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As AFL clubs hunt for the next big thing, one rising star might be the most valuable player in the league

Anderson mark. Siren. Kick. Goal. Win.

The arrival of footballing stars often takes years. Years of hard work, grind and craft to acclimatise to the game at its highest level, and grow into themselves.

For the Gold Coast Suns’ Noah Anderson, it took merely 30 seconds.

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That 30-second period cemented Gold Coast’s most memorable win since the last time they won the game with a goal after the siren over Richmond.

For avid footy fans, and those wearing red and yellow north of the border, Anderson’s rise has been less hidden.

At just 21 years old, the former number two draft pick has quickly cemented his place in the increasingly dangerous Suns midfield.

Projecting the future is notoriously hard to do. The old Jesuit saying, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man,” doesn’t necessarily hold true.

But by analysing the careers of players past and looking for patterns, a fair idea of how the careers might play out emerges.

The ABC has developed a method of predicting how players will develop and progress by analysing the careers of thousands of players to pass through the league so far, and each player’s career to date.

The young Gold Coast star is predicted to be the most valuable player across the rest of his career.

The model suggests that more than 10 players will produce more value than the average number one draft pick for the rest of their career. Anderson stands on top, worth the value of the average pick one and pick 10 together.

In the midst of this year’s trade period, the Gold Coast star might be the most valuable player in the game.

But what makes Noah Anderson so special and are there any other players coveted as much?

Hiding in plain sight

Tipped for footballing success from a young age, Anderson is the son of two-time premiership Hawk Dean — who is now the head of sporting consultancy company Leading Teams.

The younger Anderson was spotted as a future star early, making rep teams from under-12 onwards.

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Much of his junior career was defined by the partnership he shared with Matt Rowell, who was picked up at number one in the same draft as Anderson.

The two Suns youngsters played in several junior teams together, and estimated that they played more than 150 games together before being drafted to the same sunny locale.

While Rowell’s first six games might have been some of the finest ever for a debutant, Anderson took a tiny bit longer to find his feet and physicality at AFL level.

Stepping up to the AFL from the underage ranks takes time for most players.

Anderson’s skill set is built for the modern game — able to win the ball on the inside and transition it to the outside. He demonstrates the ability to turn clearances into forward entries, acting as an outlet for Touk Miller, Rowell and David Swallow.

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This year was the first that Anderson stuck to the primary inside midfield rotation for the full season.

Some players struggle with more time on the ball, but he thrived.

Coaches increasingly talk of building a balanced midfield — one that mixes ball winning and movement at once.

Anderson’s ability to drive the ball forward was key to the Gold Coast’s rise up the ladder this year, helping a somewhat makeshift forward line stay in games deep into the season. If he continues on his current trajectory, Anderson will soon be fitted for an All Australian Blazer.

Few players perform as well as Anderson did this year at such a young age.

Anderson’s projection is higher than the average output from a number one draft pick despite — or due to — his solid 2021 season and stellar 2022 campaign. There are still some areas for Anderson to grow as well. If Anderson can hit the scoreboard similarly to how he did in junior footy, or slightly refine his kick, he will be extremely hard to stop in the coming years.

Predicting younger players is still hard.

A lot can happen between now and 2032 — from injuries to form loss to coaching changes.

Anderson projects as having a high upside but isn’t immune from these issues.

Assuming these risks are similar for all players, Anderson’s future projects as high as any other.

He isn’t alone as a likely star of the future, with Errol Gulden, Caleb Serong, Nick Daicos and Chad Warner likely to produce more than the average number one pick for the rest of their careers.

Not all clubs look entirely at the future. Some clubs and list managers prefer the certainty of older, known entities more than the slightly speculative shots at youth.

Three names stand out as being the bastions of the best building blocks for a team right now.

Back to the here and now

Some clubs aren’t worried about what is going to happen in eight to 10 years’ time. Footy could look completely different in that time, with different rules to consider and teams to battle. Maximising their premiership window is key.

Young draftees, no matter the draft pick, will usually struggle to be even average in their first year.

Nick Daicos is the exception, not the rule. Clubs looking to challenge for premierships now often need proven products.

These are projected to be the most valuable players in the game in the coming years. None of these names should come as surprises. They represent the cream of the crop, the absolute best of the league.

At the top sit the three players who are arguably the best in the league right now — Marcus Bontempelli, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver. All three are similar to some degree — oversized midfielders who can drag their opponent forward when required and kick goals. All three have multiple All Australian blazers to their name, and a flag to boot.

Oliver is the best of the three in the contest and is a tough match-up for any opponent. Bontempelli was relied upon up forward for the Dogs this year, but can genuinely do it all. Petracca, by contrast, is perhaps the best player in the competition at driving the ball into his side’s attacking zone — and turning those attacks into points.

All three are extremely valuable and are likely to continue to be for the coming years. Bontempelli is a year older than Petracca, who is one year older than Oliver, but all three are likely to play for at least half a decade more at a high level.

That’s when the 2022 draftees, soon to have their names called out by Gillon McLachlan on draft night, are likely to be coming into their prime.

Source: AFL NEWS ABC