Nick 'The Wizard' Watson in action for VIC Metro. Image: AFL

With the U18 AFL National Championships officially underway, the country’s best underage talent has begun to stake their claims as the top prospects on offer to clubs in 2023. 

South Australia claimed their first win of the tournament over Victoria Country on the weekend following defeats in its opening two fixtures, with the side having just one match remaining for prospects to impress. The Allies have been the most dominant side so far, claiming two victories from as many matches, defeating South Australia and Western Australia, while Victoria Metro opened their campaign with a win. 

The clear favourites to take out this year’s Championships, the Allies have six members of The Inner Sanctum’s top 20 this month, headlined by a trio of Gold Coast Academy members in Jed WalterEthan Read and Jake Rogers, alongside Tasmanian midfield pair Ryley Sanders and Colby McKercher, with the latter recording 40 disposals against Western Australia. 

Western Bulldogs father-son prospect Jordan Croft was best afield for Victoria Metro, slotting three majors as the side’s main forward target, supported by Eastern Ranges forward Nick Watson who proved a lively option in attack with three of his own. 

Livewire forward Jack Delean has been a standout for South Australia, slotting four second half goals against the Allies, while highly regarded forward Ashton Moir had his best game to date against Victoria Country. 

Number one pick favourite Harley Reid returned to the field with a bang, kicking the opening three goals of the game for Victoria Country against South Australia, while fellow AFL Academy members Darcy Wilson and Zane Duursma were also impressive. 

Several bottom agers have already begun to put their name forward ahead of the 2024 draft, with Victoria Metro trio Levi Ashcroft (31 disposals), Josh Smillie (26 disposals) and Jagga Smith (25 disposals) all dominating against South Australia, while Sid Draper and Tyler Welsh are firming as first round contenders for South Australia next year.

See the June edition of The Inner Sanctum’s 2023 AFL Draft Rankings below:

1. Harley Reid

VIC Country/Bendigo Pioneers

UTL, 185cm, 85kg

May Ranking: 1

After a month long break due to concussion symptoms, the favourite for this year’s first selection returned to the field with a bang in Victoria Country’s opening game on the weekend, slotting the game’s first three goals. While he is almost a certainty to have his name called first in November, it will be a nervous wait as to where Reid ends up, with clubs having begun discussions around trading up to secure the number one pick. 

2. Jed Walter

Allies/SUNS Academy

KEY FWD, 195cm, 91kg

May Ranking: 5

The Suns Academy power forward has been dominant for the Allies, slotting three majors in each of the side’s two National Championships matchups to date. Walter is a strong aerial presence who uses his physicality to outmatch his opponents and moves very well around the ground for his size. His form at the top level has skyrocketed him up the rankings, where he is considered by clubs to be the next best player outside of Reid. 

Jed Walter in action for the Allies. Image: AFL

3. Nick Watson

VIC Metro/Eastern Ranges 

FWD, 170cm, 67kg

May Ranking: 2

The highly skilled Victoria Metro product has returned to the forward line this month, making an immediate impact on the scoreboard with a three goal performance against South Australia. Watson possesses good pace in the forward half, crumbs well and is slick with his movement, using his stature to his advantage when the ball is in his vicinity. The Eastern Ranges product is one of the pool’s best converters from set shots. 

4. Zane Duursma

VIC Country/Gippsland Power

FWD, 189cm, 79kg

May Ranking: 3

AFL recruiters have been keen to see Duursma play through the midfield, and he has done just that in the month of June. Starting at the centre bounce, Duursma was lively for Victoria Country at Ikon Park, gathering 20 disposals and six clearances, following a string of standout performances for Gippsland Power against Calder Cannons (three goals and 22 disposals) and GWV Rebels (four goals). 

5. Nate Caddy

VIC Metro/Northern Knights 

FWD, 192cm, 91kg

May Ranking: 6

Caddy has sparked hype every time he goes out to play this season, presenting as a genuine marking option up forward, claiming marks and crashing packs. The Northern Knights product lined up in the midfield in his last Coates Talent League outing, impressing onlookers, while he featured for Carlton’s VFL side, slotting two goals. Caddy missed Victoria Metro’s opening game against South Australia, however looks set to play a big part in the remainder of the campaign. 

6. Colby McKercher


MID, 181cm, 73kg

May Ranking: 7

A 40-disposal outing against Western Australia has well and truly solidified McKercher as a top 10 prospect this year. The Tasmanian has impressed both inside and outside through the midfield, with the left footer looking composed as he works through traffic with genuine speed and burst. The Zach Merrett clone has been one of the most consistent prospects in the draft class, transferring his form from the Coates Talent League to the National Championships.

Colby McKercher in action for the Allies. Image: AFL

7. Ryley Sanders

Allies/Sandringham Dragons

MID, 186cm, 85kg

May Ranking: 8

The Tasmanian born midfielder produced one of the highlights of the National Championships with his performance against Western Australia, winning a centre clearance before slotting a goal on the run. Rocking the high socks, Sanders has cemented himself in the top 10, drawing comparisons to Jason Horne-Francis with his clearance work and ability to find space both inside and outside. 

8. Mitchell Edwards

Western Australia/Peel Thunder (Fremantle NGA)

RUCK, 206cm, 88kg

May Ranking: 11

The premier ruckman of this year’s draft pool, Edwards has been dominant against every opponent he has faced, earning first use against his direct opponent to feed his on-ballers. Edwards has a great work rate around the ground and a good vertical leap, earning praise as a modern day ruckman, in the mould of fellow Western Australian Tim English. 

