ON THE eve of the 2012 season, who do you consider to be the most important player for your team? Opinions will vary.
Bearing in mind a combination of factors, such as talent, leadership, spirit, courage and team structure, these would be my selections.
ADELAIDE - Scott Thompson
The Crows are a young team looking to rebuild. They need a strong-bodied veteran who will lead the way in the crunches. Thompson is that man. He is his team's best midfielder and wins a heap of contested ball. The Crows will need him to carry the load once more.
BRISBANE LIONS - Jonathan Brown
No surprise here. The big man just needs to remain injury-free to be the powerful force up forward that will get the Lions home in close contests. Brown instils confidence with his assured, bold strut. His team is four games better off when he plays.
CARLTON - Chris Judd
Jarrad Waite and Michael Jamison are vital for the Blues' success at the pointy ends of the ground, but Judd has to be the main man. He is unstoppable when he is ''on'', and leads the midfield charge in all of the tough areas. Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs have stepped out of his shadow, but others in the team need to be less dependent on the captain's contributions.
COLLINGWOOD - Travis Cloke
The power forward simply can't be replaced. Midfielders such as Dane Swan, Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury can. Cloke leads the competition in contested marks and dominates the Magpies' goal-kicking. His awesome on-field presence boosts the confidence of his teammates and intimidates the opposition. It's not ridiculous to suggest that ''if you beat Cloke, you beat Collingwood''.
ESSENDON - Michael Hurley
The blond Bomber is still three games short of his 50th, but his star is rapidly on the rise now he has become a permanent forward. Few forwards can move so quickly towards an incoming ball as Hurley. With safe hands, an athletic leap and an aggressive attack on the ball, he is near impossible to stop. Third in last year's best-and-fairest, he can win it in 2012 with a 50-plus goal season.
FREMANTLE - Aaron Sandilands
Hopefully Ross Lyon will play Matthew Pavlich as a permanent forward this year, where he can be a match-winner. But, if the Dockers are to be a finals force, their three-time All-Australian ruckman has to have a standout season. Why? Because a fit, in-form Sandilands will be in more contests than any other Docker, and if he dominates the hitouts, he has the potential to have more of a positive impact on his teammates than any other player in the game.
GEELONG - Matthew Scarlett
The veteran Cat plays to win. The lure of a fourth flag is what will get him on the field again in 2012. We have never seen a full-back like Scarlett. He rarely gets goals kicked against him, can play on any sized opponent and, with his unique ability to read the play, racks up more disposals than any other full-back that has gone before him. And you have to love the way he marshals his co-defenders to ensure the ever-changing match-ups are spot-on.
GOLD COAST - Gary Ablett
Clearly his team's best and most important player. Took his leadership to a new level in 2011. Leading the young Suns, Ablett won the best-and-fairest by a street and dominated possessions, clearances, tackles and hard-ball gets.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY - Tom Scully
The Giants' veterans are well past their best and their kids are virtually unknowns. So Scully, with only 31 games as a Demon, now has a chance to show why he was chosen as the No. 1 draft pick in 2009, and why the Giants are prepared to pay him a million dollars a season for the next six years.
HAWTHORN - Lance Franklin
Now the most exciting player in the game. Buddy loves a goal and will get plenty of them, whether playing deep forward or high up in the midfield. No one can keep up with the fastest big man to have played the game. Last year, he had 150 shots at goal, averaging seven per game. No one else does that. In 2008, the Hawks won the flag and Buddy kicked 113 goals. It could happen again this year.
MELBOURNE - Mitch Clark
The Demons have taken a big punt on Clark. They believe the former Lion can be the power forward they desperately lack. Problem is, Clark was never that player at Brisbane. Up north, he never took on real responsibility, playing as a third tall forward and relief ruckman. Being centre stage at the MCG will truly test him.
NORTH MELBOURNE - Drew Petrie
You have to admire the big Roo. For years, he was thrown around from one end of the ground to the other, and severe foot injuries almost finished him off. But last year, he came of age. He thrived on being the key forward, leading the way with contested marks, goals and assists to earn All-Australian status. In an improving team, he will have even greater opportunity to excel in 2012.
PORT ADELAIDE - John Butcher
It's a long shot to select a player who has played just four senior games as his team's most important player. Sadly, it reflects the desperate situation the Power is in. The tall forward kicked six goals in just his second game of AFL, and followed it up with four more the next week. In a team that is screaming out for goalkickers, Butcher could well be the answer.
RICHMOND - Jack Riewoldt
A fit Riewoldt will be a fantastic player for the Tigers. This man just wins contests. He would be a nightmare to play against, because if he doesn't beat you in the air, he will at ground level. Coach Damien Hardwick is developing a multi-pronged attack, which is a good thing, as it takes the pressure off Riewoldt to always be the main man. After five years in the system, Riewoldt is seriously set to become one of the AFL's superstars.
ST KILDA - Nick Riewoldt
This will be a crucial year in Riewoldt's career. He has, for years, been his team's most important player; five best-and-fairest awards are testimony to that. But, after coming off an ordinary season (eighth in St Kilda's best and fairest), will the captain be able to resume his customary top-of-the-pile position? At 29, and on wonky knees, it won't be easy. The new coach might push him up field a bit more to ease the goal-kicking pressure, and that would be a good thing.
SYDNEY - Adam Goodes
The dual Brownlow medallist just keeps on keeping on. He is his club's best midfielder and forward. For opposition teams, their No. 1 priority is to reduce Goodes' effectiveness. And that's not easy, as his superb fitness enables him to play a number of roles. Goodes is one of the Swans' few match-winners, and as such is crucial to his hard-working team's success. With 300 games and 32 years behind him, the question is, can he do it for much longer?
WEST COAST - Josh Kennedy
This fellow is a beauty. He arrived last year as a key forward to be his team's leading goalkicker (59) and contested mark-taker. Despite that, he couldn't find a spot in the West Coast best and fairest. Amazing! He will this year, though, as he passes the 100-game mark and establishes himself as one of the game's best power forwards.
WESTERN BULLDOGS - Brian Lake
Lake is the best defensive intercept mark in the AFL. He gets heaps of disposals and can run and carry and kick the ball long to make 80-metre line-breaking plays. Problem is, we haven't seen him do it for a long time. Under new coach Brendan McCartney, I feel confident that we will see the best of Lake once again. And if that's the case, we can look forward to seeing the Doggies play in September.