WITH Melbourne's drought-breaking premiership triumph firmly in the rearview mirror, attention has quickly turned to 2022.
As clubs prepare to welcome in a bunch of wide-eyed youngsters at the NAB AFL Draft on November 24-25, we take a look at which current player from each team needs a big summer.
Whether they are stars or on the fringe, there are plenty of footballers who will be keen to press their case for selection or to enhance their reputations next season.
The inside ball-winning midfielder did not play a single senior game last season, undergoing two groin surgeries. Crouch was a Therabody AFL All-Australian in 2017 and after recently signing a two-year contract extension will have to fight for a spot in a rebuilding Crows midfield that has Rory Laird, Ben Keays and youngster Harry Schoenberg as staples. Giants recruit Jackson Hately was another to be struck down by groin problems last year, playing just three senior games and battling through a lot of the SANFL season. He left Sydney to return home to make an impact and would love to have a consistent pre-season to put his name into the midfield mix. - Michael Whiting
Had a largely successful first season with the Lions, overcoming early hamstring problems to play the final seven games. Cockatoo is still a fringe player, but a pre-season of continuity would give him a chance to cement his place, reach his ceiling and elevate Brisbane as a premiership contender. Lachie Neale was a Brownlow Medal winner in 2020 but barely got on the training paddock last pre-season and was always chasing his tail. A host of injuries – which he fought through manfully – hindered his season. Another full pre-season would give him a chance to return to his devastating best. - Michael Whiting
The star Carlton forward hasn't enjoyed a full pre-season since the start of his injury nightmare in the summer of 2018-19. He returned for four games late last year, kicking only two goals, but now has the opportunity to regain some much-needed rhythm and athleticism over the Christmas period. The Blues are confident Curnow can return to the type of player he was prior to his long-term knee injury. A full summer on the park should help him fast-track that recovery process. Carlton also needs fellow key forward Mitch McGovern to enjoy an injury-free summer after being restricted to just five games last year. - Riley Beveridge
The former Western Bulldogs midfielder was one of October's big bargains, rejecting a three-year offer to remain at the Whitten Oval and costing Collingwood only pick No.43 in a trade. Tempted by the lure of more midfield time at the Pies, now Lipinski must prove he can surpass veterans like Scott Pendlebury, Taylor Adams and Steele Sidebottom to earn his spot. The hard-running onballer started just nine games last year, but has the potential to become a first-class player under the watchful eye of new coach Craig McRae. With a big summer on the track, expect to see Lipinski emerge as one of the 2022 season's breakout players. - Riley Beveridge
As he approaches his seventh year at the top level, Francis will be aiming to set up a career-best season with a strong pre-season in 2022. The Essendon swingman has played in defence for the Bombers with stints in attack too, including late in last season's push to the finals. The No.6 pick at the 2015 NAB AFL Draft played 15 games last season for a career tally of 50, but as he enters the final year of his contract will be pushing to make sure next season is when his ability comes to the fore. Francis was back at Essendon training this week joining the younger players as the Bombers returned to the club. Jye Caldwell will be hoping for an injury-free run over pre-season to set him up after a hamstring-hit 2021 campaign, with high hopes for the former Giants midfielder, while small forward Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti too will be keen to get back to the form he displayed in the first half of last season. - Cal Twomey
After his time forward was increased in 2021, the star Docker experienced one of his most disappointing seasons. His output dropped as a goalkicker (14 goals from 16 games), and he saw less of the ball, averaging 13.9 disposals – his lowest return since 2014. With the Dockers committed to providing opportunities for their young midfielders, the key to Walters bouncing back would appear to be making the most of a more prominent forward role and kicking 40 goals or more (something he has done three times, most recently in 2019). Also in attack, Rory Lobb will be keen to make an impression after a failed attempt to join Greater Western Sydney in a trade. Sam Sturt is running and could provide a significant boost off a strong pre-season. Will Brodie could grab an inside midfield spot if he impresses over summer. - Nathan Schmook
