ADELAIDE – Rory Sloane
Why? Because the midfield is going to have to carry more of the load than what they did last season. The Crows were the best scoring team last year and so they should’ve been with a forward line consisting of Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins, Tom Lynch and Eddie Betts.
One could say that it’s the midfielders who get the ball down there and provide all the hard work to feed the forwards opportunities, but it was different for Adelaide in 2016. Losing Patrick Dangerfield to the Cats meant the Midfield brigade were going to have to lift more than their weight, but Dom Pyke adjusted to this superbly.
It was the defence who zoned high up the field to create more numbers along the wings, allowing more players to share the ball and cut through an opposition’s zone. In 2017 the Crows could be found out and their defenders will be accountable. Led by Rory Sloane, if he goes down they lose a lot of speed, guts, skill and leadership. If the midfield gets found out they will struggle to be a threat.
BRISBANE – Tom Rockliff
It’s going to be a long hard season for the Lions in 2017 so it may not matter if their captain can’t perform at his best. He will need to, however, if Brisbane are thinking about winning games this season.
Dayne Zorko is another one of high importance as to Daniel Rich now that Pearce Hanley has gone, but the damage Tom Rockliff can cause on the opposition is huge. His grunt and fierce presence around the contest is always felt and it is he who feeds the ball to the outside runners in Rich and Zorko.
His goal scoring Ability is also handy and if there’s one player the Lions would love to dominate, it’s Rocky.
CARLTON – Patrick Cripps
A name which has been thrown around many a time during the pre-season given how promising and young he still is. Cripps could become one of the game’s best players in no time and for the Blues to have a guy like that in their possession for them is a blessing.
Plenty of people would suggest ruckman Matthew Kreuzer is the Blues’ most important player, but clearance work for Carlton is where they must improve.
The Blues are quite week in the front half of the ground so they need to get it down there as much as they can. The man who led the league for clearances in the first ten rounds is the one who can do that. Cripps.
COLLINGWOOD – Ben Reid
It’s a no-brainer. Collingwood’s struggles in defence last season were more than notable and losing almost a whole backline worth of players in the trade period does not help in the slightest.
Darcy Moore is the second most crucial player for the Pies now that Cloke left for the reigning premier, and his talent is also needed for the Pies to meet expectations this season.
Reid is one of the game’s best interceptors and in his prime was an All-Australian defender. Their starting centre half-back, if he goes down they may have to rely on a young Sam McLarty or re-structure completely.
ESSENDON – Joe Daniher
It was tough to pick who will be the Bombers’ most important player this season so the attempt was to try and pick someone who did not cop the 12-month ban.
Joe Daniher is the first bloke to come to mind since he is their future up forward. He has shown glimpses of his capabilities in the past couple of years, but if Bombers fans really think they can make the top eight then plenty will rely on Daniher to stand up and kick 40-plus goals.
The bombers have coped without their leading midfielders due to the doping ban, so Daniher must continue to improve his consistency to influence a game like others of the game’s best forwards.
FREMANTLE – Nat Fyfe
Could have been Sandilands but he is struggling with a calf injury at the moment, so the Dockers may need to dig deep.
The one player Ross Lyon would have loved to pinch out of a magic hat last season was Nat Fyfe. The superstar could be what gets the Dockers back on their feet and into the finals.
They missed his hard-running, his contested marking, his influence and his goal-kicking. 2016 showed that maybe, Fremantle aren’t too much without this Brownlow Medal winner.
GEELONG – Patrick Dangerfield
Surprised? The speculation that Geelong would struggle without Dangerfield is valid, especially now that Bartel, Caddy and Enright have moved on.
Dangerfield lived up to the hype last season and capped it off with a Brownlow Medal around his neck. We are yet to see what the Cats would be like without him so for their sake, they need him to stay fit and remain dominant in the stoppages.
They may have Selwood, but even his influence would surrender if Dangerfield was not in the team. The cries of the Geelong supporters this year will be for Dangerfield to just go out there, flaunt his stuff and break a leg.
Not literally, though, or Chris Scott would be a thing of the past.
GOLD COAST – Gary Ablett
The Suns don’t get spoken of too often, but internally they believe that they can play finals this year.
One man, Gary Ablett, can make this happen. There are a number of key players coming back into the side for this season so improvement is looking likely. But the one player the Suns want out there each week is their former captain.
Coach Rodney Eade has come out to suggest Ablett will spend most of his time up forward this season to allow the Suns to blood their youth and excel without him.
He plays up forward, he kicks 50-plus easy. If he doesn’t play then they lose those goals and more, simple.
