The AFL Academy defeated Carlton VFL at Marvel Stadium on Saturday. Image: AFL

Following a month long community break in the Coates Talent League, draft hopefuls have featured at a range of levels across the country, quickly separating the top talent from the rest of the pool as the 2023 AFL Draft order begins to take shape. 

Victorian prospects were given the opportunity to audition for a state call up with a series of Metro and Country trial games being held across the break. A number of bottom age players were on display in these matches, with the likes of Oakleigh pair Finn O’Sullivan and Jagga Smith, Eastern gun Josh Smillie and Calder forward Isaac Kako firming as first round contenders in 2024. 

A four goal performance from Western Bulldogs Father Son prospect Jordan Croft has placed him firmly on the draft radar, while Dandenong’s Harry DeMattia and Greater Western Victoria’s Joel Freijah are others generating early interest. 

The WAFL Colts competition is well underway with Claremont forward Sam van Rooyen, Swan Districts product Luke Kelly and Subiaco prospect Lance Collard catching the eye of recruiters as they earned honours in Western Australia’s squad for the upcoming National Championships. 

In South Australia, Hawthorn Father Son William McCabe and his Central Districts teammate Liam Fawcett have impressed, while Norwood’s Logan Evans has joined the pair in South Australia’s National Championships squad. Tasmanian skipper Tom Beaumont is another that has impressed recently, following an official AFL license being handed to Tasmania. 

Forward pair Koltyn Tholstrup (Subiaco) and Jack Callinan (Tasmania) remain in strong contention, while North Adelaide’s Kane McAuliffe and Gold Coast ruckman Ethan Read are firmly in the frame. 

A number of the top players in this year’s class were put through their paces in the VFL for the first time, with a number of recruiters present at ETU Stadium to see the first glimpse of Harley Reid in action for Carlton. AFL Academy members Caiden Cleary (Sydney), Zane Duursma (Casey), Nathan Philactides (Richmond), Cooper Simpson (Casey) and George Stevens (Geelong) were among the VFL debutants in May, while Logan Morris (Werribee) and Harvey Thomas (GWS) also got their first taste at senior level. 

With the midseason draft now just a fortnight away, a number of 19 year olds have put themselves in the frame to be drafted following strong performances in the pair of Young Guns matches this month. Eastern’s Clay Tucker, Gippsland’s Ryan Maric, and Oakleigh’s Will Elliot are leading the race, while overage Sydney Father Son prospect Indhi Kirk is another who has had a strong start to the season.

19 AFL Academy members headline The Inner Sanctum’s top May prospects following Australia’s second exhibition match against Carlton’s VFL team at Marvel Stadium, with a trio of fresh faces entering this month’s top 20. 

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

1. Harley Reid

VIC Country/Bendigo Pioneers

UTL, 185cm, 85kg

April Ranking: 1

The clear favourite for this year’s top selection, Reid had a testing month against some senior bodies. The Bendigo star was quickly able to adapt and match the physicality of the level, looking settled in a role off half back. Reid made a pair of appearances for Carlton in the VFL, dominating against Brisbane with 20 disposals and a game high 8 tackles. Reid was quieter than his usual standards in the AFL Academy game against Carlton VFL, suffering a head knock late in the game. It was an off field headline that perhaps gave Reid’s number one chances the greatest deal of help however, acting as the water boy for his local side Tongala. 

2. Nick Watson

VIC Metro/Eastern Ranges 

FWD, 170cm, 67kg

April Ranking: 7

The Wizard has had a big month, tearing it up at school level with bags of 5 and 7 for Caulfield Grammar. Like Reid however, it is his move to half back and injection into the midfield that has recruiters talking about the electric small. Watson had a strong finish to the Coates Talent League before the break, with the Eastern Ranges gun playing at both ends of the ground in the AFL Academy game. Watson’s versality has only added to his already impressive skillset, quickly moving to close the gap at the top end of the draft class as he means business in the lead up to the National Championships.

Nick Watson in action for the AFL Academy. Image: AFL

3. Zane Duursma

VIC Country/Gippsland Power

FWD, 189cm, 79kg

April Ranking: 3

Duursma was one the AFL Academy’s standouts against Carlton VFL, playing both on ball and up forward. The Gippsland gun kicked the goal of the day with a burst out of the centre bounce before finishing the job on the run. Duursma featured at VFL level for reigning premiers Casey, following his preseason training program with Melbourne over the summer. With the National Championships quickly approaching, Duursma will look to win more of the ball, with his 9 disposals failing to light up the stat sheet at Marvel Stadium. 

