Which unheralded performance deserves a bit more love?
Adelaide Crows: Lachlan Sholl
First off, how good was this win? How good was Taylor Walker being back with a handful of snags? On top of the thousand and one reactions and headlines coming out of this game, another gem of the 2018 draft showed himself on Saturday afternoon.
Sholl played eight games last year and showed some real grit and toughness, and he brought all that and more to the table. He had a second career-high 23 disposals and showcased his good foot skills, having 16 kicks and went at 73 per cent. He also took nine marks, had four inside 50s and was very composed.
Brisbane Lions: Jarryd Lyons
He wasn’t named in Brisbane’s best, which was a surprise, but with Lachie Neale’s criticism flooding in, the goalkicking of Zac Bailey, Lincoln McCarthy and Joe Daniher featuring along with the poor defensive structures, Lyons was the last reason they underperformed.
He kicked a goal and had seven score involvements, six clearances and five inside 50s. He was unheralded at Adelaide, booted out of Gold Coast unceremoniously and has now been a star at Brisbane. He got his hands dirty with a game-high 15 contested possessions and was one of a few who could hold their heads up.
Carlton Blues: Jack Newnes
He’s not the last Jack on here, but in light of Carlton’s spotlight put on Patrick Cripps and also Adam Saad’s debut, the former Saint was excellent across half-forward. He had produced some really good footy for the Saints but was below his best in 2020, barring his insane kick after the siren at Optus Stadium.
He had a game-high ten marks, had 27 touches and used the ball at an elite level, going at 85 per cent. He grabbed a couple of clearances and had seven score involvements. The Blues need more consistent performers to take the next step, and this was a great start.
Collingwood Magpies: Brayden Maynard
If there was a most improved player award for 2020, Maynard would have been definitely up on the podium. His form, however, doesn’t seem to be a fluke, as he basically picked up from where he left off. He made good use of his 21 disposals by going at 85 per cent efficiency, had a team-high seven rebounds and even had four marks and tackles. An all-round performance on a poor night from the Pies.
Essendon Bombers: Nick Hind
The former Saint was one of the last deals done at the trade period and one of the more irrelevant in terms of profile, but he slotted in very well for the Dons on Saturday night. Having never had more than 17 touches in his AFL career, he went out on a back flank and had 25, 18 of which were kicks.
Hind had seven score involvements for the Dons – equal second best – and used his pace to great effect. He had eight inside 50s and six rebounds and had six marks and four tackles. For such a turbulent off season, they did get a winner here.
Fremantle Dockers: Caleb Serong
The former Pick 8 in the 2019 draft capped off a Rising Star season and has reportedly come back in ripping nick, but geez he showed how good he not only is but will be. Perhaps shadowed by Nat Fyfe, Andrew Brayshaw (who was the Dockers’ best by the length of Flemington) and Adam Cerra, Serong had 26 disposals and vitally was carrying the ball whenever he could, and while some teammates rushed, he didn’t.
Serong ad the second most contested and was top five for uncontested possessions, which showed that dual balance. He had six inside 50s and three clearances. This man is not a fluke in the slightest.
Geelong Cats: Brandan Parfitt
For all the off-field acquisitions compiled for the Cats, it was their ‘same old’ brigade who were their best on the day, perhaps barring Isaac Smith, but severely under the radar went Parfitt. The 22-year-old lined up on the half-forward flank and will probably stay there due to the depth of the midfield. He took advantage, having 18 disposals (nine contested), a match-high nine tackles, three clearances and three inside 50s.
The likes of Jordan Clark and Gryan Miers as young guys are spoken of a lot in the media, but this young man is a genuine gun.
Gold Coast Suns: Oleg Markov
An equal game-high 14 marks with teammate Charlie Ballard, the former Tiger said in the move up north that he was ready and raring for more senior footy, and boy did he deliver. The Suns backline in a few years will be the best in the game, with the likes of Markov, Jack Lukosius, Wil Powell and Jack Bowes (the Suns’ best against the Eagles).
They have depth too, with Sean Lemmens, Connor Budarick and Nick Holman all have played down there, but Markov proved he’s a best-22 player with his 20 disposals (17 of them kicks), a couple of contested grabs and even a 75 per cent efficiency. They’ve got a beauty the Suns.
Greater Western Sydney Giants: Matt Flynn
Shane Mumford might be sitting out for most of the year with this young man. Commentary and post-match analysis were all about this being his debut game, and even the critics noted that without Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder it was perhaps an ‘easy’ first match, but the man deserves more plaudits than he has received.
