SANFL clubs have been busy securing a host of quality signings ahead of the 2021 Statewide Super League season. With several former AFL stars poised to play in the SANFL next year, and a couple of players switching clubs, ZAC MILBANK sifts through the likely difference-makers.
Excitement will be high at The Parade in Round 1 when Paul Puopolo dons the red and blue for the first time since the 2010 SANFL Grand Final. Set to wear the No.21 guernsey which he wore in 68 League games from 2007, the triple Hawthorn premiership star brings immense experience back to his home club. Despite playing at Norwood as a dashing back pocket, the 33-year-old made his mark as a relentless crumbing forward with the Hawks, booting 185 goals in 196 AFL games. Expect him to be thrown into the centre square to provide plenty of punch in 2021.
The Panthers produced a recruiting coup when they lured Gibbs up the Southern Expressway, instead of the son of Glenelg premiership defender Ross returning to his original SANFL club. Boasts enormous experience having logged 268 AFL games with Carlton and Adelaide. Could play multiple roles for South coach Jarrad Wright, including distributing the ball across half-back, or winning clearances from the centre square. The 31-year-old is keen to enjoy his football again in a similar vein to new teammate Matthew Broadbent, who was a key influence for South in 2020 after arriving from the Power.
Boom North signing Aaron Young looms as a significant difference-maker such is his ability to make an impact in the centre square or in attack. The 28-year-old polled 12 Magarey Medal votes in just five games in 2017 while playing chiefly through the midfield for Port Adelaide. Standing at 189cm, Young is deceptively tall for the role that he plays in attack – often used as a third lead-up marking option who can also cause damage when the ball hits the deck. One to watch in 2021.
Speculation was swirling that former Crow Riley Knight may sign with North Adelaide but in the end, the Eagles junior returned to Oval Avenue. In a significant boost to the reigning premier, Knight’s presence will not only provide coach Jade Sheedy with someone to run and carry the ball through the middle but also another attacking option inside 50m. Featuring in 55 AFL games for Adelaide, the 25-year-old is entering the prime of his career which should excite all Eagles’ fans.
A genuine excitement machine, Hosie was the Statewide Super League’s leading goalkicker when he was snapped up by North Melbourne in the 2019 AFL Midseason Draft. Now the athletic 24-year-old is set to reignite the dynamic trio he formed with fellow Tigers Liam McBean and Luke Reynolds. Measuring in at 180cm and 78kg, Hosie is equally adept at scooping the ball up at ground level as he is at taking a contender for Mark of the Year. Should provide plenty of highlights at ACH Group Stadium this year.
Starved of opportunity – just two AFL games – in his three seasons with Adelaide, Patrick Wilson is itching to continue impacting the Statewide Super League with his beloved Double Blues. Measuring in at 188cm and 89kg, the big-bodied midfielder is a beast at the clearances and can find the ball at will. Importantly, the 26-year-old premiership player will provide significant support to captain James Battersby, who carried a heavy load through the midfield for Sturt last season.
Stifled by an injury to his posterior cruciate ligament in his knee last year, Knoll is now unrestricted and ready to roll with the Redlegs. The former South Adelaide tall is viewed as the ideal replacement for retired premiership ruck Sam Baulderstone, with his penchant for palming the ball to his fellow midfielder. Winner of the 2019 Fos Williams Medal, Knoll will be looking to rekindle the form which saw him selected at pick No.4 by Sydney in that year’s AFL Midseason Draft.
Troy Menzel’s shock arrival at Oval Avenue will go a significant way toward the reigning premier defending its crown in 2021. The younger of the Menzel siblings has placed third and fifth in Central District’s best and fairest voting the past two seasons while also representing SANFL in the 2019 West End State game. The former Carlton and Crows forward boasts a lovely left-foot kick and is not afraid to fly, evidenced by him finishing in the top three for last year’s Mark of the Year. At 26, Menzel still has plenty of good football left in him which should excite Eagles’ fans.
Only managed one game (Round 1) with Central District last year due to a foot injury but now looms as an exciting addition for the Eagles. Will be determined to string together plenty of games in his new tri-colours after enduring a rotten run of luck amid his 80 AFL appearances with Geelong. Crafty around the goals inside 50m, the 29-year-old can also be thrown into the centre square where he uses his creativity to positive affect.
An unknown quantity when it comes to SANFL, Lovell’s penchant for racking up high numbers in his native Tasmania suggests he will have a significant impact for the Bloods. Managed two AFL games while on Hawthorn’s list from 2016 to 2018 before collecting disposals at will with the Kingborough Tigers in 2019 and 2020. Solidly-built at 174cm and 80kg, the 23-year-old was crowned Best and Fairest for his TSL club in the past two seasons.
Sign up to see all the news from around the SANFL each week – directly in your inbox!