4. Daniel Curtin

Western Australia/Claremont

KEY DEF, 195cm, 93kg

April Ranking: 4

The leading key defender in the 2023 draft pool, Curtin has featured in the centre for Claremont in recent weeks, putting his versatility on display in the WAFL Colts competition. Curtin slotted back into his natural position in defence for the AFL Academy, proving a tough opponent to match up on in the air. There will be a big watch on where he is deployed for Western Australia during the National Championships considering the thin stock of key defenders available around the league. 

5. Jed Walter

Allies/SUNS Academy

KEY FWD, 195cm, 91kg

April Ranking: 5

If Gold Coast fans weren’t already excited to add Walter to their lineup next year, the prospect of his partnership with Ben King is now a mouth watering combination following a series of dominant performances from the key forward. Walter put his strength and physicality on display at Marvel Stadium, proving a difficult aerial matchup. Walter slotted a goal around the body early in the match, with the Suns Academy prospect looking better every time he plays. 

6. Nate Caddy

VIC Metro/Northern Knights 

FWD, 192cm, 91kg

April Ranking: 6

Caddy has well and truly settled back into life in football after a leg injury kept him out during the early stages of the season. With a trio of key forwards lining up for the AFL Academy, Caddy played as a genuine marking option up forward, taking some strong contested grabs and crashing packs, while his ability to move as easily as he does at his height makes him an exciting prospect for recruiters going forward. Caddy will look to tighten his game, after a few minor hiccups proved costly against Carlton. 

7. Colby McKercher


MID, 181cm, 73kg

April Ranking: 11

With Tasmania’s entry into the AFL becoming official, there is perhaps no home grown name that would be higher up on the team’s wish list than Colby McKercher in 2027. With a standard two year contract, followed by a likely two year extension, McKercher is due to be out of contract at the time of Tasmania’s arrival into the league, leaving clubs with a tough choice to make for one of the country’s best underage players. Likened to Essendon’s Zach Merrett, McKercher was a standout for the AFL Academy, accumulating 20 disposals as both an inside and outside midfielder. 

8. Ryley Sanders

Allies/Sandringham Dragons

MID, 186cm, 85kg

April Ranking: 12

Although now residing in Victoria as a member of the Sandringham Dragons, Sanders is another 2023 prospect with ties to Tasmania, though the same concerns may not impact him the way they may effect McKercher. Sanders starred in the middle for the AFL Academy, with his stoppage work being praised as he collected 24 disposals. If he continues to impact the game at the rate that he has, there is a strong chance Sanders finishes the year as a top 10 selection. 

9. Ashton Moir

South Australia/Glenelg

FWD, 188cm, 84kg

April Ranking: 2

With little impact across the two AFL Academy matches this season, it has been a tough start for Moir, who was been unable to transition his SANFL U18s form to the next level. Moir has spent the season predominately playing up forward, however an injection into the midfield could be the answer to his struggles, as he may look towards fellow South Australian Mattaes Phillipou for inspiration on a midfield-forward mix at the upcoming National Championships. There is no question of Moir’s genuine x-factor and skill, however it will be consistency that has AFL recruiters questioning where he ranks among the pool. 

Ashton Moir in action for the AFL Academy. Image: AFL

10. Connor O’Sullivan

Allies/Murray Bushrangers

KEY DEF, 198cm, 92kg

April Ranking: 16

Returning to his natural position in defence, O’Sullivan has been impressive to start the season, with his ability to play both key position and through the midfield certainly catching the eye of recruiters. The Murray product has played all over the ground in the Coates Talent League, with his strength and tackling ability being the major talking points around O’Sullivan. With a lack of key defenders available at the top end of the draft, there will be intrigue around where he settles as the year unfolds. 

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11. Mitchell Edwards

Western Australia/Peel Thunder (Fremantle NGA)

RUCK, 206cm, 88kg

April Ranking: 15

The Fremantle Next Generation Academy product has dominated for Peel to start the year, with a National Championships appearance for Western Australia already under his belt. The top ruck choice in the pool, Edwards had a strong game at Marvel Stadium, competing in the majority of the ruck contests around the ground, easily finding a member of the AFL Academy’s on ball brigade.