The former Crow and Tiger will be desperate to impress after he was thrown a lifeline by Geelong during the delisted free agency window. Cut by Adelaide at the start of the year after a string of off-field incidents, Stengle produced a brilliant campaign for Woodville-West Torrens in the SANFL to put his name back in the AFL mix. With 'older brother' Eddie Betts joining the Cats as a development coach, Stengle will be looking to nail down a permanent spot in the forward line. But that will be no easy task as the Cats look to juggle an ageing list, bringing in more youth and still compete for the flag. 2019 first-round draft picks Cooper Stephens and Sam De Koning will also be keen on a strong pre-season to put their names in the selection frame. - Ben Sutton
The former Adelaide utility came to the Suns via free agency on a four-year contract last year and struggled to make any impact in his first 12 months. Atkins had shoulder surgery upon arrival and then suffered a foot injury during pre-season. It all added up to just eight relatively ineffective games at senior level. Lachie Weller missed the final six matches through concussion but had had a patchy 2021 to that stage, down on his previous season. His electric pace is a point of difference for the Suns and the out-of-contract midfielder needs to make a big impact early for himself and his club. - Michael Whiting
It wasn't long ago the Giants' skipper was in the competition's upper echelon of midfielders with his ability to defend, win his own ball and kick goals. But after some patchy form in 2020 and a 2021 ruined following ankle and toe surgery, he starts the coming pre-season with a lot of work to do. If Coniglio can get fit and recapture his best form, the Giants are an infinitely better team. Ruckman Braydon Preuss had a wretched first year at his new club, dislocating his shoulder prior to round one and then tearing his pectoral muscle in a gym accident. With Shane Mumford retiring, the door is open to claim the No.1 ruck mantle. - Michael Whiting
Coming off the back of a career-best season in which he kicked at least one goal in every game he played, Lewis can look forward to 2022 with plenty of confidence. At 23, he should be entering his prime and with another strong pre-season under his belt, the 198cm key forward can legitimately start grabbing games by the scruff of the neck. Although he missed several matches with concussion after a boxing session went wrong, he'll be looking for a big summer in the gym going into his fifth AFL season. With new coach Sam Mitchell at the helm, youngsters Connor Downie and Tyler Brockman will hope a big pre-season gives them greater opportunities to break into the senior team. - Brandon Cohen
A big summer on the track will give coach Simon Goodwin food for thought heading into 2022. The 24-year-old, who has played 49 games in six seasons, struggled to break into a settled line-up as the Demons steamrolled their way to their first premiership in 57 years, going goalless in three of his five games and falling behind Ben Brown and Tom McDonald as a tall target inside 50. Having been linked with a move away from the club, Weideman eventually re-signed for two more seasons and will be eager to press his claims to take one of the key forward roles. Speedster Oskar Baker and small forward Toby Bedford, who finished runner-up in VFL affiliate Casey's best and fairest award this season, are others on the fringe who will be keen to make an impression over the pre-season. - Brandon Cohen
If anyone deserves a bit of luck, it's Charlie Comben. The athletic key forward could be the missing piece in North Melbourne's attack, but needs to get fit first. After overcoming a seemingly never-ending series of stress fractures, Comben made his debut in round 22 but broke his collarbone at training the next week. The 199cm Comben needs to spend the pre-season getting his body right ahead of the 2022 season, as he could be crucial to the Kangaroos' rebuild. North's trajectory was heading upwards late last year, and the addition of Comben to the forward line will provide a bit of relief for Nick Larkey, who is currently shouldering the majority of the burden. After a lacklustre season, there are plenty of North players who should be champing at the bit to take their game to a new level. The departure of key defender Robbie Tarrant means Josh Walker and Aidan Corr will likely play a bigger role in defence, while athletic defender Kyron Hayden needs to find some continuity after signing a one-year deal in September. Judging by their unwillingness to compromise on a trade deal, ruck/forward Tristan Xerri is clearly highly rated by the Roos, however the off-season addition of Callum Coleman-Jones and the incredible endurance of veteran ruck Todd Goldstein means Xerri will have to work very hard indeed if he is to feature regularly at a senior level. – Sophie Welsh
The Power's need for more midfield depth, and Rozee's obvious ability and fit in this role, means he is singled out here. A strong pre-season in which he improves his stoppage craft could see Rozee become the player the Power were crying out for in September. The 21-year-old has played 59 games in three seasons and battled foot issues in the lead-up to 2021, meaning his upside in 2022 is significant. Sam Powell-Pepper wants more midfield opportunities after exploring a trade, making this a big pre-season for him. His average disposals (13.7) and contested possessions (5.9) were well down in a forward/midfield role, and there is an opportunity for him to demand more midfield time with a big summer. - Nathan Schmook
