We are now less than a week away from Round 1 and there are few things sweeter than the first team reveals of the year … even if they’re no longer all coming through on Thursday nights.
The AAMI Community Series gave players a chance to prove they’re worthy of being in the mix for an early game, while injuries in those games may have opened the door for others.
Here are the players around the league who might just be bolting into Round 1 calculations.
Read our thoughts below:
There is a strong chance that James Rowe is set to debut for the Crows against Geelong.
Selected with pick 38 in the last year’s draft, the small forward was busy in last weekend’s AAMI Community Series loss to Port Adelaide with 15 disposals. He also kicked three behinds so was very close to making his presence felt at senior level.
The 21-year-old son of former Crow Stephen has bolted onto the Adelaide list after two years with reigning SANFL premiers Woodville-West Torrens and is now firmly in the mix to play at the Adelaide Oval against the Cats next Saturday.
Daniel McStay is expected to miss at least the first two rounds of the AFL season with a PCL strain, giving Fullarton a chance to appear early in the year.
The former basketballer put his hand up with an impressive two-goal performance in the Lions’ AAMI Community Series match against Gold Coast and looks set to add to his one AFL game from 2019.
Possesses elite agility for his height and could present a match-up problem with Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood already attracting attention inside 50.
He is still a reasonably raw prospect, but his selection would allow Chris Fagan to stick with a third mobile marking option up forward.
Lachie Fogarty has flown under the radar as Carlton’s third trade period acquisition, but he could be in line for a Round 1 berth given what’s happened around him.
The Blues have some headaches inside 50 and across half forward, with Harry McKay, Mitch McGovern, Levi Casboult and Eddie Betts working to be fit for Round 1, while Zac Williams is suspended and Jack Newnes has an ankle issue.
Fogarty’s versatility as a pressure forward and a midfielder allows him to fill both roles and he will likely find himself ahead of Betts in the pecking order because of it.
The 21-year-old has played 23 career games and was used primarily forward against the Saints in the AAMI Community Series, but was rotated on-ball and through the midfield at stages. He finished with 14 disposals, six score involvements and laid seven tackles (five inside 50).
Henry would be right in calculations to make a Round 1 debut after appearing in both the Magpies scratch-match against Geelong and AAMI Community Series fixture against Richmond.
The first-round pick reportedly impressed the Collingwood coaching staff over the summer, offering another marking option up forward for Nathan Buckley.
The teenager possesses strong hands and elite aerial ability, assets which could prove dangerous inside 50 as a third or fourth tall option.
While not setting the world alight in either appearance this pre-season, the 18-year-old showed enough to catch the eye and put his hand up for selection.
There is a reason why Essendon traded up in the 2019 draft to secure Harry Jones, who is almost certain to make his AFL debut in Round 1 against the Hawks.
The talented tall forward will form an integral part of the Bombers’ new-look forward line in 2021, with Peter Wright expected to start deeper inside 50 while Jones fills a role across half forward.
Turning 20 late last month, Jones is still incredibly raw as a tall key forward, but he’ll be given plenty of room to grow in a youthful Dons outfit until new coach Ben Rutten.
Lloyd Meek has carried the ruck load for Fremantle over the pre-season with Sean Darcy dealing with a knee issue. Darcy is a fair chance to be available for Round 1, but now Rory Lobb has gone down with a more significant knee injury and the door is now open for Meek.
Fremantle has a key forward problem and may need to play two ruckmen in order to put a second big body inside 50 next to Matt Taberner. Darcy has had an interrupted pre-season and may be best off starting as a key forward and building his match fitness, while Meek starts in the ruck.
Finishing with 18 hit-outs, 12 disposals and five clearances versus West Coast and Nic Naitanui in the AAMI Community Series, the 22-year-old appears ready to compete at AFL level.
The subject of much trade talk during the off-season, Jordan Clark ultimately stayed at the Cats and is now well within the selection mix to play against Adelaide in Round 1.
The 20-year-old burst onto the scene in his first season two years ago, playing 18 matches and generally impressing, but fell out of favour last year and played just three games.
But on the back of a hugely promising AAMI Community Series display against the Bombers last weekend, he couldn’t be better placed to finally cement a spot in Geelong’s best side in 2021.
Will Brodie was starved of senior opportunities in 2020 with his only AFL appearance coming in Gold Coast’s Round 1 loss to Port Adelaide.
But after a big pre-season the penny might have dropped for the Suns midfielder.
Brodie, who has played just 20 games in four seasons, is a likely starter for Gold Coast’s season-opening encounter against West Coast.
The 22-year-old collected 25 disposals, laid four tackles and kicked a goal in the Suns’ AAMI Community Series match against Brisbane.
A former first-round draft pick, will Brodie cement a spot in 2021?
Kieren Briggs or Matthew Flynn
After two years on the GWS list, Kieren Briggs could find himself stepping out for the fist time as a senior AFL player.
With recruit Braydon Preuss out for a lengthy spell after shoulder surgery, and his back-up Matthew Flynn suffering an ankle injury, the door is ajar for Briggs.
He stepped in last weekend against Sydney in the AAMI Community Series and if Flynn fails to get up, could make his debut at home against St Kilda next Sunday.
If Flynn is fit, he will likely take the ruck mantle against the Saints and make his AFL debut.
Last year’s pick 12 Tanner Bruhn, while not considered a bolter as such, may also debut after impressing with four goals last time out.
Jacob Koschitzke’s first two years with the Hawks were a disappointment.
He was injured for much of the first season, while his second season was spent playing a few practice matches as the club settled into hub life around the country.
As a key defender he was unlikely to get a look in in a part of the ground where Hawthorn is reasonably well stocked. But the decision was made over the summer to trial him as a key forward and the transformation has been stunning.
