy Parish
    This may seem like a strange selection given the excellent form Parish displayed in his rookie season, but I’m tipping him to have an even better season this year as he receives some much-needed midfield support from the returning banned Bombers.

    In a team that finished on the bottom of the ladder with a cobbled-together midfield, Parish played 20 games and averaged 21 disposals, three marks and three tackles per game. Firmly establishing himself as a best-22 player.

    With the likes of Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell and Travis Colyer set to return, Parish may play more as a forward this season, but should continue his development alongside the senior players.

    Fremantle – Darcy Tucker
    A beneficiary of Ross Lyon’s newfound strategy of getting games into his team’s young players, Tucker played 12 games in his debut season and looked composed and assured off half-back, averaging 15 disposals, three marks and four tackles.

    He finished the season on a strong note in Round 23 against the Western Bulldogs when he gathered 22 disposals, six marks and four tackles. He played all three JLT games and acquitted himself well.

    With defender Tommy Sheridan looking set for a move to the midfield this season, Tucker has the chance to establish himself as one of Fremantle’s first-choice running defenders.

    Geelong – Nakia Cockatoo
    Cockatoo showed glimpses of his prodigious talent last year, playing ten games predominantly as a small forward. In that role, he averaged 12 possessions, three marks, four tackles and one goal per game. Were it not for injuries and suspension, he likely would have played more games.

    Cockatoo was in excellent form in the JLT series, playing mainly through the midfield where his pace and class were obvious assets. He looks set for much more midfield time this season, and with the chance to ply his trade in the Cats’ engine room, I’m backing him to have a stellar year.

    Gold Coast – Jack Martin
    After several seasons hampered by injury, Martin showed in 2016 why he could develop into one of the AFL’s best players. The pacey utility played 21 games, averaging 16 disposals, six marks and four tackles, but what was most impressive was his ability to influence games, with the flashes of brilliance he displayed in previous seasons becoming more and more frequent.

    He began the season in the forward line but shifted to defence to cover for the Suns’ injury crisis, where his poise and excellent disposal efficiency were on display for all to see. His ability to play all over the ground will be a definite advantage, and after a good JLT series, Martin looks set to take his game to a new level in 2017.

    GWS – Jonathan Patton
    Much like Martin, 2016 was Patton’s most consistent year yet, playing 23 games and kicking 38 goals, including four in the preliminary final loss to the Bulldogs. Alongside fellow spearhead Jeremy Cameron, Patton established himself as one of the best young key forwards in the competition and showed his competitive nature in spades.

    He showed excellent form in the JLT series, and if he can lift his goal average from 1.6 in 2016 to around 2.5, Patton could be in the top handful of key forwards at season’s end.

    Jon Patton GWS Giants AFL 2016 tall

    Hawthorn – Teia Miles
    If Miles’ form in the JLT series is anything to go by, he looks set for a good year in 2017. Yet to make his AFL debut, Miles was solid in the VFL last year, with his speed and ability to find the footy both excellent assets. In typical Hawthorn fashion, he is also a precise kick.

    Miles’ ability to play all over the ground, which he has shown in the JLT series, will be a definite asset for the Hawks this year.

    Melbourne – Christian Petracca
    After two years in the AFL system, Petracca finally looks ready to take the competition by storm in 2017. He played well in his three games across the JLT series, playing through the midfield while also pushing into the forward line.

    His toughness around the ball and ability to impact games will be a vital asset to Melbourne’s finals push this year. The fact Petracca averaged 17 disposals and kicked 12 goals in 17 games playing as a half-forward shows just how high his ceiling is – with more midfield time beckoning in 2017, the youngster looks set for a stellar year.

    North Melbourne – Mason Wood
    About to enter his fifth season in the AFL, Wood showed enough in his eight games last year – averaging 14 disposals and five marks per game and kicking 12 goals – to suggest he is set for an excellent 2017.

