AFL Round 12: Players to watch

Pressures boiled over at IKON Park this week with the removal of coach Brendon Bolton. (Photo: AFL Facebook)

As the 2019 AFL men’s season enters its bye rounds, the following three weeks typically result in somewhat of a lull during the weekends with three less fixtures to watch each week, but off-field decisions are usually considered in the context of a week’s rest.

Now, two clubs plan to embark in a new direction as coaches Brad Scott and Brendon Bolton recently parted ways with their respective clubs ahead of their own impending byes, representing a chance to start anew in the second half of the season and for Roos caretaker Rhyce Shaw, progress has started rapidly.

Fear not, however, as the on-field news is exciting with a number of crucial performances to consider during this Round 12.

Though Dayne Beams is set to miss two months with a midweek hip aggravation, the Crows once again steal the headlines at the selection table with Bryce Gibbs dropped to the SANFL once again.

On the flip side, a first-round draft pick could debut on the big stage in Monday’s Queen’s Birthday clash, the Tigers’ youngsters forced to step up as more important players hit the medical table and two suspended players seek to redeem themselves at their respective clubs after a week out.

Jesse Robertson previews this week’s ones to watch beginning with a Blue looking to impress under a new coach:

1. Dale Thomas, Carlton (vs Brisbane Lions, Marvel Stadium, Saturday 1:45pm)

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After a week in the VFL following a club-imposed suspension for drinking at a charity fundraising event two days before taking the field in a loss to St Kilda, now-former coach Brendon Bolton described the need for him to earn the club’s respect once again. As a half-back in the Northern Blues’ loss to Essendon, he picked up 32 disposals at 81 per cent including seven rebound-50s and nine marks, and appears ready to return to the seniors to continue his efforts to win over staff, most notably interim coach David Teague.

2. Jack Ziebell, North Melbourne (vs Gold Coast, Metricon Stadium, Saturday 4:35pm)

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The Roos skipper enters his 200th game off the back of playing a key role in the surprise result of last weekend as the side that drafted him in the top 10 of the 2008 class totally overran Richmond at Marvel Stadium. His new role as a forward that combats in the centre on occasion has done him well, now able to shift between the two with comfort. After registering seven goals in the opening month, he moved well in the centre last week with 26 disposals, seven tackles and a game-high nine inside-50s, and we won’t know until the first bounce who caretaker Rhyce Shaw lines him up against.

3. Rory Sloane, Adelaide Crows (vs GWS Giants, Adelaide Oval, Saturday 7:40pm)

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Adelaide star Sloane did not complete the game in Darwin last week against the Demons, ice on his leg well before the final siren and eventually diagnosed with a grade one hamstring tear. Remarkably, he’s been named to play and should miss no time with injury, so it will remain to be seen if he recaptures the form he was in prior to his concern last week. He played only 12 games in 2018 but in his first 11 this year he’s already posting better numbers than last campaign in most key areas. Averaging 27 disposals from Rounds 1-10 and posting almost seven tackles per game (currently ranked joint-third in the AFL), Jacob Hopper will have a tough task containing him.

Also of note in Round 12 should be Patrick Cripps and Lachie Neale as two of the competition’s clearance and contested ball kings go head to head at Marvel Stadium, Jake Lloyd lining up in his native back pocket despite his increased minutes in central midfield for Sydney leading to an average of 31 touches a game this season, his task to contain the raw pace of Eagles speedster Jack Petruccelle, and the ruck duel between titans Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn should be vital in determining who takes the four points at the MCG for Freeze MND.