As the 2022 AFL season got underway, with fans packing into venues across the country for the first time in more than a year, aflplayers.com.au discovered the players that played an underrated hand for their side from the first weekend of footy. Whether it be a big moment in a close game, or an important role, these are the Unsung Heroes.
Melbourne – Jayden Hunt, Joel Smith and Adam Tomlinson
Without All Australian defender Jake Lever and premiership teammates Michael Hibberd and Trent Rivers, the trio – who all missed out on last year’s Grand Final – stepped up in a big way. Hunt played a key role in containing dangerous Bulldogs forward Cody Weightman; while Tomlinson and Smith were largely responsible for keeping Josh Schache and Zaine Cordy in check. Melbourne’s ability to win back-to-back premierships will rely on the depth it is building within its squad and the performances of Hunt, Smith and Tomlinson would have been encouraging for coach Simon Goodwin.
Carlton – Matthew Kennedy
The attention after last night’s huge Blues win invariably swung towards captain Patrick Cripps and the club’s boom recruits, Adam Cerra and George Hewett. But it was another midfielder’s performance that would have warmed the heart of his coach Michael Voss. Matthew Kennedy has been in and out of the side over the last few seasons, but proved with a “fresh set of eyes” watching from the coaches’ box he is set to be an integral member of Carlton’s bid to rise up the ladder. Kennedy was outstanding against the Tigers, racking up a match-high 33 disposals (14 contested), to go with eight clearances and 11 score involvements.
Collingwood – Oliver Henry
Henry has shown in his short career so far that he doesn’t need a heap of the footy to make an impact. So his two goals from 10 disposals on Friday night was a great illustration of how he can influence a game. One of his goals was a splendid example of his dynamism, ducking one way and then shaking another opponent to finish a brilliant goal on his right foot. Collingwood’s youngsters rose to the occasion against the Saints and Henry was one of those players.
Geelong – Luke Dahlhaus
The small forward fell out of the team for last year’s semi-final and preliminary finals after being a mainstay in the Cats’ lineup throughout the regular season. However Dahlhaus earned his place in Geelong’s round one team and demonstrated exactly why he’s rated so highly internally at the Cattery. In a game where Geelong dominated, Dahlhaus slotted a goal and competed hard when the ball was on the ground (four tackles) and fought to bring it to ground when in outnumbered situations. He also looked like he had some extra zip back in his game.
Sydney – Oliver Florent
Florent could be in for a breakout season in 2022 after starting the year off in fine style. The Swans young gun collected 20 disposals and added three goals – one of which where he “mesmerised” his opponents by stepping in and out of trouble and finishing from 45m out on his right foot at a critical juncture in the game. The 23-year-old has the skills and the application to be one of the breakout stars of the competition in 2022 if he continues to piece these sorts of games together.
Brisbane Lions – Marcus Adams
The Lions defender was crucial to his side’s victory in what was a scrappy affair at the Gabba. With Brisbane starting slowly, the pressure was heaped on the backline to keep Port at bay and Adams was central to stopping a number of Port’s forward forays. Adams finished the game with a match-high 10 intercept possessions and 20 disposals to be one of the Lions’ best as Chris Fagan’s side started the year with an all-important victory against a likely finals combatant.
Hawthorn – Jack Gunston
Boy did the Hawks love having Gunston back fit and firing. The All Australian forward managed just one game in 2021 after a serious back injury limited his ability to get out on the field. But he reminded all of his class with a standout game against the Kangaroos on Sunday. The 30-year-old nailed 3.4 from 18 disposals, using his forward craft and guile expertly in marking contests on a number of occasions.
Fremantle – Heath Chapman
You’ve heard of Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’. Well the efforts of Fremantle’s Heath Chapman to save Sunday’s game against Adelaide may well be in the same stratosphere. Fremantle was clinging to a one-point lead as the Crows surged the ball forward with just 10 seconds left on the clock. The kick from Ben Keays appeared to be floating through the goals, until Chapman intervened and spoiled the ball back into play, rather than through the points, to ensure the Dockers maintained their slender lead. Chapman’s act will go down as one of the plays of the year and to have the presence of mind to understand the game situation emphasised the young Docker’s outstanding temperament.
Gold Coast – Ben Ainsworth
With Ben King out for the season with a serious knee injury, Ainsworth’s ability to step up in Gold Coast’s forward line will be integral to the Suns’ hopes this year. The emerging Sun booted two goals from 18 disposals, but it was his ability to compete hard and in pressure situations that would have pleased coach Stuart Dew the most. Ainsworth halved a number of critical contests late in the game as Gold Coast finished the match full of running to streak away to a 27-point win against a gallant West Coast.