Will Ashcroft was one of many club debutants this weekend, and a major part of Brisbane's midfield in their win over Sydney (Image: Josh Davis)

Footy is back and isn’t it good? Thursday and Friday saw the return of (mostly) competitive football as 16 of the AFL clubs engaged in practice matches around the country. The GWS Giants and Western Bulldogs went without, instead putting all their faith in next weekend’s trials.

New recruits were on full display, and we got an early look at some premiership contenders flexing their muscles. Full stats have not been released for this weekend’s games, however, The Inner Sanctum has compiled the Centre Bounce Attendance (CBA) numbers to have a look at who the main men are for your club.

The Inner Sanctum’s analysis of the AFL’s week one of practice matches:

Geelong, 20.12 (138) def Hawthorn, 7.11 (53)

Match Structure – 4 x 30-minute quarters, no time on.

The Cats continued exactly where they left off in September, comfortably beating the Hawks on Thursday afternoon. The Premiers rarely got out of second gear as their structure and discipline preyed on the new-look Hawthorn side.

Geelong’s recruits all stood out, Jack Bowes played one half and looked composed in the contest, Tanner Bruhn had a strong contested game over four quarters and Ollie Henry presented well and earnt himself four goals.

The Hawks were best served by Jai Newcombe who will take over the number one midfield role this season, he was terrific in the contested and finished with a goal as well. Josh Ward and Will Day both impressed spending considerable time in the midfield as well.

Percentage of Centre Bounces attended, by team:


66.7% – Tanner Bruhn

50% – Max Holmes

40% – Patrick Dangerfield

36.7% – Brandon Parfitt

33.3% – Cameron Guthrie

30% – Tom Atkins

20% – Jhye Clark

13.3% – Jack Bowes

Can’t be certain on what to read into the Cats’ CBAs, team wasn’t under much pressure so could afford to share them around. Could be looking to inject more speed and youth through the middle, next week against Brisbane should be more reflective of their round one line-up.


66.7% – Jai Newcombe

56.7% – James Worpel

50% – Will Day

40% – Josh Ward

30% – Henry Hustwaite

23.3% – Finn Maginness

20% – Conor Nash

A great mix of kids, the Hawks had no reason not to play their best side, Newcombe and Worpel had the lion’s share as expected. Hustwaite looked very composed under pressure, wouldn’t be surprised to see him through the middle in 2023.

Essendon, 11.14 (80) def Gold Coast, 11.9 (75)

Match Structure – 5 x 25-minute periods, no time on.

The Bombers got off to a flying start to 2023 at a windy Carrara oval, putting away the Suns in a narrow contest. The game was planned to run through six periods but was finished after the fifth.

Essendon’s small forwards were the standouts, Jye Menzie kicked three goals and put himself squarely in the frame for round one. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti returned to the field and showed glimpses of his best. The Bombers looking for a front-half pressure game with a drastically improved roster of smalls.

Gold Coast’s Bailey Humphrey put his hand up for round one with a classy display, the top-10 draft pick didn’t shy away from the physicality as he worked through the contest. Sam Flanders shared his time between the forward line and midfield, finishing with two goals. New recruit Ben Long was impressive at half-back, being used as a distributor.

Percentage of Centre Bounces attended, by team:


78.3% – Darcy Parish

73.9% – Will Setterfield

47.8% – Zach Merrett

43.5% – Jye Caldwell

39.1% – Archie Perkins

34.8% – Dylan Shiel

The Bombers’ midfield mix was heavily affected by load management and role-changing, Merrett only played three of the five quarters. Parish continued his 2022 form, racking up possessions in the contest. While Setterfield showed glimpses of his end-of-season form from Carlton, looking strong at the coalface.

Gold Coast:

60.9% – Noah Anderson

60.9% – Matt Rowell

47.8% – Alex Davies

39.1% – David Swallow

39.1% – Connor Blakely

17.4% – Bailey Humphrey

8.7% – Sam Flanders

The main message here is the absence of Touk Miller, he’s expected to be there for round one and will be a main attendee of the centre bounce. Could mean an even drop for all these names or a couple miss out entirely. Watch next week against Sydney to be sure.

Richmond, 11.9 (75) def North Melbourne, 10.13 (73)

Match Structure – 4 x 25-minute quarters, no time on.

Don’t let the scores deceive you, the Tigers were far and away the better side. Richmond went through the paces for three quarters while keeping the Kangaroos at arm’s length, before taking off most of their stars for the last quarter.

That isn’t to say North wasn’t good, Alistair Clarkson’s men looked much better than previous years. Luke Davies-Uniacke picked up where he left off last year, and looked to be in better control of his size than ever before. Harry Sheezel was clean with the ball for his three goals in an impressive performance.

Will Phillips and Tom Powell both looked ready to take the next step with mature stints in the midfield, while Cam Zurhaar attended a large chunk of centre bounces.

