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Unsung Heroes — Round 18

Round 18 was full of upset victories and close finishes, with the ladder taking shape ahead of the finals. highlights the players who played an understated role in their side’s victory, whether it be a pivotal moment or a four-quarter performance. 

Essendon: Michael Hartley 

Returning to Essendon’s side for the first time since Anzac Day in 2018 in Michael Hurley’s absence, Michael Hartley showed he still has plenty to give at AFL level. Hartley provided assistance in the ruck with Zac Clarke missing due to illness, while also spending periods forward and in his usual post down back. Hartley finished the game with 16 disposals and seven marks in a solid return.

Richmond: David Astbury

Working closely with Dylan Grimes in Richmond’s back six, David Astbury was a standout in the Tigers’ big win over Port Adelaide. Although it wasn’t his greatest output from a possession point of view, Astbury’s defensive work was impenetrable with the defender finishing the game with 16 disposals, five marks and four rebound 50s.

Carlton: Sam Walsh 

Last year’s No.1 draft pick is experiencing an incredible debut season and while Saturday against Gold Coast wasn’t his most impressive performance for the year, it was one deserving of credit. With Blues co-captain Patrick Cripps well-held, the 19-year-old midfielder stepped up to assist Ed Curnow in the midfield. Walsh finished with 27 disposals and four tackles in a well-rounded performance as Carlton won back-to-back games for the first time since 2017.

GWS Giants: Zac Williams 

With the Giants’ entire leadership and crucial members of their midfield brigade sitting in the stands, GWS coach Leon Cameron injected pacy defender Zac Williams into the centre. Williams was supported by Lachie Whitfield, Tim Taranto and stand-in captain Toby Greene, as the Giants broke their three-game losing streak against the Pies. Williams finished with 26 disposals, 10 tackles and nine score involvements in one of his most influential performances for 2019.

Brisbane: Allen Christensen 

Earlier this season, Allen Christensen’s career appeared to be at a crossroads with the Brisbane midfielder unable to break into the side. Since returning to the senior team in Round 14, Christensen hasn’t looked back. On Saturday night against a determined North Melbourne outfit, Christensen kicked an equal game-high three goals and collected 11 disposals to help the Lions to a comeback victory.

Fremantle: Aaron Sandilands 

A calf scare before the game looked like potentially derailing Sandilands’ comeback, but the Fremantle veteran pushed through to face the Swans. Against Sydney’s first-gamer Hayden McLean and defender Aliir Aliir, Sandilands contributed 17 hitouts and 14 disposals, proving he is still able to support the Dockers when they need him.

Hawthorn: Tim O’Brien

The Hawks have been patient with O’Brien’s development and they are starting to reap the rewards of backing him in after an early season stint in the VFL. O’Brien spent time in defence in the first few rounds of the year, but looked dynamic and dangerous against Geelong up forward on Sunday. O’Brien booted three goals and continually threatened in the air to assist the Hawks to an upset win over the Cats.

West Coast: Francis Watson

The late withdrawal of captain Shannon Hurn to a calf injury opened up an opportunity for Watson to debut and the small defender capitalised on his chance. Watson had 14 disposals and took eight marks in an encouraging first-up display.

St Kilda: Hunter Clark

Clark has looked more and more comfortable at AFL level over the past month and the second-year youngster produced his best performance of his career against the Western Bulldogs. Clark racked up a personal best 26 disposals, displaying his work rate and polish at the contest and in space.