Is Kurt Tippett's heart still in it at Adelaide?
Photo: Getty Images
As September approaches, the eventual premier will need everything to go right, including their best players at somewhere near their best. We look at six players who will play a crucial role in determining whether their sides are finals contenders or pretenders...
1. Travis Varcoe (Geelong)
Geelong's youngsters have been admirable all season but when it comes to the crunch, nothing can replace experience. Varcoe isn't of the same vintage as decorated teammates Jimmy Bartel, James Kelly, Paul Chapman and Matthew Scarlett but he did take Collingwood apart in the first half of the 2011 grand final. A foot stress fracture has kept the speedy winger sidelined for the entire season but he made a strong return for Geelong's VFL side at the weekend. If he can return to the senior team and add his pace and goalkicking nous across half forward, the Cats instantly become a more dangerous prospect.
2. Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
West Coast's ability to defy injuries to key players had it well placed at the halfway mark of the season but the Eagles are starting to tire. As admirable as Jack Darling and Josh Hill have been, they need a genuine key target to relieve their burden. Kennedy made his return from a serious ankle injury in the WAFL at the weekend without incident and coach John Worsfold believes he is fit enough to play AFL as early as Saturday's clash with Collingwood. Kennedy's seven goals against the Bulldogs in round one showed he was set for a breakout season; Eagles fans must hope he can regain the same touch quickly.
3. Adam Goodes (Sydney Swans)
After missing only a handful of games in more than a decade, six weeks out with a groin injury affected the Swans superstar more than he could have imagined. Goodes managed just seven touches in his first game back against Geelong in round 13 and despite an improved effort the following week, he has generally been a good ordinary player in a side set for a top-two finish. However, his three-goal, 22-disposal game against the Western Bulldogs was a good sign for both Goodes and the Swans. If he can get back to being the wide-roaming key forward that has been so damaging in recent years, Sydney might actually give Hawthorn and Collingwood a shake at the MCG.
4. Kurt Tippett (Adelaide)
Two big questions hover over Adelaide's key forward: 1) have three concussions in a month affected his form and confidence, and 2) is his heart still in Adelaide? Tippett returned against the Lions after a month recovering from the latest of his head knocks and failed to have a major impact. Many pundits have written the Crows off as flag contenders, by virtue of their soft draw and questionable form against top eight sides. Tippett has also been discounted after injury and ongoing contract negotiations took the focus from his footy. Regardless, no club wants to travel to AAMI Stadium in the first week of the finals and an in-form Tippett makes the task even more daunting. If the big Crow can regain some touch, he and Taylor Walker will be a finals duo to be feared.
5. Chris Dawes (Collingwood)
Dawes and Travis Cloke have both been woeful this year but the former is arguably in worse form than his more high-profile teammate. In 2011, Dawes was the rock of Collingwood's forward 50, demanding attention as a deep key target while Cloke roamed further up the ground, linking the transition from defence to attack and often finishing the work himself from outside 50. Past form suggests Cloke will deliver the goods in September but Dawes is a less certain prospect. If he can again beat his opponent on a regular basis, opposition defences will be forced to spend more time on him, freeing up Cloke as a result.
6. Daniel Wells (North Melbourne)
For too long, the gifted Wells has been symptomatic of North Melbourne's woes - fantastic on his day, ineffectual when the rub goes against him. The Roos look to have ironed out their consistency issues and now combine flair in attack with an attack on the ball and man that puts most of their opponents to shame. Wells has been a key part of North's resurgence in the second half of the season and the club needs him to continue that form into September. The Arden Street faithful remember fondly his 28-possession demolition of Hawthorn in a 2007 semi-final; if Wells can replicate that performance, there is no reason why the Roos can't go deep into the finals.
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