Tigers recruit Tim Taranto couldn’t have started life at punt road much better, the former Giant kicked three goals while dominating the midfield. Hopper also turned heads after the move from GWS, Dion Prestia played three periods and was outstanding.

Percentage of Centre Bounces attended, by team:


70.4% – Tim Taranto

70.4% – Jacob Hopper

70.4% – Jayden Short

55.6% – Dion Prestia (only played three quarters)

22.2% – Thomson Dow (played one quarter)

A small and settled midfield mix, absences that may impact numbers are Liam Baker, Shai Bolton and Jack Graham. Taranto, Hopper and Prestia the main setup early in the game, very intentional performance. Likely a full dress rehearsal.

North Melbourne:

81.5% – Luke Davies-Uniacke

66.7% – Cam Zurhaar

66.7% – Will Phillips

59.3% – Tom Powell

11.1% – Paul Curtis

11.1% – Liam Shiels

Jy Simpkin and Ben Cunnington were missing from this line-up, expect a more even spread across the midfield come round one. Davies-Uniacke impressed as the main man and should carry that into the 2023 season. Keep an eye on next week against the Bulldogs for a more accurate mix.

Brisbane, 15.9 (99) def Sydney, 8.6 (54)

Match Structure – 4 x 25-minute quarters, no time on.

The Lions proved too much for a depleted Swans outfit, only leading by two points at half time, Brisbane turned up the pressure and ran away from last year’s Grand Finalists. Their new recruits all had successful days out at Tramway oval.

Josh Dunkley split his time between the midfield and forward line, applying heavy pressure and kicking two goals. Will Ashcroft showed his class once again, leaving no doubts that he’ll be there round one.

Jack Gunston kicked three for the game and was by far the Lions most threatening forward. While Cam Rayner didn’t leave the backline in his first official outing in his new role.

Errol Gulden was by far the best on the ground for the Swans playing primarily as a midfielder. Callum Mills and Chad Warner both spent time forward as well as in the centre. Young talls Lachlan McAndrew and Will Edwards battled hard against a strong ruck opposition.

Percentage of Centre Bounces attended, by team:


66.7% – Lachie Neale (only played three quarters)

66.7% – Josh Dunkley

62.9% – Hugh McCluggage

44.4% – Will Ashcroft

33.3% – Zac Bailey

18.5% – Rhys Mathieson (only played last quarter)

7.4% – Deven Robertson

The only player to come in for the Lions is Dayne Zorko, Jarrod Berry played the game on the wing and seems to have lost his rotation. A large portion of Ashcroft’s attendances came in the second half. Neale only missed two centre bounces for the time he was on-field.


70.4% – Errol Gulden

70.4% – Luke Parker

55.5% – James Rowbottom

44.4% – Chad Warner

33.3% – Callum Mills (only played three quarters)

14.8% – Matt Roberts

7.4% – Isaac Heeney

3.7% – Justin McInerny

Sydney were missing a host of names from their Grand Final side, however not many of those will affect the midfield. Errol Gulden is the obvious standout and appears to be an early name for a 2023 breakout.

Carlton, 12.12 (84) def Collingwood 11.8 (74)

Match Structure – 4 x 20-minute quarters, with time on.

Carlton and Collingwood played the only full game of the weekend on Friday morning, with the Blues taking the consolatory victory after round 23 last season. The win however, was partially overshadowed by a rolled ankle to the reigning Brownlow Medallist Patrick Cripps.

Blake Acres nominated himself as the best acquisition of the trade period, with the Blues only parting with a future third-rounder for the wingman. Docherty split his time between the midfield and half-back. Harry McKay started with three goals in the first quarter and was quiet for the remainder.

Ollie Hollands and Jesse Motlop looked silky distributing the ball and will be in contention for spots against Richmond in round one. Lochie O’Brien was impressive patrolling the wing opposite Acres.

Nick Daicos was outstanding from the first bounce and looked incredibly comfortable all over the ground with increased midfield time. New recruit Tom Mitchell took some time to find his feet in the black and white but played into the game.

Jamie Elliott and Jack Crisp both played major roles in the Magpies’ ball movement and look set for big seasons in 2023.

Percentage of Centre Bounces attended, by team:


84% – Patrick Cripps

70% – George Hewett

60% – Matt Kennedy

48% – Adam Cerra

36% – Sam Docherty

A very settled midfield group from the Blues, a small rotation that we’re likely to see throughout the season. Sam Walsh will come back in and give Carlton a reliable mix that is capable of breaking open games and being accountable on transition.


64% – Jordan De Goey

52% – Nick Daicos

44% – Jack Crisp

40% – Taylor Adams

36% – Tom Mitchell

16% – Patrick Lipinksi

16% – Jamie Elliott

16% – Josh Daicos

Tom Mitchell much less than expected, he thrives with 50%+ and is a primary user inside the contest. Good to see Nick Daicos increase his percentages and look comfortable while doing it. No other big names missing.

