For the past two years I have compiled a list of players who I believed were poised to break out into the type of players your chosen team could count on to perform every week.
The basis of the analysis was that each player had less than 30 games of AFL experience. My last two editions have provided some booms and busts, so let’s do it all over again. This is part one. Parts two and three will follow over the next week.
Adelaide Crows: Wayne Milera
Last year I also nominated Milera. I feel as though I may have missed how dominant Adelaide would be during the home-and-away season, which therefore saw role players like Milera doing exactly that – playing a minor but pivotal role.
Season 2018, especially with Adelaide’s loss of dash in Charlie Cameron, looms as a big one for Milera. He was highly touted when Adelaide used their first pick on him, and it appears that expectations will be higher than ever three preseasons into his career.
His ability to hit the outside of the contest at top speed and burst away is something that Adelaide will utilise a lot this year, and I expect him to improve in all facets of his game.
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Brisbane Lions: Alex Witherden
Its hard to go past Witherden here, the boy from Geelong who started his career in Round 14 this year and quickly became one of the hottest rookies in the game. Playing across half-back, he showed a brilliant mix of aggression and poise and entrusted his right boot to hit targets in dangerous areas of the ground. In just his second AFL game he racked up 29 touches, and two games later he was awarded a rising star nomination.
He finds himself under the tutelage of one of the games most respected defensive midfielders of all time in Luke Hodge, so I’m expecting his natural progression to carry him further into AFL relevance this campaign.
Carlton Blues: Charlie Curnow
Carlton once had an AFL cult hero and extraordinary talent in Anthony Koutoufides, and those of us who have kept a close eye on young Charlie Curnow know that he’s not too dissimilar to the great man.
A powerfully built young star who has natural explosive power and general running ability and capacity, he’s a pinch hitter who can run the midfield and then proceed to go one out deep in the forward line like our games champions Dustin Martin, Patrick Dangerfield and Nat Fyfe.
Given Carlton will likely miss out on the finals again this year, this 27-game player is the sort fans need as a bright light in dark times.
Fremantle Dockers: Sean Darcy
Darcy was another player who at the end of last year benefited from the injuries of those above him, and while he is the understudy of one of this decade’s most dominant big men in Aaron Sandilands, he is now 35 and feeling the pinch.
While he may not feature in every game, he has raw potential to become a dominant tap winner. His frame is massive, and at 19 he was bullying some of the game’s most seasoned campaigners. The 2018 season may not be a big one, but Fremantle fans could see their big man for next ten to 12 years begin to flourish.
Essendon Bombers: Andrew McGrath
The Bombers’ lack of depth of players below 30 games is somewhat surprising, which is why I’ve settled with last year’s rising star winner Andrew McGrath. McGrath proved his class by being drafted number one and then justifying his pick. His ability to switch between defence and midfield is first class and his willingness to compete and win the ball is admirable.
He had games last year where he accumulated more football, but his job on Eddie Betts late in the year was a performance that even the best lockdown defenders would be incapable of. The ability to nullify Eddie’s impact went a long way to keeping the Bombers within touching distance a red-hot Adelaide outfit. He meets Eddie again on the second night of the season, so we can measure up his performance and look forward to his 2018 season.
Collingwood Magpies: Matthew Scharenberg
The Pies have been crying out for a dominant key position player for years, and while Scharenberg has certainly made them wait, at least he has provided a sliver of hope.
During his junior years in South Australia many of the state’s most informed voices penned Scharenberg as perhaps one of the most precocious talents the state had ever produced. Mark Williams was quoted as saying that he was the best schoolboy talent he had seen since Wayne Carey, so it was easy to understand why Pies fans were thrilled when Scharenberg landed in their lap at pick six in the 2013 draft.
Years of foot and knee issues have restricted Scharenberg to only 14 games, but when he strung ten together at the end of last year it was clear that the talent is still there. He averaged 20 touches and eight marks at centre half back, providing just a glimmer of what could be possible for him in season 2018.