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 9 Unsung Heroes.
Richmond: Noah Balta
It’s unfortunate for teams when they’re struck with injury, but for the next generation it presents an opportunity and that’s exactly what happened to Richmond on Thursday night. With 10 players having less than 30 games experience, the Tigers were written off, but 17-gamer Noah Balta was going to make sure that didn’t happen. A pillar in defense for the Tigers, Balta looked years beyond his experience comfortably manning the defensive 50. Balta collected 15 touches, five rebound 50s, took 4 marks and laid three tackles as the Tigers cemented their spot in the top eight with a 41-point victory.
Port Adelaide: Sam Mayes
The former Lion continued his career renaissance against the Demons, gathering 19 disposals at 78 per cent efficiency. Mayes continues to go from strength to strength after working his way into the Power lineup for the first time in round seven after not playing at all at senior level in 2019. Mayes also nailed his first goal for the club in the first half, with teammates flocking to him to celebrate.
Hawthorn: Luke Breust
A lot of pressure was being heaped on Hawthorn for a number of subpar performances in a row, but it was also easy to forget the quality players they had missing from their line-up. Two-time All Australian Luke Breust was one of those players and his return to the forward line instantly made the Hawks more dangerous. Breust finished with two goals to his name from 12 disposals and he also had five score involvements to underline his class.
Brisbane: Alex Witherden
Returning to the senior line-up for his first game since Round 1, Alex Witherden played one of the best games of his career. The 21-year-old was prolific in the Lions’ defensive-50, collecting 25 disposals at 84 per cent efficiency, eight intercept possessions, seven rebound 50s and four marks. After struggling to earn selection since the season return and with the Lions sitting comfortably in equal-first, Witherden has given coach Chris Fagan plenty to think about after Friday night’s performance.
North Melbourne: Luke Davies-Uniacke
A persistent groin injury at the start of this year severely hampered the No.4 pick from the 2017 Draft and he only returned to the North Melbourne side a fortnight ago. Against the Crows, he started to find his groove and build a platform he can work off for the rest of the year. Davies-Uniacke displayed his class with 17 disposals against Adelaide and he also had seven score involvements.
St Kilda: Ben Paton
Like the Saints, defender Ben Paton has come on in leaps and bounds this season, playing all nine games. But, against the Swans, Paton was given his biggest task for the year: stopping Coleman Medal leader Tom Papley. The 21-year-old comfortably won the battle, keeping Papley to only one goal and 10 touches, while collecting 14 of his own, taking seven marks and five rebound 50s.
West Coast: Dom Sheed
Sheed’s importance in the West Coast midfield often gets overlooked as the focus generally shifts towards Tim Kelly, Andrew Gaff or Luke Shuey. Nic Naitanui was clearly best afield against the Cats, but Sheed’s influence was also telling. The Eagles midfielder finished with a game-high 24 disposals (15 contested) and he also kicked two goals, and almost nailed a third from an impossible angle that just grazed the post.
GWS Giants: Jacob Hopper
In a star-studded midfield boasting the likes of Josh Kelly, Tim Taranto, Lachie Whitfield and captain Stephen Coniglio, Jacob Hopper often flies under the radar. The Giants have been under the pump this season, but on Sunday Hopper was prolific in the club’s 26-point victory. The inside-midfielder collected 27 disposals, a team-high five clearances and took four marks against the Suns.
Fremantle: Matt Taberner
After a scoreless first quarter from the Dockers, Collingwood were threatening to run away with the game. That’s when Matt Taberner stood up. Proving too much for Collingwood’s under-sized backline, Taberner continued his strong form this season kicking a game-high four goals, to go with his 13 disposals, six marks and four score involvements as the Dockers upset the Pies by 12 points.