The 2021 season is right around the corner, with teams now gearing up through practice matches.
The fringes of teams are being sorted and players are pushing their case for a Round 1 berth.
With that in mind, what is your side’s best 22 and strongest team on paper, long-term injuries aside?
We have gone through all 18 teams and picked out what their best grouping looks like, leaving out those on the shelf with long-term injuries like Charlie Curnow, James Sicily, Michael Hurley and more.
Those with less significant injuries, even if they’re in doubt for the start of the season, have been included.
We have also picked out players on the brink of the team, who could push in and replace those who are unavailable.
FB: Luke Brown / Daniel Talia / Jake Kelly
HB: Tom Doedee / Fischer McAsey / Lachlan Sholl
C: Brodie Smith / Matt Crouch / Wayne Milera
HF: Shane McAdam / Taylor Walker / Tom Lynch
FF: James Rowe / Elliott Himmelberg / Darcy Fogarty
FOL: Reilly O’Brien / Rory Sloane / Rory Laird
INT: Riley Thilthorpe / Harry Schoenberg / Ben Keays / Jackson Hately
On the brink: Billy Frampton, David MacKay, Paul Seedsman, Ned McHenry, Mitch Hinge, Andrew McPherson, Will Hamill, Lachlan Murphy, Sam Berry, Luke Pedlar
There are plenty of positions up for grabs at Adelaide.
The key forward spots will be intriguing with Billy Frampton and no.2 draft pick Riley Thilthorpe set to push Taylor Walker, Darcy Fogarty and Elliott Himmelberg. The small forward slot is also not settled with draftee James Rowe putting his name in the mix.
It is expected that Rory Laird will become a permanent midfielder which offers chances to Lachlan Sholl and Wayne Milera off half-back and/or wing. New midfielder Jackson Hately will be pressing for a starting berth while Harry Schoenberg has impressed during pre-season.
You could make a case for a handful in the on the brink category which indicates that it will be a tough job for Matthew Nicks to settle on his best 22 with plenty of variables and a few unknowns.
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FB: Callum Ah Chee / Harris Andrews / Brandon Starcevich
HB: Ryan Lester / Jack Payne / Daniel Rich
C: Hugh McCluggage / Jarryd Lyons / Zac Bailey
HF: Cam Rayner / Eric Hipwood / Dayne Zorko
FF: Charlie Cameron / Joe Daniher / Lincoln McCarthy
FOL: Oscar McInerney / Lachie Neale / Jarrod Berry
INT: Nakia Cockatoo / Mitch Robinson / Grant Birchall / Darcy Gardiner
On the brink: Daniel McStay, Cam Ellis-Yolmen, Noah Answerth, Archie Smith, Tom Fullarton, Marcus Adams
Looking at the expected Lions 22 one can see why they’re a leading premiership contender. Their best side was already one of the league’s most talented, but it has been bettered again with the addition of Joe Daniher and Nakia Cockatoo.
Daniher adds another dimension to the forward line alongside Eric Hipwood and as a result Daniel McStay misses out. If Chris Fagan opts for a three-pronged tall attack, one of Mitch Robinson or Grant Birchall would be the unlucky omission.
After a strong pre-season Jack Payne looks set to make a key defensive post his own and should line up ahead of Darcy Gardiner in 2021, with the latter dealing with a knee injury. Blake Coleman is the draftee most likely to make an appearance early in the season, with his electric pace and goal sense providing the Lions with another talented small forward option.
The six Lions on the brink are also all sturdy contributors when called upon at AFL level, providing a solid level of depth again this season.
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FB: Lachie Plowman / Jacob Weitering / Sam Petrevski-Seton
HB: Adam Saad / Liam Jones / Sam Docherty
C: Ed Curnow / Sam Walsh / Will Setterfield
HF: Jack Martin / Mitch McGovern / Marc Murphy
FF: Zac Fisher / Harry McKay / Levi Casboult
FOL: Tom De Koning / Patrick Cripps / Zac Williams
INT: Caleb Marchbank / Tom Williamson / Paddy Dow / Jack Newnes
On the brink: Eddie Betts, David Cuningham, Jack Silvagni, Nic Newman, Michael Gibbons, Marc Pittonet, Lachlan Fogarty, Matt Cottrell
Injured: Charlie Curnow, Nic Newman
The Blues have a few holes they need to plug, with Charlie Curnow obviously on the shelf long-term, while Mitch McGovern, Tom De Koning and Caleb Marchbank deal with minor injuries that may see them miss Round 1. This should open the door for Marc Pittonet in the ruck, while Levi Casboult and Harry McKay will carry the key forward load.
