You know, every day it seems as though I flick through the newspape… haha, just kidding – nobody reads newspapers anymore unless you get them for free at Maccas.

I check Twitter, and I check Reddit and I constantly hear news coming through about injuries to players in the preseason. This is where it is starting to get to the business time of the year – Round One is less than a month away and teams are looking to start putting together their lineups for the opening round of footy.

But what do these injuries mean? And how do teams cover them?

Well, luckily, you have your old pal, The Mongrel, here to help with inappropriate comma usage. Let’s run through a few of the big names bobbing up in injury news heading into 2022 and how their teams could look to cover them.

 

SAM WALSH

Starting out with a bang, the syndesmosis injury to Sam Walsh is a huge blow to the Blues as they begin a campaign that many had earmarked as their return to finals. Yes, we’d heard all that before, but there was a genuine feeling that the pieces were now in place for Carlton.

This is by no means the end of the world, with Walsh apparently only missing the first few rounds, but it is more about the little losses to his game as a result of sitting out while he heals up. Walsh is an endurance beast and whilst a few weeks of restricted training with no work on the legs might freshen him up, it may also take a bit of sting out of those legs that would normally be there late in games. What is earmarked as an injury that keeps him out may have effects for an additional couple of weeks as he works back into premium shape.

I don’t doubt that Walsh was in exceptional shape prior to being hurt, and yes, this holds him in great stead to recover quickly and not miss too much, but weeks off the track in the waning days of preseason, and rounds missed at the start of the year are never a good preparation and I don’t care who you are.

How do the Blues cover him?

Well, they actually have the capacity to do so for the short term. Speaking of aerobic beasts, Ed Curnow can move back into the middle to stop some bleeding. Though he is getting on in terms of age, Ed is a serious runner and a proven ball-winner. He is not the long term solution, obviously, and he doesn’t have to be. All he has to do is hold the fort.

Adam Cerra was recruited to complement the hard run of Walsh, but will find more is required right from the outset. He had a wonderful apprenticeship at Fremantle, where he was never in danger of losing his spot in the team and the pressure was minimal – that pressure intensifies under the Melbourne footy spotlight. He will be relied on to win the footy and fill the void left by Walsh, and though more suited to an outside role, will have to enter the fray at the centre to cover for Walsh at times.

Zac Williams is the key, here. He was an easy target last year after failing. This was mainly due to him not being in the type of shape required to play the midfield role, as he was recruited to do. From all reports and vision, Williams has done the work this season, and fronted up to Ikon Park in amazing condition. This is incredibly good news for the Blues and offsets a lot of the disappointment of Walsh’s injury. Williams playing at the level he was recruited to makes a huge difference to this Carlton onball contingent, and I would not be at all surprised if it is his form that has people talking by Round Three.

 

ORAZIO FANTASIA

After starting his tenure at Port Adelaide on fire, Fantasia is now set to have his third knee surgery since May 2021, in a very worrying sign.

He has long been a little brittle, but this now seems to be getting to the stage where it is a real problem. With Connor Rozee and Zak Butters either injured or struggling through the first part of the 2021 season, it was Fantasia that stepped up and made life hell for small defenders playing against Port Adelaide. His first six games resulted in 14 goals and though it was a long way from the end of the season, he would have been in early All-Australian calculations.

The positive thing here, if there is one about a bloke being hurt, is that the Power are flush with players that can not only play the small forward role effectively, but excel in the position.

Connor Rozee is the most likely to take the bulk of the work. He was hampered by Plantar Fasciitis early in 2021 and this was compounded by a couple of heavy knocks, resulting in corkies and had him looking like a pretty sore boy at points. With a clean run at the preseason, Rozee should be able to elevate his game and get back to the point where he was one of the brightest prospects in the game.

Robbie Gray still lurks around the Port Adelaide forward fifty and as long as he is upright, will provide a huge issue for small to medium defenders. Gray is now what we’d call a “moments” player. The time of him racking up 25 touches and slotting a few goals on a regular basis is gone, but he is still capable of wreaking havoc inside 50.

Zak Butters is the third option. Switching between midfield and forward, Butters brings the type of physical presence usually reserved for players much larger and has an incredible footy-brain. Seriously, I am surprised his head is not oval-shaped. He is capable of doing the incredible, the spectacular, and never, ever shies away from getting his hands dirty. Another who was injured in 2021, he will be looking to make an early statement.

Port don’t need to worry about their small forward stocks. Sure, it would be lovely to have Orazio Fantasia out there zipping around and kicking snags, but they have more than enough firepower to compensate and… I feel bad even writing this… if Fantasia was to be a longer term injury, I don’t think Port will miss a beat without him.