It was another frustrating season for Caddy, who well and truly has the talent to play at AFL level. When given the opportunity in the seniors (nine games, three as an unused medi-sub) this year, he struggled for consistency on the wing. His best season in Tiger colours came in 2018, playing as a marking forward, but the combination of Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch (2019 onwards) has made this role difficult. Coming into the final year of his contract, it's a vital season for Caddy to reclaim his spot in the best 22. Young fringe midfielders Jack Ross and Riley Collier-Dawkins will be looking to stake a more permanent claim on an AFL role. – Sarah Black
Is it possible to be too versatile? Battle might think so. The 193cm swingman can play all over the ground, but as a result is yet to solidify his spot in the Saints' best 22. Originally drafted as a forward, Battle pinch-hit all around the ground in 2021 before being relegated to medical sub and eventually suffering a season-ending ankle injury. While he was on the trade table this year, the 23-year-old stayed put but his contract runs out at the end of the year, and likely needs to have a good season in order to be guaranteed a new deal. With the Saints reportedly keen to transform the 193cm Battle into a bona fide centre half-back, 2022 could be make or break. A strong pre-season spent recovering properly from injury and learning the ins and outs of a new permanent position should set Battle up nicely for a consistent year. Other Saints who need to have a strong pre-season include Jack Billings, who recently turned his back on free agency to sign on for another four years at Moorabbin. While his 2021 season was hampered by injury and underwhelming form, Billings is considered one of St Kilda's premier talents and an important leader within the club, and needs to step it up a notch if the Saints are to march back up the ladder in 2022. Dan Butler is another who needs to bounce back after a quiet season. Butler was terrific in his first season at the Saints but failed to fire in 2021 and needs to prove his 2020 performance wasn't just a flash in the pan. – Sophie Welsh
At his very best, Reid is a walk-up start in the Swans' top 23, a great contested mark with sticky hands, a goalkicker, and a versatile swingman who can jump in the ruck. But unfortunately for Reid, his body lets him down all too frequently and there are way too many quiet games – returning from long layoffs doesn't help - between the highlights. Adding extra pressure on Reid in 2022, is the arrival of Peter Ladhams from Port Adelaide. Ladhams is a legitimate forward-ruck, is 23 years old (24 in January), and is certain to be back-up for No.1 ruckman Tom Hickey. Reid will also be feeling some heat from emerging tall forward and last year's No.4 draft pick Logan McDonald, who Sydney will be keen to keep developing at senior level. So with Reid, McDonald, Ladhams, and another bloke called Franklin as the Swans' tall forward options, something's gotta give. More than likely, it will be Reid's calf, but if he has a big pre-season, just maybe he keeps his spot or, potentially, reinvents himself as a defender. - Cameron Noakes
The four-time Therabody AFL All-Australian was restricted by a significant hip injury in 2021 and post-season surgery will likely restrict his preparation. But getting McGovern fit will be a priority for the Eagles once he re-joins the main summer program. A significant drop in his contested marking (1.67 a game) and intercepting ability due to injury in 2021 hurt the Eagles, but the 29-year-old has the ability to improve the team significantly with an improved output in 2022. The midfield is full of players who need big pre-seasons after coming off significant injuries. Captain Luke Shuey (seven games in 2021) will aim to lay the foundations for a full season after battling persistent soft tissue injuries. Elliot Yeo (12) has battled osteitis pubis and will aim to rediscover his best football off a full pre-season. Willie Rioli can pay back teammates and give the Eagles the dynamic forward they once had with a strong summer. - Nathan Schmook
Richards had a challenging season in 2021, breaking his fibula in a practice match and missing more than two months with the injury. The left-footer returned to VFL level but didn't break into the Dogs' senior side until round 15. He ended up playing five games for the season, in between a shoulder injury late in the season, and missed the Dogs' finals appearances. With a healthy run at it over summer Richards will be looking to reclaim a first-choice spot in the Dogs' line-up. Last year's No.1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan will also be looking to pin down a forward position as he enters his second season, particularly with fellow key forward Josh Bruce set to miss a large chunk of next year with his knee injury. - Cal Twomey