2016’s 22Under22 is just around the corner, and to celebrate the release of the 50-man squad on Tuesday, Aflplayers.com.au have pieced together a list of youngsters that could feature in the team.
The worst thing you could do is underestimate the Crows’ hard-working defender. Although he stands at only 178cm and weighs 77kg, Laird is one of the best small defenders in the competition. There’s a host of other Adelaide youngsters who would be worthy of spot, but Laird’s average of 27 disposals per game in 2016 shows how easily he gains possessions for a small backman. Forget 22Under22 for the moment, the 22-year-old would be unlucky to miss All-Australian selection at year’s end.
One of the better key defenders in this age group, Andrews has had one of the harder tasks of being at the coalface in a backline that’s often under siege. Aerial skills are his strength but Andrews often mans some of the best key forwards in the game. Still only 19, Andrews has a massive future ahead of him.
Under new management, Cripps has proved to be one of the more consistent midfielders in the game in 2016, collecting the ball with ease between the arcs. His size and shape are almost unheard of for an on-baller and you’d struggle to find a better player in congestion than the Blues best and fairest winner. He is still yet to play 50 AFL games and is bound to be Brendon Bolton’s main man in the middle for many years to come.
Moore was pulling together his best game in the black and white before injury struck again in Round 19, but the Collingwood faithful has a decade to see Moore jumping over opposition heads and darting towards goal with a loping run that’s strikingly similar to his father. With five contested marks and three goals from 34 per cent of game time against the Eagles, the 20-year-old had Magpie tongues wagging.
Merrett development got stronger as the year has progressed and even culminated in the youngster captaining the club at the tender age of 20. The quick-footed Bomber has averaged nearly 30 disposals per game during a tough year for the club. Merrett loves to tackle and has the exquisite skills to match and would be the favourite to take out the Bombers best and fairest award in just his third season.
After cementing a place in the Fremantle line-up in the second-half of 2015, Sheridan has developed further in a role at half-back this season. Now a 50-gamer, Sheridan has avergaed 18 disposals so far in 2016, with a high of 30 coming in Round 11 against the Bombers. In perhaps his best feat for the season, Sheridan kept Eagles wingman Andrew Gaff to just 19 touches in Round 20 while kicking two goals himself.
The Cats have been patient with their skillful small forward and 2016 has been the year McCarthy rewarded the club’s faith. Playing five games in the previous three years, the 22-year-old’s having his most complete season, featuring in 15 games and averaging nearly a goal per match so far. With Steve Johnson departing at the end of 2015, McCarthy’s importance to the Cats line-up will only grow as the years progress.
The giant Gold Coast forward built on his few appearances at the elite level with a breakout season in 2016. Wright started with a bang in Round 5 by kicking three goals against North Melbourne but a five-goal haul and four contested marks in Round 16 against the Lions has been the season highlight. At 19 years old, Wright will form part of a dangerous tall forward line alongside Tom Lynch for years to come.
Of the myriad of Giants that could make the 22Under22 squad, they don’t get much better than the former No.2 draft pick. Coniglio skippered the club in the first pre-season match and is highly rated within the club’s walls. Averaging nearly 30 disposals in 2016, the 22-year-old is an important cog in the GWS midfield and may also be in All-Australian contention at season’s end.
The super-skilled Hawk forward has surpassed all expectations in 2016 after breaking through for three matches the previous year. Sicily started the year well with four goals against the Eagles in Round 2 before booting three fourth-quarter majors to win the game against the Dogs in Round 4. The 21-year-old is efficient around goals, can take a timely grab and has stood up in the absence of Jarryd Roughead with 26 majors in 19 games.
Arguably the hardest-working player in the competition, Viney has taken his game to a new level as the Demons rise to the cusp of finals contention. Viney never takes a backward step and is a tackling and clearance machine. The 22-year-old is likely to be the next captain of the club and it won’t be long before he claims other prestigious accolades.
The slinging half-back was starting to hit his straps before a hamstring injury almost ended his 2016 season. Fans won’t forget his chase-down of Cyril Rioli against the Hawks in Round 13 anytime soon and his aggressive style of play suits the North Melbourne faithful. Will be hoping for a stroke of luck to return for finals and will build on his encouraging signs throughout the year. Only a lack of games will stop him from being included in the 22Under22 squad.
The bullocking midfielder continues to impress in 2016. Wines has been Port Adelaide’s most consistent player and will go a long way in the club’s best and fairest count. Still only 21, Wines will also be eligible for the team next season after already claiming 22Under22 selection in 2015.
The Tiger defender has shown maturity beyond his years as the scrutiny keeps piling on top of the Richmond Football Club. The 22-year-old doesn’t gather massive amounts of the ball but his temperament in defence is vital to the club. He’s now played nearly 80 AFL games and will be hoping to take the next step in 2017, but is easily the Tigers’ best player in this age bracket.
Membrey couldn’t have dreamt of a better 2016 season. Not only did he manage to cement his spot in the St Kilda forward line, but the former Swan became a focal point in attack. Currently leading the Saints goal-kicking this season, Membrey has booted 40 majors in his 15 appearances at the top level and will only get better with experience.
The former Academy product had moments of brilliance throughout 2016 with a haul of five goals and a couple of bags of four, but a drop in form saw him venture further up the field with great success. With aerial skills similar to that of Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe, Heeney possesses special qualities and the Swans rarly lose when he’s in full flight.
The hard-working Eagle played the first 12 matches of the season before being omitted but he has shown glimpses throughout the year. Duggan has spent the majority of his time in the forward half of the ground with defensive pressure being one of the key assets to his game. The 20-year-old tackles strongly and will be keen to move further up the ground as he gains more experience.
The most obvious selection of them all, Bontempelli is a certainty to make the squad. Although the Dogs have a host of impressive youngsters, Bontempelli is the standout. Currently equal-third in the AFL Coaches’ Association’s Champion Player of the Year award, Bontempelli is also a Brownlow Medal favourite. Always manages to get his arms free in contested situations and is classy around goals, Bontempelli might just be the first player picked for the final 22Under22 team.