 

CHARLIE DIXON

Ankle surgery, huh?

What’s that old Chinese saying about crisis and opportunity?

This off-season, I have been banging on about how one of Mitch Georgiades and Todd Marshall need to step up and do so quickly. Well, if Dixon is hobbled, I guess both will be getting ample opportunity to do so. Throw in the acquisition of Jeremy Finlayson (rated as elite by Champion Data, mind you…) and you have a bit of three-way tussle to see who will line up alongside big Charlie once the smoke has cleared and he returns to the fray.

My money would be on Georgiades, despite his age. He has a beautiful pair of hands and presents like a key forward. With Dixon now 31, this is not just a time for Georgiades to secure his position as the second forward, ongoing. No, no, no… this is him auditioning for the starring role in the Port Adelaide front half once Dixon moves on. That may not be for a couple of years, yet, but how Mitch performs with the extra responsibility foisted upon him will make up a few minds at Port.

Todd Marshall… this really seemed like a make-or-break type of season for him. The talent is there – we all saw it very early on in his career, but he genuinely strikes me as the forward version of the Western Bulldogs’ Tim English – forever promising so much, but never delivering. Like Fastway Couriers, in many respects.

And Finlayson certainly has a bit of x-factor about him. Capable of kicking a fistful of goals, he is also prone to go missing for loooong stretches – reference his 2019 Grand Final debacle for proof of that.

Port have done well to bolster their key forward stocks, but without Dixon, this is an internal battle at the club to see just who the next main guy is.

 

WILL DAY

The Hawks are being cautious with Day, with Sam Mitchell already stating he is unlikely to be ready for Round One. He also stated that Day is pretty determined to be right for that game, so I guess there is no doubting the kid has the fire in his belly, is there?

The great news for the Hawks, even if Day does sit out the first round, or even the first couple, is that his is the position that they are most stacked for options.

Changkuoth Jiath, James Sicily, Blake Hardwick, Jarman Impey, Jack Scrimshaw… the Hawks have half-backs come out of places where others teams don’t even have places! It was at the point where one of the questions in our season preview revolved around “who has to move from the half-back line”.

My money, in answer to that question, was Day. A looked at his game and what he provides, and a move to the wing looked a perfect fit. It’ll mean a few tweaks to things for the Hawks as they set up for Round One, but having a young star with ten years ahead of him miss a game or two to get right is not the end of the world, particularly when you see what they have in reserve to throw into that half-back role.

 

JAMIE CRIPPS

Earlier this off-season, I wrote about the impact Jamie Cripps has on the West Coast Eagles when he gets plenty of the footy. He has his critics, but when he is able to get his hands on the footy, the Eagles are a much better team for it.

Tearing his pectoral muscle last week in an oiled-up posedown with Liam Ryan (just kidding – it was match sim), Cripps is expected to sit out the first part of the season, further weakening a forward line that is on a knife’s edge in terms of the status of Jack Darling.

If there is any good news to this situation, it is that Willie Rioli rejoins the fray and should be ready to create some havoc with Liam Ryan almost immediately… assuming he hasn’t lost a step or two during his long layoff.

What the Eagles lose in Cripps is a solid link man across half-forward. He was also deployed on the wing at points in 2021 by Adam Simpson is a desperate ploy to generate some dangerous forward fifty entries. Can a guy like Jack Petruccelle elevate his game and fill the gap left by Cripps’ absence? Or will the Eagles struggle to provide a dangerous forward six in the wake of half of their forward setup being unavailable?

 

OSCAR ALLEN

Speaking of being unavailable in the WCE forward six, the foot injury sustained by Oscar Allen will have him hobble around in a moonboot for the next three weeks, making a Round One appearance very unlikely.

As detailed above, Jamie Cripps is already gone for a while, and Jack Darling’s playing future is up in the air, so with Allen hurt, the Eagles will rely heavily on veteran Josh Kennedy to once again be the main man inside 50 – a role he should probably not be thrust into at this stage of his career.

That said, we’re not expecting this to be a long absence for Allen, so Kennedy just has to hold the fort for a while. Both Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli are capable of playing tall if they have to, and a three-pronged attack of Kennedy, Rioli, and Ryan could do a lot more damage than people are expecting.

The unexpected key to the WCE forward line early in the season may come in the form of Jake Waterman. Often, he has been shunted into the role of fourth forward, behind the likes of JK, Darling, and Ryan, but he has good hands, and kicked multiple goals on four occasions in 2021. If he can find form early in the picture, he may be able to stop the bleeding for the Eagles until help arrives.

