WE'VE seen the glimpses, the moments, the sparks of brilliance, but who out of your club's young guns will we be calling a 100 per cent pure 'star' in 2022?
The players we've selected below all have amazing talent but for one reason or another just haven't had that COMPLETE breakout season that puts them on a new level, and thrusts them into the Therabody AFL All-Australian conversation.
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For many it's just been injury, for others it's finding the right position, for others it's just time; but now, with 2021 hindsight on our side, we're making the call - stars will be born in 2022. Check it out ...
Tough, hard-working, skilful and with more than a little confidence, McHenry established himself as part of the Crows' best 22 this year, playing 21 games and finishing 10th in the club champion award behind two-time winner Rory Laird. But it was in the final two games of the year that the 21-year-old showed a glimpse of the ball-winning talent that saw him go at No.16 in the 2018 NAB AFL Draft. McHenry averaged 23 disposals in that fortnight against Melbourne and North Melbourne, more than double his season average of 11.2 to that point. With another pre-season under his belt and continued growth from fellow youngsters Chayce Jones, Riley Thilthorpe, Lachie Sholl and Harry Schoenberg, McHenry is well placed to have a serious impact on the competition in 2022. - Michael Rogers
For what it's worth, Zac Bailey is already a star so he is off the table in this conversation. As for Rayner, we thought this might have happened in 2021 but we were robbed of seeing his development after he blew his ACL in the pre-season. But once again the Lions have plans to use the former No.1 draft pick as a game-changing midfielder and we're backing Rayner to rise to the occasion. We've seen glimpses of what he can deliver in the forward line, and in the guts, and there is no doubt he will reach All-Australian level at some point … the question is, when? With all the extra running under his belt due to the rehab, it seems he has picked up a yard or two and improved his endurance. 2022 may well be the year he explodes. Jarrod Berry, who will turn 24 in February next year, is another who isn't far away from hitting his prime, and after a breakout year in 2021 (fourth in the club's B&F), no one would be surprised to see Brandon Starcevich in an AA blazer sometime soon. - Cameron Noakes
The zippy forward's 2021 campaign was derailed by a frustrating ankle injury, but the signs had been promising throughout last summer. Playing exclusively as a small forward, Fisher has terrific goal nous and the type of fast feet that can make defenders look silly. Set to turn 24 next year, now is the time for the diminutive West Australian to explode. Fisher can kick goals in bunches, while he also has the ability and the craft to win plenty of the ball higher up the field. Expect a breakout year as the side's primary small forward option in attack throughout 2022. - Riley Beveridge
There is plenty of upside when you look at what Quaynor brings to the Pies' rebuilding list. 'IQ' is a great decision-maker and can really hurt the opposition with his sublime foot skills. The NGA graduate is heading into his fourth year and a big pre-season could see the rebounding defender step up and become a genuine playmaker. Magpies fans won’t have to wait long for a glimpse of their next superstar – the hype is real with father-son recruit Nick Daicos. Former coach Nathan Buckley said Daicos would have been close to playing in last season’s round one team if he was eligible to play. - Chris Correia
In his first season with Essendon after two years with Greater Western Sydney, the first-round draft pick had an injury-hit campaign with hamstring setbacks. Caldwell was restricted to just three senior games – the first two of the season and then the elimination final loss against the Western Bulldogs – but his performance against the Dogs will have given him a boost heading into his fourth AFL season. Caldwell was on fire early in the midfield, where the 21-year-old will be hoping to lock down a spot in Essendon's engine room in 2022. Caldwell has only played 14 games at AFL level but his strength, power, toughness and smarts at the contest should give him the mix to take a leap in his game next season. The Bombers will be looking for ruckman Sam Draper's ascent to continue, while second-year midfielder Archie Perkins has hit the ground running over pre-season after an exciting debut year. - Cal Twomey
The tough youngster has cut his teeth with several run-with roles in his first two seasons, but it is only a matter of time until the tables turn and Serong is the midfielder being hunted by opponents. Driven and disciplined, the 20-year-old averaged 27.4 disposals in his last seven games of 2021, winning an equal career-high 35 in the last game of the season. He has all the hallmarks of a prolific onballer in the Lachie Neale mould, boasting an ability to win the hard ball in tight and then use it consistently well in an attacking manner. Already impressing on the track, he looks ready to play a leading role in 2022. There's no shortage of emerging stars at Fremantle, but wingman Michael Frederick is a less exposed talent with significant upside that the club is quietly excited about if he can dodge injury issues. - Nathan Schmook
The Cats have plenty of established stars in their best 22, but young Henry has locked down a position in the back six and looks ready to take his game to a new level in 2022. After being surprisingly left out of the side's round one team, Henry went on to play the next 24 games and finish second in the best and fairest behind Tom Stewart in a breakout campaign. The intercept defender can be a game changer with his ability to take a key mark and turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. Midfielder Brandan Parfitt is another key member of the Cats' next generation and will look to back up his impressive 2021 as he shoulders a bigger load in the stacked midfield. - Ben Sutton
We've seen what he can do at his absolute best in early 2020 after three straight games of maximum Brownlow votes, but Rowell has failed to hit those heights again after two injury-hit seasons. If he can have a good run at it in 2022, the sky is the limit for this young ball-magnet. Ben King kicked 47 goals last season and his continued improvement will terrorise defenders for another decade. Fellow 2018 draftees Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine also have what it takes to reach the next level, but injury and consistency has held back the latter. - Chris Correia
