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Unsung Heroes — Round 17

With Round 17 complete, and the end of the season nearing, highlights the players who played an understated role in their side’s victory, whether it be a pivotal moment or a four-quarter performance. 

Collingwood: John Noble

After West Coast’s Jarrod Cameron kicked four first-half goals on Friday night, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley was left to make a decision on the best way to stop the fourth-gamer. Enter debutant John Noble. The 22-year-old, who was picked up in the mid-season rookie draft, kept Cameron to seven touches for the second half and no goals. Noble finished the game with 18 disposals and two rebound 50s in an encouraging debut.

Carlton: Nic Newman 

If there is a time when you want to play your best game for a new club, it’s against your former side and on Saturday, that is exactly what former Swan Nic Newman did. Newman helped lead the Blues to their first victory at the SCG in eight years with a 32-disposal performance. Newman’s defensive output was critical to the Blues’ high-pressure game, with the defender taking a game-high 13 marks and laying three tackles.

Hawthorn: Grant Birchall 

It wasn’t his best performance, but it was a solid return to the AFL for Hawthorn defender Grant Birchall. In his first game in 740 days after managing knee and calf injuries, Birchall collected 21 disposals, seven intercept possessions and eight marks in just 66 per cent game time. With increased game time and a clear run without injuries, the 31-year-old should expect to add to his current 246-game tally.

Essendon: Zac Clarke 

In the absence of Tom Bellchambers, second-choice ruckman Zac Clarke stood up. Against North Melbourne’s Todd Goldstein, Clarke collected 35 hitouts and six clearances in his best game for Essendon since joining the Bombers in last year’s Supplemental Selection Period. With Bellchambers expected to miss another month of football, Clarke will be relied upon heavily to carry the bulk of the ruck work.

Adelaide: Wayne Milera

Milera returned to Adelaide’s line-up last week against Port Adelaide and picked up 15 touches in a solid return from injury. But, in a Saturday night shellacking of the Suns, Milera’s influence – in his second game back – was profound. The fleet-footed Milera finished with 27 disposals and a notable 12 score involvements.

Geelong: Esava Ratugolea

Ratugolea is shaping as a vital piece in Geelong’s quest for the flag and his importance to the Cats’ forward structure was underlined substantially in Saturday night’s scratchy win. The big forward booted two goals, but it was his ability to compete – even when out of position – in marking contests that stood out the most. Will act as a crucial lynchpin alongside Tom Hawkins in September if he can stay healthy.

Richmond: Brandon Ellis

Brandon Ellis was struggling to lock down a permanent spot in Richmond’s side earlier in the season, but his form turnaround has epitomised the Tigers’ resurgence. Ellis had 29 disposals and four clearances against the Giants, providing his customary burst running from the midfield.

Western Bulldogs: Lachie Hunter

Josh Dunkley had a huge game, but Lachie Hunter’s role in the Western Bulldogs’ narrow win over Melbourne was also significant. Hunter had 10 possessions in the final term, as he finished with 37 for the afternoon. The silky-smooth midfielder also nailed a left-foot banana in the last quarter to give the Bulldogs some late ascendancy.

Brisbane: Daniel Rich 

The only player who remains on the Lions’ list after their last finals campaign in 2009, Daniel Rich showed how important he is to the Lions’ back six. Rich collected 23 disposals, nine rebound 50s and five inside 50s across half-back as the Lions recorded their first ever victory at Adelaide Oval.