There’s a front-runner for one of this year’s most sought-after draft picks — and they’d be willing to part with a lot to get it.
Plus why West Coast and Hawthorn could see academy guns walk to other clubs.
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WHAT DOGS TRADE WITH SUNS COULD LOOK LIKE… AND PROSPECTS THEY’RE EYEING
The Western Bulldogs’ bold determination to move up the draft order is driven by a desire to acquire either a star midfielder or hybrid forward at the top of this year’s Under 18 class, according to rival clubs.
Gold Coast’s first selection in this year’s draft (Pick 4) is up for grabs, with the Suns widely expected to part with the pick to secure maximum points and help them match inevitably early rival club bids on their top three Academy prospects: Key forward Jed Walter, versatile ruck Ethan Read and dynamic midfielder Jake Rogers.
Several teams have already been linked to a play for that Suns’ selection, including the Bulldogs, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney.
But rival clubs spoken to by foxfooty.com.au this week believe the Dogs are the clear front-runners for the prized pick and will put forward the best offer, as they’d be prepared to part with Pick 10, the first-round selection tied to Brisbane’s finishing position – which they acquired last year as part of the Josh Dunkley deal (currently Pick 17) – and, if needed, their own future first-rounder for Pick 4 and something else from the Suns back.
Sources said they also wouldn’t be surprised if the Suns then split Pick 10, which would also attract an array of bidders considering the talent in the top 15 of this year’s draft class.
While there’s still ample time until November’s national draft, the Dogs – should they ultimately get their hands on the Gold Coast selection – have been linked to star Tasmanian midfielder Colby McKercher and electric Eastern Ranges small forward Nick Watson. One source said the Dogs are keen to add a much-needed elite midfield talent like McKercher to their list, while another suggested the club was keen on star small forward Watson to partner Cody Weightman and balance the key-position heavy forward line.
The Dogs in the past three drafts have used first-round picks on key forward Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Pick 1, 2020), 208cm utility Sam Darcy (Pick 2, 2021) and key defender Jedd Busslinger (Pick 13, 2022), while they also traded in key defender Liam Jones and tall forward Rory Lobb during the 2022 exchange period.
The club is also balancing the prospect of a rival club bidding on father-son gun Jordan Croft – an athletic 200cm key forward who’s the son of former Bulldog Matthew Croft – in the middle to later stages of the first round.
2023 Draft Class: Nicholas Watson | 02:23
A ball magnet with an excellent left-foot kick, great inside-outside balance, workrate, agility, composure and burst from stoppage, McKercher has been likened to Essendon captain Zach Merrett. He finished second in the Larke Medal voting after averaging 33 disposals, six marks, six clearances and five inside 50s across four national championships games.
A genuine goalsneak, Watson finished as the leading goalkicker of the carnival, booting 14.6 for Vic Metro as he showed off his unbelievable goal sense, speed, finishing ability and cleanliness at ground level. He’s as fun and dynamic a prospect as we’ve seen for a while – and a player who’ll draw AFL fans through the turnstiles.
Dogs list boss Sam Power last week confirmed his club would “definitely consider” making a play for the Suns’ pick.
“We’ve got an open mind towards all of those types of things,” Power told AFL Media’s ‘Gettable’ podcast.
“We’ll analyse that and whether that’s the right option. We’ll also analyse whether there’s other things we can do to maximise those two first-round selections. That might be taking them into the draft as well. We might see that, at the end of the day, as the best option.
“Those conversations, not only with Gold Coast but with all clubs, will definitely heat up and increase over the next couple of weeks.”
Melbourne, which already holds Pick 5 due to last year’s Luke Jackson trade with Fremantle, is also viewed as a club right in the mix to acquire the Suns’ Pick 4. The Demons also hold their own first-rounder (currently Pick 15), the Dockers’ second-rounder (24) and their own second-rounder (currently Pick 34) – picks that all could be used in a deal with Gold Coast.
