Jye Bolton produced one of the most stunning debut seasons in WAFL history in 2016.
No Victorian recruit has had such an impact in WAFL ranks since Australian football Hall of Fame legend Haydn Bunton arrived in Perth in 1938 to immense fanfare and immediately lived up to it by winning the first of three Sandover medals.
Bolton, the Claremont midfielder, not only secured the Simpson Medal with a 46-possession game against Tasmania but used his prolific ball-gathering ability to romp to his own Sandover Medal win.
And the prospect that 25-year-old Bolton will maintain his level of performance this season will make him the WAFL’s most influential player and No.1 on The West Australian’s list of the league’s top 40 footballers.
Bolton has replaced Subiaco captain Kyal Horsley, who held the mantle as the State’s best league player for two years and will remain the pivotal figure in his team’s bid to avenge last year’s grand final loss.
A trio of WA representatives — Chris Phelan, Shane Nelson and Tim Kelly — round out the top five players in a competition that has rarely placed greater emphasis on the need for prolific midfielders.
The retirement of East Perth star Paul Johnson, the league’s No.1 player in the two recent seasons when the Royals made grand finals, means there is no specialist ruckman in the top 40 players.
Versatile Subiaco big men Clancy Wheeler (10) and Lachlan Delahunty (14) often pinch hit in the ruck, accounting for their considerable value, but most players in the top 40 are on-ballers.
The exceptions include triple Bernie Naylor medallist Ben Saunders (six), the most significant forward in the competition, Claremont premiership teammates Tom Lee (eight) and Beau Maister (18), and will-o-the-wisp goalsneak Liam Ryan (26).
Lee heads a group of former AFL players returning to their original WAFL clubs, with Swan Districts duo David Ellard and Jamie Bennell expected to help last year’s wooden spooners rise up the ladder.
Players were ranked on their form and impact last season, an assessment of their likely role and value to their team this year, as well as the threat they provide to opposition sides.
AFL-listed players were not included in the top 40.
Fifteen players dropped off last year’s list, including Peel premiership defender Josh Bootsma who has moved to Katanning, while fitness doubts over mercurial East Fremantle duo Brock O’Brien and George Hampson and Royals captain Kyle Anderson meant they were omitted.
Cory Dell’Olio and Leroy Jetta will return to the WAFL after completing suspensions issued from their time at Essendon, but their long absences from the game meant they were not ranked in the top 40.
Just like unranked Swans recruits Ryan Crowley and Xavier Ellis, who both had substantial AFL careers, they may still prove highly effective players this season.