12. Darcy Wilson

VIC Country/Murray Bushrangers

WING, 185cm, 73kg

April Ranking: Unranked

Wilson has quickly become one of this year’s top draft prospects with a great run of form for Murray in the Coates Talent League. Wilson has slotted in nicely on the wing and up forward, with his ability to apply rundown tackles certainly exciting a few recruiters. Wilson finished with a game high 6 marks to go with a goal in a solid outing for the AFL Academy, where he will look to continue to perform for VIC Country throughout the year. There is growing belief that Wilson could be considered a top five selection by November. 

13. Nathan Philactides

VIC Metro/Oakleigh Chargers

DEF, 181cm, 78kg

April Ranking: 19

Fresh off an appearance for Richmond’s VFL side, the speedy Chargers half back was one of the AFL Academy’s best against Carlton, putting his run and dash on display for recruiters. Philactides has no issue taking the game on under pressure, using his pace and excellent ball use to his advantage, working nicely to transition the ball into attack. Philactides’ tackling pressure was immense, while he was able to hold his own in one on one marking contests along the wing.

Nathan Philactides in action for the AFL Academy. Image: AFL

14. Jake Rogers

Allies/SUNS Academy

MID, 171cm, 68kg

April Ranking: Unranked

It was a dominant day for the Gold Coast Academy member, amassing 26 disposals as the side’s premier on baller. Rogers’ draft stocks have seen a rapid rise over the last few weeks, claiming best on ground honours for the AFL Academy’s pair of exhibition matches. Rogers recorded a game high 6 clearances and was lively in the final quarter, winning the ball out the centre on multiple occasions, with his speed and forward 50 entries making him an exciting prospect for Gold Coast fans. 

15. Jack Delean

South Australia/South Adelaide

FWD, 181cm, 73kg

April Ranking: 17

The South Australian forward was fresh off a 7 goal performance for South Adelaide and looked quite comfortable in the AFL Academy’s game against Carlton. Spending time between the midfield and up forward, Delean racked up 16 disposals and was classy with his ball use, occasionally linking up in the side’s chain of handballs in attack. A big National Championships opportunity awaits Delean, where he can look to star for South Australia and climb up the draft rankings. 

16. Archer Reid

VIC Country/Gippsland Power

KEY FWD, 203cm, 93kg

April Ranking: 9

It was a quiet day at Marvel Stadium for Archer Reid after the Gippsland tall got on the end of one to put through the first goal of the match. Often being a marking target in the forward half, Reid struggled to get hand to ball, however he did spend some time pinch hitting in the ruck where he looked quite comfortable, finishing with 4 hitouts. Reid will look to the National Championships to try and regain the form that touted him as a potential top 10 selection.  

Archer Reid in action for the AFL Academy. Image: AFL

17. Will Patton

South Australia/West Adelaide

DEF, 193cm, 79kg

April Ranking: 18

The South Australian intercept defender was solid for the AFL Academy, collecting 3 marks and a series of spoils, as his aerial ability was highly regarded on the day. Like some other names on this list, Patton will look to bridge the gap between SANFL U18s and the National Championships, hoping to improve his consistency moving forward. 

18. Will Lorenz

VIC Metro/Oakleigh Chargers

MID, 186cm, 70kg

April Ranking: 8

Playing as an inside and outside midfielder for the AFL Academy, the big bodied Lorenz has struggled for impact of late, recording 11 disposals at Marvel Stadium. An impressive bottom age prospect for Oakleigh, Lorenz’s move to half back for the Chargers has failed to translate at the next level, priming him for a big campaign for VIC Metro this year. 

19. Caiden Cleary

Allies/Sydney Swans Academy

MID, 180cm

April Ranking: Unranked

The Swans have unearthed another gem from their academy, with Cleary quickly becoming a potential first round threat in November. The midfielder has earned praise for his ability to continuously rack up high contested possession numbers, recently featuring at senior level for Sydney’s VFL side. Cleary was the leading tackle getter for the AFL Academy against Carlton with 5, in addition to 13 disposals and 3 clearances, placing him firmly in the top bracket of the Academy’s performers at Marvel Stadium. 

20. Logan Morris

VIC Metro/Western Jets

KEY FWD, 191cm, 90kg

April Ranking: 14

The only non AFL Academy player on this last, Morris has built on his strong start to the year with some impressive form in the VIC Metro trial games. Leading the Coates Talent League with 13 goals from 4 matches, Morris made his VFL debut for Werribee, slotting 2 majors on the day. Morris consistently converts well from set shots, while his contested marking ability will be tested against the best at the National Championships.

May Rankings:

IN: Darcy Wilson, Jake Rogers, Caiden Cleary

OUT: Koltyn Tholstrup, Kane McAuliffe, Harry De Mattia

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