Rival clubs also believe the Dees are keeping close tabs on McKercher, Watson and exciting Gippsland Power forward Zane Duursma, although the latter player is unlikely to slide past Hawthorn’s first pick.
EAGLES PROSPECT’S RANGE ‘ONE OF DRAFT’S GREAT MYSTERIES’
An exciting small forward from Western Australia is coming with a rush, yet his draft range remains one of this year’s biggest curiosities.
Subiaco goalkicker – and West Coast Next Generation Academy prospect – Lance Collard has given AFL scouts ample to think about after a stunning back-end to his draft year at WAFL colts level, booting 10 goals in two finals.
Collard set up Subiaco’s elimination final win over West Perth a fortnight ago, booting five of his team’s first seven goals – including the first four across the first quarter and a half. Then on Saturday, he almost dragged Subi over the line again, booting another five goals from eight disposals in a nine-point semi-final loss to East Fremantle.
The 18-year-old finished his WAFL colts campaign with 32 goals from 11 games to sit third on the competition goalkicking table – although his average of 2.9 majors per outing ranked first – after his 2022 campaign was hindered by injury.
Collard had just one standout performance – 2.2 against Vic Country – in a quiet national carnival for WA a few months ago, although clubs were sympathetic to the fact he had asked to spend more time with his family during that period.
Some recruiters believe Collard is the most talented WA player this year – a pool that includes an array of possible first-round prospects.
Collard, who grew up a Fremantle supporter, is tied to the Eagles via their Next Generation Academy. Yet West Coast can only match a bid on him if it lands outside the top 40 picks.
One recruiter suggested to foxfooty.com.au Collard’s selection range was “one of the great mysteries of the draft” this year.
Collard is supremely gifted on the footy field, blessed with an enormous leap, electric speed and great goal nous, while his return at WAFL colts level and defensive pressure improvement is undeniable. On talent alone, according to some scouts, he’s truly worthy of being selected inside the top 40 – which would see the Eagles lose access to him, unless they pick him directly.
But recruiters during the year also would’ve liked to have seen Collard spend more time outside the 50m arc and get involved up the field at colts level. There’s also a view that whichever team drafts him would need to take a long-term approach to help maximise his immense talent at the top level.
Collard is one of 12 WA-based players to be invited to October’s national combine.
Versatile 195cm Claremont prospect Daniel Curtin should be the first WA player drafted, with rival clubs expecting either West Coast or North Melbourne to take him within the opening few picks.
Curtin had 13 disposals and six marks for Claremont in its semi-final loss to Subiaco on Sunday in what was his sixth consecutive WAFL league match. As Curtin played five colts games earlier in the year, he’ll be eligible to represent Claremont in the colts grand final in a few weeks.
Powerful mid-sized Subiaco prospect Koltyn Tholstrup, in the same WAFL league game, impressed with a solid outing, booting one goal from 12 disposals and six marks. AFL recruiters all year have raved about Tholstrup’s character, while his speed and ability to turn his disposals into scores – either for himself or teammates – also excites clubs.
Swan Districts defender Riley Hardeman, East Fremantle small forward Koen Sanchez and Peel Thunder duo Clay Hall and Mitch Edwards are all WA players in the first and second-round mix, although Dockers NGA prospect Edwards has slid a touch this year according to recruiters.
STAR MID’S FINALS SPECIAL AS NORTH’S PACKAGE BID OFFICIALLY BEGINS
Just days before North Melbourne met with the AFL to continue talks about a possible draft assistance package, Ryley Sanders – the star midfielder central to the Kangaroos’ bid – produced another excellent performance for the Sandringham Dragons.
Sanders was among the Dragons’ best players in their 52-point Coates Talent League win over the Northern Knights, racking up 29 disposals, 10 tackles, seven marks and five inside 50s.
