The 2011 AFL season is almost upon us. This list features the key players that each club will be looking to for improvement this year and details why they are so important to their respective sides.
These are not necessarily the best players or the biggest names in the game, but they are the ones that have the ability to take their side to the next level. These are the players that may slip under the radar, but will be key to their side's finals' chances.
After missing the entire 2010 season due to a ruptured ACL, Andy Otten will be looking to recapture his best form this season. After locking down a spot in the Crows' backline and playing every game in 2009, much was expected from Otten in 2010 before injury ruined his season. Otten has made a full recovery and has shown no lingering ill effects from his rehab.
Otten was sorely missed by the Crows during their disappointing 2010 and he will be a welcome inclusion into their starting 18. His preseason form has been solid and at 21 years of age he will be looking to further establish himself in the Adelaide backline and become one of the elite defenders in the competition, which he was well on the way to doing at the end of 2009.
Tom Rockliff was a rare positive in Brisbane’s nightmare 2010. He was unlucky to finish outside the top 10 in the club's best and fairest, but did win the club's best rookie award. Rockliff has been on fire during the preseason, being far and away the Lions best player and probably the form player of the competition.
If Brisbane are to avoid the wooden spoon or even make an unlikely push for finals, a lot will depend on Rockliff developing into the match winner he has the potential to be. After the departures of Michael Rischitelli and Jared Brennan, it's likely that Rockliff will see more attention from taggers, but with Simon Black and Luke Power to share the midfield load, he should be able to overcome this and prosper.
Despite showing enormous potential as a dangerous small forward, Chris Yarran has spent much of the preseason across half back, using his pace to provide explosive rebound from defence. Other quick forwards such as Leon Davis and Andrew McLeod have found success across half back and if Yarran's preseason form is any guide, then he could be going down the same path.
The success of this move is likely to see Yarran spending most of his time down back this season, where he could be the X-factor the Blues need to push deeper into September. Definitely a player to look out for in 2011.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when the premiers decided to recruit Andrew Krakouer. He was a constant underachiever during his seven years at Richmond, spent two years out of the game courtesy of a prison sentence and at 28, is coming towards the end of his footballing life.
Given the strength of Collingwood’s list, they are one of the few teams that could afford to roll the dice on the wayward forward and he was traded to Collingwood after being pre-signed by the Gold Coast.
During his time with Richmond he was much maligned by the club's supporters, but there was no doubting the ability was there. He will be under far less pressure both on and off the field with the Pies, which should allow him to reach his potential as an AFL star.
Michael Hurley is a talented and versatile young player who Bomber fans have high expectations of. He has shown glimpses of brilliance in his short career to date, but has also been criticised for a drunken altercation with a taxi driver which resulted in Hurley being charged with assault.
Hurley flourished in both attack and defence for the Bombers in 2010, and was one of their best players in their NAB cup campaign, playing mainly up forward. Expect to see Hurley spending more time in the forward 50 this year and having a serious impact on the scoreboard.
John Anthony walked out on Collingwood after being unable to cement a place in their all-conquering 2010 side. His failure to lock down his place was especially disappointing for Magpie fans after the success of his 2009 season, when he finished 10th in the league goalkicking. He looked to be a star in the making at that stage, but went backwards in 2010.
After being picked up by Fremantle in the preseason draft, Anthony will be aiming to play senior footy week in, week out, without having to worry about his position on selection night. If he can recapture his best form he will be a huge asset for the Dockers.
Last year was a breakthrough year for the talented small forward. He finished in the top 10 of Geelong's best and fairest for the first time in his career, no mean feat considering the Cats have made the Grand Final in three of the four years he has been with the club.
Varcoe’s incredible pressure on the ball carrier—and at times miraculous foot skills—played an underrated part in Geelong’s 2010 season. Despite playing most of his footy up forward, Varcoe has expressed his desire to eventually move to the midfield and will likely get the chance to replace Gary Ablett in the Cats' engine room. If Geelong are to keep their era of success going then a lot will depend on Varcoe improving on his standout 2010.
As one of the few experienced players in the AFL’s newest side, Harris will required to stand up and be counted if the Gold Coast are to push for finals in their debut season. Harris played 149 games for North Melbourne before being delisted at the end of 2009 after a falling out with then-coach Dean Laidley.
Harris will be an automatic starter in the Suns' midfield, but it remains to be seen how much impact a season away from the AFL will have on his game. If he can recapture his trademark hardness and tackling pressure then he will be a perfect foil for Suns' playmakers Gary Ablett, Michael Rischitelli and Jared Brennan.
