aflplayers.com.au has discovered the players that played an underrated hand for their side in round 23. Whether it be a big moment in a close game, or an important role, these are the Unsung Heroes.
Port Adelaide – Trent McKenzie
McKenzie’s return from a tight hamstring proved timely for the Power, whose thrilling win over the Bulldogs sealed a top-two finish. The booming left footer was vital down back with nine marks, six one percenters, six rebound 50s and five intercept possessions. McKenzie’s playmaking ability was also crucial, with the 29-year-old going at 84 per cent efficiency for his 19 disposals — 16 kicks among them — and gaining 448 metres.
Hawthorn – Conor Nash
It was a career-best afternoon for the Irishman, who amassed an all-time high 24 disposals, kicked a goal and took eight marks. He might be 197 centimetres, but the former rugby union prodigy has found his spot in the midfield and attended 11 centre bounces on Saturday. Nash won four clearances, sent the ball inside 50 five times and had involvement in eight scoring chains.
Richmond — David Astbury
One could argue Astbury made a career out of being an Unsung Hero, and the retiring triple-premiership defender put in a typical team-first performance in his final game on Saturday. The 30-year-old took a game-high 13 marks and intercepted the ball seven times, while 19 of his 20 disposals were effective.
Sydney — Justin McInerney
From the Marcellin College seconds to the AFLPA’s 22under22 squad, McInerney’s rise just keeps accelerating. The fleet-footed Swan racked up a career-high 29 disposals on Saturday night, took 13 marks around the ground and gained 417 metres. The 20-year-old has become a trusted playmaker for the Swans — his 22 kicks confirm this — and his outside-of-the-contest speed is sure to have the Giants worried ahead of the Elimination Final on Saturday.
Brisbane Lions — Nakia Cockatoo
Cockatoo made his long-awaited return to AFL football back in round 20 after a 1212-day hiatus, and played an underrated hand in the Lions’ top-four clinching win on Saturday night. He only touched the ball seven times, but had three goal assists and made West Coast defenders nervous with six tackles — four of those inside 50 — and 13 pressure acts. Cockatoo’s progress has been hampered by injury after being taken in the 2014 draft’s top 10, but his unheralded performance on Saturday showed how crucial he could be to the Lions’ flag fortunes.
Melbourne – Jack Viney
When Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca take flight, it can be easy to forget the importance of Jack Viney. The Melbourne hard nut might not be as prolific as he once was in terms of touches, but with nine tackles and an impressive 35 pressure acts, the 27-year-old once again proved his value to the Demons’ explosive engine room.
GWS Giants — Kieren Briggs
Briggs has only played five games and might make way for the more experienced Shane Mumford for the finals, but the 21-year-old ruckman has shown he belongs at AFL level. Briggs won 12 contested possessions, took two contested marks and had a handful of score involvements in the Giants’ win over Carlton on Saturday night, while proving his worth in the ruck with 26 hitouts.
St Kilda — Cooper Sharman
Taken in this year’s mid-season rookie draft, the former Oakleigh Charger had Saints fans salivating on Sunday with four goals and four contested marks in an exciting display of his key-forward prowess. Sharman, 21, will look to form a potent combination with Max King and Tim Membrey for the years to come.
Essendon — Alec Waterman
Waterman’s first crack at AFL level was struck down by a bout of glandular fever and chronic fatigue, but the former Eagle earned another opportunity with Essendon as a pre-season pick and has repaid the faith by locking down a role in the Bombers’ forward line. Waterman booted a career-high four goals and took two contested marks in Essendon’s win over Collingwood on Sunday, and will look to form a deadly duo with Peter Wright in the do-or-die clash with the Bulldogs in week one of the finals.
Adelaide — Harry Schoenberg
The big-bodied midfielder gave Crows fans plenty to be excited about in Sunday afternoon’s win over North Melbourne, laying an equal game-high eight tackles, amassing 24 disposals and winning six clearances. The 20-year-old complemented his impressive inside-midfield performance with 10 score involvements and a goal, proving he can lead the Crows at the coalface for the foreseeable future.