Seven AFL superstars you need to know for the 2021 season

Get to know the biggest names in the game right now ahead of the start of the new Aussie Rules season.

Published: 17 March 2021 - 6.19pm

The longest pre-season in world sport wasn’t as long as usual this time around, but finally, the AFL is back!

After enduring a season like never before, due to the coronavirus pandemic, things look somewhat normal amid these most unusual times.

The traditional blockbuster between Richmond and Carlton at the Melbourne Cricket Ground opens the new season, marking the first AFL game with crowds in Victoria since the 2019 Grand Final. 

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But before you start your Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings with an AFL fix, we thought it was the perfect time to analyse the seven biggest superstars in the game right now.

The names below are the Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, Bruno Fernandes, Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Virgil van Dijk of the AFL. Not just the most important players, but the biggest stars in the game.

What's AFL all about?

Here are 10 things you need to know ahead of the 2021 season.

Dustin Martin (Richmond)

There was a debate ahead of last year’s finals series regarding Martin’s status amongst the greatest finals players of all time.

That debate ended on Grand Final day when his game-changing performance led the Tigers to a third premiership in four years, a record third Norm Smith Medal (best on ground in the Grand Final) and a third Gary Ayres Medal (best player in the finals series).

When it comes to box office performers, there is no one bigger in the AFL right now.

The Brownlow Medal winner is covered from head to toe in tattoos and has a famous haircut that has transformed him into one of the most marketable athletes in Australia. 

Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong)

Almost no one has been more consistent in the past decade than the Geelong midfielder who has been named in the All-Australian team (team of the year) in eight of the past nine seasons.

The one thing that still eludes the 2016 Brownlow Medal winner is a premiership.

He will never have a better shot at going all the way than in 2021, after the Cats acquired three stars during last November’s trade period, including one of the best key forwards in the business in Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron.

Dangerfield will go down as one of the all-time greats, but that premiership is what he needs to solidify his standing in the game.

Nat Fyfe ( Fremantle)

The Fremantle skipper is the only player in the AFL right now who has won the game’s most prestigious individual prize – the Brownlow Medal – twice.

The 29-year-old is the most imposing midfielder in the game at full flight and almost unstoppable when he plays deep in attack.

If the Dockers are going to return to the finals in 2021, expect the three-time All-Australian to return to his brilliant best this year. 

Lachie Neale (Brisbane)

Unlike the other superstars listed here, the Lions midfielder isn’t blessed with height and size, but Neale can find the football like almost no one else in the AFL.

The ball magnet won his first Brownlow Medal last year by a country mile, winning by ten votes from Port Adelaide midfielder Travis Boak, polling the fifth most votes in a season despite the season being trimmed by five games due to the pandemic.

He was that much better than everyone else. Neale has helped transform the Brisbane Lions into a premiership contender in his first two years in Queensland, since making a shock exit from the Dockers at the end of 2018.

What about the coaches?

Here are six you need to know about ahead of the 2021 season.

Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)

The Western Bulldogs captain hasn’t won the Brownlow Medal or the Most Valuable Player Trophy yet, but many believe this is the year he becomes the best player in the AFL.

At just 25, the midfielder is entering the prime of his career in one of the best set ups in the competition.

The Bulldogs haven’t won a final since they ended a 62-year premiership drought in 2016, but if Bontempelli produces a career-best year in 2021, they might go deep into September. 

Patrick Cripps (Carlton)

Much like Bontempelli, the Carlton skipper is on the cusp of becoming one of the top few players in the AFL.

At 195cm and 92kg, Cripps is a wrecking ball that can’t be stopped at the best of times.

The three-time best and fairest winner was limited by a shoulder injury for much of last year, but is fit and firing ahead of his seventh season in the AFL.

The Blues haven’t played a final since he arrived from Western Australia at the end of 2013. If Cripps stars again in 2021, that wait might be over. 

Jordan De Goey (Collingwood)

Make no mistake, De Goey doesn’t have the resume of the above players – not even close.

But when it comes to box office superstars, aside from only Martin and Fyfe, no one draws more attention in the AFL than him.

He plays for the biggest club in Australia and has proven himself as a big-game player in the past few years.

No stranger to off-field troubles in the past, Collinwood will be praying the potential superstar can become a genuine superstar in 2021.

If the pre-season is anything to go off, watch this space. De Goey is capable of anything.