With apologies to Patrick Dangerfield, Walker is – by virtue of Kurt Tippett's departure – absolutely crucial to the Crows' flag hopes in 2013 and beyond. The big key forward impressed us with his ability to rise to the occasion last season and if he doesn't bag his first Coleman Medal this year we'll be surprised.
Rich missed out on the co-captain's armband this year but make no mistake, he has been marked as a future leader at the Lions. A quality, damaging midfielder with a tremendous kick and a footy brain to match, Rich is just beginning to unearth the power to win games off his own boot. He will be the spiritual successor to Simon Black in time.
He may not be the classiest midfielder in Carlton's line-up, but one key feature of Mick Malthouse-coached sides is that they are built around an in-and-under midfielder capable of extracting the footy in the toughest conditions. Chris Judd will be unable to fulfil that role this year, so look for a rejuvenated McLean to take up the mantle in 2013.
After all the distraction from his 2012 contract negotiations, Cloke will finally find some clean air and get back to doing what he does best this year – taking more contested marks than anyone else in the competition and kicking goals. The signing of Quinten Lynch during the free agency period should allow him to play closer to goal this year, allowing him to kick more goals as well.
One of the few Essendon players that doesn't have to concern himself with the spectre of the ASADA probe hanging over the club, Goddard should get back to his 2010 form with a fresh start at a new club. He will also have more freedom in the midfield with clubs most likely to put their best tagger on captain Jobe Watson.
No surprises here. The Freo skipper is the club's most decorated player, the senior-most player on the list and the greatest to ever don the purple guernsey. As he nears retirement Pavlich remains invaluable to the Dockers both as a key forward (an area where the club lacks depth) and as a mentor to the next generation of leaders like Chris Mayne and Matt De Boer.
No longer the next great hope or just the son of Jumping Jack, Hawkins is a bona fide star in his own right after a tremendous 2012 season in which he delivered on his considerable promise. While the Cats aren't short of stars in the midfield, Hawkins is the only 'gorilla' key forward they boast on their list. There is no Brad Ottens or Cameron Mooney to share the load now, while Nathan Vardy and Shane Kersten are unproven young talents. If Hawkins goes down with a serious injury, Geelong's hopes of a seventh successive finals appearance will take a dive of equal proportions.
A no-brainer. The only thing likely to derail the Franklin train this year will be the ongoing speculation about his future. If he lets it distract him like Travis Cloke last year, Hawthorn could be in for a very rough ride. Most likely, with Jarryd Roughead back to full fitness to act as a foil, he will dominate opposition defences and win the Coleman Medal.
Hands down the best footballer in Australia, Ablett is the closest thing the AFL has to a 'franchise star' (in terms he might appreciate - Ablett is to the Suns what Kobe Bryant is to the Los Angeles Lakers). His on-field talents will be of greater value as his teammates come of age, but for now Ablett is more crucial in the fight to sell the game in rugby league territory.
Rarely has a rangy teen key forward made an impact like Cameron did in his first season at senior level. He proved equally adept at both ends of the ground but shone in his stints up forward, booting bags of five and four in a team that was often beaten soundly. His flexibility, mobility and capacity to take the focus from fellow tall forward Jonathon Patton make him the Giants' most precious commodity - no easy feat in a side teeming with top-10 draft picks.
The Demons were inept for most of 2012 but any time they fired, it was usually Clark leading the charge. He dominated passages of games against top-four sides West Coast and Collingwood, and looked set to boot 10 goals against GWS before sustaining the foot injury that prematurely ended his season. Without him, the Dees looked even more impotent despite improvement further up the ground. Despite Chris Dawes' arrival from Collingwood, Clark is still the man in the forward 50.
The club captain led the AFL for tackles last year and was eighth overall for clearances, so it was no wonder he won his third Syd Barker Medal last year. While the likes of Jack Ziebell, Ryan Bastinac and Ben Cunnington will all continue to improve and win plenty of footy, we still reckon the skipper is the player the club could least afford to lose.
Though only 24 years of age, Boak already carries great responsibility at Alberton Oval. The newly appointed skipper will be the face of hope that carries Port Adelaide through an expected lean year or two, and the glue that keeps sponsors happy, the fans filing through the gates and his teammates re-signing for the future.
It's a tough choice between the new Tigers skipper and key forward Jack Riewoldt but the former gets the nod, just. Consider this: without Cotchin in the midfield, would Jack get as many shots at goal? Probably not. Without Riewoldt up forward, Cotchin leads a midfield that has the potential to dominate most in the competition. Avenues to goal will always appear when the mids are on top - just ask West Coast and Geelong's recent premiership teams.
The captain has had a decent pre-season and the club feels that it is now on top of his knee issue sufficiently that he should be able to perform at his best more consistently. Riewoldt was only kept goalless in one game last year, against eventual premiers the Sydney Swans, and will need to perform strongly if the Saints are to play finals this year.
There are plenty of candidates in such an even team but Richards gets the nod ahead of Lewis Jetta and Josh Kennedy. The Swans aren't currently blessed with depth among key defenders and Alex Johnson's untimely ACL injury leaves them even skinnier. Richards' ability to play tall or small, and his exceptional reading of the play makes him the Swans' most valuable backman. In a side that prides itself on defence, that is no small feat.
The best ruckman in the competition last season, big Cox proved versatile enough to shoulder the load with Nic Naitanui, go solo when needed and also present as a dangerous forward option in the absence of Josh Kennedy. His tutelage of Naitanui will ensure the Eagles remain competitive in the centre following his retirement.
Matthew Boyd is the Dogs' best player but Griffen adds something no one else in the side can, now that Adam Cooney is a shadow of his Brownlow Medallist self. A powerful goalkicking midfielder with a booming kick, Griffen stands out among the hard-ball nuts being assembled by coach Brendan McCartney. If he isn't in the side, there is suddenly a very same-same feeling among the Bulldogs' on-ball division.
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