The 2020 season brought about more challenges than bear thinking about, and when the announcement of list cuts came through the stratosphere more than a few players in the competition were nervous.
In 2021 more players are under the pump than ever before, so here I’ve identified a player from each club who’s fighting for a new deal in 2021 and those are out of contract in 2021 flying towards a new deal.
Fight: Lachlan Murphy
The 22-year-old has played 44 games. In that decent sample size he has kicked 38.31 in his career, but the 7.8 in 2020 across 12 games was the worry. His set-shot goal kicking looked one of the worst in the competition. He does have good defensive pressure but the Crows are getting more and more youth each season and his spot is nowhere near guaranteed, especially with James Rowe, who’s a similar type, being drafted into the side.
Flight: Reilly O’Brien
After a difficult 2020 the gap between Adelaide’s very good players and their bottom end was extremely stark. Best and fairest winner Reilly O’Brien is out of contract in 2021 and it would be genuinely bonkers if he wasn’t given a three or four-year deal given he was the best ruck in the league behind Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy.
Fight: Rhys Mathieson
The man with the shotgun celebration may need to fire a few bullets in 2021 to stick around at the Den. Brisbane are too good to keep middle-of-the-road players of course, and with just the one game last season – 14 disposals, five marks and four inside 50s – with former Cats Nakia Cockatoo and the Coleman brothers breathing down his back and with a midfield spot that isn’t his, Rhys needs a little something.
Flight: Hugh McCluggage
This man is a genuine star. A brilliant wingman who averaged nearly 19 touches and 3.3 inside 50s, he’s a metres-gained specialist. Brisbane should be giving him a four or five-year deal, and the 22-year-old (23 as of March 2021) thoroughly deserves it.
Fight: Lochie O’Brien
Carlton fans are frustrated, and rightly so. Here’s a No. 10 draft pick who’s been relatively healthy and has played 36 games for an average of 13 disposals, less than one and a half tackles and rebounds, two inside 50s, less than a clearance and more clangers than any of those stats (2.42). Having Sam Walsh, Matt Kennedy, Paddy Dow (who isn’t setting anything on fire either), 2019 first-round pick Brodie Kemp, 2020 pick Jack Carroll and of course the more senior mids ahead of him, how does he get a game and perform further than this season? Zac Fisher and Sam Petrevski-Seton look to be better wingman too.
Flight: Harry McKay
The leading goal kicker for Carlton in the last two seasons, the big H isn’t going anywhere, and without his forward partner Charlie Curnow he has developed really nicely. While his set-shot goal kicking from the V could use some work, it would be mind-blowing if the man who’s delivered 47.45 in his last 33 games and led the Blues forward line wouldn’t be offered a contract. It should be a three-year deal for the 23-year-old.
Fight: Brayden Sier
He was a revelation in Collingwood’s 2018 grand final run, with 19.5 touches, four and a half tackles and inside 50s along with just under four clearances. But he’s played just nine games since with an output of 15.33 disposals a game and three goals in total. His average of 3.55 tackles and 3.55 clearances per game are okay numbers, but in COVID times and with list cuts it’s a bad time to be an inside midfielder with not a lot of weapons. Further, 3.55 clangers isn’t a good sign. Sier needs a big year as he’s the logical choice to take Adam Treloar’s place, but if he can’t step up, perhaps youth is the way to go.
Flight: Jeremy Howe
The 30-year-old suffered a horrible PCL and medial ligament injury against the Giants in June of 2020, and in his four games he had 21.5 disposals a game and 8.25 rebounds in a career-best beginning to a season. If reports are that he’s tracking nicely, he’s an automatic lock for the Pies defence in 2021 and will be getting a new deal. Hf he’s fit all season, he should be a two-year re-signing.
Fight: Jayden Laverde
Being at the Hangar since the 2014 draft, Laverde’s played only 46 games and kicked 36.37 in a second or third tall role. His body has let him down and it has cost him continuity, but this is the seventh year he’s been on the list, so a higher production is required. Averages of 11.5 disposals, 2.78 tackles and 1.87 inside 50s isn’t the output that the Dons are looking for, and with youngsters Nik Cox, Cody Brand, Josh Eyre and Zach Reid all being talls, the pressure is on to perform.
