Every year, there are players who excel far beyond expectations. Players who go from making up the numbers of a list or coming in and out of the side to becoming integral to it. In 2013, some of the best examples of this are Aaron Mullett who has found himself at home in the North backline, winning a NAB Rising Star nomination, and Chad Wingard, who has put himself in All-Australian contention with a season showing his potential and why he was drafted in the top five in the 2011 draft. There are plenty of players on the cusp of a breakout season next year and these are 10 to watch out for.
1. Dom Tyson (Greater Western Sydney)
The former number three draft pick has been cruelled by injury and managed only 10 games in 2012 and none in 2013. He was drafted at number three for a reason and after committing to Greater Western Sydney at the end of last year, he should be ready to blossom. Tyson received a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination in round 23 of 2012 and could slot into the Giants midfield in 2014.
2. Elliott Kavanagh (Essendon)
Essendon fans are extremely bullish about Kavanagh. Whether that is justified or not is unknown to this stage as he has only managed three games since coming to the club in 2012. With another pre-season under his belt, expect him to receive regular games in 2014 and beyond and be a vital part of the Essendon midfield.
3. Billy Longer (Brisbane)
Longer has not had many chances in his short career due to Matthew Leuenberger’s dominance as the number one ruck. In his few opportunities, however, he has shown promise far beyond his years and will certainly be a dominant ruckman in the competition at some stage. Longer might find himself in a position where he has to move clubs to get himself out of Leuenberger’s shadow and be developed into a number one ruckman.
4. Nick Graham (Carlton)
Likened to a young Nick Stevens, his former mentor, Graham has excelled at VFL level this year, having over 30 disposals in multiple weeks but also having a real defensive impact every week, which is promising for the young midfielder. However, to this stage he has not made his debut so his ability at AFL level is still a great unknown. He appears to be ready for AFL level and able to slot into Carlton’s midfield nicely. With Chris Judd and Heath Scotland in their last year or two, Carlton needs these kids to come through and start playing games and this man certainly will.
5. Sam Day (Gold Coast)
We all know most key position players take a few years to develop; this could be exasperated by the amount of youth at the Gold Coast Suns. With 30 teenagers on their list when they began, you can excuse Day having a slow 2012. Day has shown signs this year of the work rate required to be an elite AFL footballer. As the second key forward to Charlie Dixon, Day could develop into an extremely reliable forward and should be persisted with.
6. George Horlin-Smith (Geelong)
With the talent around him, Horlin-Smith has all the mentoring he’d ever need to make it at the elite level. The negative of this, however, is that he hasn’t had the amount of opportunities he would have at a lower ranked club with the likes of Josh Caddy, Cameron Guthrie and Jesse Stringer amongst others all battling for those last few positions in the Geelong 22. Going forward, he looks like a player who can have an impact in an elite midfield and is one to watch in 2014.
7. Lachie Neale (Fremantle)
How good a player Neale can be is unknown. But under the development of Ross Lyon he could easily slot into the structures of the Dockers and become a regular in 2014. He was the sub often early in his career but has had over 20 disposals in his last three matches and is growing into the powerful Fremantle midfield.
8. Spencer White (St Kilda)
The Saints overlooked selecting a key defender to pick White with pick 25 in the draft last year. Before a season-ending injury, White showed some spectacular highlights in the VFL with some comparing him to a young Lance Franklin. After the expected retirement of Justin Koschitzke at season’s end, White, along with Tom Lee, is capable of taking up the mantle in 2014 as the Saints begin their rebuild.
9. Viv Michie (Fremantle)
Michie was drafted to the Dockers with pick 44 in 2010 but only managed the one game. The 21-year-old Victorian has had over 30 disposals on many occasions this year in the WAFL but still can’t crack back into the senior side. He could consider moving back to Melbourne in 2014 for more senior selection.
10. Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)
Listed as the steal of last year’s draft, Grundy has come into the Collingwood side for an immediate impact. Darren Jolly is a player reaching the end of his career with possibly only one year left in him. Collingwood can rest easy knowing that Grundy will be their number one ruckman for the next 10 years and other clubs will be kicking themselves that they passed him up.