The Unlikely Stars of the 2022 AFL Season So Far

 There are a host of familiar names making headlines so far this season, with the likes of Clayton Oliver, Lachie Neale, Patrick Cripps and Christian Petracca all playing major roles for their respective clubs, each of which sits towards the top end of the AFL ladder. There are, however, plenty of less likely names making significant waves across the competition. From players who have elevated their game from good to great, to those getting recognised for what feels like the first time, these are some of the AFL’s most unlikely stars of the 2022 season. 


Andrew Brayshaw (Fremantle)

Andrew Brayshaw has been quietly plying his trade out west since he was drafted at number two in the 2017 AFL draft, but this year he has taken it to a whole new level. The younger brother of Melbourne’s Premiership star Angus, Brayshaw developed into an elite ball-winner last season, averaging 28.4 disposals per game having never cracked 20 in that statistic in his three AFL seasons prior. This year, however, he has taken it up another notch. 

He has been averaging greater numbers across the board, but more importantly has become increasingly damaging with his ball use. He’s also a valuable contributor defensively – something not always synonymous with high possession getters – and has been a major reason behind Fremantle’s rapid ascent up the AFL ladder this year. Players outside of Victoria are often overlooked to an extent by the mainstream football media, and while that may have been the case last year, in 2022 Brayshaw has made his presence in the competition felt in a big way. 



Jack Sinclair (St. Kilda)

Jack Sinclair has long been a consistent presence in St. Kilda’s best 22, but he hasn’t exactly been a household name during that time. The number one pick in the 2014 rookie draft, Sinclair has played at least 17 games every year since 2017, and last year finished second behind only star skipper Jack Steele in the club’s best and fairness. Despite that, an awareness of the defender’s value to the Saints hasn’t necessarily made it outside of the proverbial four walls of the Saints.

This year, however, Sinclair has once again demonstrated significant improvement, and the football world is taking notice. The mulleted half-back is averaging far and away the highest possession numbers of his career while continuing to be a valuable small defender, and the consistency which he began to develop last season has only improved further. The Saints, too, have improved dramatically, and he is one of the major reasons why. The once-maligned Sinclair is now accumulating coaches votes for fun, looks likely to be in the mix for his club’s best and fairest once again, and is well and truly in the conversation for what would be a maiden All-Australian jacket.  



Zac Bailey (Brisbane)

Every season since he was drafted with the 15th pick in the 2017 AFL draft, Zac Bailey has demonstrated a level of improvement. Last year, he began to get some recognition outside of Brisbane, his after-the-siren goal against Collingwood a major reason why, but this year he has shown he is more than just a low-possession half forward with a knack for popping up in the right place at the right time – though he certainly does have that knack in droves. 

Rotating through the forward line and midfield, Bailey has become incredibly damaging with ball in hand, and has taken his ability to hit the scoreboard to a new level in 2022. Never was that more evident than against the Gold Coast in Round 6 when he kicked six goals, while he also snared four in Round 3 and three in Rounds 5 and 9. At just 22 years of age he will only continue to improve, but already Bailey is demonstrating that he is one of the most valuable players to one of the best teams in the competition.


Charlie Curnow (Carlton)

Few people who saw Charlie Curnow play during his first couple of years in the league had any questions about the ability of the athletic forward, but 2022 has been the first season since he was 21 that he has really had the opportunity to show it. A torrid run of injuries saw him play just 15 games between 2019 and 2021, but this year he has finally had the chance to showcase his talent, and he has latched onto that opportunity with both hands. 

That opportunity is far from the only thing he has latched onto with both hands this year. Curnow’s elite aerial ability has been on full show throughout the year, and alongside fellow key forward Harry McKay he has helped turn the Blues into a top four contender. Two bags of five and a bag of six in the first eight rounds were highlights of the early parts of the season, but when McKay went down with an injury after Round 8 some question marks were raised about whether he could continue his great form with more attention from the opposition. As it turns out, he can. He snagged six once again in an impressive Round 10 win against the Swans, and if he can stay on the park looks every bit the elite key forward which he has for so long promised to be. 


Will Brodie (Fremantle)

After being selected with the ninth pick in the 2016 national draft, it’s safe to say that Will Brodie didn’t really live up to expectations with the Gold Coast Suns. The 190cm midfielder managed just 25 games in five years, and though he was impressive in the seconds, he couldn’t break into the senior team with any sort of regularity. The lack of AFL exposure he earned was reflected on the trade table, when he was shipped off to Fremantle alongside picks 19, 61 and 69 in exchange for a future second and fourth round draft pick. As it’s turned out, that was a steal for the Dockers. 

Brodie has been a driving force behind Fremantle’s somewhat unexpected rise into top four and even Premiership contention, playing a pivotal role in their midfield as a bigger body complementing the smaller mids like Brayshaw and Caleb Serong. Having never cracked the 30-disposal mark at AFL level in five years with the Suns, he had 36 or more on three occasions in his first ten games with the Dockers. He has suddenly turned into one of the more prolific ball-winners in the game, and is this year playing far more like the number nine draft pick he was six years ago than the player who couldn’t get a game for the struggling Suns for five years.


Dylan Moore (Hawthorn)

The first couple of years of Dylan Moore’s career went much as expected for someone drafted with pick 67. He struggled to break into the Hawthorn side, playing just ten games in his first three years and failing to make too much of an impact. Last year, however, with the Hawks tumbling down the ladder, the young forward was given a chance on which he capitalised, playing 20 games and booting 27 goals for the season.

 The promise he showed playing in what is a very difficult position, particularly on a struggling team, was plain to see, but this year he has taken it to a new level. He’s consistently hitting the scoreboard, getting plenty of the footy and developing into one of the Hawks’ most important players, and is every chance to be rewarded with an inaugural All-Australian jacket come season’s end.


George Hewett (Carlton)

George Hewett was for a long time a consistent member of Sydney’s best 22, but he never got a whole lot in the way of plaudits from the football world. Undoubtedly this can be put down, in part, to the fact that he played in Sydney, but it was also a product of the fact that he was a fair way down the pecking order in the Swans’ midfield. Though he did show his ball-winning ability when given the opportunity, he was regularly used as a run-with midfielder over his 120 games in Sydney.

Since making the move to Carlton, however, that has all changed. The big-bodied midfielder has, alongside the likes of superstar Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh and fellow new recruit Adam Cerra, turned the Blues’ midfield into one of the best in the AFL. He has been unleashed from an offensive perspective and quickly demonstrated his ability with ball in hand, accumulating at least 28 touches in every game he played up until Round 10. At 26 years of age, he is entering the prime of his career, and will play a huge role in the Blues’ hunt for a top four spot in 2022. 

 Every year, there are a number of players who significantly elevate their game and play at a level that few would have anticipated prior to the season. This year is no different. Be it a product of a beneficial trade, a much-deserved run free from injury or just a natural progression for a young player, the above names are some of the most unlikely stars of 2022.