Carlton found balance in defence without Caleb Marchbank or Nic Newman last year and the addition of Adam Saad next to Sam Docherty and Sam Petrevski-Seton gives them all the rebound they’ll likely need.
Expect Sam Walsh and Zac Williams to push predominantly on-ball next to Patrick Cripps, likely meaning we see Ed Curnow and Will Setterfield spending more time on the wings. Tom Williamson has impressed over pre-season and could also spend time on the wings this year. He and Jack Newnes are likely battling for one spot at this stage.
The big question for the Blues is where their goals come from, aside from McKay and Casboult. Zac Fisher has made the permanent shift inside 50, but otherwise they will likely be reliant on midfield contributions.
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FB: Brayden Maynard / Jordan Roughead / Isaac Quaynor
HB: Jeremy Howe / Darcy Moore / Jack Crisp
C: Josh Daicos / Taylor Adams / Steele Sidebottom
HF: Jordan De Goey / Brody Mihocek / Will Kelly
FF: Will Hoskin-Elliott / Mason Cox / Jamie Elliott
FOL: Brodie Grundy / Scott Pendlebury / Brayden Sier
INT: John Noble / Tyler Brown / Levi Greenwood / Oliver Henry
On the brink: Callum Brown, Jack Madgen, Chris Mayne, Finlay Macrae, Darcy Cameron, Jay Rantall, Josh Thomas
The biggest question for the Pies’ Round 1 side will be how much youth do they blood?
A salary cap debacle saw the club shed best 22 regulars Adam Treloar, Tom Phillips and Jaidyn Stephenson last off-season, but a strong draft haul has somewhat softened that blow.
Oliver Henry looks set for an early debut after impressing in a recent intra-club match, while inexperienced midfielder Tyler Brown should go past his brother Callum as a regular in Nathan Buckley’s side.
The defence again looks like one of the competition’s best, particularly with the return of Jeremy Howe, but it’s the forward line that the Pies will want to tinker with. Will Kelly should be a certain starter after making his debut in 2020 and the Pies will be hoping Jordan De Goey flourishes into the mid-forward dynamo they have long hoped he’d become.
Levi Greenwood bought himself a spot in the side after a crucial performance on Tim Kelly in the Pies’ elimination final win over West Coast and Brayden Sier should finally find a solid place in the engine room.
FB: Nick Hind / Aaron Francis / Jordan Ridley
HB: Dyson Heppell / Cale Hooker / Patrick Ambrose
C: Kyle Langford / Dylan Shiel / Jye Caldwell
HF: Jayden Laverde / Harry Jones / Devon Smith
FF: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti / Peter Wright / Jake Stringer
FOL: Sam Draper / Zach Merrett / Andrew McGrath
INT: Will Snelling / Brayden Ham / Darcy Parish / Nik Cox
On the brink: Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, James Stewart, Zach Reid, Tom Cutler, Ned Cahill, Archie Perkins
Injured: Michael Hurley
It’s a new era at Essendon in 2021 and that’s reflected in what shapes as a vastly different best 22 without the likes of Adam Saad, Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia at the club.
Nick Hind is expected to fill Saad’s role and play early, while reigning best and fairest winner Jordan Ridley forms a key part of the back six which will welcome Dyson Heppell this year.
Further up the field, Kyle Langford will be looking to continue his improvement of late, while Jye Caldwell was impressive in the side’s scratch match against Carlton on Thursday and is likely to play.
Top-10 draft picks Nik Cox and Archie Perkins are well in the frame to make their debuts in Round 1 as well.
How the side shapes up in the forward line is probably of most interest, with Harry Jones and Peter Wright set to play early on.
FB: Luke Ryan / Brennan Cox / Griffin Logue
HB: Nathan Wilson / Alex Pearce / Hayden Young
C: Adam Cerra / Nathan Fyfe / Darcy Tucker
HF: Michael Walters / Rory Lobb / David Mundy
FF: Sam Sturt / Matt Taberner / Lachlan Schultz
FOL: Sean Darcy / Andrew Brayshaw / Caleb Serong
INT: Liam Henry / Blake Acres / Reece Conca / James Aish
On the brink: Joel Hamling, Connor Blakely, Stephen Hill, Ethan Hughes, Mitch Crowden, Travis Colyer, Luke Valente
The biggest question for the Dockers heading into 2021 is how they structure up defensively. They performed admirably last year without first-choice starters Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling. Luke Ryan stepped up and played tall, while Brennan Cox emerged and Griffin Logue showed signs. The five can’t all play together and we have Hamling missing out for the time being, though that may change with practice match form.
