This was a season of highs and lows

October 03, 2017

Tom Rockliff

Clayton Oliver

Tom Clurey

Daniel Howe

Shaun Atley

Caleb Marchbank

There were 31 players with ties to this region on AFL lists this year.

Between them it has certainly been a rollercoaster season, with some exploding onto the scene and others toiling away in the state leagues waiting for their chance at glory.

Musings HQ has run the rule over each of them and assessed just how well 2017 went for our local heroes.

Alex Keath (Adelaide)

One of the more interesting stories of the season surrounded Alex Keath’s debut for the Crows in round 18 against Geelong. After turning his back on cricket to pursue his dreams of playing AFL, the Kialla product broke through for six consecutive matches to finish the regular season. Keath could not hold his spot for Adelaide’s finals tilt, but an 18-disposal, 11-mark game in round 21 was the highlight of his short tenure. The performance was enough for him to ink another contract at the Crows. The tall defender also made eight appearances in the SANFL, sneaking forward for a rare four goals.

Tom Rockliff (Brisbane)

There is plenty of talk surrounding Tom Rockliff’s future at the Lions, but one thing is for sure — the 27-year-old Benalla boy still has enough left in the tank to remain a star of the game. Averaging 24 disposals, 5.3 marks, 5.8 tackles and 6.3 clearances across his 20 games this year, Rockliff’s campaign, despite family tragedy and constant conjecture surrounding his future, showed his match-winning capabilities are still well and truly exceptional. If Rockliff does not add to his 154 games at Brisbane he will surely slot into the premiere midfielder position at whichever club he ends up at.

Josh Schache (Brisbane)

Another Lion who had his future played out almost daily across the media landscape, Josh Schache re-signed with the club for a further two years in June and will relish the opportunity to develop his game under the security of the deal. The Seymour export managed 10 matches at AFL level this year and slotted just nine goals, but dominated in patches for Brisbane’s NEAFL side with 23 majors in nine games. Standing at 199cm, the key forward will only get better with experience and will look to have a breakout season in 2018 after burning out towards the end of this year and missing the Lions’ last two NEAFL matches, including their premiership triumph.

Caleb Marchbank (Carlton)

Caleb Marchbank regularly impressed for the Blues deep in defence, and was nominated for the Rising Star award after round six. The Benalla boy did not spend any time in the VFL this season, but only played 16 games due to injuries. In a young side Marchbank, 20, already provides stability down back with his intercept marking (6.06 a game) ranking first among the league’s rising stars. Remarkably almost all of Marchbank’s marks (6.4 a game) came through intercepts, showcasing his importance to Carlton’s set-up. The young talent has already cemented his spot for the Blues, but will look to improve on his efficiency with the ball next year after averaging 3.3 turnovers and 2.8 clangers a game.

Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood)

The unassuming Steele Sidebottom went about his business with little fuss this year, but his statistics tell a different story. The Tallygaroopna export cracked the 600 disposal mark for the second time in his 185-game career at Collingwood, and averaged 5.2 marks, 4.2 tackles, 3.4 clearances and 4.1 inside 50s a game across his 22 matches for the season. AFL umpires certainly noticed Sidebottom’s increased output as well, awarding him 14 Brownlow votes. The midfielder believes his Magpies will return quickly to the cauldron of finals football, and will play an integral role if that is to be the case.

Jamie Elliott (Collingwood)

Injury stunted Euroa product Jamie Elliott’s season for Collingwood, but the livewire still managed to make 17 appearances at the highest level. With his 100th game on the horizon mid next season the 25-year-old is entering the prime of his career, but can already influence matches with the best of them. His 20 disposals, 10 marks and three goals in round 23 helped put Melbourne’s finals hopes to the sword, while an eight-mark, four-goal and four-tackle performance in round 10 against Brisbane was just as impressive. Out of contract at the end of 2018, another big season from Elliott will see his market value soar.

