In this finals series, a number of goliaths of the goalsquare – and beyond - will have a say in the way their team performs. Here are the ones who will be most influential:
GWS: JEREMY CAMERON, RORY LOBB, JONATHON PATTON
Which of this trio will dominate depends on the circumstance. It’s unusual for a team to have triple towers standing up front, but they seem to work together well, their entire forward environment is productive and experienced, and GWS have the funds to keep them playing together – a huge bonus. It’s enough that this trio can feed one another as well as kick goals. But then you add the genius of the outgoing Steve Johnson, the immense experience of Brett Deledio, and all-Australians like Toby Greene. Connect them all to a potent midfield, and it’s easy to see these three big men having their respective days out in the finals series. Lobb’s savagery is hard for a coach to rein in. He’s so good up front, rucking is probably a waste of that talent. Patton is a potent presence, whose ballgetting, goal-kicking and physicality are made for finals. If he comes back from his hamstring injury in time for the finals, Jeremy Cameron might be the most effective of all. He can kick bags, and his general workrate is the more impressive of the three.
ADELAIDE: TAYLOR WALKER
As with GWS, Adelaide’s forward structure is reliant upon its thrusting midfield, led by Sloane. Walker is not as industrious in other ways as many of the forwards we’ve discussed, but he stands in a forward line that is one of the busiest and most dangerous around. Betts – obviously – Josh Jenkins at full-forward and Tom Lynch are forwards of the highest quality, and Mitch McGovern is a supreme aerialist who might prove critical in the big moments. But it’s Tex, with his dominant contested marking and straight kicking, who will get the Crows over the line in the big games.
SYDNEY: LANCE FRANKLIN
Franklin can either act as a tall target, or nourish the tall targets. Either way, this versatility has always proven a boon come finals time. It’s difficult for opposing sides to counter, and it impacts either directly on the scoreboard or on other talls, like Tippett and Heeney.
GEELONG: TOM HAWKINS
The Cats have had some difficulty with that transition from the centre to the forwards, but the amazing improvement in Tom Hawkins’ output, and the attitude that has driven it, have been a revelation. He’s still kicking goals while his output has increased significantly. This will have a ripple effect on men like Dangerfield in the middle, and Menzel and Cockatoo up front. If Hawkins gets this right, and uses his big presence to hustle some ball, he might prove to be the answer Chris Scott has been searching for these last few years.
PORT ADELAIDE: CHARLIE DIXON RIGHT
Thanks to Charlie, Port Adelaide have become dangerous dark-horses. The stats that impress about their forwards are not the sort that once would have been applicable at all: intercepts, stoppages and minutes in the forward line. Dixon’s industriousness has enabled Port to free themselves up to perform in numerous other positions. Now their midfield is firing, Dixon’s workload is counting for more. His disposals have often become goal assists. The 200cm, 100kg Gold Coast acquisition seems to have grown even bigger since his association with Port, and Ken Hinkley, began. He’s one of the league’s best contested marks and has kicked some significant goals this season. His high-marking, straightkicking, high-hoiking game seems almost unstoppable when it comes together, and his work-rate for a big man, even defending, is prodigious. Often an opponent has troutslapped about on the deck under his weight. Dixon has made all the difference, and with men like Gray, Wingard and Trengove as support, the physical, large and motivated forward might prove an advantage. At his best, Charlie can now tear aside a team with the impact of an asteroid, as he has done several times this season, notably against West Coast and Hawthorn – two strong finals contenders at the time.