Their midfield is relatively settled, though expect Nathan Fyfe to spend more time inside 50 as Adam Cerra pushes into the middle more frequently. Their forward line relies on a healthy Matt Taberner, but they have a plethora of small forward options to choose from. They’ll be hoping Liam Henry can grab one of those spots this year. Sam Sturt also impressed early in the year and should slot back into their best side.
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FB: Jake Kolodjashnij / Mark Blicavs / Jack Henry
HB: Mark O’Connor / Lachie Henderson / Tom Stewart
C: Isaac Smith / Joel Selwood / Cam Guthrie
HF: Shaun Higgins, / Jeremy Cameron / Luke Dahlhaus
FF: Brandan Parfitt / Tom Hawkins / Gary Rohan
FOL: Rhys Stanley / Mitch Duncan / Patrick Dangerfield
INT: Zach Tuohy / Sam Menegola / Gryan Miers / Jordan Clark
On the brink: Sam Simpson, Tom Atkins, Esava Ratugolea, Josh Jenkins, Charlie Constable, Brad Close
Geelong is one of the most fascinating stories heading into the new season and on paper they have one of the strongest sides.
Their three new boom recruits in Shaun Higgins, Jeremy Cameron and Isaac Smith will all play in the opening round, while there’s also plenty of competition in midfield with the likes of Joel Selwood, Cam Guthrie and Patrick Dangerfield still fit and firing.
Geelong’s depth is highlighted by Esava Ratugolea having to fight for his spot in 2021. Anything less than a premiership will be deemed somewhat of a disappointment for the star-studded side.
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FB: Connor Budarick / Sam Collins / Charlie Ballard
HB: Jack Bowes / Jack Lukosius / Oleg Markov
C: Noah Anderson / Hugh Greenwood / Lachie Weller
HF: Alex Sexton / Ben King / Ben Ainsworth
FF: Izak Rankine / Sam Day / Wil Powell
FOL: Jarrod Witts / David Swallow / Matt Rowell
INT: Brandon Ellis / Rory Atkins / Touk Miller / Jarrod Harbrow
On the brink: Elijah Hollands, Alex Davies, Sam Flanders, Sean Lemmens, Darcy Macpherson, Jack Hombsch, Zac Smith, Brayden Fiorini
Injured: Rory Thompson
Gold Coast’s batch of youngsters – particularly through the midfield – makes them an interesting watch this season.
Much is expected of fit-again Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson who headline the Suns’ engine room along with battle-hardened duo David Swallow and Hugh Greenwood.
The Suns acquired Rory Atkins and Oleg Markov to round out their list with some mature heads and are expected to slot straight into Gold Coast’s preferred side.
Jack Lukosius and Ben King will continue to develop as the club’s two key emerging bookends, but first-round draft Elijah Hollands is still recovering from an ACL injury and will miss the start of the season.
FB: Lachlan Ash / Phil Davis / Sam Taylor
HB: Nick Haynes / Lachie Keeffe / Lachie Whitfield
C: Josh Kelly / Stephen Coniglio / Harry Perryman
HF: Jeremy Finlayson / Harry Himmelberg / Toby Greene
F: Brent Daniels / Jesse Hogan / Jake Riccardi
FOL: Shane Mumford / Jacob Hopper / Tim Taranto
INT: Matt De Boer / Tom Green / Callan Ward / Daniel Lloyd
On the brink: Ian Hill, Tanner Bruhn, Sam Reid, Isaac Cumming, Connor Idun, Matthew Flynn
Injured: Braydon Preuss, Adam Kennedy
The biggest hole to fill for the Giants from 2020 is that of Jeremy Cameron, whose absence provides a gaping fissure in the forward line.
The obvious choice is Jesse Hogan but he is no certainty to successfully step into the chasm. He is now at this third club and after an interrupted last few years, will require assistance from Harry Himmelberg and Jeremy Finlayson.
The Giants will also have to cope without Zac Williams and Aidan Corr, while developing midfielders Jye Caldwell and Jackson Hately, and small forward Zac Langdon are also out the door.
Expect Tom Green to be a constant presence in midfield while running defender Lachlan Ash should be afforded more opportunities. The back six will be boosted by the return of Sam Taylor.