9. Daniel Curtin

Western Australia/Claremont

KEY DEF, 195cm, 93kg

May Ranking: 4

The leading key defender of the 2023 class, Curtin had his work cut out for him in a tough battle against Jed Walter and the Allies. Curtin held his own, recording 18 disposals, showcasing his versatility after playing through the midfield for Claremont at WAFL Colts level. With his best footy and ability to read the play coming from behind the ball, look for the defender to bounce back in Western Australia’s remaining fixtures.

10. Connor O’Sullivan

Allies/Murray Bushrangers

KEY DEF, 198cm, 92kg

May Ranking: 10

O’Sullivan had a monster game at full back for the Allies against Western Australia, proving a strong aerial presence, with his ability to run and compete through the midfield making him perhaps the most versatile player in this year’s draft pool. The Bushrangers product looks comfortable down back, however don’t be surprised if he lines up at a centre bounce next to McKercher and Sanders at some point.

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11. Nathan Philactides

VIC Metro/Oakleigh Chargers

DEF, 181cm, 78kg

May Ranking: 13

The zippy left footed Philactides was one of Victoria Metro’s best against South Australia, showcasing his willingness to take the game on with speed and aggression, alongside his ability to play as a one-on-one defender. Most damaging with the ball in his hands, the Oakleigh Charger is one of the quickest players in the draft class, using his pace to move the ball through the corridor. 

12. Darcy Wilson

VIC Country/Murray Bushrangers

WING, 185cm, 73kg

May Ranking: 12

After a solid run of form in the Coates Talent League, the Murray Bushrangers wingman was one of Victoria Country’s best on the weekend, showcasing his ability to go forward and impact the scoreboard with two majors. Wilson possesses speed and endurance, drawing comparisons to Josh Daicos, while he isn’t afraid to lay a strong tackle and has some nice footy smarts. 

13. Ashton Moir

South Australia/Glenelg

FWD, 188cm, 84kg

May Ranking: 9

The highly regarded Moir had his best outing for the season at Ikon Park, showing glimpses of his best form. Moir looks very classy with ball in hand, possessing the best sidestep in the pool, while his ability to work through traffic is also a highly rated part of his skillset. Moir’s goal from 50 metres was a big sign of his confidence in his own ability, and will look to have a big final outing against Western Australia. 

14. Jake Rogers

Allies/SUNS Academy

MID, 171cm, 68kg

May Ranking: 14

The Suns Academy member has been a bit quieter than his previous performances, shadowed by the dominance of McKercher and Sanders in the Allies on-ball brigade. Rogers is still considered one of the better centre clearances players in the draft crop, possessing a bit of Touk Miller about his game style with his quick and composed ball movement allowing him to receive the ball multiple times as part of a link up chain moving forward. 

15. Jack Delean

South Australia/South Adelaide

FWD, 181cm, 73kg

May Ranking: 15

The livewire forward has been a standout for South Australia through their three National Championships outings, recording four goals against both the Allies and Victoria Country. Delean converts well from set shots, slotting one from 50 metres at Ikon Park, presenting on the lead as a strong overhead mark for his height, with his second quarter snag from the boundary proving as the highlight of the day.

16. Ethan Read

Allies/SUNS Academy

RUCK, 202cm, 87kg

May Ranking: Unranked

The Suns Academy ruckman enters The Inner Sanctum’s rankings for the first time this year following a pair of solid performances for the Allies. Read’s work rate around the ground and ability to get forward is outstanding for his size, however looks settled in the ruck, where he went toe to toe with Mitch Edwards and looked solid. 

17. Archer Reid

VIC Country/Gippsland Power

KEY FWD, 203cm, 93kg

May Ranking: 16

The highly rated Gippsland tall has somewhat struggled for impact in his last month or so, sparking a positional switch to the ruck. A position he looked comfortable in for the AFL Academy against Carlton, Reid again looked quite solid for Victoria Country, with the big man’s marking ability still considered to be one of the best in the class. With three games remaining, don’t be surprised if Reid does spend some time up forward at some point, where he will look to try and regain some of his bottom age form. 

18. Will Lorenz

VIC Metro/Oakleigh Chargers

MID, 186cm, 70kg

May Ranking: 18

A strong tackler who works well through traffic, the Oakleigh Chargers product has been quiet of late, however remains in first round contention with a trio of National Championships games still on the horizon. Lorenz will be hoping to translate his bottom age form to the top level after moving further up the ground to record a goal for Victoria Metro against South Australia. 

19. Jordan Croft

VIC Metro/Calder Cannons (Western Bulldogs F/S)

KEY FWD, 200cm, 80kg

May Ranking: Unranked

After securing Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (pick one) and Sam Darcy (pick two) in 2020 and 2021 respectively, the Dogs look to have another key forward on the horizon this year in the form of father son prospect Croft. The son of defender Matthew, the Cannons product booted three goals from 10 disposals in a best on ground performance for Victoria Metro over South Australia. With three games still remaining for the Metro side, the strong marking target will be looking to cement himself as a first round choice in November. 

20. Logan Morris

VIC Metro/Western Jets

KEY FWD, 191cm, 90kg

May Ranking: 20

One of the most dominant forwards in the Coates Talent League, Morris was moved to defence in Victoria Metro’s first outing, shutting down the highly regarded Ashton Moir. Morris looked comfortable in his VFL outing for Werribee and will look to build some consistency at the top level, with an inevitable return to the forward line set to provide recruiters with a stronger glimpse of his ability.

June Rankings:

IN: Ethan Read, Jordan Croft

OUT: Will Patton, Caiden Cleary

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