With two Brownlows, two premiership medallions and multiple All Australian honours, there isn’t anything that 12-year Sydney veteran Adam Goodes hasn’t achieved on the AFL paddock, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the 32-year-old has lost an ounce of competitiveness. In fact, Adam says he’s coming into the new season with renewed vigour to take his already stellar game to new heights. “I always think I can improve,” Goodes told the Sydney Morning Herald. “A couple of things that I really wanted to improve over this pre-season has just been my goal kicking efficiency and my skill efficiency. If I can really improve in those areas, I can really see my game going to the next level.” A rare player who only gets better with age, in 2011 Adam won his third Best and Fairest award at the Swans.
Buddy in the thick of it
It seems unanimous. Mark Ruchiotto, Nathan Buckley, Mike Sheahan and Karl Langdon are just some of the AFL pundits who have all publically proclaimed Lance Franklin as the league’s number one player leading in to the 2012 season.
Last year the Hawks fell agonisingly close to a Grand Final berth – and are expected to be among the front running clubs once again in 2012, thanks in part to the presence of their young superstar. ‘Buddy’ finished 2011 with 82 goals, winning his second Coleman Medal and his third All-Australian selection. His goal kicking prowess has long been established, so even more pleasing for Hawks fans in 2011 was Lance’s all-round improvement in other areas of his game, particularly contested marking.
Having spent time playing in the midfield during the NAB Cup, there’s been plenty of speculation as to exactly what position he will start the season in and best serve the Hawks throughout. Fluctuating between roles in the midfield and as key forward seems a strong possibility, and Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarke has already revealed that Lance will spend more time in the midfield this year than in previous seasons, as will Aboriginal teammate Cyril Rioli.
Dempsey looking good
Courtney Dempsey is among the AFL’s real speedsters, a solid footballer and a strong defender. After debuting for Essendon in 2006 – the only thing that’s held back the Wallawura man from Mt Isa in Queensland has been a dreadful run with injuries. Bombers fans breathed a collective sigh of frustration in 2011 when the 24-year-old tore his ACL in round four, requiring major knee surgery. Courtney was sorely missed by the Bombers in 2011, but the good news is that after returning to the paddock this pre-season, his form in the NAB Cup has been scintillating, quite remarkable for a fella who’s only just coming back from serious injury, which is a good sign for both Courtney and the Bombers.
Petrenko set to soar
2011 was Jared Petrenko’s fourth season in the AFL, and by far his most productive, seeing him nearly double his output in several stat categories. The 22-year-old who has Aboriginal and Ukrainian ancestry is well and truly coming of age after debuting in 2008, and his form in the NAB Cup was superb. On top of that great start to the new season, Jared has also just agreed to terms on a new deal with the Crows.
Jared has played largely as a versatile small forward and is noted for his pace and strong tackling. In a sign of confidence and respect, Jared has chosen to don the famous number 23 jersey at Adelaide, the number made famous by the club’s Indigenous legend and games record holder, Andrew McLeod. “I asked Bunji [McLeod] myself at the end of the 2009 season,” says Petrenko on the Crows website. “He said, ‘yes’ and that he would be honored if I wore it, but the honour is all mine because there aren’t too many greater players, whose number you could have on your back…I was absolutely rapt that he trusted me with it.”
Yarran in demand
21 year-old Chris Yarran underwent a stunning metamorphosis in 2011after being transformed from a small forward to a running defender with spectacular success. Using his blistering pace, the West Australian proved lethal when rebounding out of the Blues backline and finished tenth in the club’s Best and Fairest award. With his contract about to expire, Chris will garner plenty of interest from rival clubs thanks to his great form in 2011, but don’t expect a decision until after the early rounds are out of the way. One trump card up Carlton’s sleeve in resecuring their young star’s signature is the strong bond Chris has formed with Aboriginal teammates Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett.
Walker limps into 2012
He was one of 2011’s stand out players, playing 24 games, booting a club high 56 goals, winning a Deadly Award and coming very close to clinching the Mark of the Year award, but unfortunately for Carlton fans, Andrew Walker will begin the 2012 season under an injury cloud after straining his quad muscles in the pre-season. Andrew managed only three kicks in his single NAB Cup performance, and the Blues won’t be pushing their star forward to return to the paddock prematurely.
Davey eyes captaincy
Long serving Melbourne player Aaron Davey is on the comeback trail and wants to be a future Demons captain. Aaron admitted as much on the afl.com.au site saying: “It would be amazing and to be the first ever Indigenous captain of a historical club like Melbourne is something I never thought I’d be able to achieve.” Aaron has played 139 games with the club and has a Best and Fairest medal to his name. Selected by the Demons as a sky kid in the 2004 draft, he has come a very long way and is already considered a leader at the club. Look for Aaron to bounce back strong in 2012 after a knee injury derailed his 2011 season.