aflplayers.com.au has discovered the players that played an underrated hand for their side in round 16. Whether it be a big moment in a close game, or an important role, these are the Unsung Heroes.
Gold Coast Suns – Charlie Ballard
It was a big ask for Gold Coast to beat the reigning premiers in a “home” game at Marvel Stadium, following the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Despite the odds stacked against them, the young side stood up and defender Charlie Ballard was at the forefront of the victory. Playing arguably the greatest game of his career, Ballard had 17 touches at 88 per cent efficiency, a game-high 12 intercept possessions, took nine marks and was involved in five scores. It was a gutsy victory and became the Suns’ latest win in a single season under coach Stuart Dew.
Geelong — Tom Atkins
Atkins’ move down back in 2021 has been nothing short of a masterstroke. Once a fringe player in the Cats’ forward line, the 25-year-old is compiling a breakout season in defence and put in another blistering performance on Friday night. In Geelong’s commanding win over Essendon, Atkins amassed a career-high 29 disposals — including eight intercept possessions — took five marks and laid six tackles in a showcase of his rising value to the Cats’ strong back-six.
GWS Giants — Phil Davis
When key defender Jack Buckley was struck down by a concerning knee injury in the game’s opening stages, the Giants knew they would be under siege. But the defensive unit held firm, and was led admirably by former captain Phil Davis. Greater Western Sydney conceded only seven goals for the match, as Davis took seven marks (two contested) and intercepted the ball eight times. The 30-year-old did not waste his chances with ball in hand, either — all of his 12 disposals were effective.
Brisbane Lions — Daniel McStay
When you ponder Brisbane’s tall forward stocks, Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood are probably the players that come to mind. But with Hipwood well-held on Saturday night, the Lions’ other key forward stepped up. McStay laid seven tackles, took three contested marks and booted two goals as the Lions ran away for another win on Saturday night. If neither Daniher nor Hipwood get you, perhaps McStay will.
Carlton — Paddy Dow
Dow was the chief protagonist in the Blues’ fast start on Saturday night, and is beginning to illustrate why he was taken with the third pick of the 2017 draft. With 11 disposals and six clearances in the first quarter alone, the 21-year-old helped setup a strong early lead for Carlton to put the Dockers on the ropes. He finished with 22 disposals (13 contested) and a goal, earning the praise of coach David Teague post-match. “I thought his power, his ability to win clearances and his ball use going away from there is something that he’s worked real hard on and something that we’re starting to see the fruits of,” Teague said.
Port Adelaide — Trent McKenzie
Height and weight would tell you that McKenzie continues to perform as an undersized defender, but the numbers say it has little bearing on his ability to take on the opposition’s key forwards. McKenzie had his hands full with the aerial threat of Tim O’Brien as well as the hulking danger posed by Ben McEvoy, but his ability to lockdown freed up captain Tom Jonas, who took 11 marks. McKenzie took seven grabs himself, and had 18 disposals at 83 per cent efficiency.
Sydney Swans — Jordan Dawson
The Swans’ fleet of young stars rising through the ranks has left Dawson to fly under the radar, who is quietly piecing together his most consistent season yet. The 24-year-old had another day out on Sunday afternoon, booting two goals from 25 disposals, intercepting the ball on six occasions and taking five marks. Having now chalked up 56 games, Dawson is another Swan to keep a close eye on.
St Kilda — Luke Dunstan
Dunstan’s career revival is one of the best stories of 2021. Since being brought back into the side for round 11, Dunstan has been one of the best-performing midfielders in the competition, averaging 27 disposals, seven clearances and seven tackles per game. The re-introduction of Dunstan has correlated with St Kilda’s mid-year resurgence, and he was again prominent on Sunday with 27 touches, 10 clearances, nine tackles and six score involvements.
Western Bulldogs — Mitch Wallis
The Bulldogs’ vice-captain has been kept out of the side for most of the season and has been deployed as the medical sub in two of his five games, but was desperate to make the most of his four-quarter opportunity against North Melbourne on Sunday evening and impressed up forward with three goals. Wallis only had 12 touches, but 10 of those were effective. He also took five marks and was involved in eight separate scores.