    Wood’s early career has been beset by injury, and another injury in the first JLT game will set his year back a few weeks. Wood has the endurance to play on the wing, but as a lead-up third tall forward, he is also a point of difference for North Melbourne’s tall-heavy forward line, and if fit will get plenty of opportunities this season.

    Port Adelaide – Logan Austin
    There was no standout contender for Port Adelaide for this list, but I like the look of Logan, and based on his form last year, when he played as a tall defender and averaged eight disposals and three marks per game, he looks likely to consolidate his spot in the team this year.

    Most pleasingly for Port Adelaide, he was ranked second in the competition for one-percenters per game, averaging nine per game.

    Richmond – Toby Nankervis
    Nankervis played well in his three JLT games, and with injury to Shaun Hampson and the departure of Ty Vickery to Hawthorn, he’s a lock for the Tigers’ number one ruck spot this season.

    Nankervis displayed good form in his limited opportunities at Sydney (12 games in three years), and with a starting position guaranteed each week, he should only get better this year.

    St Kilda – Jack Steele
    Despite limited opportunities in his time at GWS, Steele showed his ability to rack up possessions, as well as demonstrating\ his hardness around the ball in the NEAFL.

    His JLT form was excellent – after limited game time against Port Adelaide in the first round, he amassed 53 disposals and 20 tackles in the final two games. His strengths will complement the Saints’ on-ball brigade well, and he looks set for a big year as a best-22 player.


    Sydney – Zak Jones
    Given Jones played 16 games last year, averaging 15 disposals and three tackles, you could argue that 2016 was his breakout year. However, with Sydney keen to play Callum Mills more as a midfielder this year, there is an opportunity for Jones to make the running defender role his own. If he can continue his good JLT form in the 2017 season, he looks set to consolidate the gains he made last year.

    West Coast – Elliot Yeo
    This may seem a strange nomination given Yeo has now played 84 games and been in the system for five years, but his continuing development over the past few years indicates this could be the year that Yeo really establishes himself as one of the competition’s best midfielders.

    He was in good form for the Eagles in the JLT series, and there’s no reason he can’t continue that form into the season proper. His ability to find the ball as a big-bodied midfielder should be an important asset for the Eagles this season.

    Western Bulldogs – Marcus Adams
    Adams played 11 games in his debut year in 2016 before being struck down by injury, and the mature-aged recruit looked right at home in the Bulldogs’ backline. His size and competitive nature complement the Bulldogs’ fleet of smaller, running defenders, and with the departure of Joel Hamling to Fremantle, Adams looks set to make the key defensive post his own this year.

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    The Crowd Says (36)

    • March 20th 2017 @ 9:19am
      Macca said | March 20th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Bold choice in Sheehan for the blues – not saying he doesn’t have the talent and he should get some opportunity but until Buckley got injured against the saints he was looking the favourite to take Touhy’s spot in defence and the addition of Marchbank also makes things pretty crowded down back.

      I would think one of Charlie Curnow, Marchbank, Pickett or even a Cuningham might be more likely but I like the way you are willing to look beyond the obvious.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 9:18pm
        Steve009 said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:18pm | ! Report

        Hey Macca, when Buckley put together that string of consistent, impressive games, kicking a few goals in the second half of the season (maybe middle of) was he playing as a half forward or running off the half back flank?

        It’s hard to tell listening to the radio sometimes what position they’re actually playing.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:10am
          Macca said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

          Steve – I don’t have pay TV either so I was listening to the radio a fair bit last year as well (outside of the ABC radio callers seem to have forgotten it is radio and spend all of the time on “analysis” and no time telling you where the ball actually is) but it was probably a bit of both but I think he works best when he just has to run forward off the back flank. Before his injury he had apparently been super impressive in the pre-season so hopefully he can get picked today and make the spot his own.

    • March 20th 2017 @ 9:31am
      Birdman said | March 20th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      Good read Maddy, but I’d have Kade Stewart well in front of Miles as the Hawks’ breakout candidate – he had an exceptional JLT series and looks versatile enough for a number of positions.

