MUCH-maligned they may be but in recent weeks, a group of forwards have shown just how much importance they hold to their teams' finals campaigns.
KURT TIPPETT (Sydney)
FAILING to live up to the expense the Swans were forking out on him, Tippett came to a fork in the road mid-season. Having booted just 25 goals in 14 games, Wayne Carey was calling for him to be traded. But after recovering from a hand injury, he has spent more time in the ruck than ever, while also having an impact when forward. After booting five goals against GWS last week, he is the only player in the comp to have more than 300 hit-outs and 30 goals.
TY VICKERY (Richmond)
VICKERY lost part of a front tooth in round 15 but the big Tiger is finally baring his teeth after battling injury, form and discipline issues. Dropped more times than soap in the shower, he was axed again mid-season. Now in career-best form, he's booted 10 goals in the past two weeks, including six against Collingwood last week. About to reject offers from rival clubs, he finally plays his 100th game tomorrow.
TAYLOR WALKER (Adelaide)
THE decision by the late Phil Walsh to name the club's resident knockabout as captain shocked many, and the kid from Broken Hill was going to need to put the score on the board to silence the doubters. For all his talent, only once had he kicked more than 35 goals in a season - 63 in 19 games in 2012 - until now. Bookended by six in his first game as captain in round one and seven last week, he now has 51.
JOSH HILL (West Coast)
THE opportunist had only just returned to the side from his latest axing when former Eagle Glen Jakovich was declaring he should never play again after missing an easy goal in the recent western derby. The 26-year-old responded though by finishing the game with four majors and the Ross Glendinning Medal as best-afield, and backed it up with another four against the team that had gotten rid of him, the Bulldogs.
CYRIL RIOLI (Hawthorn)
EXPLAINING why Rioli was a career under-achiever won ex-Bomber Matthew Lloyd the AFL column of the year award in 2014. Even Hawk fans couldn't argue with the fact they hadn't seen the best of the injury-prone Rioli for long enough. But staying fully fit, he is now arguably enjoying his best season, or at least getting some reward on the scoreboard, with 34 goals in 19 games, including eight in the past two weeks, for all those tackles, knock-ons and smothers.
JAKE STRINGER (Bulldogs)
THE bustling Bulldog was dropped midway through last season after kicking just four goals in his first nine games. But he'd been through much worse, like breaking the tibia and fibula in his left leg four years ago, which threatened his playing career before he was drafted. The Bulldogs took a punt on him and they'll be glad they did. He's now booted 49 goals for the season, including consecutive bags of four, four, four and five last week in the loss to West Coast.
JARRAD WAITE (North)
HE'S 32 and into his 12th season but maybe his best is yet to come. Waite promised much as a key forward for Carlton but rarely delivered due to form, injury or suspension. But as part of a potent Kangaroos attack, a more consistent Waite is on the verge of achieving his most productive season - he has 32 goals, including three against ladder-leader Fremantle last week, and is on track to top the career-best 36 he booted in 2005 and 2010.
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