Braydon Preuss was set to take on the primary ruck duties but shoulder surgery has scuppered those plans so Shane Mumford will be back in the role with the untried Matthew Flynn next in line.
The Giants side, on paper, looks in decent shape but is there enough depth?
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FB: Blake Hardwick / Kyle Hartigan / Jarman Impey
HB: Shaun Burgoyne / Jack Scrimshaw / Sam Frost
C: Tom Phillips / Tom Mitchell / Will Day
HF: Chad Wingard / Tim O’Brien / Dylan Moore
FF: Jack Gunston / Mitchell Lewis / Luke Breust
FOL: Ben McEvoy / Jaeger O’Meara / James Worpel
INT: Jon Ceglar / Connor Downie / Daniel Howe / Liam Shiels
On the brink: Changkuoth Jiath, James Cousins, Jacob Koschitzke, Denver Grainger-Barrass, Damon Greaves, Tyler Brockman, Oliver Hanrahan
Injuries: James Sicily
Jack Gunston certainly won’t be there for the start of the season, James Sicily might not get out there at all in 2021, Jack Scrimshaw has been pretty much ruled out for the season opener, and Tom Mitchell and Chad Wingard also might not make it to the start line, so the round one team won’t resemble this whatsoever.
The back six is actually quite solid and gives Alastair Clarkson a bit to work with, but it is forward of centre where the Hawks lack x-factor and consistent scoring power. Pretty much all those fringe players listed might play in the season opener against the Bombers and that’s exciting for Hawks fans because they’re the future. Brockman might be the smokey – he shapes as the electric small forward the Hawks have been crying out for.
FB: Michael Hibberd / Steven May / Tom McDonald
HB: Christian Salem / Jake Lever / Jay Lockhart
C: Ed Langdon / Jack Viney / Angus Brayshaw
HF: Jake Melksham / Sam Weideman / Bayley Fritsch
FF: Luke Jackson / Ben Brown / Kysaiah Pickett
FOL: Max Gawn / Christian Petracca / Clayton Oliver
INT: James Harmes / Trent Rivers / Adam Tomlinson / Nathan Jones
On the brink: Toby Bedford, Joel Smith, Charlie Spargo, Aaron Vandenberg, Oskar Baker, Harrison Petty
Simon Goodwin has an early-season headache, having to find a replacement for both new recruit Ben Brown and the developing Sam Weideman, who will miss the early part of the 2021 season through injuries.
That scenario will likely see Tom McDonald play in the forward line, with second-year tall Luke Jackson also tipped to spend more time up forward as well.
Outside of their forward injury troubles, Melbourne’s side is fairly settled heading into a crucial season where all the pressure is on them to perform after an underwhelming 2020.
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FB: Jack Ziebell / Robbie Tarrant / Aidan Corr
HB: Luke McDonald / Ben McKay / Shaun Atley
C: Jared Polec / Ben Cunnington / Trent Dumont
HF: Aaron Hall / Cam Zurhaar / Jaidyn Stephenson
FF: Tarryn Thomas / Nick Larkey / Curtis Taylor
FOL: Todd Goldstein / Luke Davies-Uniacke / Jy Simpkin
INT: Jed Anderson / Josh Walker / Will Phillips / Lachie Young
On the brink: Atu Bosenavulagi, Aiden Bonar, Bailey Scott, Jack Mahony, Tristan Xerri, Flynn Perez, Kyron Hayden
North Melbourne will be sweating over Todd Goldstein’s health – it’s fair to say they cannot afford to lose him on the eve of the season. Goldstein suffered a heavy knock in the intra club over the weekend. He will be the key to a midfield built around Ben Cunnington and youngsters.
Jy Simpkin emerged as a star last year and they’ll be hoping Luke Davies-Uniacke can follow suit this year. Top draft pick Will Phillips will also get every opportunity.
Nick Larkey will be the focal point up forward, with Cam Zurhaar, Tarryn Thomas and Jaidyn Stephenson providing a fascinating combination around him. That set up will give headaches to opposition sides match-up wise and could turn games on their heads.
Captain Jack Ziebell is set to move into defence this year next to veterans Robbie Tarrant, Shaun Atley and Luke McDonald. McDonald had an outstanding year across half-back and pushing through the midfield. Aidan Corr joins from GWS and should slot in as the third tall next to Ben McKay or Josh Walker.