Flight: Jake Stringer
‘The Package’ has been quite good since arriving at Tullamarine from the Kennel, playing 49 games and kicking 78 goals. His 2020 certainly had its moments, and while the list changes continue around him, someone like Stringer is imperative to the Dons bringing in the next generation slowly and carefully. Turning 27 in April, a two or three-year deal should be on the table for Stringer, and even though fans will disagree, Essendon need him. He can rotate between deepest forward, half-forward flank and a pinch-hit midfielder – these sorts of roles are hard to find individually, let alone all three in one player.
Fight: Travis Colyer
The former speedy Bomber has spent two years at the Dockers for 19 games and eight goals along with just under a dozen disposals, less than two tackles, half a rebound, four inside 50s and just under a clearance. With a young core coming through for the men in purple, Colyer needs to prove where he belongs in the makeup of the Dockers side going forward.
Flight: Adam Cerra
The No. 5 pick from the 2017 draft hasn’t put a foot wrong in his AFL career so far. In his 58 games Cerra has had two 30-plus disposal games in a midfield featuring Nat Fyfe, David Mundy, Michael Walters, Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong, and he averaged 17.35 disposals in 2020. With Fyfe and Walters having the ability to spend more time forward, Cerra is an integral cog in the Dockers machine and will be getting a new deal in 2021.
Fight: Esava Ratugolea
Brought up in potential trade talks in a deal for Jeremy Cameron, Ratugolea has promised the world at times with freakish athleticism and huge hands, but his output isn’t quite matching the bill. In 2020 he played a dozen games, lost his place in the finals, took only 2.66 marks a game, made less than nine disposals and scored five goals. Harsh or not, for 40 games so far that isn’t good enough, and with Jeremy Cameron coming into the Cattery, with Geelong having Rhys Stanley and Darcy Fort fighting for the No. 1 ruck spot and with the drafting of ruck prospect Shannon Neale, Ratugolea’s two best spots are taken and there’s no evidence that there could be a shift to defence. Without a big year it could be his last at the Cattery. But he’d find a new club.
Flight: Gryan Miers
The man with the hair, the unorthodox kicking style and nous around the stick, Miers has slotted into Geelong’s best side comfortably, having played all 46 games since he was drafted. Good for a goal a game with 47.25 to his name, his field kicking is very solid. He can find the ball, having eleven games featuring 20-plus touches already on a half-forward flank. He’s turning 22 just before Round 3 and has earnt a new deal of two or three years.
Fight: Jacob Townsend
This is the fourth club for Townsend, with GWS, Richmond and Essendon having acquired his services before he went to the sunny north. There won’t be a fifth. On a one-year deal, Townsend will bring some toughness up forward and grunt that is perhaps lacking, but he will need some output to justify a 2022 spot. The 27-year-old is still a very good age to go forward, and with the likes of Ben Ainsworth, Izak Rankine, Darcy MacPherson and Alex Sexton around him to play forward, is he a walk-up start? Probably. He still needs to prove himself at his new home though, but his highest single-season game tally is 12 (2020) and in his nine years has played only double-digit games three times. He’ll need better than that in 2021.
Flight: Wil Powell
Cementing his spot with 15 games in 2020, Powell’s ball use with both feet was his most prominent trait. He has a lot of time and space to distribute from the back half. A couple of tackles and nearly three rebounds a game in 2020 was the sign of growth the Suns were looking for. It’s hard to see how Gold Coast wouldn’t re-sign him for two years given he’s young (21) and his projection is upwards, like many of his teammates.
Fight: Lachlan Keeffe
The former Pie has been with the Giants for three seasons and 31 games, but questions need to be asked about whether the 29-year-old has a long-term place at the Giants. Sam Taylor will come in for Aiden Corr, and Phil Davis is only 30, so where does Keeffe fit in? Nick Haynes has shown he can be an intercepting tall back and, as said, Davis and Taylor are talls as well, so Keeffe could be pushed out.
