Each week, aflplayers.com.au looks at the players who flew under the radar in their team’s victory. Whether it was a moment of impact or a four-quarter performance, these are the Round 17 Unsung Heroes.
West Coast: Liam Ryan
When your nickname is ‘Flyin Ryan’ you know you have a fair bit going for you. Ryan’s aerial exploits are well known, but it’s the Eagles’ forward’s consistency that has improved markedly and he is a much better player as a result. Ryan plays with real confidence in his ability and when the footy gets in his hands he makes things happen. Ryan finished with an equal game-high nine score involvements (with Tim Kelly) and one goal from 16 disposals as West Coast confirmed its finals spot in a tight tussle with St Kilda.
Richmond: Liam Baker
After starting his career as a forward, Baker’s move to defence has been an inspired one and he has to be regarded as one of the most improved players in the competition. Baker, who was selected in the 40-man 22under22 squad in recognition of his growth, demonstrated his courage by regularly standing in the hole in front of Tom Hawkins and preventing him from getting easy access to the football. Baker finished with 17 disposals to be one of the Tigers’ best in an impressive win over the Cats.
Fremantle: Blake Acres
Acres’ career resurgence continued against North Melbourne, with the former Saint picking up an equal-game high 24 disposals and 545m gained. After an injury-hit early season campaign, the midfielder has finished off the year strongly and is part of an improved Fremantle midfield that has a great mix of classy young players and hard-workers.
Port Adelaide: Connor Rozee
This season has been a difficult one for the former No.2 draft pick with a foot injury limiting his effectiveness. But in the last few weeks, Rozee has looked a lot healthier and his output has increased as a result. Rozee had six score involvements to go with 18 disposals, while he also had 28 pressure acts which would have pleased coach Ken Hinkley.
Melbourne: Steven May
He could have easily been considered best-on-ground, but somehow Steven May’s performances continue to fly under the radar. In what has been an inconsistent season from the Dees, May has been a rock in defence and in their do-or-die clash against the Giants he was pivotal in keeping last year’s Coleman Medallist, Jeremy Cameron, to one goal. May racked up 19 touches of his own, took eight marks, eight rebound 50s and collected a team-high seven intercept possessions.
Adelaide: Bryce Gibbs
It was the fairytale finish for Bryce Gibbs playing his final game against his old side. In his 231 games for Carlton, Gibbs was a fan-favourite, but couldn’t quite make the same impact at the Crows. So it was fitting that arguably one of his best games for Adelaide came in his final AFL match. Gibbs collected a season-high 27 touches, was involved in seven scores and took six marks as the Crows ran out 16-point winners. He also had the chance to kick one final goal but missed the set shot.
Western Bulldogs: Jason Johannisen
Playing in a different role across the forward-line and wing, Johannisen took to his new position like a duck to water. Filling the void left by Laitham Vandermeer following his hamstring injury, Johannisen collected 18 touches, eight score involvements and four inside 50s as the Bulldogs consolidated their top-eight spot with a 36-point victory over the Hawks.
Brisbane: Keidean Coleman
Playing just his third game, the Brisbane Lions Academy product gave the fans the biggest celebration of the night. After missing the chance to kick a goal in his first game last week, Coleman wasn’t going to miss the opportunity again. From the left forward pocket Coleman moved towards the open goal, sidestepping Swans co-captain Luke Parker and slotted the major at close range. It gave the Lions a healthy 14-point buffer with nine minutes remaining in the final term, as they secured a top-two finish.
Collingwood: John Noble
It’s hard to fathom that John Noble was only recruited in last year’s mid-season draft. The 23-year-old is looking more comfortable in Collingwood’s back six each week and after an early scare against the Suns on Monday night, Noble provided important run off half-back to help secure a third consecutive finals berth for the Pies. Noble finished the game with 21 disposals, five marks and four rebound 50s.