      • Roar Guru

        March 20th 2017 @ 11:59am
        Peppsy said | March 20th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        I’d have either Kade Stewart or Ryan Burton

        • March 20th 2017 @ 2:32pm
          Brian said | March 20th 2017 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

          I would think Burton. I have not seen it yet with Kade Stewart. Hope to be proven wrong but we might struggle if he is in the 22.

          • March 20th 2017 @ 4:18pm
            Birdman said | March 20th 2017 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

            Burton already has massive expectations which I think he will meet over time even if he did have an underwhelming JLT series.

            For mine, Stewart was the guy who really put up his hand during preseason but whether he gets his chance in Round 1 will depend on how he fits into the 22.

            Can see him playing as a small forward who helps out in the midfield.

            • March 20th 2017 @ 5:41pm
              Brian said | March 20th 2017 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

              We hardly need any more forwards. Already Sicily looks like he will play back with Rough & even Breust spending more time in the middle then in previous years. We need midfielders

              • March 21st 2017 @ 1:08pm
                FARMER said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

                Stewart in and under midfielder ..You heard it here first..

        • March 20th 2017 @ 3:24pm
          Nineteen said | March 20th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

          Agreed – Kade Stewart is a hard nut.

          All the talk last year was around Kieran Lovell and how he was Mitchell-esque but the way he would tackle and not back down from his encounters made me think that he had the inner fire to drive it hard.

    • March 20th 2017 @ 9:36am
      Birdman said | March 20th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      I understand Jake Barrett is Luke Breust’s cousin – could well be an excellent pick-up by the Lions.

      • March 20th 2017 @ 9:37am
        Macca said | March 20th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        It is worth remembering that Matthew Watson was Steve Allessio’s nephew.

      • March 20th 2017 @ 10:38am
        andyincanberra said | March 20th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Also Trent Barrett’s second cousin. Not a bad pedigree.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 1:05pm
        FARMER said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

        With Trent Barrett NSW and Aussie NRL star as his uncle, he`s got some good pedigree there.

    • Roar Guru

      March 20th 2017 @ 10:00am
      Steve J said | March 20th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      Not sure about Tucker being the break out choice

      Personally I think it’ll be Cam McCarthy, if he applies to the break out criteria – 21 games to date, 21 years old and only 36 career goals (roughly same age / games as Jack Steele)

      The other bold choice, given Tucker played 12 games last year and was one of the finds for Freo, would be Sean Darcy. There are big wraps on Darcy already down at Freo and with Zac Clarke out if Griffen or Sandi get injured then this kid will be promoted.

      Another player already making an impact is Luke Strnadica. A rookie player but is already being mentioned as competing with Apeness and Taberner for the tall forward spot if Kersten doesn’t take his opportunity.

    • March 20th 2017 @ 10:22am
      Bored said | March 20th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      On Ciaran Sheehan, I would not mention him because he may not play this season. He has a damaged ACL and might only be in a position to play on the back half of the season.

      Breakout year for the Bluebaggers, look at Pickett, Marchbank, Petrovski-Seton, Curnow and McCreadie.

      Long shot at breakouts are Boekhorst, McKay, Jack Silvagni, Buckley and really, really long and on his last chance, Jaksh.

      • March 20th 2017 @ 10:33am
        Macca said | March 20th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

        Bored – wrong Ciaran – you are thinking about Byrne.

        On Jaksch he has managed 7 goals from his 2 practice matches so far and he is only 22, I agree it is a long shot but stranger things have happened.

        I don’t see McCreadie as much of a chance for a breakout this year simply given, hi age the position he plays and the competition for it – if I was going to pick one of our later picks to have the most impact it would be Williamson but would be happy for him to just have solid form in the VFL.

      • March 20th 2017 @ 10:43am
        Bored said | March 20th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        Forget to mention Pat Kerr. Keep an eye out for him, could set it alight this season as the chances will be there.