At 196cm and 96kg he is an athletic beast and he has been in superb touch all summer and kicked six goals in the AAMI Challenge win over North Melbourne last week. He got them every which way and it made it virtually impossible for Alastair Clarkson to leave him out of the team to play Essendon next week.
After landing at the Dees with pick 33 back in 2018, Jordon spent his first season at the club at VFL level before featuring in unofficial scratch matches throughout a COVID-hit 2020.
With versatility across the midfield and defence one of his greatest strengths, Jordon pressed his claim for a breakthrough Round 1 berth with a strong showing against Western Bulldogs on Monday afternoon.
Could Jordon finally be on the cusp of making his debut in his third season on the Melbourne list? He has shot into selection contention on the back of a strong pre-season and is in the mix.
North Melbourne has not had its full starting midfield available across this pre-season and Ben Cunnington will likely miss Round 1 as he struggles with concussion symptoms.
These absences have opened the door for Dom Tyson, who took his opportunity in the AAMI Community Series clash with Hawthorn. Tyson picked up 23 disposals, eight marks, seven score involvements, four clearances, four inside 50s and kicked three goals in the impressive performance.
Tyson has only played three games for the Roos since crossing over from Melbourne at the end of 2018, dealing with injury and form issues. The club would be hoping 2021 is the year it all comes together for the third selection in the 2011 National Draft.
Selection at Port Adelaide this season will be intriguing given their impressive depth.
The emergence of uncapped youngster Miles Bergman gives the Power another good selection headache at Match Committee.
Bergman, who was selected with pick No.14 in the 2019 National Draft, is firmly in the mix to make his AFL debut in Round 1.
Power champion Kane Cornes thinks the 19-year-old will get the nod to face North Melbourne after his 2020 was interrupted by an ankle injury.
Bergman did his Round 1 chances no harm with 17 disposals and eight marks playing across half-back in the AAMI Community Series against Adelaide.
Fellow Power youngster Lachie Jones also looks ready if called upon by coach Ken Hinkley.
No firm candidate
It’s highly unlikely that Richmond will blood any inexperienced players in Round 1.
Veteran half-back Bachar Houli is set to miss with a calf injury but he appears the only casualty from the Grand Final side that beat Geelong.
Jake Aarts has pushed his case to break back into the side after some strong pre-season form, but can’t be considered a bolter after playing 14 games including the Qualifying Final last year.
Likewise the experienced Josh Caddy who could force Marlion Pickett out.
Of the untried youngsters, Will Martyn looks most likely to break through but perhaps not until later in the year, while Riley Collier-Dawkins is in the mix.
Noah will definitely play!
St Kilda’s depleted ruck stocks has opened the door for pre-season arrival Paul Hunter to get his chance at AFL level.
Hunter joined the Saints via the pre-season Supplemental Selection Period – his second AFL club after four uncapped years at Adelaide.
With Rowan Marshall (foot) and Paddy Ryder (personal leave) ruled out for the start of the season, the 28-year-old is now set to shoulder St Kilda’s ruck responsibilities.
Standing at 200cm, Hunter told SEN SA Breakfast that he believed the ruck position at the Saints was “gettable” after training with the club since the start of February.
Will he take his opportunity with both hands?
Warner looks set to add to his two AFL games from last year after an impressive outing against GWS.
Warner held his own against the Giants more experienced midfielders in the AAMI Community Series match, collecting 19 disposals and kicking a goal.
The 19-year-old’s aggressive play style ensures he won’t be bullied at the contest and he should find himself in the centre bounce rotation. He looms as a dangerous player that hits the scoreboard as well as winning his own ball.
The Swans may also blood three debutants against the Lions, with Logan McDonald, Errol Goulden and Braeden Campbell all showing promising signs over their first pre-seasons.
Of a small complement of Eagles who pressed their claims for a place in the midfield rotation, O’Neill was the most impressive against Fremantle on Sunday.
The 20-year-old debuted in Round 13, 2020 and played five consecutive games amid the crunch of a condensed fixture, before experienced colleagues returned ahead of the finals and he was squeezed out. His most impressive performance came in his second game, when he had 16 disposals and four inside 50s in a loss to eventual premiers Richmond.
O’Neill illustrated his improvement on the weekend, registering 19 touches, seven marks, four inside 50s and three tackles against the Dockers. Drifting around the ground, he demonstrated composure as a conduit between the ball winner and the outside runner or forward, and was willing to get his hands dirty.
Adam Simpson could also roll the dice on rookie Zane Trew, who notched nine disposals and three tackles in his first official outing in blue and gold.
With aerialist Hayden Crozier expected to miss six to eight weeks recuperating from a shoulder injury sustained against Melbourne on Monday, an undersized Dogs defence needs patching-up.
20-year-old defender Buku Khamis ran out as a key back for the second half of that game, just hours after featuring for Footscray over three quarters of a reserves scratch match.
The Bulldogs’ first Next Generation Academy graduate was pre-selected as a rookie at the end of 2018 following an All-Australian campaign for Vic Metro, but has had to bide his time behind an impressive assembly of medium defenders at Whitten Oval.
On Monday afternoon, Khamis had six disposals and four marks. Importantly, he trusted his boot with five kicks among his tally, and his closing speed impressed as he motored to aerial contests.
His pace could appear almost leisurely at other times, but it was simply an understanding of where he needed to be. Luke Beveridge may instead opt to rotate a midfielder through half back, but it is an opportune time for Khamis to cut his teeth on top flight footy.
Supplemental selection Anthony Scott also collected 14 disposals, six intercepts and two goals, comfortable to march to the electric tempo the Dogs dictate.