Christmas is here! But unless you barrack for Melbourne, you’ll undoubtedly be hoping that Santa brings that last piece of the puzzle your team needs to shoot back into premiership contention.
From a new coach to a new skipper, from injury-free guns to others rediscovering their love for the colours; here is The Roar’s tips to what your team wants for Christmas this year.
Wayne Milera to return in style
Having played just two matches since the start of 2020 following serious foot and knee injuries, the hard-running Milera offers the Crows some badly needed pace and flair across half-back.
It’s too early to tell what impact the ruptured patella tendon he suffered in the 2021 pre-season will have on his dashing game, but his class with ball in hand would be ideal for coach Matthew Nicks to slot into his defence, perhaps allowing veteran Brodie Smith to be moved further upfield. His combination with new recruit Jordan Dawson is enough to leave fans salivating.
Lachie Neale to fall in love with the Gabba again
September’s bombshell news that the reigning Brownlow Medallist was looking for a trade back to old side Fremantle, with Neale and his partner looking to raise their newborn in Western Australia, is going to be a persistent subplot to the Lions’ premiership campaign in 2022.
After an injury-interrupted 2021, returning to his best would leave the Lions perfectly placed to correct their troubling finals record under Chris Fagan and give a premiership a real shake. Just as important for them, however, would be Neale, who is contracted through to the end of 2023, deciding to shelve any future trade requests and remain a Lion for life.
A fit and firing Charlie Curnow
While the Blues have added plenty of talent in the trade period, led by Adam Cerra, the dynamic Curnow enjoying an injury-interrupted season after three consecutive lost years would be a dream come true for new coach Michael Voss.
Curnow stuck his toe back in the water of AFL with four games at the end of 2021, but even then all roads were leading to 2022 for the potential game-changer. He’ll only be 25 when the Blues take on Richmond in Round 1, so he’s got plenty of time to form a lethal forward line combination with last year’s Coleman Medallist Harry McKay.
If any pairing can take the Blues back to the finals for the first time since 2013, it’s them.
CHARLIE CURNOW OFF ONE STEP.
What a moment ???? pic.twitter.com/c6giQo6fOi
— 7AFL (@7AFL) July 30, 2021
The kids to be alright
Expect to see the Pies look to the future under new coach Craig McRae, with the club having performed excellently in the draft to nab some of the most exciting young prospects going around.
Of course, much of the attention will be on father-son gun Nick Daicos, who has already been touted for big things before he has so much as played a senior game; but Arlo Draper was also a steal at pick 45, and could very well become a regular in his first season.
Throw in traded recruits Patrick Lipinski and Nathan Kreuger, both seeking greater opportunities after being stuck in the reserves with the Western Bulldogs and Geelong respectively, and the Pies will be dearly hoping the sparks of potential catch alight sooner rather than later, as their journey back up the ladder begins.
More of the same from Jake Stringer
The Bombers’ surprise finals berth in 2021 had many fathers, but the enigmatic Stringer’s superb second half of the season as a goalkicking midfielder was a noticeably big daddy.
Stringer’s issue has never been talent, though: it has been consistency. Thus far in his six-year career, his best games have too often been surrounded by weeks and months of frustration.
The Dons will be hoping the former Bulldog has finally turned the corner, and is ready to join the competition’s elite on a full time basis in 2022. With Stringer, though, it might not be that simple.
HOW ABOUT THAT FOR THE SEALER?
Jake Stringer's fourth goal was incredible!
— AFL (@AFL) July 28, 2019
A new shoulder for Nat Fyfe
Andrew Brayshaw could well have overtaken him as the Dockers’ premier midfielder, but it’s difficult to see the Dockers making the leap into the finals without another excellent season from arguably their second-greatest ever player (behind, of course, Matthew Pavlich).
