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Four unsung matchwinners in the preliminary finals

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20th September, 2018
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When it comes to the business end of the season, AFL sides can often rely on their stars to shine as they chase premiership glory.

But as is so often the case, it’s a team’s lesser lights who a premiership dream can often rely on.

Pundits across the competition often suggest reigning premiers Richmond’s bottom six are the best in the competition – hence their place as the premiership favourites with just four clubs remaining in 2018.

However, each side has a player who could potentially steal the headlines with a stunning performance.

Collingwood: Josh Thomas
The Pies could have quite easily let Josh Thomas have drifted into the wilderness when he was handed a drug ban in 2015, but they would certainly be glad they didn’t with the 26-year-old now repaying the faith.

After being limited to just nine games in 2017, Thomas has enjoyed a career-best season in 2018 playing all 24 of Collingwood’s games.

While he has demonstrated an ability to go through the midfield, it is in the forward half of the ground where Thomas has been at his most damaging.

In his 24 matches, Thomas has kicked 38 goals – a personal tally which smashes his previous personal best of 11 in his debut year.

More importantly, he has shown an ability to hit the scoreboard in droves with the Queenslander having kicked more than three goals in a game on six occasions this season.

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If he gets off the chain on Friday night against the Tigers he may be difficult to stop.

Melbourne: Charlie Spargo
In his first season at the Demons, Charlie Spargo has made the small forward position his own confining the experienced Jeff Garlett to the VFL for much of the season.

Previously we have seen the biggest stage get to some of the game’s youngsters, but last Friday night against Hawthorn, 18-year-old Spargo rose to the challenge.

While Spargo was more than handy in the offensive side of the game, finishing the night with 12 disposals, three tackles, two goals and seven score involvements it was his defensive pressure which stood out.

After the match, Spargo was singled out for praise by coach Simon Goodwin for his defensive efforts and if he brings a similar level of pressure against West Coast then he may force mistakes which could become crucial.

Richmond: Jack Higgins
Jack Higgins already stole the headlines against the Pies earlier with a goal of the year contender and he may well do so again on Friday night.

Like the aforementioned Spargo, Higgins has certainly not looked out of place in a finals atmosphere.

In his finals debut, Higgins finished with 20 disposals and one goal finishing with the quite impact.
Higgins’ disposal was arguably at the highest level it has been in the qualifying final with the first-year player delivering the ball to his teammates at a high level.

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Given his ability to make things happen out of nothing, we may well see Higgins produce a moment of magic at a critical time of the game.

West Coast Eagles: Jamie Cripps
In a forward line full of stars and freakish ability, Jamie Cripps often goes unnoticed and he certainly doesn’t deserve to.

Cripps’ 34 goals this season matches his previous best effort of 2015, when the Eagles last made the Grand Final.

One of the most notable influences of Cripps on Adam Simpson’s side is his forward pressure which in turn creates opportunities for his fellow forwards.

With those two factors combined, Cripps may well be set to light up Optus Stadium on Saturday night and help the Eagles earn another Grand Final berth.

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