In a whole world context, 2021 will be remembered for a number of reasons – some great, some average and some horrible.

The same can be said in regard to the AFL. There were ups and downs along the way to the Demons breaking the drought and capturing a historic premiership, bringing the cup “home” in the process, but for some players, they will be keen to put the 2021 season and everything associated with it behind them and hit 2022 with a renewed vigour.

Listed below are some of the players that will be desperate to right the wrongs of 2021 and make the 2022 season their own. Whether they’re on this list due to injury, a form slump, or to make amends for one poor performance, there can be no question that these blokes will be hungry to make things right in the new year.

The first ten players in this article are free for all. The next 20… yes 20, are for members. Buckle up… it’s a monster read.

 

JAMES SICILY

It’s been a long time between drinks, hasn’t it? That innocuous little contact late in 2020 cost James Sicily the entire 2021 season, and though he probably could have made it back for the last month of the season, the Hawks wisely gave him the extra time to get himself cherry ripe for 2022.

But where will Sicily play?

The Hawks have been known to take the pressure off (to an extent) players returning from knee reconstructions – see the way Jarman Impey played as a forward coming back from his injury in 2020, but can they afford to have Sicily away from the defensive fifty when he has displayed such great form there?

The Hawks have talent to burn in defence, with Denver Grainger-Barras, Will Day and Changkuoth Jiath all ready to take the next step in their development. Would playing Sicily there upset the apple cart and stifle development a little?

Sicily’s record up forward hasn’t been great, and the last time the Hawks tried it in 2019, it probably cost him a chance at making the AA team, but a little older, wiser and stronger, perhaps Sicily, a fit Jack Gunston, and Luke Breust could provide some headaches for opposition defences?

 

TOBY GREENE

It was all set up for Greene to swoop in and become the next captain of the Giants, wasn’t it? His leadership on the field in 2021 was exceptional, and his ability to change a game was close to unsurpassed in the league.

But then he screwed up. Again, he screwed up.

While I feel the penalty, handed down on appeal from the AFL, was probably too harsh, Greene again allowed bravado to rule over common sense. He now puts his team in the position of having to play the first five games of the season without him. How pumped will he be when Round Six rolls around?

Greene has many critics – I am not one of them – and continues to give them ammunition to fire at him. If he wants to shut them up, once and for all, he comes out in the best shape of his career, does what he does best and finishes the 2022 season with a wet sail, dragging the Giants into the finals.

But for inaccuracy, 2021 could have been the year of Toby Greene. But for his hot-headedness, 2021 could have been the year of Toby Greene. And in 2022, but for a five-game delay, his efforts could very well make this season the season of Toby Greene.

 

HUGH GREENWOOD

Here’s a fun fact – when Hugh Greenwood went down with a PCL injury in Round 17, he was averaging 8.7 tackles per game. He would have broken the record for the most tackles ever recorded in a single season if he continued on that trajectory.

Whilst Greenwood absolutely dodged a bullet in avoiding the dreaded ACL injury, that injury cost him a place in AFL history. And it is a place he is more than capable of capturing in 2022.

Greenwood is a contested footy machine. A whopping 68.8% of his touches come in the contest, with his grunt work allowing the young Suns the room to work into position and pick up the releasing handball. His addition to this Gold Coast team has been one of their best pickups. He is mature, strong and if you think you are going to brush him aside and run into space, think again – his tackles stick like… a bunch of particularly sticky sticks! You know the ones… they have sap on them and stuff…

With Greenwood in the team, the Suns walk taller, and given I am a bit of a sucker for witnessing history, I want to see him tackle the hell out of the 2022 season and be anointed as the best tackler the game has seen.

 

JEREMY MCGOVERN

Interesting to read that Gov took a bit of a pay hit for the upcoming season in order to free up some coin for Josh Kennedy. A nice gesture from the highest-paid player in the game.

Yeah, that was a bit of a backhander, because McGovern has not delivered a hell of a lot since 2018. A combination of injury, good coaching against him, and a lack of fitness have conspired to knock him down a notch or two. He almost needs a big season to remind people just what a potent weapon he can be in the league.

McGovern was ranked 13th in the league for intercepts in 2021. he was ranked 26th for one-percenters. That is simply nowhere near where he needs to be. McGovern is a top-five interceptor in the league on talent. If opposition teams are playing to avoid him, he needs to make their lives bloody miserable in doing so. I’m not sure he had the work ethic to do that in 2021.

At 29, he has plenty in the tank, but doing enough to get through and sagging off your direct opponent when they are a scoring threat… Gov needs to be better. If he is at his best, the Eagles are a much more formidable team.

 

TAYLOR WALKER

Well, he burst out of the gates to start 2021 and really, in terms of impact, was one of the best forwards in the game for the entire season. Before pinging a calf muscle, Walker looked unstoppable. No, scratch that – he WAS unstoppable.