Flight: Jacob Hopper
Pick 7 from 2015, Hopper has developed into a really nice midfielder in his 84 games. Perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio and Tim Taranto, Hopper averages 21 disposals, 4.4 tackles, 4.2 clearances and just under three inside 50s, which for his first five years are fantastic numbers. With plenty of GWS midfielders leaving over the last few years, Hopper was a topic of trade talks last year, but the Giants would be crazy to let him go. He turns 24 in February and it would be astounding if he didn’t get a four-year deal.
Fight: Tom Scully
He wasn’t the only endurance wingman to struggle in 2020, and the former No. 1 pick enjoyed a decent 2019. The output of 13.6 disposals in 2020 isn’t the best, but the biggest concern is his average clangers per game (2.8) is higher than his marks (2.4), inside 50s (2.4), clearances (0.6) and rebounds (0.8). With the recruitment of Tom Phillips and the emergence of Will Day, Scully will need something special to stick around at the Ricoh Centre.
Flight: Blake Hardwick
Perhaps the most underrated Hawk, Hardwick has made his name as a tough back pocket with a good leg and great defensive nous. Almost four rebounds per game from the man who inherited Luke Hodge’s No. 15, Hardwick is nothing if not an integral piece of the Hawthorn puzzle moving forward. He will be 24 before Round 1 and a two or three-year deal seems fair. He should be playing forward.
Fight: Alex Neal-Bullen
‘Hyphen’ is 25 in February and doesn’t really have a set role or position at Melbourne. Perhaps used best on a half-forward flank, a goal a game from nine disposals and 2.3 tackles from seven games isn’t the output Melbourne expect. With list sizes getting smaller, players need more weapons, and ANB doesn’t seem like he has many on a consistent basis. His 80 games and 64 goals in six seasons is a record he’ll need to improve, but Melbourne have youth who can take his spot.
Flight: Clayton Oliver
A player of his quality circulated in trade talks at the end of 2020 but, frankly, Melbourne would be absolutely silly not to get him on a new deal and soon. If Jack Viney can get half a decade, the 23-year-old could get eight! Granted, he won’t get that long, but a four or five-year deal seems like a Melbourne priority. The fact is that midfielders who average 25 touches in a shortened season with 6.5 clearances, 5.5 tackles and almost four inside 50s do not grow on trees.
Fight: Aaron Hall
The former Sun joined the Roos in 2019 and has played just 21 games after 103 at Gold Coast. With only 15.57 disposals a game at Arden Street, Hall needs a good year to hang around amid this rebuild. Already 30, Hall needs the metres gained and long kicks that made him so damaging as a Sun, especially in 2016-17. With no indication North are jumping up the ladder and are definitely continuing the rebuild, he needs to be back at his best if he wants to stick around.
Flight: Nick Larkey
With Ben Brown out the door, not trading for a key tall or drafting Logan McDonald (went at No. 4 and they had Pick 3) means North’s tall forward prospects are Larkey and Tristan Xerri. Larkey has kicked 40 goals in his 29 games, and the 22-year-old is one of a few at Arden Street who is set and forgot on the magnets. It would be one of the worst decisions North have made in quite some time if Larkey were let go. He should be getting a three-year deal, so get it done, North.
Fight: Steven Motlop
He turns 30 before Round 1 and is on the verge on not being in the best 22 in 2021. In the last two seasons he’s played 28 games, averaged 13.3 disposals and kicked 20 goals. He had a very good qualifying final against the Cats, but with the likes of Lachie Jones, Dylan Williams and Jackson Mead in the wings, Motlop has a lot to prove in 2021 to keep his spot at Alberton.
Flight: Kane Farrell
The 22 year old (as of Round 1) has hardly put a foot wrong in his first three years at the Power and should be re-signed. He’s one of those players who’s stats on face value don’t scream off the page, but Farrell is an elite user and thrives on metres gained. Good for a goal a game, nearly two and a half tackles and two inside 50s, this young gun should be getting a couple of years at the Power. Trade bait is a possibility, but the Power are a gun side and he deserves to be in it, especially with a spot like Brad Ebert’s available.