GWS – Shane Mumford
Reports are that Shane Mumford has had an interrupted pre-season but that is not to worry.
The most unique player on the Giants list is Shane Mumford, who is practically another midfielder when the ball is on the ground.
The Giants are already expected to finish in the top four this season and really press for the flag, but Mumford is the player they can’t afford to lose especially now that the third man up rule has deceased.
Their midfield is set to improve once again, but they can only really flourish under the dominance of their big man.
HAWTHORN – Jarryd Roughead
He didn’t play a single game last season and the Hawks failed to make a preliminary final. They’ve lost Mitchell and Lewis, so who is their saviour?
Roughead is the unique one at the Hawks who can have an impact both in the ruck and also up forward as well. His versatility was so crucially lost last season and they will be a happier team at Hawthorn if Roughy can stay fit.
Luke Hodge’s leadership becomes instantly important for the club and his fierce pressure around the contests will be felt.
Jack Gunston was also required to carry a big load with the loss of Roughead, so his inclusion this season will be a bonus in many ways.
MELBOURNE – Jesse Hogan
It would have been Max Gawn if the expectations weren’t so high for the Demons this year, but since they are legitimately talking about a finals berth, Jesse Hogan becomes ultra important.
The club is building a team to fit around the 21-year-old and he himself has helped the team become more potent and efficient, giving them something to kick to.
Hogan is a powerful prodigy who will only get better and if the Demons are serious about jumping into the finals, he is going to need a big year.
NORTH MELBOURNE – Todd Goldstein
Goldstein established himself as the AFL’s best ruckman in 2014 but got over-ran by Max Gawn last year. The third man up rule is no longer and this allows Goldstein to get back to his best.
The North Melbourne ruckman is most influential when he is palming the ball down to his midfielders’ throats. Aerially, there is no better ruckman in the league, and the Kangaroos need to find something to stay ahead of the game since they are tipped to slide down the ladder.
If they can get Goldstein back to his best, then there’s no reason the Roos shouldn’t feature in September.
PORT ADELAIDE – Robbie Gray
Gray is Port Adelaide’s best midfielder and he is one of many players who will need to improve if the Power want to become a serious team.
Patty Ryder coming back will help enormously, up if Port are to rise up the ladder this year Gray will almost certainly have to stay fit.
When Port Adelaide win a game, almost always it was Robbie Gray who collected 30 disposals and kicked two goals. His slick skills and performances in his club’s victories last season underlines how important he is to the team.
RICHMOND – Alex Rance
He is arguably the game’s best defender and for that reason the Tigers can’t afford to miss having him out on the field.
Richmond won’t be playing finals this season and that is inevitable with how competitive the season is looking, but if they don’t want to finish in the bottom four then they won’t be wanting High scores against them, enter Rance.
Josh Caddy and Dixon Prestia are both handy inclusions, but even if they enjoy successful seasons personally, none of the, can have the influence of Alex Rance.
ST KILDA – Nick Riewoldt
They’re fancied as the team to make the finals this season, and who at the club has played in finals before?
Riewoldt is going to have a large say on how the Saints fair this year and his transition onto the wing has aided his career.
He can kick goals, take contested grabs and can still have an influence at the contests, there’s no one else at the club who can have an impact all over the field like Riewoldt can.
Even if they miss him for a couple of games throughout, there is enough depth for the Saints to push higher up the ladder this season.
SYDNEY – Lance Franklin
Buddy Franklin has the ability to turn a match on its head like no other in the competition.
It was revealed last week that Buddy was playing with an injury during last year’s finals series, and if he was fit and firing the Swans arguably could have come out on top.
The Swans look comfortable in every section of the field and in 2017 if the Coleman medallist can hurt the scoreboard then they will be super hard to beat.
WEST COAST – Josh Kennedy
Nic Nat may be down for the moment, but there is plenty of tall timber at the Eagles this year. They will always have a ruckman and one who can do a job.
One player who the Eagles have relied on in the past few years is key forward Josh Kennedy. Jack Darling has made statements about needing to lift to help out his counterpart, which is something that may need to happen if West Coast want to be less predictable.
Kennedy has been the club’s leading goal kicker for years on end and dominates in Perth. They will only make the eight if this man continues to dominate the forward line.
WESTERN BULLDOGS – Marcus Bontempelli
There are not many teams if any at all who have a player just like Bontempelli.
His unique physique and basketball background gives him awareness that is second to none, making him one of the most dangerous players in the league even at his young age.
Bontempelli is a match winner, and if there is one player who needs to be out on the field in the last five minutes of a thrilling game, it’s the Bont.
Tom Boyd is also going to come in handy for 2017, with his versatility among the best in the competition.