        On Jaksh – he has been at the club for two years and done sweet bupkus. The practice matches he has scored a couple of goals was in the VFL, not in the AFL. Big step up my friend. I would be expecting him to be shown the door in September. He has the next five odd months to save him career.

        Liam Jones – gone. It would take a deal with Beelzebub to surrender his soul for eternity to save his neck now.

        Yes, have heard about Williamson also. He could be a goer.

        • March 20th 2017 @ 5:16pm
          Macca said | March 20th 2017 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

          Bored – it will be interesting to see how Kerr goes early on in the VFL – as you say there is a spot there for someone to grab.

          On Jaksch he might have been on the list for 2 years but he was far too light when he got here – I am not saying he will make it this year or that he won’t be gone at years end – I just wouldn’t write him off. Kicking goals in the VFL is a good start.

    • Roar Guru

      March 20th 2017 @ 11:23am
      Paul D said | March 20th 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

      Haven’t seen Hampton this season for the Crows but it would be a tremendous turnaround if he was to have a breakout year this season – at times in recent years he has rivalled only Harley Bennell for converting prodigious talent into meagre results.

      Barrett will get plenty of opportunities as a small forward given we finally got rid of Josh Green but playing as a small forward in the Lions forward line will be a very tough spot to ply his trade. Will need to have good game awareness and crumbing abilities to go well, and work hard on his defensive game.

      Cockatoo needs to improve his decision making and mental agility before he has a breakout year. He wasn’t up to the pace of the game last season and it was fairly obvious this was the case.

      Did Martin really play 21 games last year? Wow. Hopefully he keeps that going, Gold Coast could use a break on the injury front. At some point it’s either bad luck or bad management and I rather suspect it’s the latter.

      Yeo needs Simpson to stop using him as his gopher. Spent most of last year plugging holes all over the ground and would benefit from having his magnet superglued to the whiteboard for a few games. Aside from that he is a prodigious talent, the closest thing to Luke Parker the Weagles have got.

      Always interesting to see which unheralded players end a season front and centre. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a few names from this list.

      • March 20th 2017 @ 2:42pm
        Jest said | March 20th 2017 @ 2:42pm | ! Report

        Interesting pick Barrett for Brisbane, I think it shows why they are still on the rebuild, that a bloke they traded in last year is in this conversation.

        Another article on this site suggested that 3rd year players are where they “break out” should happen, for Brisbane I think this would be Harris Andrews if he hasn’t had a breakout season already I would definitely tip him for this year. I can’t even think who else was picked up in that draft?

        Fortunately it looks better for coming years, I can’t wait to see Hipwood’s breakout year, he probably needs 1 or 2 more preseasons, but I think he’s going to be good.

        • March 20th 2017 @ 2:55pm
          Macca said | March 20th 2017 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

          “Another article on this site suggested that 3rd year players are where they “break out” should happen” If this is the case the Blues have Marchbank, Pickett and Boekhorst in that bracket – if we get “breakout” years from all 3 (or just the first 2) it will be a pretty good year.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 9:34pm
            Steve009 said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

            Boekhurst during last year’s pre season looked ready to have his breakout year, but got injured if I remember correctly.

            It would be nice to get some sort of return from either he or Jaksh since we traded away the draft pick that could have netted us two metre Peter. Out of all the Malthouse deals, for the moment, I think that is one that hurt us most.

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:14am
              Macca said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

              Yeah there was a lot of talk about Bolton turning Boekhorsts career around (which was a bit rich given he had only played 1 season) in last years pre-season but he had a hamstring injury then a hand injury from memory which saw him miss from round 3 to 18.

              I don’t really want to think about missing Wright thanks.

        • March 20th 2017 @ 6:28pm
          1der said | March 20th 2017 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

          Think Cutler will be the break out player for the Lions. Was in for a good year until injured early last season.