Shaun Atley's aggressive running has made him a favourite among North Melbourne fans
On the rise: Shaun Atley
At a glance: Widely tipped as a top-10 pick in the lead-up to the 2010 NAB AFL Draft, Atley slipped to North at pick No. 17. He had an impressive debut season in 2011, playing primarily on the wing in his 16 games and giving glimpses of his ability to explode from stoppages. Switched to half-back at the start of 2012, Atley quickly became a key member of the Roos' defence, giving it a quicker and more attacking edge. Most impressively, he had the confidence to take opponents on when games were on the line, and in several matches produced game-changing plays. Despite not turning 20 until the end of the season, Atley did not miss a game in 2012 as North made its first finals series since 2008. His outstanding year was recognised with a fifth-place finish in North's best and fairest award.
Plays like: It's not that long ago North boasted a defender who attacked with similar verve to Atley – 1996 and '99 premiership player David King. Although not blessed with Atley's explosive pace, King treated the opposition with similar cheek, with his barrel-chested runs from defence one of the defining features of North's powerhouse teams of the 1990s.
Killer quality: Atley's ability to break opposition lines is what makes him such a damaging player. He seems to go from zero to flat-out in just a few steps and at top speed is too quick for most chasers. He also has the evasive 'moves' to dodge any oncoming opposition traffic.
Best performance: Atley received his first Brownlow Medal votes (two) for his 26-possession game against Gold Coast in round five, but his performance in North's round 13 win against Adelaide was even more impressive. From half-back, he turned defence into counterattack time and time again, running forward to pump the ball inside North's forward 50 five times. And when Adelaide had grabbed the momentum late in the third quarter it was Atley who stopped their four-goal run, taking on and burning off three Crows to help set up a Lindsay Thomas goal.
What they say: "To see Shaun Atley on the weekend take two bounces out of the back pocket when Adelaide were coming back at us and the game was on a knife's edge was really encouraging. You want to see guys take the game on but play with a bit of composure as well," North captain Andrew Swallow after the Roos' round 13 win over Adelaide
Stats that matter:
Second at the club in bounces (47 @ 2 per game)
Equal third in rebound 50s (61 @2.7 per game)
Fifth in uncontested possessions (301 @ 13.1 per game)
Fifth in handballs (223 @ 9.7 per game)
Sixth in disposals (422 @ 18.3 per game)
AFL Fantasy: Expect Atley to be valued around $239,300