Having endured a grim off-season thus far after dealing with multiple shoulder surgeries, even contracting a bacterial infection, Fyfe is still no certainty to be right to start the season, let alone return to his spectacular best. But with a bit of luck from the injury gods, the champion could well be utilised in more of a forward role with the Dockers’ crop of young midfield guns ready to take over – where his brilliant marking ability would make him a dangerous presence indeed.
— AFL (@AFL) August 10, 2020
Jeremy Cameron’s hamstring to hold up
With every year, the Cats edge closer and closer to the footballing precipice. However, there’s every chance Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, Tom Hawkins and company can squeeze out one final year of elite footy to keep them in contention – but to do it, they’ll need Cameron for more than the 15 games he mustered in 2021.
Averaging more than 2.5 goals a game, the former Giant will turn 29 early in the season, meaning Father Time isn’t knocking quite so loudly as he is with some of his teammates. However, having missed 10 games last year with repeated hamstring concerns, Cameron needs a full season to repay the draft and salary sacrifices the Cats gave up to bring him into the fold.
Yes, Stuart Dew is still the coach, and he’s done a reasonable job since taking the poisoned chalice that is the Suns job at the end of 2017. But with the club a shambles both on-field and off (the shemozzle that saw Hugh Greenwood ripped from under them by North Melbourne a particularly galling example), it could be that only ‘Clarko’ can get the club out of the tailspin it’s been in since Gary Ablett’s shoulder caved in back in mid-2014.
Put Clarkson’s coaching pedigree aside – the sheer weight of his assistants who have gone on to great success at rival clubs suggests he has the knack for drawing elite coaching talent into his orbit. Throw in the instant respect and greater media interest in having the best coach of the modern era at the helm, and little wonder the AFL itself are said to be doing everything they can to convince the four-time premiership coach to the helm for 2023.
Fixing the Suns promises to be a Herculean effort that may well prove impossible; but if anyone can do it, Clarko can.
Braydon Preuss to cut loose
God only knows what Shane Mumford’s plans for 2022 are, with the Giant coming out of retirement and entering the rookie draft just in case they need him in the mid-season draft; but the Giants’ ruck hopes next year begin with Preuss.
Lured from Melbourne to head up the Giants’ ruck department, repeat injuries saw him fail to play a game in his first season. While Matt Flynn and Kieren Briggs have potential, Preuss has been itching for a crack at the number one role for years, having understudied for Todd Goldstein and Max Gawn. A big season from him would give the Giants the big, powerful ruck presence they’ve been crying out for since Mumford was in his pomp.
Jeff Kennett to be vindicated
Even the most ardent Hawks fans’ patience with the on-again-off-again president seemingly ran out in 2021, when Alastair Clarkson was unceremoniously pushed out the door to ensure club great Sam Mitchell would take the top job sooner or later.
It was a bold move to punt a four-time premiership winner for the unknown ability of one of the best on-field minds of recent years; but Mitchell has already been spoken of glowingly by players, and showed plenty in his brief stint as Box Hill coach. A successful first year at the helm, with the Hawks one of the favourites to take out the wooden spoon, would at least ensure some fond memories of Kennett as he departs the club mid-2022.
No 2019-style pre-season disasters
The last time Melbourne headed into a new season as one of the flag favourites, an ugly run of injuries through the pre-season kickstarted a season of woe that saw them drop from fourth to 17th.
Now as reigning premiers, a similar run of ill luck might be the only thing stopping the all-conquering Dees from mounting another serious premiership challenge. But the second a Christian Petracca or a Jake Lever, or any one of their litany of stars, faces a setback, the Dees’ resilience will be tested like it rarely was during their incredible run to the flag in 2021.
Ben Cunnington to beat cancer for good
Forget the game for a sec – the news that Cunnington and Carlton’s Sam Docherty needed to undergo chemotherapy during 2021 saw the entire football world put aside their differences and wish them both well.
A second cancer found in the Kangaroos star in November was unwelcome news, though he is expected to make a full recovery. But even if he never dons the blue and white again, every North fan will be praying that the toughest man in the game can do as Jarryd Roughead did, and give cancer one of his trademark don’t-argues.