David Mundy (Fremantle)

David Mundy was once again a consistent performer for Fremantle this season, playing 21 games and averaging 21.3 disposals, 4.1 tackles. 3.9 clearances and 3.3 inside 50s. The highlight of the veteran’s year was undoubtedly striking doom into the hearts of Richmond fans with a goal after the siren to hand the Dockers an improbable victory at the MCG in round eight. The 32-year-old Seymour export has now amassed 272 games for the Dockers, and remains second on their all-time list behind Matthew Pavlich.

Tom Hawkins (Geelong)

Tom Hawkins passed the 200-game mark this season for Geelong and remains one of the more dangerous forwards in the competition when on song. The Finley product managed 22 matches, notching more than 50 goals (51) for the fourth time in his 11 AFL seasons. The big man not only does damage in the air, but has increased his presence on the ground in recent years, averaging the highest amount of tackles a game of his career (2.8) in this campaign. Hawkins is almost certain to move into third on Geelong’s all-time goal-kicking table early next season, with his 438 only three behind Billy Brownless and 14 adrift of Steve Johnson.

Esava Ratugolea (Geelong)

Drafted to the Cats with pick 43 of last year’s national draft, Esava Ratugolea has struggled with injury in his first season on an AFL list. The Cobram export managed just 10 matches for Geelong’s VFL side, but showed plenty of glimpses of brilliance throughout. In his first game he booted three goals from seven possessions, while he showed great consistency by hitting the scoreboard in seven of his other nine games. Having been compared to West Coast’s Nic Naitanui, Ratugolea’s huge leap allows him to compete in the ruck despite standing at a shorter height (195cm) than most of his opponents.

Michael Barlow (Gold Coast)

A case of deja vu haunted Michael Barlow this year when he broke his leg during the Suns’ round 13 clash with Carlton. The injury was in the same leg he had suffered a break in during his debut season with Fremantle in 2010. After a successful surgery Barlow is expected to recover in time for pre-season training, and the 29-year-old will look to stamp his authority on the field once more. Before breaking his leg, the veteran averaged 25.4 disposals and four tackles a game across 12 matches.

Will Brodie (Gold Coast)

Shepparton export Will Brodie broke through for three matches in his debut season at the Suns, averaging 13.7 disposals and six tackles in those appearances. It meant the No.9 draft pick was a regular fixture in the NEAFL for the Gold Coast, playing 17 games and booting 12 goals. Brodie was also in the best players five times throughout the year, but will be looking to cement a more permanent place within the Suns’ midfield brigade next season.

Jarrod Harbrow (Gold Coast)

It was a mixed season at the Suns for Mooroopna export Jarrod Harbrow. After a club-imposed suspension for drink-driving during the year, the veteran notched his 200th AFL game in round 21 against Brisbane. It was one of his better performances of the year too, with his 20 disposals, seven marks and five tackles a highlight in the 58-point loss. Across his 18 games, Harbrow averaged 22.3 touches and 5.7 marks. Currently out of contract, Harbrow’s immediate future is up in the air, but the 29-year-old will offer plenty for a few more seasons yet.

Tom Downie (GWS)

Benalla export Tom Downie announced his retirement from the AFL in May in order to deal with mental health issues that had affected him for a long period of time. A foundation member of the Giants, Downie played nine matches at the highest level after being selected with pick 56 in the 2011 national draft and last appeared in round 13 2016.

Brett Deledio (GWS)

GWS veteran Brett Deledio ticked off a few boxes this season. The Kyabram product made his debut for the Giants, experienced a finals win for the first time and played his 250th AFL match. After battling serious calf injuries for much of the past few years, it was a milestone which threatened not to eventuate. Deledio’s seven matches this season produced an average of 14 disposals, 4.1 marks and 3.4 tackles. With a contract secured until the end of 2019, Deledio will be hoping he can help the Giants experience the elation of his old club Richmond and home club Kyabram before he calls time on his career.

Daniel Howe (Hawthorn)

A breakthrough season for Daniel Howe promises to provide a launching pad for the Rennie boy to become a stalwart of Hawthorn’s best 22. Appearing 18 times in this campaign, Howe averaged 16.7 disposals, four marks, 5.3 tackles and 2.7 clearances. The 21-year-old had managed just 15 games before this season, but has relished the opportunities he has received. With more Hawks legends retiring, Howe will become even more important to his side’s charge towards a return to September football.

