Over the coming weeks, North Media will analyse the 2021 seasons of every player on the list.
To see all the reviews so far, click here.
11. Luke McDonald
11 games; 17.2 disposals, 5.2 marks, 2.5 tackles, 2.1 one percenters, 3.1 score involvements, 3.5 intercepts
Coming off a best and fairest winning 2020, many expected Luke McDonald to take his game to the next level in 2021, however injuries prevented him from finding any consistency in the first half of the year.
Previously utilised as a half back flanker or tagging midfielder, David Noble planned to line McDonald up on the wing where his defensive running and engine could be best utilised.
Suffering a quad injury in pre-season, McDonald made his first appearance of the campaign in Round 4 against Adelaide, but collected just 3 disposals before tearing his pec, a potential season ending injury.
After undergoing surgery and a ten-week layoff, he returned to the side in Round 14 against Brisbane, collecting a respectable 17 disposals in a strong return display.
Playing every remaining game for the season, McDonald grew into his new wing role, with performances against Essendon, Carlton and Richmond offering particular promise.
It wasn’t just on the field where he grew though, with the lifelong North fan being elevated to the role of co-vice-captain alongside Jy Simpkin, indicating something of a changing of the guard in North’s leadership stocks.
A vibrant personality amongst the playing group, as the season progressed McDonald began to showcase many of the off-field elements that make him so appreciated within the walls of Arden Street.
While an injury hit season isn’t what was wanted out of McDonald’s campaign, the promise shown in both his on-field and leadership capacities is cause for excitement going forward.
Round 18 v Essendon
26 disposals, 8 marks, 5 inside 50s, 4 score involvements, 5 intercepts per game.
With a quad injury ruling McDonald out until Round 4, his first appearance of the season lasted just over ten minutes as he suffered a torn pec that required surgery.
The mountain of work he put into his recovery saw him return just ten games later.
The fans said:
Don't care what anyone says, Luke McDonald my vice captain deserves it, man bleeds blue and white and has improved his game massively, love the man— Josh?? (@JoshLFC19) March 20, 2021
The coaches said:
“The support he gave to the defenders, his defensive run was awesome. That’s why we put him on the wing, we knew he’d get back and help our defensive system out, and his ability to link up, generate possessions and handball receives grew as he grew into the role. We know his hardness over the ball is a strength as well so he gave us really good support in both our defensive structure and contested footy around the stoppages.” - Jordan Russell (midfield coach).
12. Jy Simpkin
22 games, 2 goals; 26.9 disposals, 3.8 tackles, 5.1 clearances, 10.7 contested possessions, 4.8 score involvements, 3.1 intercepts per game.
Jy Simpkin began the 2021 season as he meant to go on, not only retaining his pre-season 2km time trial crown, but also being elected as co-vice-captain despite being just 22 at the time.
For the second season in a row, Simpkin appeared in every game of the season, with his ability to not only maintain his fitness, but impact contests all year long quickly becoming a hallmark of his game.
The return of Ben Cunnington enabled Simpkin to split his time more evenly between inside and outside midfield, with the young leader even impressing on the wing on occasion.
Only dropping below 20 disposals in a game once for the season, and finishing with 25 touches or more 12 times, he was a consistent and threatening presence in North’s young and evolving midfield group.
Along with the rest of the midfield, Simpkin impressed against Hawthorn in Round 9, as he combined with Ben Cunnington and Luke Davies-Uniacke for 38 clearances, 10 more than the whole Hawks side.
It was against West Coast in Round 17 where we saw the true potential of Simpkin’s on-field leadership though, as he led by example with 32 disposals, 4 clearances and a game-high 8 inside 50s in the victory.
After finishing as runner-up in the 2020 Syd Barker Medal, the improvement in Simpkin’s game over 2021 will see him challenge for top honours once again.
If he can repeat that huge leap forward heading into 2022, he will well and truly establish himself as one of the AFL’s leading midfielders sooner rather than later.
Round 9 v Hawthorn
38 disposals, 9 tackles, 14 clearances, 23 contested possessions, 5 score involvements.
Being elected to the club’s leadership group is no small feat, and for Jy Simpkin to make the leap to co-vice-captain so early in his career speaks not only of his leadership capabilities, but also of how highly rated he is amongst his peers.
The fans said:
@JySimpkin Jy Simpkin thank you for being a great leader and role model of this club, future Captain, courageous, mongrel towards the opposition, gifted, love of the contest and doesn't like being beaten, you will help this great club to our next premiership, LEGEND— Steve (@KangaSteve) August 25, 2021
The coaches said:
“Jy’s taken his game to a whole new level. A lot of what ’Nobes’ and I have tried to do with this midfield group is get them to understand their wider game rather than just stoppages and clearances. His leadership has stood out not only with how he’s leading with his voice, but also off the field and helping our younger midfield group. His work-rate to get from one part of the ground to the other is outstanding, and that’s why he was able to have such a strong year.” - Jordan Russell (midfield coach).