In 2014, I did a one-off ‘who would you rather?’ comparing Eddie Betts, Luke Breust and Hayden Ballantyne, the best small forwards playing in the AFL at the time.
So for the purpose of this ‘who would you rather?’ I am going to look at three other of the most exciting small forwards currently in the game.
The AFL has been blessed with a handful of brilliant small forwards in the past. The likes of Phillip Matera, Jeff Farmer and Stephen Milne electrified crowds with their unmatchable skills and talents.
I’m not implying these three are the best small forwards in the game right now, but if you had to pick one, who would you rather?
Chad Wingard, Michael Walters, or Jamie Elliott?
Wingard is affectionately known as Port Adelaide’s ‘excitement machine’. In just 79 games, Wingard has given the AFL world a glimpse into his bag of magic tricks.
He can take the spectacular, highflying mark – one in particular which won him mark of the year in 2014 – and he can also kick one, or a bag, of freakish goals. In fact, Wingard has kicked 121 career goals to date.
Wingard is the most creative small forward out of the trio. Giving him an inch of space will usually lead to something for the Power fans to cheer about.
He is a natural footballer who can play up in the middle or deep in the forward pocket. No matter where he is positioned, he is an expert at creating goal opportunities for his team.
Some are dubbing him a fourth quarter specialist, as Wingard has shown a consistent ability to step up in the high pressure, big moments of a game, evident when he won his first Showdown medal in 2013.
2013 was a breakout year for him. He was named in the forward pocket of the All-Australian team (in just his second season), and won Port Adelaide’s best and fairest.
Walters is the most skilled of the three small forwards and may even be the most skilled in the competition, at least according to Gerard Healy.
“I think Michael Walters is the best kick in the game at the present time,” Healy said.
Since being suspended for poor fitness in early 2012, Walters has since turned his career around and has had an outstanding start to his young career.
In just 62 games, the former 53rd pick in the 2008 draft has kicked119 goals and has reinvented Fremantle’s previously predictable forward line.
Walters could be the most damaging small forward in the AFL. He is dynamic both in the air and on ground level. Like Wingard, he’s incredibly creative and plays with a confidence and vibrancy that is exciting to watch.
He had an injury-struck season in 2014, but starred in 2013, where he was the Dockers’ leading goal kicker with 46, and was named in the initial All-Australian squad, before missing out to Wingard in the forward pocket position.
He is hard working, offensively threatening, knows how to kick a crucial goal and is starting to create something worth seeing with Ballantyne in Freo’s forward line. His 4-goal performance against Collingwood on Friday night showed it's incredibly dangerous to give Walters an inch of space in the forward line.
It’s hard to believe, but despite playing at the AFL’s most high profile club in Collingwood, Jamie Elliott could be the least high profile small forward in the competition.
He’s not a forward pocket specialist or a threat in the midfield yet, but Elliot has quickly emerged as one of the competition’s most exciting young stars.
He is a stunning lead-up target and overhead mark for his size. He takes unbelievable highflying grabs (won mark of the year in 2013), attacks the contest with a ferocious and physical style and is Collingwood’s most reliable and possibly best forward target.
He’s played 64 games and kicked 96 goals, including 33 and 30 in his last two seasons. Elliott loves the contest, he is a fierce tackler and he is known for his smothering defensive pressure in the forward line.
Elliott is Collingwood’s most dynamic forward. He has a great work ethic and could soon be pushed into the midfield as he continues to develop. He has remarkable upside and will be a breath-taking player for years to come. Simply put, he is a match winner.
The most exciting thing about each of these three players is that they are still so young, all in their early 20s.
They have contributed so much to the game already, whether it be the wonderful individual acts of brilliance, the spectacular marks, the freakish goals or purely the way they go about the game.
It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. You can only have one.
So who would you rather? Chad Wingard, Michael Walters of Jamie Elliott?