 

CALLUM MILLS

Achilles injuries are horrible. They just linger and linger, as Callum Mills is finding out the hard way in Sydney at the moment.

Moved into a prominent midfield role in 2021, Mills took to it like a Swan to water and flourished after serving his apprenticeship at half-back. The Swans have given Mills every opportunity to be ready for Round One, and have him currently on a modified program with the hope of ramping up his training loads in the coming weeks.

This will all be dependent on how his Achilles responds over that period, but it would not surprise me if he has a delayed start to the 2021 season as a result.

In terms of replacements, the Swans already have Josh ‘Gramps’ Kennedy in the guts and he continues to do what needs to be done on a weekly basis. The defensive side of his game is vastly underrated, too. Luke Parker remains the star of the show, but will need support in the early going. I thought that may come from James Rowbottom, who was my pick to replace George Hewett and his to-way running, but he is also struggling with a fracture to his hand. Suddenly, things aren’t looking as rosy.

The Swans do have option, however. Isaac Heeney could move into the middle if required. Personally, I would love to see him remain settled in the forward 50, but he has the tools to be effective all over the park – we’ve seen that. Braeden Campbell might get his opportunity to slot in and spend some time in the guts ahead of schedule. I kind of saw him being brought along in the same manner as Mills was, but a run in the middle in the short term won’t hurt. And I wouldn’t mind seeing Chad Warner attend a few centre stoppages, either.

I think we’ll see Mills back early in the season, if not by Round One, but even with injuries to contend with, Sydney have plenty of options – they have built this team wonderfully.

 

HARRISON PETTY

Did a heap of the dirty work in 2021, so much so that it made Jake Lever and Steven May look all the better. He made that third tall defender spot his own after Adam Tomlinson went down, and was rewarded with a new contract over the off-season.

Things had been good for Harrison Petty.

Then a cork to the calf muscle kind of unravelled things, a little.

Petty had surgery yesterday to release blood from the corkie he received last week and will sit out the next four to six weeks as a result. Could this open the door for Adam Tomlinson to make a claim on the position he lost to Petty when he was injured? He is apparently up and about at the moment and in the frame for a run at Round One and it would set up a very interesting battle between the two for that role if Tomlinson was able to perform at a high level in support to the big two in the Demons defence.

I suppose if there was such a thing as good timing, having Tomlinson ready to step in is about as good as it gets. Whether or not the club has the confidence in him to walk out onto a packed MCG for Round One remains to be seen, but unless Simon Goodwin backflips and sends Tom McDonald into defence (he gets asked this so many times… will Tom McDonald go back into defence?) then it is looking like Tomlinson could get the nod.

 

JAKE STRINGER

This one s a definite “watch this space”.

Jake Stringer is vital to Essendon in their current form. Absolutely critical.

With the loss of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Stringer’s importance to the team only grew, and with his dual role played close to perfection in 2021, his scoreboard impact and clearance work in the middle would be close to impossible to replace.

Sure, the Bombers are suddenly very well-stocked for midfield options to replace him should his groin injury turn out to be a little more than just soreness, but the forward line desperately needs him to be healthy. They are a very different beast with Stringer commanding the footy and having the fitness to make things happen when he gets it.

The Bombers have already committed to sitting Stringer out of games for the remainder of the preseason to give his injury to necessary time to heal, but an interrupted preseason to Stringer is not the news you would want to hear if you were a Bombers fan. Hopefully, this is precautionary, because from where I sit, there are maybe four players in the game that can do what Stringer did in 2021 as a mid/forward, and none of them are on the Bombers list.

 

BRENT DANIELS

This stings more than you may imagine. With Toby Greene sidelines for the first month or so of footy, the Giants would have been hopeful that Daniels’ pace and elusiveness inside 50 would cover a lot of what Greene provided at ground level.

However, a lisfranc fracture will sideline the livewire forward for a significant portion of the AFL season, leaving the Giants reliant on apparent wantaway, Ian ‘Bobby’ Hill to fill the void.

Daniels is a genuine threat around the footy and has proven himself in big games. His loss will be felt significantly by the Giants, and whilst Hill has shown flashes, he has not been as reliable as Daniels when it comes to hitting the scoreboard. Hill had multiple goals on just three occasions in 2021 and his efforts to find another home during the trade period have many questioning how much of it was just fabricated theatre to fill content for the upcoming Stan documentary about the period.

