Shaun Hampson, the forgotten man of Queensland football, has launched a late bid to play in the upcoming AFL finals series after his 2017 campaign was destroyed by a back injury.
Hampson, who hasn’t played at AFL level this year, got through his fourth comeback game as Richmond opened their VFL finals campaign over the weekend.
He has 12 possessions and 36 hit-outs in the Tigers’ 12-point win over Collingwood to push his claims for a spot in the senior team to play Geelong in a qualifying final at the MCG at Friday night.
He will certainly be in the selection mix, and if coach Damien Hardwick decides he needs an extra big body to support sole ruckman Toby Nankervis in the pressure-cooker environment of the finals he could get a fairytale call-up.
Not helping Hampson’s cause, however, is the forecast for wet conditions for a game likely to pull a crowd of close to 100,000 people.
If he doesn’t get a call-up to the AFL the 29-year-old ruckman will play in the VFL semi-final against Casey on Saturday afternoon, at least allowing him to further improve his match conditioning if something was to open up deeper into the AFL finals.
Also anxiously awaiting selection ahead of the most eagerly awaited final in many years is Geelong youngster Wylie Buzza.
The 21-year-old Gatton forward/ruckman has played only six games in his first AFL season but will certainly be in the Geelong selection conversation.
Buzza has two obstacles to overcome if he is to make his finals debut against the Tigers.
First, Cats coach Chris Scott will decide whether he whether he wants Buzza or Rhys Stanley to support Zac Smith in the ruck, and if so which one of them.
Stanley has played 11 games this year and only once since Round 18, but will be fit for consideration. And his last game in Round 21 was in the Cats’ 14-point win over Richmond.
The other obstacle for Buzza will be a tactic coach Scott used with great effect last time out against the Tigers, when he played swingman Harry Taylor forward to shut down Richmond ace and All-Australian captain Alex Race.
If Scott elects to go with the same tactic again it could squeeze Buzza and Stanley out of the side, leaving Mark Blicavs, who also will return from injury, to give Smith a spell in the ruck.
Yet another Queensland big man who will anxiously await Thursday night selection is Sydney Swans ruckman/forward Kurt Tippett.
Tippett and Callum Sinclair are expected to be available for the Swans’ elimination final against Essendon at the SCG on Saturday afternoon are both finished the Round 23 game against Carlton with minor ankle complaints.
But Sam Naismith, who had established himself as he No.1 ruckman for much of the home-and-away season, made a successful comeback in the NEAFL finals on Saturday.
He played 80% game time in the Swans’ NEAFL win over the Gold Coast, which put them into this week’s NEAFL grand final against the Brisbane Lions.
The question for coach John Longmire is whether to disrupt what has been an effective competition with Tippett and Sinclair to put an underdone Naismith into a sudden-death final, or go with the duo that has won the last four games without Naismith.
Aliir Aliir also will be in the Swans finals squad but barring injury he isn’t expected to have to be content playing in the NEAFL grand final.
The only other Queenslander likely to figure in week one of the Toyota AFL finals series is Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon, who will play his first final against West Coast at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night.
Sam Reid, who has played a career-high 13 games this season with GWS, is fit and available for their clash with minor premiers Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on Thursday night, but having played only one NEAFL game since an injury in Round 16 he is unlikely to force his way into the side.
In other football over the weekend, Jesse White bid farewell to the game when Collingwood were eliminated from the VFL finals.
He had 10 disposals and kicked a goal in his farewell game, while Josh Thomas had 17 disposals, five tackles and a goal for the Pies in the same game, and Lachy Keeffe seven disposals.
Mabior Chol had seven disposals for Richmond.
Hawthorn’s Brendan Whitecross kept his season going when Box Hill beat Port Melbourne by 13 points in the VFL qualifying final. Whitecross had 17 disposals, seven tackles and a goal to be among the Hawks’ best.
Fellow Queenslanders Jake Spencer and Josh Wagner were members of the Casey side that will get a second chance despite losing to Williamstown in the other qualifying final.
Spencer had six disposals and 28 hitouts and Wagner 23 disposals and seven tackles for Casey, who will play Richmond in the VFL semi-final on Saturday.
As many as nine listed Queenslanders are set to play for the Brisbane Lions in the NEAFL grand final at the SCG on Saturday night after the Swans-Bombers AFL final.
Claye Beams will go into the premiership decider in excellent form after he was best afield in the Lions’ 32-point preliminary final win over Sydney University. He had a game-high 36 disposals.
Matt Eagles, winner of ‘The Recruit’ series on Fox, captained the Lions and was among his side’s best too, collecting 12 disposals while shutting down ex-Swans big man Tom Derricks.
Archie Smith (18 disposals and 24 hit-outs also featured in the Lions’ best, while Jono Freeman kicked three goals and Matt Hammelmann two goals.
Ben Keays had 26 disposals, Liam Dawson 18 and Reuben William 11.
Blake, Grewar squeezed out of the Lions side by the selection criteria which limited them to 16 listed players against a non-AFL opposition, is expected to return this week to what will be a full-strength side.
In the Gold Coast Suns side beaten by the Swans in the other NEAFL preliminary final last weekend, Max Spencer had 11 disposals, and Jack Bowes and Brad Scheer eight disposals each.
By Peter Blucher