There are two words that seem to divide the AFL-loving community…wildcard weekend.
The likes of Patrick Dangerfield, Nathan Fyfe and Dustin Martin are known around Australia, but there are several players just under their level who are looking to take the next step and become stars of the league in 2019.
These players are the ones who have over the last few seasons shown a lot of promise, steadily rising through the ranks to become primed to shine in season 2019.
Here are four player you’ll want to keep your eyes on as they take their game to the next level in 2019.
Tim Taranto, Greater Western Sydney Giants
Coming into his third season in the league, Taranto is set to take that next level and become a top-grade midfielder. Many people wouldn’t have heard of the 21-year-old, but those who have followed him in his two years in the league can see his potential.
The situation at the Giants will allow Taranto to become fully immersed in the midfield this season. With elite midfielders Dylan Shiel and Tom Scully leaving for Essendon and Hawthorn respectively and co-captain Callan Ward set to miss up to six weeks with a knee injury, GWS have a midfield hole that Taranto is primed to fill and thrive in.
From the limited data the JLT series has to offer it’s been visible that Taranto is taking this opportunity with both hands, averaging 30.5 disposals, 8.5 marks, five tackles and 5.5 clearances a game. Showing an elite mixture of inside grunt and outside speed and endurance, he’ll help link defence to attack.
Angus Brayshaw, Melbourne Demons
This is a bit of a strange player to mention, with Brayshaw coming third in the Brownlow last season. I do, however, think he is set to take his game to the next level and become an all-round superstar this season.
A lot of the attention the Melbourne midfield gets goes towards Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver and contest machine Jack Viney. However, Brayshaw is the most complete midfielder they have to offer, having found the perfect balance between outside run and in and under work. Another aspect of Brayshaw’s game that makes him stand out is his ability to get forward and kick goals.
Even after a very strong season in 2018 Brayshaw seems to have taken his game to the next level. In the JLT games he averaged 31.5 disposals, 7.5 marks, 7.5 tackles, 6.5 clearances, eight inside 50s and 1.5 goals per game. He looks like he can take that next step and become a top ten player in the AFL.
Jack Steele, St Kilda
Steele’s situation is similar to that of Taranto’s – midfield spots have freed up, allowing him to show off his full potential. Steele is an inside clearance and tackling machine in the making and has the build of the new-age midfielder.
With St Kilda expected to have another average season, I can see them allowing Steele to be their new number-one midfielder. With stars like Jack Stevens and Daniel Hannebery set to miss the start of the season.
As the main ball-winning midfielder in the JLT games he showed that he is willing to put the effort and work in to take the step to stardom he is bound for. Steele will need to become more consistent, however, as he has faded in and out of games in previous seasons. If Saints fans are trying to find something to be hopeful about heading into 2019, they should glue their eyes to Jack Steele.
Wayne Milera, Adelaide Crows
Milera is my dark house to become a star of the competition this season. He looks primed to lock down a position between halfback and the wing. This will leave Adelaide with some of the best rebounding defenders in the league, with stars Rory Laird and Brodie Smith proving their talent throughout the years.
This will be his third season in the league, and much like Taranto, he should follow the natural progression of development in the AFL system. As long as he plays with the confidence and dare that he has shown over the JLT, we will be a huge part of Adelaide’s season as they look to get back inside the top eight following a disappointing 2018.
In the preseason games he has been using the ball well and been throwing his body at the ball, taking strong intercepting marks. Milera has averaged 350-plus metres gained per match during the JLT games and proved an option for his teams to hit as they move the ball from defence to attack.