There’s no shortage of talent in Greater Western Sydney’s engine room, but with his clean disposal and spatial awareness Tom Green stands out from the rest. While the big-bodied midfielder spent some time forward in 2021 due to the Giants’ glut of midfield options, Green is a contested ball beast and is surely bound for more midfield time in 2022. Green won the Giants’ rising star award in 2021 and is set to be a long-term asset for the Giants’ midfield, particularly as Callan Ward nears the end of his career. Green has showed he has what it takes to mix it with the best, and is primed for a breakout year in 2022. - Sophie Welsh
The dashing defender had his breakout 2021 cut short by a knee injury, but there's plenty to like about what Jiath brings to the Hawks' defence. With his ability to break lines and take the game on, the 22-year-old shapes as a key part of the Hawks' rebuild under new coach Sam Mitchell. If Jiath continues to improve then the sky's the limit for Next Generation Academy product. Fellow defender Will Day has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career to date and if he stays injury free then expect the No.13 pick from the 2019 NAB AFL Draft to reach new heights in 2022. - Ben Sutton
The field has narrowed at Demonland after several players took a big leap during the club's premiership-winning season, including running defender Christian Salem, Grand Final star Bayley Fritsch and NAB AFL Rising Star winner Luke Jackson. Each of that trio could still go to another level and join the five 2021 Therabody AFL All-Australians on the list. But it's Jackson's 2019 draft classmate Rivers who looms as the most likely to surge towards stardom in 2022. Rivers, 20, played all of Melbourne's 25 games this year and ranked top-five at the club for rebound 50s, intercept possessions, intercept marks and one-percenters. He plays with maturity beyond his 34 games of experience, and with an ability to win aerial contests, serious pace off half-back and a penetrating kick, he looms as the heir apparent to ageing warrior Michael Hibberd in defence. - Michael Rogers
The exceptionally talented midfielder is starting to put it all together. Combining an improving ball-winning ability with smart skills and terrific craft around goal, Thomas is on the cusp of becoming one of the League's most watchable players. At 188cm, Thomas provides North Melbourne's midfield with a valuable point-of-difference as a tall and rangy midfielder who can break the game open when he shifts forward. He kicked 24 goals from 21 games last year, while he also finished the season with six matches of 20-plus disposals from his last nine appearances. Expect the 21-year-old to become a consistent goalkicking midfielder next year. - Riley Beveridge
A high-flying forward who throws himself at the contest, Georgiades was a first-round gamble that looks set to pay off in spades for the Power. After placing third in last season's NAB AFL Rising Star, the 20-year-old has already showcased his athleticism, marking ability, and excellent set-shot goalkicking. But former midfield coach at the Power Jarrad Schofield believed there was more to the Western Australian, who he said had the ability to progress into a big-bodied midfielder in the mould of Nat Fyfe. The similarities are there. At 192cm, Georgiades is only 1cm taller than Fyfe, is fearless and has great hands. He has the athletic traits and build to play in the midfield eventually, but looks bound to be a star wherever the Power use him. - Nathan Schmook
Now in his fourth season of footy, Balta has been steadily improving his consistency in defence over that time. He was in strong form until his untimely syndesmosis injury halfway through the 2021 season. An incredibly dynamic player, Balta's biggest strength is his athleticism in defence, able to run off his opponent surprisingly quickly for his size. With the retirement of David Astbury and the short-term recruitment of Robbie Tarrant, Balta is poised to be a long-term leader of the backline. Liam Baker's versatility may count against him in any All-Australian considerations, while a consistent season for Shai Bolton could thrust him into contention – Sarah Black.
In round 19, 2021, Max King arrived. Booting six goals – in a loss, no less – and taking a record eight contested marks inside 50, the highly rated but injury-troubled prospect delivered on the lofty expectations that had hung over him since being drafted with pick No.4 in 2018. King’s strong form continued in the last few games of the season – booting eight goals in three games - despite a groin injury which ultimately caused the 21-year-old to miss the final game of the season. Everything came together for King late last year, and if he can pick up where he left off, King is set to become a bona fide star of the competition in 2022. - Sophie Welsh
We are certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a young Sydney player capable of becoming an elite star. Ollie Florent will be 24 next year and will also notch his 100th game, so his time is nigh. But after finding his position at half-back, Blakey had some electrifying moments in 2021 and, with explosive pace and a deadly left foot, looks set to take the game by storm. With a bit more bulk, a good run with injury, and a dose of confidence and consistency, who knows how high this son of a gun could soar in the very near future. Tom McCartin will turn 22 in December and continues to rise as a key defender, and bull-at-a-gate midfielder Chad Warner is another trending to stardom (and will probably be the lead for this same feature next year). - Cameron Noakes
Managing the progression of their young star forward shapes as one of the Eagles' great challenges in 2022. Allen is clearly a gifted player who is ready to stamp himself on the competition after 59 games in four seasons, but his development into a No.1 target has been delayed because of the continued excellence of champion forward Josh Kennedy. After booting 16 goals in his first six games last season, Allen added 12 more in his next 15 appearances as he was rotated through ruck and backline roles. While his versatility is an asset, it may take a more permanent forward role for Allen to reach his ceiling and become an All-Australian. - Nathan Schmook
Last season Weightman was a rising star. By the end of next year he has all the tools to be considered a bona fide star. The Bulldogs forward booted 26 goals from 16 games in 2021, an excellent output after only breaking into the senior team in round nine. He kicked four goals in the Dogs' elimination final win over the Bombers and showed he can excite in the air and at ground level. Heading into his third AFL campaign and having shaken off an ankle injury he carried through last season, Weightman has shown himself to be an important part of the Dogs' forward mix. Could he be one of the AFL's most dangerous small forwards by the end of 2022? Last year's No.1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan will be hoping to take a step up in his game next year too and has all the tricks to make a rapid jump after his debut campaign netted him five senior appearances. - Cal Twomey