Monday 20 November 2017 / 03:06 PM

WILDCARDS: THE PLAYERS THAT CAN MAKE OR BREAK THE AFL FINALS

The finals are here and each team is getting ready to battle for that last Saturday in September.

We know the likes of Patrick Dangerfield, Taylor Walker and Dustin Martin will excel in the pressure that finals bring. However, it’s the players that shape as the ‘wildcards’ that need to rise to the challenge and help their team get to the grand final.

In 2013 that wildcard was Brian Lake as Hawthorn went on to win the flag with his dominance down back the difference in the Hawks’ September charge.

Last year, the likes of Clay Smith and Dale Morris assisted in the Western Bulldogs completing mission impossible and winning their first flag since 1954. So who will be the wildcards to look for in the 2017 playoffs?

Adelaide – Josh Jenkins

Jenkins has had a relatively quiet season after a very dominant 2016. However, the key forward has the ability to flick the switch and become a finals X-factor. Jenkins can be a huge asset for the Crows freeing up space inside the forward 50 to help ‘Tex’ Walker do his thing, as well as getting some goals on the board for himself. The fact the Crows are at home in the first week of the finals could help Jenkins get his finals campaign off to a good start and carry momentum over the coming weeks.

Geelong – Daniel Menzel

Finally getting a couple of seasons under his belt after four knee reconstructions, the public has got the chance to see why Geelong have rated the 25-year-old so highly. Menzel’s pressure acts inside the Cats’ attacking half could be the key to stopping Richmond’s fast, free-flowing game on Friday night. Menzel has a great goal sense and a couple of majors per game will go a long way to helping Geelong kick a winning score.

Richmond – Nick Vlastuin

Richmond’s ball use has been very effective this season and the likes of Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin have had terrific season, but the work of the half backs such as Vlastuin has been fantastic and could be pivotal during the finals. Vlastuin has been going at 86 percent disposal efficiency, which has allowed the team to move the ball up the ground. Add his work as a defender and spoiling marking contests, and the 23-year-old will be a great asset for Richmonds run in September.

GWS – Brett Deledio

An old head amongst a young team in the finals could be the key for the Giants to make that next step and reach the grand final. Deledio is also a great player and up forward could cause some damage – he has always been able to find the goals during a 13-season career. In his four games this season the 30-year-old has averaged four tackles playing in the forward line, showing that he has a great ability to lock the ball inside the Giants’ forward 50.

Port Adelaide – Sam Powell-Pepper

It’s a lot of pressure to put on such a young player but this kid has the ability to make a real difference for a team that has only won two games against the top eight teams. Powell-Pepper is a pure ball-winner and goes hard for the Sherrin. This could be important for the Power as he can extract the ball from the pack and get his team moving forward. The 19-year-old could also play a shutdown role on an opposition player as he has great pressure around the footy.

Sydney – Isaac Heeney

A great asset for Sydney heading into the finals as Heeney can play anywhere coach John Longmire needs him. In last year’s final campaign he was used as a goalkeeper-type player stopping opposition’s forwards movements, but expect to see him playing more as the outside midfielder moving the ball forward. Heeney is able to get his team involved in play, averaging six score involvements a game. Definitely one to watch in September.

Essendon – James Stewart

A fast start is what the Bombers will need against the Swans this week and a player that can get the score on the board is Stewart. This season the 23-year-old has invariably started games strongly and kept the scoreboard ticking over, which will prove pivotal to the Bombers’ finals campaign extending past week one. Stewart can also help free up Joe Daniher, who has been double-teamed in recent weeks.

West Coast – Jack Darling

Like Stewart and Jenkins, Darling can play the important role as the second key forward in assisting two-time Coleman Medal winner Josh Kennedy into space. However, Darling is also a great contested mark and could come up trumps in key times of the game where a big grab needs to be taken. The 25-year-old has the ability to play an absolute blinder every now and then – a quality that would come in handy this week in Adelaide.

[YouTube – Daniel Tabone]

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About the author

Peter Bonadio

Based in Melbourne, Peter has grown up with AFL and Tennis and is passionate about sharing his views about the sports he loves. Peter is also a avid follower of American sports and is a big fan of the Celtics and Patriots. Peter is a final year Sport Journalism student at La Trobe University.

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