George Wardlaw. Picture: North Melbourne FC

George Wardlaw. Picture: North Melbourne FC

The 2024 season is here and now. But who will be the players to take that next step into superstardom? We take a look at some of the contenders.

Tanner Bruhn

The slick and speedy midfielder is ready to go to another level in 2024, and become a damaging member of the Geelong Cats midfield.

Tanner Bruhn was selected by GWS with Pick 12 in the 2020 AFL Draft. In his two seasons with the Giants, he played 30 senior games, averaging 9.8 disposals per game playing as a half forward. Bruhn wanted a fresh start and to move closer to home, and he was granted his wish as he was traded to the Cats at the end of the 2022 season.

In his debut season for the Cats, Tanner spent a lot more time in the midfield and averaged 16.3 disposals and 4.8 tackles per game. Geelong is bringing through a young brigade of midfielders like Bruhn, Atkins, Holmes, and Miers. Bruhn is the one that stands out, as he hasn’t yet cemented his place at the Cattery. However, this may be the season he explodes.

Bruhn spoke to the media at Geelong’s Community Camp and said that he has “always known that [his] footy can compete with the best.” The unfortunate pre-season injury to Cam Guthrie will give more opportunity to these young midfielders, Bruhn is tipped to be the one to relish this chance and prove that he can show his best.

Max King

King has shown many signs of why he can be the premier forward of the AFL moving forward. Although injuries and inconsistencies in form haven’t allowed him to ascend into the superstar he is destined to be.

Coming into his fifth season, King has only played 71 games and has kicked 140 goals for St Kilda. In round six last season, he left the game in the first term with a left-shoulder injury, which was thought to be season-ending.

Against all odds, King returned four weeks later after undergoing his third shoulder surgery in less than 12 months. He kicked 52 goals in 2022, and scored 28 goals in only 11 games.

The 23-year-old kicked four goals against Essendon in their dominant practice match win at RSEA Park, including a right-foot snap from outside the arc.

2024 looks like it could be the year that the star Saint will piece it all together and contend for the Coleman medal. 

Jason Horne-Francis

After being selected with Pick 1 in the 2021 AFL draft by North Melbourne, Horne-Francis elected to move closer to home after the 2022 season and requested a trade to Port Adelaide.

In his second AFL season and first season back home in South Australia, Horne-Francis averaged 17.6 disposals and kicked 16 goals in 24 games, playing mainly in the midfield and half forward.

After an injury-riddled first pre-season with the Power, Horne-Francis said that he was “definitely struggling to run some games out in the midfield,” he said. Now, after a full summer of training and a two-week camp in America with former skipper Travis Boak, Horne-Francis is ready to “play the best footy [he] can.”

The young gun will aim to bring his attributes of pressure, goal-sense, and winning contested footy to complement the Power’s young and upcoming midfield.

Finlay Macrae

Brother to Bulldogs star Jack Macrae, Finlay was selected with Pick 19 in the 2020 AFL Draft by Collingwood. Since then, Macrae has managed only 12 AFL games in three seasons, as the young midfielder has found it hard to break into the Pies stellar midfield. Macrae averaged 26 disposals across 15 VFL games for Collingwood.

Pies fans are eagerly waiting for Macrae to be unleashed in their midfield, as he has shown glimpses of talent and dominance in the VFL. The 21-year-old was also selected in the 40-player Smithy’s VFL Team of the Year squad.  

With Taylor Adams moving to Sydney during last October’s trade period, Macrae is ready to take his midfield minutes and become a factor in Collingwood’s premiership defence.

Macrae showed strong signs in Collingwood’s first hit-out against North Melbourne, as he chased a ball out of the centre bounce, received a handball, and scored a beauty from outside the arc.

In an attempt to further his case for a round 1 selection, in Collingwood’s second practice match against Richmnond, Macrae recorded 10 disposals, six inside 50’s, four clearances, two score involvements, and 11 pressure acts in only 36 per cent game time.

Is this the year that the opportunity-starved Pie gets his chance.

Tom De Koning

The athletic ruckman has played 60 games for Carlton and has really impressed over his last two seasons. Tom played 19 games for the Blues last season and averaged 17.7 hit-outs, 12 disposals, and 2.5 tackles.

The 24-year-old had an exceptional performance in Carlton’s historic semi-final victory against Melbourne as he snuck forward and kicked Carlton’s first two goals.

Midway through the 2023 season, there was a lot of speculation on De Koning’s future with Carlton as fellow ruck Marc Pittonet signed a four-year extension. Nonetheless, the 201cm ruck/forward shutdown talks with rival clubs and signed a two-year extension with the Blues.

Speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack: Season Preview edition, St Kilda great Leigh Montana believes that “it’s time for De Koning to play 75–85 per cent in the ruck, and Harry McKay should embrace the second ruck role, like what Joe Daniher did.” 

This move will give De Koning the extra responsibility he deserves, which will allow him to unleash and unlock his true potential.

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George Wardlaw

George was selected by North Melbourne at Pick 4 in the 2022 AFL Draft as a competitive and hard ball-winning midfielder.

Wardlaw faced a difficult draft year, experiencing multiple hamstring strains before embarking on a tailored pre-season regimen during his first summer at Arden Street. The 19-year-old gradually progressed at the VFL level before being unleashed in round 10 in 2023.

In his debut against Sydney, he recorded a lively 16 disposals and nine tackles. In round 13, Wardlaw earned himself a rising star nomination for his 22-disposal, nine-tackle, and one-goal performance against GWS.

“George has had a really strong pre-season,” injured Roos co-captain Luke McDonald said on the club’s live stream.

“When the ball’s there to be won and he’s one metre away with an opponent, I know who I’m putting my money on.”

North fans got an early look at Wardlaw in 2024, as he had an explosive intra-club performance through the midfield.

Now coming into his second season, the young midfielder is ready to take the next step in his AFL career.

Mitch Georgiades

The highly talented tall forward looks ready for a big 2024 season, after missing almost all of the 2023 season. The 22-year-old managed to play the first two games of the season before rupturing his ACL in round 3 lining up for Port’s SANFL side. 

Georgiades kicked 52 goals in his first two full seasons with the Power, and he is expected to add a lot more firepower down forward for this young Port Adelaide side.

Port is building their new young core through the likes of Rozee, Butters, Horne-Francis, and Georgiades is poised to join that group this year. 

Georgiades is a terrific aerialist who often lines up with a smaller defender as other key forward’s Dixon, Marshall, and Finlayson attract the taller defenders. In September last year, he inked a new four-year-deal that will allow him to focus on his footy with no distractions. 

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