Hill is capable of filling the void left by Daniels, but not on a long term basis. Not yet, anyway. Given that Greene will be absent, the taller forwards will really need to be on their game and willing to make second and third efforts at ground level to keep the Giants in the frame early in the season.

 

BEN KING

How do you replace this bloke? 47 goals in a poor team in 2021 and he’s gone for the season.

Ouch.

The Suns recruited Levi Casboult, have Sam Day, and are rumoured to be moving Jack Lukosius into attack, but can you realistically see any of them coming close to doing what Ben King is capable of?

Nup, me either.

In what shaped as a season that would make or break Stuart Dew’s career in charge of the club, they have been dealt a savage blow. The Suns had gone all-in on King. They were always going to live and die by how well he performed and how he developed into their franchise man. And now, they have the above to choose from.

Whilst Lukosius is a talent, and Casboult will provide an aerial contest, I think we can sum up the situation inside forward fifty with one sentence.

The Suns are in trouble.

 

ANTHONY MCDONALD-TIPUNGWUTI

I just banged on about how irreplaceable Ben King is to Gold Coast, but the loss of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti to the Bombers is almost as bad.

Is that a bit of hyperbole? I mean, he could be back relatively soon, right? Yeah, look – he could, or he could not and I don’t know about you, but I do not see Walla going away and getting fitter while he is away from the club. He has his issues to deal with and hopefully, they are some he can overcome and get back out on the park early in the season, but in terms of replacing him… it might be slim pickings while he gets himself right.

Will Snelling surprised many in 2021 and his brand of footy saw him become a vital part of the Essendon attack as a link man at half-forward. Of course, the primary function of a smaller forward is to be dangerous inside 50. Snelling had 12 goals to his name in 2021 – Walla had that may and more in the first six games of the season. Snelling is a talent, but in terms of scoreboard impact, it will take more than him elevating his game to fill the void.

Dev Smith is a pressure forward by trade these days. He came in like a hurricane, winning the Crichton Medal in his first season as a Bomber, but has now adopted the role of nuisance forward and late in 2021, started playing that role to great effect. Smith had 16 goals to his name in 2021, but it is his tackling and pressure that will give the Bombers a bit of bite, particularly if he is to remain healthy.

Other than that, the Bombers have Archie Perkins, who showed a bit in 2021, and it is a bit of a crapshoot from that point on. Whilst the second half of 2021 had a version of AMT the Bombers certainly would not want in the game, the version we saw at the start of the season and through the first half of the season, was as good as it gets. You simply don’t just replace that type of player.

 

NICK COFFIELD

I reckon only Saints fans know what a huge blow this is.

12 months after Ben Paton copped a season-ending injury, Coffield’s ACL has weakened what was shaping as one of the better young defensive units in the caper. His intercept ability and reading of the play was excellent in 2020, and though he failed to really make a huge leap in 2021, it was on the cards that 2021 was going to be a big year for him.

Hunter Clark is the key for the Saints in this instance. He needs to take the next step and become one of the best intercept/rebounders in the game. Clark is viewed as something special by Saints fans, with many stating he has the capacity to be an A-Grader, but he seemed to stagnate at his 2019 level last season and needs to make a bigger impact. Perhaps filling the void left by Coffield affords him this opportunity.

I’ve also heard that Josh Battle has been doing a lot of defensive work this preseason, so a possible move to the back six could be on the cards for him. At 23, Battle has been thrown around a little over the last few years, with the wing and half-forward the positions he has found himself in most, but a permanent move to defence could see him blossom.

 

JORDAN ROUGHEAD

A bigger loss than you’d think, Jordan Roughead is due to miss the first month or so of the season after shoulder surgery to repair an ongoing issue.

I have to say… I hate this. I hate reading that someone has gone in to get surgery in the preseason when the issue was known about long before. Lance Franklin did it a few years ago – it is always a mistake.

Anyway, Roughead is not due to return until Round Five or Six, and in the meantime, leaves the position of lockdown defender for someone else to handle.

New recruit, Nathan Kreuger may get a chance at the senior team after moving across from the Cats. He was pretty good in the small sample size I saw of him in 2021 and with solid help from Moore, Maynard, Howe, and Crisp, could be a bit of a surprise packet for the Pies.

Jack Madgen might be asked to play taller, as well. Unflashy, his work has been workmanlike for the Pies, but I am not sure he is the best option, ongoing.

 

As always, if there are more to cover, they’ll be addressed as they come up. Make sure to let me know what you think about the options presented. I kind of oversee the league, but you guys know your individual teams better than most. If you have a bit of an inside word, by all means, share away.