After walking out on the Demons at the end of 2010 after 10 years, Bruce was selected by Hawthorn with the fifth pick in the preseason draft. Recruited to add depth and experience to the Hawks under-performing backline, Bruce will be under pressure to produce immediate results.
If the Hawks are to recapture their 2008 premiership form, then a lot will depend on the ability of Cam Bruce to solve the defensive woes that have plagued them for the past several seasons. Bruce could be a key player in September.
Jurrah burst onto the scene in 2009, captivating footy fans with his miraculous goal scoring feats and natural flair for the game. After injury delayed his start to the 2010 season, he made a successful return to the senior side which culminated in him taking Mark of the Year in a game against Port Adelaide.
Jurrah is one of the most prodigious young talents in the AFL. His penchant for the miraculous has made him a cult hero among Demons' supporters and with another preseason under his belt he should blossom into one of the competition's most exciting forwards.
Since being selected with the ninth pick by North Melbourne in the 2008 National Draft, Jack Ziebell has shown immense talent between long layoffs with injury. Two broken legs in his first two seasons in the AFL have meant that he has missed more games than he has played, but the form shown in the games he has been fit for has been promising.
Ziebell received a Rising Star nomination in his first season and was described by then-coach Dean Laidley as a “natural leader” and “a superstar in the making.” His work rate is also outstanding for a young player. If he can stay fit, look for him to have a big impact on the North Melbourne midfield.
Jay Schulz made an immediate impact at Port Adelaide last year after being traded from Richmond. A versatile key position player, Schulz found success in the Power forward line with 33 goals from 16 games, including seven in a match-winning performance against North Melbourne. He quickly became an integral part of the Power forward line.
Schulz was voted into the Port Adelaide leadership group after his impressive debut season and will be looking to take his game to another level this year. He will be especially relied on given the retirement of Power legend Warren Tredrea last season.
Much has been expected of Trent Cotchin since the Tigers selected him with the second pick in the 2007 National Draft. His first three seasons for the club have been interrupted by injury, but 2011 seems likely to be the year that Cotchin announces his arrival as a top-level AFL midfielder.
His preseason form has been nothing short of phenomenal. Far and away Richmond's best performer, Cotchin has looked a truly elite midfielder. Cotchin is regarded internally at Richmond as a natural leader and future captain and with the Tigers finally looking likely to show some real improvement, this is the perfect time for Cotchin to fulfill his potential.
Ben McEvoy was the fairytale story of the drawn Grand Final last season when he replaced the injured Michael Gardiner for the replay. With both Gardiner and Justin Koschitzke likely to missing for the early part of 2011, there is a huge opportunity for McEvoy to cement his position in the Saints lineup and assume the No. 1 ruck position.
That he is capable of taking a big grab up forward when resting from his ruck duties is a huge asset, given that the traditional ruckman is in danger of dying out due to the AFL’s new substitute rule. Look for this to be a breakout season for the young Saint.
This promising young defender was traded to the Swans after showing signs of his ability at the Dogs, but never managing to secure a permanent spot in the side. After being traded to the Swans, who are known for getting the best out of recycled players, Everitt will be looking to realize on his potential and become a top-level defender.
Everitt's preseason form has been exceptionally strong. His rebound from defense and explosiveness will be a huge asset for the Swans if he can realise his potential. Look for him to be a big improver in 2011.
A promising tall forward whilst at Carlton, Josh Kennedy was traded to West Coast as part of the deal that saw Chris Judd go to Carlton. A No. 4 draft selection, much expectation was placed on the young man's shoulders. He has kicked 45 goals in 79 games for the Eagles, with 2010 being the first time he played every game in a season.
Kennedy has enormous potential and could eventually become one of the top tall forwards in the game. He should be aiming to make a bigger impact in 2011, and will need to be if West Coast are to improve on their disastrous 2010.
Nathan Djerrkura is an undoubtedly talented young player, yet only managed to play four games in four years at Geelong. He was a victim of the on-field success of his club and was unable to get a consistent run in the Cats' star-studded midfield. A change of scenery, however, may be just what the doctor ordered for Djerrkura.
He should be able to get a decent run for the Dogs and realize his full potential. His game should flourish given the senior games he will get at the Dogs. Djerrkura has the ability to be a top midfielder/forward and could just be the extra element the Western Bulldogs need to take the extra step and make the Grand Final.