FB: Tom Clurey / Tom Jonas / Trent McKenzie
HB: Darcy Byrne-Jones / Aliir Aliir / Hamish Hartlett
C: Karl Amon / Ollie Wines / Xavier Duursma
HF: Connor Rozee / Todd Marshall / Zak Butters
FF: Robbie Gray / Charlie Dixon / Orazio Fantasia
FOL: Scott Lycett / Travis Boak / Tom Rockliff
INT: Dan Houston / Ryan Burton / Sam Powell-Pepper / Peter Ladhams
On the brink: Mitch Georgiades, Kane Farrell, Steven Motlop, Riley Bonner, Williem Drew, Sam Mayes, Lachlan Jones, Boyd Woodcock, Jarrod Lienert
Port Adelaide look strong on paper with Aliir Aliir and Orazio Fantasia definite starters in their best 22.
Aliir addresses the Power’s need for additional height in defence while Fantasia adds to an already exciting small forward bridge that includes Robbie Gray, Zak Butters and Connor Rozee.
It’s a settled side that contains a nice blend of youth and experience with quality across every line – especially down the spine of the team.
Todd Marshall should get first crack at centre-half forward, but fellow young gun Mitch Georgiades is breathing down his neck after impressing in his debut season.
Next Generation Academy acquisition Lachlan Jones will push for an early-season debut fresh off a full year in the SANFL for Woodville-West Torrens.
The Power have a clean bill of health approaching the 2021 season.
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FB: Dylan Grimes / David Astbury / Nick Vlastuin
HB: Jayden Short / Noah Balta / Bachar Houli
C: Kamdyn McIntosh / Dustin Martin / Marlion Pickett
HF: Shane Edwards / Jack Riewoldt / Kane Lambert
FF: Jason Castagna / Tom Lynch / Shai Bolton
FOL: Toby Nankervis / Trent Cotchin / Dion Prestia
INT: Liam Baker / Daniel Rioli / Jack Graham / Nathan Broad
On the brink: Jake Aarts, Josh Caddy, Jack Ross, Thomson Dow, Mabior Chol, Patrick Naish, Riley Collier-Dawkins, Callum Coleman-Jones
Injured: Ivan Soldo
It is a tricky task to break up a premiership side on paper, even if that particular team has never played together again.
However, all things going well, the Tigers could achieve a first by having the same 22 run out early in the 2021 season, provided Dion Prestia and Bachar Houli overcome soft tissue injuries.
While there is plenty of depth at Tigerland, it’s difficult to pin down exactly who will push through.
Jake Aarts was unlucky to miss the bulk of the finals series and subsequent flag and will be intent on breaking into Damien Hardwick’s side again. Young midfield trio Thomson Dow, Patrick Naish and Riley Collier-Dawkins will all be pushing for selection and there are a few fringe players like Josh Caddy, Jack Ross and Mabior Chol constantly on the brink.
There is plenty of quality underneath the back-to-back champions which will make Hardwick’s job tough.
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FB: Callum Wilkie, Dougal Howard, Jimmy Webster
HB: Ben Long, Jake Carlisle, Nick Coffield
C: Brad Hill, Jack Steele, Hunter Clark
HF: Jack Higgins, Tim Membrey, Jack Billings
FF: Dan Butler Max King, Rowan Marshall
FOL: Paddy Ryder, Brad Crouch, Zak Jones
INT: Dan Hannebery, Josh Battle, Jack Sinclair, Jade Gresham
On the brink: Seb Ross, Jack Lonie, James Frawley, Luke Dunstan, Dean Kent, Shaun McKernan, Mason Wood, Jack Bytel
Injured: Ben Paton, Jarryn Geary
St Kilda bolstered its list with five new names over the off-season.
Brad Crouch (suspended for the first two rounds) and Jack Higgins go straight into the 22 while James Frawley, Shaun McKernan and Mason Wood provide solid key position cover.
McKernan could come in for Rowan Marshall who will miss the early part of the year with a foot injury.
Ben Paton’s broken leg opens the door for Jimmy Webster to return and expect Hunter Clark to push into the midfield after playing mostly across half-back last season.
Dan Hannebery, Josh Battle, Jack Sinclair and Jade Gresham make up a strong Saints bench.
The club’s new-found depth means the likes of Seb Ross, Jack Lonie, Dean Kent, Luke Dunstan and co-captain Jarryn Geary miss out on selection.