Harry Morrison (Hawthorn)

It took until the final round of the season, but Harry Morrison became an AFL footballer in his first year on Hawthorn’s list. And what a debut it was for the boy from Benalla, helping the Hawks put paid to the Bulldogs’ chances of defending their crown in the pressure cooker of Friday night football. Morrison amassed 21 disposals, six marks, three inside 50s and two clearances, but impressed with his poise and calmness on the big stage. Morrison was also a solid contributor for the Box Hill Hawks all season, with 18 matches under his belt.

James Cousins (Hawthorn)

Mansfield product James Cousins also made his debut for Hawthorn this season, going on to play three consecutive matches at the highest level between round 10 and round 12 after being promoted from the rookie list. A shoulder injury in July ended his promising season prematurely, before which Cousins had also managed nine matches with the Box Hill Hawks. It was enough for the club to nominate him as their best first-year player, an outstanding acknowledgment in a team which blooded five new players during this campaign.

Clayton Oliver (Melbourne)

Where do you start with Mooroopna export Clayton Oliver? My feelings on the injustices the hard-nosed red-head has been subjected to this season have been aired regularly, and were magnified last Monday when he only received 12 Brownlow votes. Oliver was named in this year’s AFLPA best 22 under 22 team on the ball, and rightfully so. He was ranked in the top four in the AFL in eight statistical categories, averaging 30 disposals, 6.9 tackles, 6.6 clearances and three inside 50s a game in 22 matches. Still only 20 years old, Oliver will be a hot commodity in years to come as a contested ball-winner, and adding the ability to kick goals will be the next step in improving his impact on matches.

Jarrad Waite (North Melbourne)

Benalla’s Jarrad Waite appeared just 10 times for North Melbourne this season, missing games through injury and suspension. The 34-year-old is also out of contract, and will be facing a nervous wait over the next week or so as his future is determined by the Kangaroos. The 231-game veteran’s best football is still scintillating though, highlighted by hauls of six goals (round seven) and a pair of bags of four (round 15 and round 18). Waite averaged 4.9 marks and 2.2 goals in his third year at the Kangaroos, and will be hoping for a chance at a fourth campaign.

Jy Simpkin (North Melbourne)

Shoulder surgery interrupted Jy Simpkin’s first season at North Melbourne, but the exciting Mooroopna product still managed to play 13 games. Simpkin was handed his debut in the first match of the season, and went on to average 10.8 disposals, 2.4 tackles and boot nine goals for the year. His impressive start at the Kangaroos was rewarded with a two-year contract extension in April, while he was also named his side’s best first year player. It was no surprise that Simpkin returned from his shoulder injury to play seven consecutive games to finish the season after recovering from a broken leg and various complications to be drafted at number 12 by North Melbourne last year.

Sam Wright (North Melbourne)

The luckless run of Katamatite’s favourite son Sam Wright continued this year. After only playing eight games last season, Wright did not make an AFL appearance this year, with more ankle issues troubling the 27-year-old. Wright played just three games for Kangaroos VFL-affiliate Werribee, and will focus once more on recovering during summer.

Shaun Atley (North Melbourne)

Extreme consistency has been the cornerstone of Shaun Atley’s North Melbourne career. The Rochester export played 22 matches this season, and has only once played less than that number in his seven-year stint at the Kangaroos (16 in his debut 2011 season). Atley averaged 17.5 disposals, 3.4 marks, 2.6 tackles and 3.7 inside 50s this year, and showcased his ability as a running defender/midfielder with 27 bounces for the season (ranked 10th in the AFL). Atley also notched his 150th game for North Melbourne, and at just 25 years of age is certainly in his prime.

