Your team's biggest surprise packet of 2019 so far

SEN - Wed, 19th Jun 2019 - 0 Comments

Who has been your club's biggest surprise or most improved player so far in 2019?

The team breaks down who has exceeded expectations at each club.


Alex Keath and Reilly O'Brien

Adelaide's Alex Keath has taken a stratospheric step into elite defender territory this year.

After just 12 appearances over two seasons, the mature age backman has sidled up to the crease and well and truly dismissed any below-par expectations there may have been of his game, playing all 13 games thus far.

In the absence of Tom Doedee, Keath has become the prime intercept player for the Crows and finds himself deeply entrenched in the All-Australian conversation.

At the start of 2019, the idea of a fifth-year ruckman keeping out a near-200-game veteran would have been seldom visited. But that is the case with Reilly O’Brien who has been a revelation this season.

Criticised heavily after his first few games, O’Brien has made a statement with his form, especially since his 22-disposal, 44-hitout breakout game against Fremantle in Round 7.

The 23-year-old is comfortably denying Sam Jacobs a position in Don Pyke’s 22 and if he continues to play the way he has been, then the number one ruck spot is his to keep.


The whole club

The Lions won five games last year and while they were always expected to be on the rise, no one would have thought they’d be a legitimate top four candidate.

Their rapid improvement has been something to behold and who knows how far they can go.

Coach Chris Fagan has done a fantastic job getting the team super fit, allowing the Lions to run over the top of sides late in games early in the season.

As the year has settled down, they haven’t dropped away either, with the likes of Garry Lyon suggesting the Lions could win the flag if things break their way.


Levi Casboult

At the start of the season, Casboult’s papers appeared stamped.

He was only going to get a game if one of Carlton’s key forwards or ruckmen were on the sidelines.

However, he has reinvented himself as a reliable key defender in Liam Jones’ absence and has certainly proven his worth going forward.

It leaves the Blues with a bit of a selection dilemma once Jones returns from injury, given the two of them and Jacob Weitering can’t all be played together.

Sam Walsh is likely second in Carlton's best and fairest right now, which is also worth a mention, but the expectations were admittedly high.


Jordan Roughead

Jordan Roughead has had an incredible 2019. After being put on the trade table by the Western Bulldogs, the Magpies snapped up the out-of-favour premiership player in exchange for pick 75.

He’s proved to be a mainstay of the Magpies’ defence, playing every game for third-placed Collingwood.

His consistency has allowed Darcy Moore to play as an intercept defender, who is himself having a breakout season down back.

Roughead is rated as above average for spoils and one percenters per game according to Champion Data (7.5 and 6.9 respectively), and elite for kicking efficiency.


Mason Redman and Patrick Ambrose

After an injury-interrupted beginning to life as an AFL player, outside expectations of Mason Redman would have seen him as simply a bit-part player for the Bombers in 2019.

However, he has elevated himself firmly into John Worsfold’s calculations, playing every game since Round 4.

Redman has shown quality off half-back by rarely wasting a possession and portrays cleverness beyond his years. He has seemingly gone past Aaron Francis and Jordan Ridley in the Dons’ defence.

The 21-year-old looked good in his two games in 2018 but has exceeded expectations by becoming a regular in a backline that has conceded the least amount of points in the competition since he and Cale Hooker returned to the side in Round 4.

Another bettering what was forecast of him is Patrick Ambrose. He has gone under the radar as a small defender and has not conceded more than two goals to any of his opponents so far this year.

He leads the club in one-percenters and spoils.


Freo's attacking footy

Fremantle has been known to be a defensive side, but this year they’ve been able to score more with an attacking brand of football, which many fans didn’t expect.

They averaged 70 points last year as a forward line and have come into 2019 with a new-look attacking brigade.

Jesse Hogan continues to improve in Dockers colours with 13 goals in 11 games, as well as an impressive average of 15.6 disposals.

Brandon Matera is also continuing to find his feet with a breakout performance in Round 6 where he bagged five majors.

Meanwhile Michael Walters is in career-best form, averaging 21.4 disposals to go with his 25 goals from 12 games.


Gryan Miers

After spending all of last season working on his craft in the VFL, Miers won himself a spot in Geelong's 22 for its Round 1 clash against Collingwood, and from there, the 20-year-old hasn't looked back, playing all 12 games to date.

Miers is averaging 16.3 disposals, 2 tackles, 15.3 pressure acts and 1.3 goals per game. He has two hauls of three goals to his credit and amassed a career-high 25 possessions in the Cats' win over the Bombers in Round 7.

Following a 22-possession, one-goal game in Geelong's win over North Melbourne in Round 8, the Grovedale junior was rewarded with a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination and he looks destined to finish in the top five of that award at season's end.

Gold Coast

Darcy Macpherson

The big-bodied midfielder has provided plenty of grunt and aggression around the contest for Gold Coast.

A broken leg ruined Macpherson’s 2018 season but has repaid the faith since signing a two-year contract extension last August.

The 21-year-old is averaging 18.6 disposals and is ranked third in the competition for tackles, averaging 6.5 per game.

Macpherson is yet to miss a game for the Suns in 2019.


Jeremy Finlayson and the midfield group

Jeremy Finlayson kicking 25 goals in 13 games was reasonably unexpected coming into 2019.

The 23-year-old has transformed himself into a dangerous forward and a great complementary piece to Jeremy Cameron and Harry Himmelberg this year.