But this is not about his on-field exploits. Tex well and truly put his foot in it after the season, when his mouth got him in trouble while watching a game. He made an idiotic error and was called out for it. He has a lot of work to do in order to salvage his reputation and his standing within the Adelaide Football Club over the next 12 months – a period that will most likely be his last in a Crows jumper.

Over the journey, people have seemingly enjoyed putting the boots to Walker. This time round, he gave them a legitimate reason to do so. Now, for him, the hard work begins, and it is bigger than anything he can do on the field, but fronting up, playing good footy and using his platform to make amends… it’s a good start.

 

LACHIE NEALE

2021 wasn’t a great season for Lachie and he didn’t exactly get the post-season started on a great note, either, with a story breaking that he was entertaining a move back to WA.

Of course, this all blew over and Neale returned to the Lions… all was well, right? Yeah… in theory, all was well. In reality, Neale was thinking of ducking out of a front-ended contract to head back from whence he came after a pretty ordinary year by his standards. It was… well, it was a bit of a dick move, even when you consider the family aspect of it all.

If I am a Brisbane supporter, I look at the 2022 and think that Lachie Neale owes us one. His 27 touches per game were his lowest return in a season with full-length games since 2014 and he lacked the tank that made him such a weapon in 2020.

A fit and firing Lachie Neale is a difference-maker. He takes the Brisbane Lions midfield to another level. The club needs him to perform close to his 2020 levels if they are to reverse what is quickly becoming a concerning series of finals performances.

He owes them one.

 

ZAC WILLIAMS

If Zac Williams returns to the Carlton team for preseason training in anything but his career-best conditioning, he needs a foot planted firmly in his backside.

That said, I think he will and this will be the year that Williams repays the Carlton faith. Last season, he simply did not put the work in – this season, after being called out in the media (something that never happened when he was with the Giants), the pressure is on, and Williams needs to deliver.

A fit and firing Zac Williams gives the Blues some real grunt in the middle, and with a rotation including Cripps, Sam Walsh, George Hewett, Ed Curnow and Williams, the Blues finally have a combination that can, and should match it with the best in the game.

So much will be revealed during the preseason hitouts in terms of what Williams is capable of producing, but make no mistake, the eyes of Blues fans are on him, and after a sub-par 2021, he would want to hit the track harder than ever before. The club paid good money for him.

 

BRODIE GRUNDY

I could have gone for the de Goey option but that is too easy.

This one… is a little more intricate.

I suppose we begin with a question – is Brodie Grundy capable of recapturing the form that saw him assessed as the best ruck in the competition in 2019? If the answer is yes, then where the hell has that form been over 2020/21?

After the disappointing 2020 season, I was fully expecting the Pies to announce Grundy was going in for surgery to correct something he’d been playing with all season. Nup… nothing. Then I started thinking that the shorter games may have had a negative impact on him, given his running and second/third/fourth efforts were such an integral part of his game.

However, 2021 quickly revealed that Grundy was not as effective as he was in his AA season. His clearance work, his second efforts… they were nowhere near as prevalent. He was playing like a guy who just got a big, fat, guaranteed contract… maybe because he was a guy who just got a big, fat, guaranteed contract.

The Pies floundered in 2021 and part of the reason was that they lacked the drive from their big man that made him so special. Did he put his cue in the rack after getting his big deal? I guess we’ll see in 2022.

 

DYLAN SHIEL

When you have Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett tearing games to shreds in the middle while you are sitting on the sidelines nursing an injury, it has to sting. And that is the position that Dylan Shiel found himself in as we wound down the 2021 season.

Shiel was hurt in Round Two and only returned to the team in Round 19. Though he was serviceable, he was not the number one man in the middle – not by a long shot and it would have to be one of the first times in his career that Shiel was relegated to the position of the third midfielder.

How he responds to this apparent demotion will be intriguing.

Shiel is a proud man – not too proud, but he has taken great pride in his game for years now, and with Parish and Merrett combining so well, Jake Stringer pinch-hitting in the middle, and Jye Caldwell applying pressure for a spot underneath, Shiel finds himself in a foreign place – he has to earn his spot in this midfield!

How bad does Shiel want it? How much did the 2021 season sting him? Does his determination to regain his place right at, or near the top of the tree change the dynamic too much? This will be one of the stories to keep an eye on early in the season.

 

MICHAEL WALTERS

Walters was the All-Australian small forward in 2019.

Let that sink in for a moment as you contemplate just how far he has fallen in a short time.

He was a star of the game just two seasons ago and now he has resorted to playing for free kicks more often than he contests. It is a damn shame, because when he applies himself and attacks the contest with the sole intention of winning the footy, he is a masterful player to watch.

At 31 years of age by the time the season starts, Walters is now in the twilight of his career, but while players like Robbie Gray have added to their legacy post-30, Walters has detracted from his. He needs one more year where he turns it on and shows the footy world that he is better than that which he has displayed over the past two seasons.

To assess Walters in 2022 will be as simple as asking one question – did he attack the footy and play the ball?

 

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