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Small forwards equally as important as the big men entering the 2023 AFL season

Toby Greene of the Giants celebrates a goal during the round 23 AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Simonds Stadium on August 26, 2017 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Roar Rookie
2nd March, 2023
3

It is often written that tall forwards hold the keys to winning big games and premierships. That is true to an extent and you just have to look at the recently successful teams for evidence; Geelong with Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron, Richmond with Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt.

However, small forwards have been just as important. Brad Close and Tyson Stengle both had very good 2022 season’s for Geelong. Stengle earning himself an All-Australian selection kicking 53 goals.

In 2017, Richmond didn’t have Tom Lynch and instead had Jack Riewoldt, the lone tall forward surrounded by small crumbing ones. The likes of Dan Butler, Jason Castagna and Daniel Rioli combined for 81 goals during that season. They also contributed in the finals’ series, as Richmond went on to win the premiership.

Daniel Rioli

Daniel Rioli (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The small forward is one of the most exciting positions in the game, it is often the fans’ favourite player who plays there. It is also a very difficult position in which to succeed, with clubs always looking for the perfect roving small forward who applies fierce pressure. Once a team finds that player it can propel the club up the ladder quickly.

An example is Charlie Cameron who requested a trade from Adelaide to Brisbane at the end of 2017 season. At that time, Brisbane was last on the ladder. In 2018, Cameron suffered a Lisfranc fracture and only returned from injury in round one of 2019. He kicked 57 goals for the season and was a major reason behind the Brisbane Lions finishing top four for the first time since 2004.

During the 2019 season, Cameron was given the difficult task of leading the forward line, he was both the lead-up forward and the small forward. Playing 92 consecutive games across a three year period, Cameron held the forward line together, following injuries to Eric Hipwood (ACL) in 2021 and Joe Daniher who dislocated his shoulder last year.

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The two small forwards for Collingwood, Jack Ginnivan and Jamie Elliott, were a big reason for their meteoric rise to the top four last season. Ginnivan in his second season kicked a very impressive 41 goals and drove opposition teams mad with his ability to win free kicks. Elliott, who has had an injury plagued career, came up clutch on plenty of occasions, kicking the winner after the siren against Essendon and sending Carlton out of the finals with that late goal.

Toby Greene is another forward small in stature but big in presence, able to take an overhead mark as well as anyone. Greene is one of Greater Western Sydney’s most important players and by far the most important forward, winning their goal kicking in 2022 despite missing the first five rounds of the year due to suspension.

The one thing missing from Carlton’s forward line is the elite small forward. They’ve the tall forward stocks covered with the last two Coleman medal winners, Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow. Matthew Owies and Corey Durdin have both showed glimpses of mastering the small forward role recently, as they apply good pressure and were both in the top 10 for tackles at Carlton last season.

Jack Ginnivan of the Magpies is tackled.

Jack Ginnivan. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

However, Durdin’s 15 goals and Owies’ 14 in 2022 is not at the level of the great small forwards. A player that could surpass them both is Jesse Motlop, whose father Daniel played a total of 130 games and kicked 57 goals in 2008 for Port Adelaide. If the Carlton small forwards can get close to replicating what Richmond’s trio did in 2017 that could go a long way towards a successful season for the men in the blue.

Essendon also missed a damaging small forward last year. The majority of their goals came from the vastly improved Peter Wright. However, under new coach Brad Scott there is a return of both the old and the new. Essendon happily welcome back the much loved and very talented small forward Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. Too much shouldn’t be expected of him after not playing for a year. However, everyone saw what he could do in 2021 when he kicked five goals on ANZAC day.

The exciting thing for McDonald-Tipungwuti is that he is among numerous small forwards just starting their careers at Essendon. Alwyn Davey’s two sons, Alwyn Davey Jr & Jayden Davey; Anthony Munkara and Elijah Tsatas all are still to play a senior game, yet have plenty of promise. Another son-of-a-gun, Tex Wanganeen, son of Essendon Brownlow medallist and premiership player Gavin, had a taste of senior footy last season.

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Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti of the Bombers celebrates a goal during the 2017 AFL round 20 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Carlton Blues at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 05, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Small forwards play a big role, making sure they hit the scoreboard consistently whilst not allowing the opposition to run the ball out of defence. That’s why it’s important to have a combination of tall and small forwards. Port Adelaide and Western Bulldogs are blessed with tall options up forward; Charlie Dixon, Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades for Port, Aaron Naughton, Jamara Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy for the Bulldogs.

Now Port Adelaide have Willie Rioli in the role of the small forward. It will also be a real benefit for Port Adelaide if Orazio Fantasia can get himself on the park after only one game last year. The Bulldogs have the impressive Cody Weightman who was second top goal scorer for them last season with 36 goals. Rhylee West has also shown glimpses that he can perform the small forward role.

Looking to the season ahead, the expectations will be on the tall forwards to deliver for their team. However, the small men have just as much responsibility to pressure the opposition and regularly hit the scoreboard. Will there be another Tyson Stengle story, can a bottom four team find their Charlie Cameron or Jack Ginnivan who propels them up the ladder?

Will it be a trio of small forwards like Richmond in 2017 that brings a team success? Whatever the case, the small forward will continue to play a key role in 2023.

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