Roos’ bid for draft help | 01:06
The Tasmanian product, who’s been boarding at Melbourne Grammar, shapes as the key piece in North Melbourne’s looming draft assistance package request. The Roos are not only keen to gain access to Sanders – this year’s Larke Medallist who’s widely regarded as a top-10 prospect – via an approved Next Generation Academy application, they also want the ability to pre-list him, like what the Suns did with zone selections Alex Davies and Joel Jeffrey in 2020.
Multiple reports indicated Kangaroos chief executive Jennifer Watt, football manager Todd Viney and strategy boss James Gallagher met with the AFL on Tuesday about the possibility of receiving an assistance package for the second consecutive season.
The Roos are expected to officially lodge an application in the coming days, with the AFL Commission to then hand down a verdict in Grand Final week.
While most rival clubs spoken to by foxfooty.com.au remain incensed at the possibility Sanders could walk to the Roos without costing any draft capital, they believe the AFL would be more likely to grant North father-son and northern academy-style rights to Sanders and be allowed to match a bid on him – no matter where it’d come in the draft.
Sanders wasn’t the only Dragons prospect to catch the eye against the Knights, with speedy 190cm utility Charlie Edwards continuing his strong back-end to the season as he booted one goal from 22 disposals.
While he only received a state combine invite – not one to the national combine – some scouts believe Edwards is now in the top-25 mix. He’s kicked five goals and averaged 23.2 disposals, 4.8 inside 50s and 3.6 marks from his past five Talent League games.
Some clubs were also pleased to see 182cm rebounding backman Archie Roberts – a possible first-round pick – show better decision-making and defensive traits against the Knights, while 200cm Ollie Murphy had 11 touches, six marks and five rebound 50s as he remained in the mix to be taken in the middle stages of the first round.
For the Knights, powerful 192cm forward Nate Caddy performed admirably – considering he was often double and triple-teamed inside 50 – as he finished with 2.3 from 11 disposals and seven marks.
– Hawthorn appears increasingly likely to miss out on their top NGA prospect Tew Jiath, who’s now expected to be drafted within the first 40 picks. Jiath – the younger brother of Hawks defender Changkuoth Jiath – has surged up draft boards during the back-end of Gippsland Power’s Coates Talent League campaign, providing eye-catching dash, dare and intercept ability off half-back. Jiath (187cm) backed up his 29-disposal wildcard round display with another 15 touches and six rebound 50s against Tasmania on Saturday. The Hawks have rights to match a bid on Jiath if it comes after Pick 40 … but rival clubs believe he’ll be drafted before that threshold.
– Arie Schoenmaker was everywhere on the field in Tasmania’s win over the Oakleigh Chargers, booting 1.0 from 32 disposals, eight rebound 50s, seven marks and six inside 50s. An intriguing 194cm prospect, Schoenmaker is an elite kick, but clubs are hopeful of seeing some defensive improvement and looking forward to interviewing him at the upcoming combine.
– Dynamic small forward Jack Callinan was also prominent for Tassie, booting a game-high three goals from 16 disposals in arguably his most influential Coates Talent League game in months. Teammate James Leake – who’s roared into first-round contention in recent weeks with impressive outings as a forward – had less impact, booting one goal from 15 disposals as he was used in various roles.
– Demons father-son prospect Kynan Brown – the son of former Melbourne defender Nathan Brown – backed up his brilliant five-goal, 25-disposal wildcard round display with another two goals and 20 touches against the Ranges. A 181cm Chargers prospect, Brown has had a consistent 2023 campaign across all levels, but clubs wouldn’t be surprised if the Dees were able to pick him up in the rookie draft.
– Scouts continue to like what they see from 189cm Eastern Ranges prospect Brayden Laplanche in defence. After spending most of the season inside the Ranges’ forward 50, Laplanche has been shifted into the backline across the past four games, including against the Oakleigh Chargers on the weekend where he had 18 disposals, five marks and eight rebound 50s.