Fight: Mabior Chol
‘Two Phones’ is a cult figure at Richmond and has the attributes to make it, but at some stage things have to change. Taken in 2016, he’s played only 21 games during Richmond’s dynasty, and 6.67 touches and six and a half hitouts isn’t the greatest output on the field, With Jack Riewoldt in his twilight years, 17 goals doesn’t give us the greatest indication that he’s got a home in the goal square. Richmond admittedly are an elite side with plenty of guys on the outer, so the main thing working against Chol is that he’s 24 while some of their other ‘fringe’ players are younger.
Flight: Noah Balta
First of all, stop calling him the next Alex Rance. Let the man be the best Noah Balta that he can be. His work down back in the latter part of the season was a sight to behold. His elite hands, aerobic capacity and closing speed were all laid bare for footy fans, and they lapped it up. Four marks per game in his last eight outings playing against quality forward lines shows Richmond have a found a decade-long spine option. Young and raw, the 21-year-old should be getting two to three years from Punt Road.
Fight: Dean Kent
Perhaps one of the more harsh calls here, Kent turns 27 before Round 1 but is in danger of neither having a set role week to week nor being an A-grade utility. With just nine and a half touches and two and a half inside 50s per game in his 15 outings in St Kilda’s magnificent 2020 season, he could be a half-forward option, but with the arrival of Jack Higgins, the rise of Dan Butler and the return of Jade Gresham, Kent on a contract could need a consistently good year to get another deal.
Flight: Zak Jones
He came from Sydney in the 2019 trade period on a no-lock contract, but that should be changing in 2021. In 2020 Jones gave the Saints dash, line-breaking speed, 19 touches a game, almost four clearances a game and three and a half tackles. With the longer quarters coming back in 2021, Jones is definitely someone who will thrive and is absolutely deserving a new deal.
Fight: Colin O’Riordan
The Irishman has been another feel-good story Down Under, but his output in 2020 perhaps leaves a little to be desired. Nine and a half disposals a game in eight clashes, the 25-year-old will need to solidify his place in the Bloods line-up for the future. With all their academy kids coming in and with a seemingly settled back six and midfield core, O’Riordan needs his footy identity, and quickly.
Flight: Dylan Stephens
The 2019 No. 5 pick had a decent start to his career with eight games, 12.5 disposals, three and a half marks and 3.2 tackles headlining his statistical output. While the injuries to Sydney’s midfield did bring about more growth quickly from Stephens, 2021 should see the trajectory go upwards quickly and a new deal incoming.
Fight: Jack Redden
The former Lion has been a fraction underrated at times during his stint in the west but his 2020 was a bit shaky – 13.5 touches, two and a half tackles and 2.2 clearances are okay enough numbers, but with West Coast having a lot of the same type of midfielder, with Luke Shuey and Elliott Yeo back to full fitness and with Liam Duggan on the Eagles hit list (see below) to be a midfielder later on, at 30 years old Redden might need to find a new gear or a new trick.
Flight: Liam Duggan
This was a career-best year for Duggan, who started the season on a back flank and developed his midfield craft when his midfield leaders Elliott Yeo and Luke Shuey went down with injury. Duggan has something that you simply cannot teach in this caper: intelligence. He has a very good footy IQ and makes great decisions.
Fight: Roarke Smith
The 24-year-old debuted in 2015 and just 23 games later hasn’t got a place in the Dogs best 22. He could be a victim of the Adam Treloar trade given his six games with 11.7 disposals, 1.3 tackles, 1.3 inside 50s and 1.3 clangers aren’t getting the job done. Every other statistic barring marks is less than one, and it’s not a good time in the competition to be a fringe player, especially being their seventh year on the list.
Flight: Bailey Williams
The most underrated Dog on the list down at the Kennel, the man who wears No. 27 had 16.6 touches a game in his 18 games (every Dog game in 2020), had five rebounds and 2.3 inside 50s. The 23 year old has cemented himself in the Dogs line-up and would be a walk-up start for most teams. The Dogs should be giving him a three-year commitment. He’s a good pup this one.