Free agency is one of the most contentious concepts in the AFL in recent times, with such inequities as Tom Lynch walking to the powerful Richmond club from an expansion franchise seemingly powerless to prevent it. Or were they?
The third part of the six-part series comprises the five players that the Geelong Cats, Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants could least afford to lose in season 2021 plus an honourable mention.
The Geelong Cats will be looking to go one step further than they went in 2020 and win the Premiership. The following players are the ones that they could least afford to lose in 2021 if they achieve their aim.
Honourable Mention: Shaun Higgins
He is the icing on the cake for the Geelong Cats. He is a highly talented player.
Even though he played for arguably the worst team in 2020, the North Melbourne Kangaroos, he averaged the most disposals, playing in the midfield and on a half forward flank.
Expect Higgins to flourish at the Cats in 2021.
5- Mark Blicavs
He was one of five Geelong Cats players in the AFL All Australian squad of 40 in 2020. He is widely regarded as one of the best utilities in the competition, expect 2021 to be no different.
4- Cameron Guthrie
He was named on the wing in the All Australian final 22 and also won the Geelong Cats best and fairest in the same season; 2020. Expect him to have a big impact for the Cats in 2021 in the middle of the ground.
3- Tom Hawkins
He was named full forward in the All Australian 2020 team. He won the Coleman Medal with 42 goals and was recently rewarded with a two-year contract extension.
He will benefit from the Geelong Cats acquiring Jeremy Cameron in the recent trade period, as Hawkins may kick more goals due to the opposition having to defend another tall forward in 2021.
2- Sam Menegola
He was a player that had his best season ever in 2020. He was named in the All Australian squad of 40. The mark and goal he kicked, in the last quarter of the grand final, would have been talked about forever had the Geelong Cats won the game.
1- Patrick Dangerfield
He was named the captain of the All Australian team in 2020 and selected on the half forward flank. He will get an opportunity to have an impact in the midfield and up forward in 2021 and will want to replicate the form he displayed in 2020 if the Geelong Cats are to lift the Premiership Cup in 2021.
The Gold Coast Suns will be looking to rekindle the form that they displayed early in 2020 and feature in finals in 2021.
Here are the players that they could least afford to lose in 2021:
Honourable Mention: Jack Lukosius
He should play a key role for the Gold Coast Suns in 2021, probably at centre half back. Despite, playing in defence in 2020 averaging 16.35 disposals per game, featuring in every game for the Gold Coast Suns.
He will be an important part of the Suns team in 2021 if they are to perform at their optimum level.
5- Touk Miller
He proved that he is an important part of the Gold Coast Suns team in 2020. He averaged exactly 20 disposals per game, featuring in all 17 games for the Suns and he finished second in their best and fairest in the same season. He should be an vital player if the Suns are to improve in 2021.
4- Jarrod Witts
He has been a good leader for the Gold Coast Suns and finished third in the Gold Coast Suns best and fairest in 2020. The only back up the Suns have should he get injured is Zac Smith and perhaps Sam Day, who can pinch hit in the ruck if needed.
3- Hugh Greenwood
He polled the most votes of any Gold Coast Suns player in 2020 at the Brownlow Medal with 11 votes. He may play through the midfield and be moved onto a half forward flank in 2021 and will prove to be a difficult player to replace should he be unavailable.
2- Sam Collins
He carried the Gold Coast Suns defence in 2020. He should continue on that form in 2021 and will probably be the most valuable player as far as his work rate and contribution to the team are concerned apart from, perhaps, Matt Rowell!
1- Matt Rowell
He had at least 19 disposals per game in his first season at AFL level, for the Gold Coast Suns, in 2020, apart from Round 5 where he suffered an injury and had just two disposals that game, due to that setback.
Given that the effectively won three of their five games that Rowell featured in, with the fifth game him barely being a part of. Hopefully, he can play every game in 2021, as judging by those stats he was a bit of a barometer for the Suns in 2020.
The Greater Western Sydney Giants will be looking to improve in 2021 and feature in the finals. The following players are the players that they could least afford to lose in 2021, if they achieve their aim, which should be to play finals.
Honourable Mention: Jake Riccardi
He kicked a goal in all but one of his five games. He will be integral for the Greater Western Sydney Giants as Jeremy Cameron chose to leave the Giants in the recent trade period.
5- Braydon Preuss
Preuss should be pivotal to whether the Greater Western Sydney Giants team in 2021, as Sam Jacobs retired and Shane Mumford will be the back up ruckman at this stage.
That’s why they can’t afford to lose Preuss. It could be a case of third time lucky for him, as he appears be a player that has potential to be a valuable recruit in 2021.
By no means does this mean that Preuss will be in the Giants top five of their 2021 best and fairest; my concern is that that they have limited back up, should he not be available to play (prior to the draft).
4- Toby Greene
He had the most votes of any Greater Western Sydney Giants with 12 votes at the Brownlow Medal in 2020. He is a matchwinner.
He needs to improve and get better, but he did manage to finish equal seventh, in the Giants best and fairest in 2020, despite missing four games.
Expect him to improve in 2021 and be an important part of the team in 2021. He needs to average more than the 1.31 goals that he averaged in 2020, if he is to play to his optimum level in 2021.
3- Josh Kelly
Kelly has been a leader for the Greater Western Sydney Giants. He averaged the second most disposals of any Giants player in 2020. He finished fourth in their best and fairest, despite missing three games. He should continue that form in 2021.
2- Lachie Whitfield
He played well throughout 2020 for the Greater Western Sydney Giants, even when the chips were down, as he featured in every game in that season, averaging the most disposals.
He has the capability to be considered elite in 2021 and has the versatility to play on a half back flank or on the wing.
1- Nick Haynes
Hynes was the only Greater Western Sydney Giants player to be selected in the All Australian squad of 40, as well as being named in the final team on a half back flank.
He has the capability to play anywhere in the back six. He will have to be at his best, which he should be, if the Giants are to play finals in 2021.