SEASON 2019 welcomes a brand new beginning for every AFL player. Some are entering the new year off the back of a great footy season and some of them, well, aren’t. Whether through injury, role change, lack of opportunity or 101 other reasons a few players are out to atone for their 2018 sins with the eyes of the football world on them.
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IT’S possible the same Dan Hannebery that made 3x All-Australian teams as a Swan earlier in the decade is gone. After his body failed him in recent times, Hanners made the move from Sydney to St Kilda in the off-season in an effort to jumpstart the latter chapter of his career. There’s no doubt that when he’s on, Hannebery is a premier midfielder, but we have to wonder if those days are now behind him. Already this pre-season Hannebery has had to scale back his training following a hamstring scare but has since been given the all-clear. He will be one of the most talked about players this season and if healthy the veteran needs to repay the faith St Kilda has shown in him and usher in a new era at Docklands.
THE entire Adelaide organisation had a 2018 to forget and their vice-captain was no exception. Full disclosure a troubling foot injury was to blame for a lot of Rory Sloane’s woes, as he managed just 12 games for the year. While injury curtailed Sloane’s production, the occasional tag that came his way saw the bullocking mid average the lowest amount of disposals (21.8) since 2012, a trend he has to fix in 2019.
NOT only will a clean bill of health help Sloane get back to his best, having Bryce Gibbs and the Crouch brothers fit and firing will deter attention away from him, forcing other teams to be accountable for the whole Crows engine room. There is a ton of pressure on Sloane’s shoulders to help lift Adelaide out of the gutter after a miserable campaign and with his future no longer in doubt I expect him to return to the top of his game.
ONE could argue that Carlton and Gold Coast are in a race to be the laughing stock of the competition at the moment. While the Suns’ list has been gutted, the Blues are chasing someone to point the finger at and while injuries are the main contributor, Matthew Kreuzer was one of the players who failed to fire last season. After a career year in 2017, the former No. 1 pick once again struggled to stay on the park, with only one full season of footy under his belt in his 11 seasons in the league.
INJURIES have hampered Kreuzer his entire career and if he can’t get his body right this year, the Blues might be forced to look elsewhere after being let down time and time again. There is hope that Kruezer’s disappointing 2018 was a fluke with heart issues the main reason for his absence in Carlton’s lineup, however, as they try to claw credibility back they can’t afford to have any passengers.
IT might be a tad harsh to put Andrew McGrath on this list, but everyone expected big things in his second pro season. Another top overall pick, McGrath toiled through his rookie season and was expected to be a bright spark in 2018 only to tread water as he makes the transition from defender to midfielder. Again, McGrath is only 20 and he could be poised for a traditional third-year breakout with Essendon expected to rise up the ladder after a strong off-season. Boasting the likes of Dyson Heppell, Devon Smith, Zach Merrett and now Dylan Shiel, minutes in the guts won’t be guaranteed for McGrath if he fails to fire. However, if he does take the expected step in development then there’s every chance he could help the Bombers house one of the best midfields in the comp.
Image from afl.com.au
A spot in Fremantle’s best 22 is right there for the taking for Brandon Matera, should he want it. Throughout his Gold Coast/Freo career, Matera has found himself continually being sent back to the reserves as inconsistencies keep him back from becoming an elite small forward. He has had decent seasons with both clubs so far, but he will be out to make his mark in his second year as a Docker with Hayden Ballantyne nearing the end of his career and Michael Walters expected to move further up the ground. A busy trade period from Fremantle will see increased competition for spots at the club and if Matera doesn’t lift he could be left on the outside looking in.
BACKFLIPPING on his 2017 retirement decision has seen Shane Mumford rejoin the AFL ranks, with the Giants desperate for him to fire this year. At 32, Mumford’s signature could have been sought out of desperation rather than his pure footballing ability, but there’s no doubt he can help carry the ruck load for GWS. With Rory Lobb leaving in the off-season and part-timer Jon Patton still rehabbing from an ACL tear the Giants are very thin in the ruck department with Dawson Simpson the only other relevant name along with Mumford. Three straight years of falling short in the finals is an indicator that the Giants’ premiership window is fast closing and if Mummy can deliver a great season for the club they might (big might), be able to finally capture that elusive flag.
THIS one is slightly left of field, but hear me out. In just his second season of AFL footy, Daniel Venables became a premiership player by timing his run to perfection following a recall in Round 16. He went on to feature in West Coast’s final 11 games and no offense to the guy, but every premiership team has a 22nd ranked player and Venables was probably it for the Eagles, gathering just four touches on the big day. He showcased his talents by netting a career-high 17 touches in the preliminary final the week prior and since being drafted in 2016, the club has been very bullish on his future in the AFL.
WITH the potential for a dynasty to be built, everyone on the team sheet will be out to cement themselves as a member of the club’s best 22 and if he’s not careful, Venables might find himself as a rotation player who bounces in and out of the team. On the other hand, if he can take another leap in his development it could be an integral part in West Coast winning consecutive premierships.