FB: Jake Lloyd, Dane Rampe, Callum Mills
HB: Braeden Campbell, Tom McCartin, Lewis Melican
C: Nick Blakey, Josh Kennedy, Jordan Dawson
HF: Isaac Heeney, Lance Franklin, Will Hayward
FF: Tom Papley, Sam Reid, Justin McInerney
FOL: Tom Hickey, Luke Parker, Ollie Florent
INT: Harry Cunningham, George Hewett, James Rowbottom, Dylan Stephens
On the brink: Logan McDonald, Hayden McLean, Callum Sinclair, Will Gould, Robbie Fox, Harry Wicks
Swans recruit Braeden Campbell looks set to be a certain starter in John Longmire’s Round 1 side after an impressive first pre-season. Expect the early pick to settle in at half back and utilise his elite kicking before making an expected move into the midfield.
The club will also be praying for a return of key forward Lance Franklin. But it appears likely that one of Hayden McLean or Callum Sinclair will start in the 34-year-old’s place while he recovers from another injury setback, as young tall Logan McDonald takes time to develop in the reserves.
Tom Hickey comes in as the first-choice ruckman ahead of Sam Naismith and should be a consistent member of the 22, while Will Gould should begin to cement himself in the back six.
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FB: Jackson Nelson, Jeremy McGovern, Tom Cole
HB: Shannon Hurn, Tom Barrass, Brad Sheppard
C: Dom Sheed, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff
HF: Jack Petruccelle, Jack Darling, Liam Ryan
FF: Jamie Cripps, Josh Kennedy, Oscar Allen
FOL: Nic Naitanui, Tim Kelly, Elliot Yeo
INT: Jake Waterman, Zac Langdon, Jack Redden, Liam Duggan
*On the brink: Jarrod Brander, Alex Witherden, Xavier O’Neill, Bailey Williams, Brayden Ainsworth, Josh Rotham, Jarrod Cameron, Brendon Ah Chee, Jamaine Jones
The Eagles were forced to scrabble around the bottom of their midfield barrel in 2020, with Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo and Jack Redden all missing multiple matches. In response, coach Adam Simpson has moved premiership defender Liam Duggan up the ground and early reports are glowing.
Four-time All-Australian defender Jeremy McGovern similarly negotiated injury; Josh Rotham stepped in to effect and will push for more certainty. Former Lion Alex Witherden will contend for the half back slot vacated by Duggan.
West Coast will be prepared to wrap Josh Kennedy in cotton wool if need be, with Oscar Allen primed to elevate his game and Jake Waterman demonstrating aerial promise in a high half forward role.
The challenge for Simpson will be to incorporate Witherden, Rotham, Jarrod Brander and Bailey Williams into one of the competition’s older teams without squandering the window of contention afforded by Shuey, McGovern, Tim Kelly and Nic Naitanui’s gifts.
FB: Easton Wood, Alex Keath, Hayden Crozier
HB: Caleb Daniel, Zaine Cordy, Bailey Williams
C: Jason Johannisen, Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter
HF: Rhylee West, Josh Bruce, Laitham Vandermeer
FF: Mitch Wallis, Aaron Naughton, Mitch Hannan
FOL: Stefan Martin, Bailey Smith, Josh Dunkley
INT: Adam Treloar, Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore, Tim English
*On the brink: Taylor Duryea, Cody Weightman, Ed Richards, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Patrick Lipinski, Lachie McNeil, Bailey Dale, Ryan Gardner
The depth in the midfield at Whitten Oval is near-unprecedented, and Adam Treloar will add more of the combustion Bailey Smith introduced two years ago. Injuries will test that depth and Luke Beveridge has never shied from positional rotations, so balance is unlikely to be an issue. Ruck recruit Stefan Martin and incumbent Tim English appeared to have already built some chemistry in Wednesday’s practice match against Hawthorn.
The forward line looks more like a forward line; Mitch Wallis’ goalkicking chops are now firmly established, the Aaron Naughton experiment appears set to extend into a third season, and Mitch Hannan fulfils the need for an experienced pest despite his 190cm stature. The players who make up the balance will indicate how Beveridge intends the line to function.
Queries around the height of the backline remain, but Alex Keath and Zaine Cordy can skewer opposition thrusts if the Dogs’ midfield can deliver territory dominance and minimise corridor turnovers. Jason Johannisen will drop back as the seventh defender after centre-bounces, while making the best of the stand rule to launch his team forward.
The coach loves to throw a newbie into the fury early, so watch out for Lachie McNeil.
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