GWS have always appeared, from the outside, to be a team of champions but perhaps not a champion team. Stacked with the best young talent from the club’s inception, the Giants have made the finals every year since 2016 but have been as yet unable to make it to a Grand Final.

With the departures of Devon Smith, Dylan Shiel and Tom Scully, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the Giants' vaunted midfield might take a hit. Not so. This season has seen some incredible performances from number one pick Lachie Whitfield, versatile star Stephen Coniglio and perhaps the best of the bunch in Josh Kelly. Shane Mumford’s return has added grunt and physicality, and youngsters Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper have improved in leaps and bounds.

The Giants are becoming a champion team, and it’s being built on the back of their amazing midfield group.


Ricky Henderson and Jack Scrimshaw

The term ‘prime mover’ is one you would not have associated with Ricky Henderson prior to this season, but the 30-year-old has emerged as just that for Hawthorn in 2019.

Henderson has produced career-best numbers by averaging over 27 possessions per game and would be leading the best and fairest at this stage of the season.

He’s had five games of 30 touches or more, and to put that into perspective, he had reached that disposal mark just three times prior in total and only once previously in his career at the Hawks.

The former Crow is in All-Australian form and at the top of his game despite creeping up on 31.

An honourable mention must go to Jack Scrimshaw who has fit into Hawthorn’s defence seamlessly.

He has spent plenty of time out of the game with injury but has been rock solid as an intercept defender after crossing to the brown and gold from the Suns for next to nothing.


Marty Hore

In his first year of AFL, Marty Hore has been solid in defence for Melbourne.

Not only has he kept leading forwards quiet, but he’s also been able to find plenty of the footy himself.

The mature-age recruit is averaging 15.3 disposals as well as seven contested possessions.

He’s been a shining light for Melbourne, who is currently sitting 16th on the ladder with three wins and the second-lowest percentage in the competition.

North Melbourne

Cam Zurhaar

Coming into the year as a relatively unknown young player, Cam Zurhaar has quickly become a game-changer for the Roos.

He booted five goals against Carlton, earning himself a Rising Star nomination, and has made a name for himself as a tough, tackling machine.

He set the tone in North Melbourne’s first game without Brad Scott, laying 11 tackles and putting the ball inside 50 seven times from only 11 disposals.

Zurhaar has quickly become a barometer for the Roos and will only improve from here.

Port Adelaide

The youngsters

First-year draftees usually take a while to hit peak form but Xavier Duursma, Connor Rozee and Zak Butters already look elite.

Duursma and Rozee have both been nominated for the Rising Star, while Butters has been convincing as well.

Former Gippsland Power captain Duursma is averaging 19.3 disposals and 7.3 contested possessions, and has kicked seven goals in his 12 games.

Rozee has wowed fans with his extravagant goals and silk moves through forward line, and has averaged 15.3 disposals to go with it.

Butters has also been on fire up forward and has found plenty of the footy to go with it, averaging 15.6 disposals from 11 games this season.


Sydney Stack

There is no bigger surprise packet in the entire competition in 2019 than Sydney Stack.

The Western Australian youngster was overlooked at both the national and rookie drafts before the Tigers offered him a lifeline via the pre-season supplementary selection period.

In his debut season, Stack has already become a cult hero at Punt Road with his penchant for both a hip and shoulder and a barrel as well as his ability to take a hanger.

His straight-ahead playing style and superb ball use has won over many, while landing him a Rising Star nomination, and he is also a hit off the field with his sharp dance moves on social media.

Stack’s development is one of the highlights of Richmond’s season to date.

St Kilda

Rowan Marshall

Rowan Marshall is one of the competition’s biggest improvers and has assumed the mantle as St Kilda’s first choice ruckman.

The 23-year-old rookie was elevated to the club’s senior list at the conclusion of last year thanks to a promising 12-game 2018 campaign.

Standing at 201cm, Marshall is a raw, athletic prospect who will continue to improve the more he plays.

The promising Saint is averaging 16.1 disposals, 5.1 clearances, 27.1 hit outs from 10 appearances in 2019.


Jordan Dawson

After a slow start to his Sydney career that saw him play just five games in three years, Dawson is starting to find his feet at senior level.

The South Australian has played 11 of a possible 12 games in 2019 and is starting to earn the trust of Swans coach John Longmire.

Dawson, 22, is enjoying a breakout season in the red and white, punctuated by a career-best 31-disposal performance in the Round 5 loss to Richmond.

The midfield/forward, who remains unsigned beyond this year, has been a major find for the Swans.

West Coast

Oscar Allen

The 20-year-old just gets the nod over Jack Petruccelle, give his ability to not only kick goals, but also pinch hit in the ruck.

Following just two games last season, Allen has been a staple of West Coast's forward line in 2019, playing 11 of the Eagles' 12 matches.

He has kicked 12 goals and averages 8.8 disposals, 3.3 marks, 2.8 hit-outs and 2.6 tackles per game this year.

Allen kicked a career-high three goals in West Coast's thrashing of GWS in Round 2, while in the Round 10 win over St Kilda, he slotted two goals and won 13 possessions.

Western Bulldogs

Aaron Naughton

Another player who had a positional change, Naughton was expected to hold down the Bulldogs’ backline, but instead has seemingly secured himself a spot as their long-term key forward.

His nine contested mark performance against Richmond was one of the best individual performances of 2019.

He’s kicked 18 goals this year and is averaging six marks per game so far in 2019.

It’s easy to forget he’s only 19 and has his entire career in front of him to improve and learn the forward craft.