According to Triple M’s statistics, it has been 20 years since a ruckman on debut had 15-plus disposals (Flynn had 18), 25-plus hitouts (Flynn had 34) and two contested marks in their debut. He was the big bad bully from the west of the town, and his meeting with Max Gawn in Round 3 will be worth salivating over.
Hawthorn Hawks: Blake Hardwick
It can be a lot easier to find good performances from a winning side, and the Hawks had fantastic performances from the likes of Tom Mitchell, Dylan Moore in the third quarter, Will Day, and Changkuoth Jiath’s excitement, but no-one barring Hawthorn fans knows just how good Dimma or Candle is.
He had a disastrous moment with the most blatant throw in recent history, which led to a Devon Smith late goal, but he was extraordinary down back. His hands were clean, with seven marks and had six rebounds. Add in the fact that he went at 90 per cent efficiency and you can understand why the No. 15 was passed on well.
Melbourne Demons: Jake Lever
It was a really good team performance from Simon Goodwin’s boys, and although Steven May looks a top-two key back in the league and Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver looked back to their best in the midfield, we are highlighting the former Crow here. He looked to be playing between the arcs, and he did his job and then some.
Half of his 18 disposals were contested, he took seven marks – four of them contested, which was a game high – had five rebounds, three inside 50s and went at 77 per cent efficiency, which has been a criticism of him in the past, but this was a very good first-up performance from the much-maligned defender.
North Melbourne Kangaroos: Bailey Scott
The son of a gun has been a bit in and out of form, and his body issues let him down last season, but he was one of North’s best. He looked dangerous forward of centre, and if he just kicked a fraction straighter, he could’ve really had a day out. Used the ball incredibly well, took six marks and laid four tackles. He needs all the game time he can get and under David Noble, and he will get it.
Port Adelaide Power: Steven Motlop
Another one weirdly not found in the official AFL match report’s best Port players, the much-maligned Motlop played an elite half-forward game. A game-high dozen marks and delivered inside 50 half a dozen times, even finishing his work with a goal, and he even had a couple of tackles inside 50, which he isn’t known for.
For the last three quarters Port Adelaide were dominant, and while the midfield will get the plaudits and Orazio Fantasia was a goldmine, Motlop deserves his praise also.
Richmond Tigers: Jack Graham
He had more touches than anyone else on the ground on Thursday night, with 33, but it is not all about getting the footy – you’ve got to do things with the footy, and Graham did all that and more. He played a mostly outside bull role, but of his eight contested possessions, he had five clearances, a game-high 11 inside 50s and seven score involvements. He was unbelievable for the reigning champions.
St Kilda Saints: Seb Ross
St Kilda’s midfield is genuinely deep in season 2021, so much so that a dual best and fairest winner is not the number one man. Ross appears to be the impact mid who uses his classy left boot to bring some versatility, and did he ever. He had 19 touches on the day, but his use forward of centre in tough conditions was fantastic. He also kicked probably the most important goal of the night on the arc to put the Saints in front in the late stages, and they didn’t look back.
Sydney Swans: Tom Hickey
The debuts of Errol Gulden and Logan McDonald were unbelievable along with a tidy performance from Braeden Campbell. Academy stars Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney had close to best-on-ground performances, but the second West Coast ruck they’ve had in half a decade was absolutely dominant. He had a staggering 23 touches (14 contested) and 24 hitouts as he and Oscar Mcinerney had an intriguing battle in the ruck.
Nine clearances was a high for the Swans, and he even had five inside 50s. Sydney’s off-season was the most underrated of the league, and the acquisition of Hickey should be now seen as one of the reasons.
West Coast Eagles: Tom Cole
He copped some criticism last season from high profiles in the media for his 2020, and the young man did himself every favour to be back to his best. The Suns put on very good forward pressure for the first three quarters, but Cole was unflappable, his 95 per cent efficiency across 22 disposals absolutely fantastic. His hands were sure, with eight good grabs, and he got himself five rebounds and always looked to be taking the ball forward.
Western Bulldogs: Bailey Williams
With 80 per cent of the Dogs’ talk leading into Friday night about Adam Treloar and 20 per cent on the Dogs midfield, although Jack Macrae, Lachie Hunter, Bailey Smith and Tom Liberatore were all good on Friday night, the love needs to go to an unheralded defender. Williams is like Brad Sheppard, always having teammates loved more by the media, but he is himself a seriously good footballer. He kicked his season off with a very nice 27 disposals (20 kicks) at 81 per cent efficiency, had six rebounds, seven marks and four tackles, and cleaned up forward entries consistently.