Jarman Impey (Port Adelaide)

Shepparton product Jarman Impey has been touted as a potential trade option for Port Adelaide in recent days, but held his spot in the side for most of the season with 20 appearances. Impey’s speed in the forward line is his greatest asset, but he would be looking to kick more than 15 goals next year. Impey averaged 11.9 disposals, 3.9 tackles, three inside 50s and 1.85 running bounces (ranked ninth in the AFL) across his 20 matches. The 22-year-old still has one more year to run on his current contract, and will look to cement his credentials as a required asset in the new year.

Ollie Wines (Port Adelaide)

Echuca export Ollie Wines continued to prove himself as one of Port Adelaide’s best players this season, averaging 27.3 disposals, 5.1 marks, six clearances, 4.2 inside 50s and 13.78 contested possessions a game across his 23 matches. Wines also passed the 100-game milestone for the Power, and was rewarded for his year with inclusion into the AFLPA best 22 under 22 side. With 18 Brownlow votes as well this season, Wines was the most productive player from this region on the AFL’s night of nights.

Tom Clurey (Port Adelaide)

A breakout season for Katamatite export Tom Clurey had him appear in every game for Port Adelaide. After only managing 18 games over the previous three seasons, it was the first time the 23-year-old had achieved the feat. The key defender averaged 5.1 marks and 2.8 rebound 50s for the year, but more importantly Clurey amassed 121 one percenters during this campaign — the bread-and-butter of backmen.

Todd Marshall (Port Adelaide)

Deniliquin product Todd Marshall appeared three times for Port Adelaide in his debut season after being drafted with the 16th pick in last year’s national draft. Marshall played the final two games of the regular season before holding his spot for the Power’s extra-time elimination final loss to West Coast, averaging 3.3 marks, 3.3 tackles and kicking a solitary major. His SANFL season also finished in excruciating fashion, with a one-point grand final defeat at the hands of Sturt. Marshall played 17 matches at the state league level, kicking 23 goals.

Joe Atley (Port Adelaide)

Yet another local export to be handed an AFL debut this year, Joe Atley played three games for Port Adelaide in his inaugural season. The Rochester product averaged four tackles and 2.7 clearances across those appearances, and will be better for the experience. The midfielder was also part of Port Adelaide’s heartbreaking SANFL grand final loss, and was one of the better players on the field. Atley played 18 games in the SANFL this year for six goals.

Aidyn Johnson (Port Adelaide)

Moama’s Aidyn Johnson played his first AFL game for Port Adelaide in round five this season, but could not break back into the side until round 20. After he did he held his spot for a further four matches, but did not survive at selection table for the elimination final. At the highest level the 19-year-old averaged 9.4 disposals and 3.4 tackles a game, while in the SANFL he booted 15 goals from 12 appearances. Johnson is currently out of contract, but will take confidence from his extended run in the senior side at the end of the year.

Sam Lloyd (Richmond)

Deniliquin export Sam Lloyd struggled to break into Richmond’s premiership side throughout the season, playing just eight games and averaging 4.9 marks and 2.9 tackles. But in the VFL Lloyd dominated, appearing 12 times and booting 28 goals. The lively Lloyd amassed 35 disposals and nine tackles in the VFL grand final, but it was not enough for him to drag the Tigers across the line against Port Melbourne. With a year left to run on his contract, Lloyd will be hoping to add to his 50 AFL games and ride the Richmond wave towards another late September run.

Nathan Drummond (Richmond)

Heartbreak for Mooroopna product Nathan Drummond came in the form of yet another anterior cruciate ligament rupture, this time in the opposite knee to the injury he suffered on debut in 2015. Before the latest setback Drummond had played just two games for Richmond’s VFL side, but senior coach Damien Hardwick was confident his young charge would return to the senior side once he had recovered. The 22-year-old is currently out of contract, but will be hopeful of being retained by the Tigers.

Josh Prudden (Western Bulldogs)

Seymour export Josh Prudden was delisted by the Bulldogs for the second time in two seasons last month. After being cut from the senior list after the 2016 season, Prudden was added to the rookie list for this year, but failed to add to his four AFL appearances. Prudden played 15 games for Footscray in the VFL this season, kicking two goals and being named in the best three times.

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