THEY'RE the unheralded members of a team. The glue. The players that might not get the gawdy statistics but still have a big say in their team's success.

They are the wingers.

While different clubs and coaches tweak the role depending on their system, the fundamentals remain the same. 

It's easy to overlook the impact of the men on the flanks, so dug into how we – the media, pundits and fans – should judge a winger's performance.

In doing so, we spoke to several assistant coaches from around the League and had an in-depth chat with Gold Coast winger Brayden Fiorini.

What's a winger's primary role? What are they required to do at stoppages? Do they have a chance to freelance? What physical attributes do they need? Are they judged on attacking involvement? 

Broad expectations of a winger
It's a complex role.

As one assistant, who has spent time coaching each line at three different clubs, said, structurally wingers are "critical" for both attack and defence.

Another described them as the "balance pieces" around stoppages that are there to fix any breakdowns in a team system.

They are big communicators. It's one of the most important parts of their job. Any break in play gives wingers a chance to direct the half-forwards, midfielders and half-backs to where they should be standing.

"When you break it down to stoppages, we're that outside layer," Fiorini said.

"We can see everything around us, so we're communicating to, first and foremost, the inside mids, helping them identify what's going on.

"It's a lot of instructions. Ball-ups are a little chaotic. Throw ins are a bit better, you get 10ish seconds and can set up the stoppage a bit better."

Wingers need to hold width and make the ground seem big. There are a few exceptions, but we'll get to that later.

They need to be among the team's fittest players, but also capable of winning a contested ball.

"Wingers need to own their side of the ground," one assistant said.

"Ed Langdon plays 100 per cent game time on that outer wing at the MCG. Kamdyn McIntosh just held his width outside in that great Richmond team. That’s the reason wingers don't get the numbers others do – they don't run into the space of midfielders."

"Structurally from stoppage, as a wingman you're like a quarterback … you see the whole stoppage," the same assistant said.

"You've got forwards coming up from behind you to go inside and try to disrupt and you need to be communicating with guys on the inside to let them know. And you need to communicate with the high half-back to tell him to hold."

Skinny side winger
This is the narrow side of the ground at a stoppage.

It wasn't that long ago most clubs would use a "sweeper" off the back of the stoppage. Think Andrew Gaff in West Coast's strong teams standing 15m behind the congestion.

Now, with teams wanting to compress the ground more, most wingers on the skinny side come up into the contest, or ever-so-slightly off the back of it. Think of Langdon at the Demons and Jarrod Berry at Brisbane before he started spending more time onball.

"If you lose a stoppage and it (ball) goes over your head, it's about getting back first to help the backs bring it out," Fiorini said.

"We talk about the first few steps, really exploding out of the contest to get back and help our backs, because it's usually an even number contest back there. We can get back to outnumber the opposition."

If your team wins the ball, it's a little different. Rather than bursting forward to outnumber ahead of the ball, the emphasis is to "hold" and number off against opposing midfielders that might stay around the contest.

Fat side winger
This is the open side of the ground from a contest, which can be just over half the field, or as much as 90 per cent of it.

This is when most wingers sacrifice the hunt for numbers, remain disciplined and keep their width.

The principles remain the same – lose the contest and get back to help your defenders. Coaches want their wingers to be an outlet option if they win the ball back and still be "metres gained" players.

If they win the stoppage, be available, and then push forward. There, they can either get involved in attack, and just as importantly, be a layer of defence to "close off the exits" defensively if the opposition wins the ball back inside its defensive 50.

"You're the captain of the open side of the ground," another assistant coach said.

"If the opposition can't get to the open side of the ground, more often than not the winger is doing his job."

"You might not touch the ball, but you still feel a part of it, and you're helping the team, which is really rewarding," he said. 

"Sometimes you get it and sometimes we're using it through the middle because I've opened up space my drawing an opponent wider, which is more dangerous.

"As a whole team, players out there are recognising that more and rewarding it and getting around each other more. It keeps you wanting to do it."

Physical attributes of a winger
Formerly, you'd get your two time trial winners, stick them on the wing and let them run up and down all day.

Now, although they're usually among the strongest endurance runners at each clubs, there's a bit more that goes into it.

"You have to be a good contest player, especially skinny side around the stoppage, you are another midfielder there and get put in those situations where you have to be strong over the ball or lay a big tackle," Fiorini said. 

That still has to be mixed with high-level endurance. Most wingers will get somewhere from two to four rotations a match, compared to four or six for the midfielders.

Total distance covered is high – up to 17km a game – but just as importantly, so is the high-speed volume.  

Do winger's have a licence to roam?
Although they were described earlier as the "captain" of a side of the ground, a conduit between half-forward, midfield and half-back, some teams still let their men freelance, or "criss-cross".

Sydney's young star Errol Gulden can roam infield – and why wouldn't the Swans want the ball in his hands as much as possible – as does St Kilda's Brad Hill and previously Isaac Smith.

Ollie Dempsey pushes forward a bit more for Geelong, while Jeremy Cameron roves.

"It comes down to what, and who, you've got and how you can maximise your strengths," one of the assistants said.

"The best coaches have a system but have got to be smart enough to identify what strengths your players have got.

How do we judge a winger's game?
As the above shows, there's no cookie-cutter definition of what is expected of a winger – each a little varied to the next.

However, the fundamentals are the same. Fiorini says it requires a lot of homework, which he loves, to balance what Damien Hardwick and the Suns want, against what an opposition will throw at them.

What sort of feedback does he get in a post-match review?

"A big part of it is the stoppage setups," he said.

"Rarely do we shows skills, it's basically our patterns. Did I help the rest of the team offensively, defensively and at stoppages? A lot of it is around the connection, which is hard to see when you're in the stands.

"Did I get back to help our defence as hard as I could? On offence did I have the correct patterns to allow us to play and attack and get the ball forward? And then did we help lock it in our front half, close out exits?"

Kicks, handballs, marks and goals only tell part of the story, like it did in round seven against West Coast.

"It was halfway through the second and I hadn't touched the ball or been near it," he said.

"Subconsciously I had those thoughts of, 'How am I going, am I going to touch it today?'

"This is where I've become mentally stronger. I just kept playing the structure and eventually it turned.

"You help the team in other ways by not touching the ball and I get just as much out of that as I did when I was getting 25 as an inside midfielder."

So, spare a thought for the wingers. When you're wondering how Jeremy Sharp or Josh Daicos or Nik Cox or Lachie Sholl are going, check out what they're doing off the ball as much as on it. It might surprise you just how valuable the men on the flanks really are.