— Ricky Mangidis (@rickm18) March 24, 2018
Some big-game steel
Under Ken Hinkley, the Power have made three preliminary finals, and lost them all. Granted, two were by six points or less, but the latest – a humbling 71-point loss at home to the Western Bulldogs – had alarm bells ringing at Alberton.
With noted big-game players Robbie Gray and Travis Boak reaching the end of their glittering careers, Port desperately need one of their army of young guns to lead the way on the biggest stages. Could it be Connor Rozee, who has shown plentiful potential in his three years but struggled against the Dogs? Or perhaps Zak Butters, whose nasty ankle injury early in 2021 prevented him from a true breakout season.
Either way, if the Power leave it all up to Ollie Wines again, it’s hard to see them going any further than they did last year, which would heap more pressure on both Hinkley from both within and without the club’s four walls.
A new captain just as good as the last
The Tigers are yet to officially unveil their replacement for Trent Cotchin as captain, with the three-time premiership skipper deciding to step away from the helm after a rollercoaster nine years in charge.
Replacing him won’t be easy; Cotchin’s inspirational leadership and sacrificial role as the Tigers’ midfield enforcer doesn’t need the captaincy to continue, but all of candidates Dylan Grimes, Dustin Martin and Nick Vlastuin, among others, seem perfectly fit for the role.
Perhaps Richmond’s best bet is to pick one (or two) of them, and give them time to make the position their own, just as Cotchin was when he replaced Chris Newman at the helm at the end of 2012.
Bradley Hill to work it out
Hill’s first two years at the Saints after departing Fremantle for a long-term deal haven’t made for pretty reading, with the club’s poor 2021 putting the spotlight on the hard-running winger.
39 games in, Hill still seems yet to gel with his new teammates, with Brett Ratten trying him everywhere from half-back to half-forward with varying degrees of success.
In full flight, the triple-premiership Hawk instantly solves the Saints’ lingering leg speed and kicking issues; unlock Hill, and they can set their sights on a return to finals action.
A clone of Jordan Dawson
The Swans’ crop of young guns that took them back into the finals in 2021 was spearheaded by the beautiful kicking half-back, whose departure to the Crows instantly opens up a hole in their line-up.
Adding Jordan Dawson to a mix that includes Paul Seedsman and Brodie Smith?
Crows fans are in for a kicking clinic ???? pic.twitter.com/nj0jBRZjas
— AFL (@AFL) October 13, 2021
Dawson’s elite kicking skills are difficult to replace, but second-year player Braeden Campbell could well be the answer. The pick five in the 2020 draft only managed eight games in his first year, though still earned a Rising Star nomination in round 2.
Touted as possessing an exceptional left foot (sound familiar?) expect Campbell to get plentiful opportunities on Dawson’s vacant back flank next year. Sometimes the best gift you can receive is the one you give yourself.
A second wind for the ‘Governor’
Amid the Eagles’ fall out of the finals in 2021, the form of star backman Jeremy McGovern was a particular concern. The premiership hero and four-time All Australian was far from his high-flying best, as a career of injuries seemed to catch up with him.
With fellow backman Brad Sheppard retiring due to the fallout from a series of concussions, McGovern’s role in the Eagles’ defence is more crucial than ever. At 29, he’s nearer the end than the start; unless he turns back the clock with another stellar year, it’s hard to see the Eagles immediately turning their ship around.
Jamarra to win Bevo over
It took until round 17 last year for the Bulldogs to unleash their highly touted number one draft pick, with coach Luke Beveridge adamant he wanted the talented forward to improve some facets of his game in the VFL before getting a look in.
With a year and five games under his belt, Ugle-Hagan showed some encouraging signs, and with Josh Bruce to miss at least the first half of the year, the young gun will be vying with Josh Schache to partner Aaron Naughton in the Dogs’ forward set-up.
All he needs do to make that spot his own is convince Beveridge that the defensive side of his game is sound enough for AFL level. Easier said than done.