THEY MAY HAVE ONLY PLAYED A HANDFUL OF GAMES BUT THESE PLAYERS WILL HAVE A BIG SAY IN AFL FINALS
GEELONG: SAM MENEGOLA
Has looked comfortable at the highest level since making his AFL debut in round 18. The hard-running midfielder spent time on Fremantle and Hawthorn’s rookie list before being picked up by the Cats.
“He’s playing with huge confidence at the moment. He’s just got this huge running ability .. we want him to play the way he has been playing and we’ll work around him,” Cats skipper JOEL SELWOOD.
HAWTHORN: JACK FITZPATRICK
Games: 23 (1 at Hawthorn)
Likely to keep his place in the side, even if both Ben Stratton and Ben McEvoy return against the Cats. Became a cult hero on club debut, booting a last-gasp goal from 60 metres out to help the Hawks secure their top-four spot in the final round of the season.
“He stepped up in a pretty big moment so that shows a bit about him … it was brilliant to see him do that,” Hawks midfielder ISAAC SMITH.
SYDNEY: SAM NAISMITH
Injury and illness stalled the ruckman’s progress after he joined the Swans via the 2013 rookie draft but has played the past eight games for the minor premiers. Faces a big job in the ruck against Shane Mumford.
“We’ve been really happy with the way Naismith is going … he’s grown in confidence and his ruck work has been very good particularly at centre bounces,” Swans coach JOHN LONGMIRE.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY: JACOB HOPPER
Set to cap his first season in the system with finals action, having impressed in the last round of the season with a goal and 20 possessions. Battled stress fractures in his back earlier this year but now back to full fitness.
“I’m a pretty impatient type of kid. There were definitely weeks that went by where I felt like I was running out of time. I just wanted to get back and play footy,” HOPPER on his injury comeback.
ADELAIDE: MITCH McGOVERN
The potent forward was restricted by an achilles injury in 2015 but has made the most of his opportunities this year, playing 21 games. Booted a total of 30 goals this season, adding another layer to the most potent forward line in the competition.
“Mitch is a quality person and a player that is always looking to learn more about the game … he is athletic, skilful and epitomises the team-first approach of our club,” Crows coach DON PYKE.
NORTH MELBOURNE: JED ANDERSON
Suffered a hamstring injury in round one but the former Hawthorn speedster has produced glimpses of his best over the past month. One of many youngsters who will be asked to step up in the absence of Brent Harvey next year.
“I came over to North because I wanted to play games and I’m doing that, growing my game and learning every week,” ANDERSON on his first season at Arden St.
WEST COAST: TOM BARRASS
The Rising Star nominee has attracted plenty of praise for his intercept marking this year. The defender played the best game of his short career in the final round of the season and looks set to continue keeping Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown out of the team.
“He’s an extremely talented guy. Physically he’s a big unit. Jumps high. Marks the ball at its highest points. He can match it with most blokes his size,” fellow defender WILL SCHOFIELD on the rise and rise of Barrass.
WESTERN BULLDOGS: JOSH DUNKLEY
Has excelled in the second half of the season, spending more time in the midfield and stepping up in the absence of injured stars li, Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis and Jack Macrae. It’s a fair effort given he was a second-round selection in last year’s draft.
“Josh is as determined to fast-track his AFL career as any young man we have been involved with,” Bulldogs coach LUKE BEVERIDGE.