Melbourne 16.9 (105) def St. Kilda 6.10 (46)

Match Structure – 6 x 25-minute periods, no time on.

It was back to business for the Demons after a disappointing straight sets exit in 2022, comfortably accounting for an injury-affected Saints squad. St. Kilda was easily beaten around the ground with height, missing most talls due to injuries.

The new ruck combination of Gawn and Grundy started life well, with the latter taking the majority of centre bounce contests. The duo looked to work together perfectly in a big warning call for the rest of the competition.

Clayton Oliver wasted no time to be back to his best, while Angus Brayshaw patrolled the half-back line in what looks to be a permanent role with Christian Salem battling a Thyroid issue. Kysaiah Pickett had a huge role through the middle of the ground and made the most of it, with several memorable moments.

Jack Steele flew the flag for the hosts, but found himself under constant pressure and struggled to get going at points. Marcus Windhager showed another level of improvement and will be exciting to watch this season.

Mattaes Phillipou started quietly but worked into the game, kicking two goals in the second half and taking strong pack marks. Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera gave the Saints plenty of run and carry from the half-back line and was good with ball in hand.

Percentage of Centre Bounces attended, by team:


70.8% – Clayton Oliver

50% – Christian Petracca

45.8% – Jack Viney

45.8% – James Harmes

41.7% – Kysaiah Pickett

Luke Dunstan was the only Demon missing who could potentially slot into the midfield rotation, Melbourne will likely stay with the same mix that has been so dominant over the past few years. Pickett brings a creativity to this setup that perfectly compliments the hard-nosed players around him.

St. Kilda:

87.5% – Jack Steele

83.3% – Brad Crouch

41.7% – Marcus Windhager

29.2% – Jade Gresham

29.2% – Jack Sinclair

29.2% – Hunter Clark

Steele, Crouch followed by the closest player for the Saints. St. Kilda have a plethora of half-backs that will rotate through and support the main men in the middle. Hunter Clark returned to the mix and looked comfortable, could build to a larger role come round one.

Adelaide 12.5 (77) def Fremantle 10.6 (66)

Match Structure – 4 x 25-minute quarters, no time on

Rory Sloane returned to the field under new captain Jordan Dawson as the crows upset the Dockers in Perth. The Dockers were missing several first-team players but were competitive and will be disappointed with the result.

Izak Rankine kicked three goals and looked as good as ever, rotating through the middle at times. Sam Berry and Rory Laird continued their incredible partnership from last year while injecting a host of exciting young players to spark some creativity.

Despite the loss, Fremantle would be happy with the showing from their new signings. Jaeger O’Meara was impressive through the middle, filling the void left by David Mundy. While Luke Jackson played everywhere on the field and never looked out of place.

Will Brodie goes from strength to strength as he continues his upward trajectory. Nat Fyfe looks to have worked on his forward craft, kicking another three goals in Friday’s loss.

Percentage of Centre Bounces attended, by team:


68% – Sam Berry

64% – Rory Laird

48% – Harry Schoenberg

44% – Matt Crouch

28% – Jake Soligo

16% – Izak Rankine

12% – Josh Rachele

12% – Tyler Brown

8% – Ben Keays

The Adelaide midfield looks to be based off a high-pressure system, with a rotation for creativity. Keays is a notable omission as he continues to play forward and develop his front-half craft.


80% – Jaeger O’Meara

76% – Will Brodie

68% – Caleb Serong

64% – Andrew Brayshaw

12% – James Aish

The big-bodied midfielders in O’Meara and Brodie seemed to dominate the Dockers’ minutes, with Brayshaw and Serong surprisingly low in the pecking order. Will be a watch next week against Port Adelaide to see how they line up.

West Coast 13.6 (84) def Port Adelaide 11.10 (76)

Match Structure – 4 x 28-minute quarters, no time on

The Eagles came back from 18 points down in the third quarter to earn a morale-boosting win at Mineral Resources Park. Oscar Allen returned to the field after 18 months on the sideline while Nic Naitanui and Luke Shuey both rested.

Elliott Yeo and Dom Sheed both stamped their influence on the game with vintage performances, setting up a strong 2023. Allen created well in the forward line in his return and will only improve. Youngsters Jai Culley and Elijah Hewett both impressed around the ground and kicked a goal each.

Tim Kelly was close to the Eagles’ best as he searches for his early-career form, kicking two goals and getting plenty of the ball in the middle. Liam Ryan was influential in his ball usage that helped West Coast make a late charge.

Jason Horne-Francis was pivotal to the Power’s midfield after an early injury scare to Travis Boak. Connor Rozee was one of the best players on the ground as he looks to build on an All-Australian calibre season.

Charlie Dixon was a late-out, leaving Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades to control the forward line. The pair presented strongly and competed hard against the Eagles’ senior defenders. Junior Rioli returned to the west with a handful of goals and was very lively forward.

West Coast:

72% – Dom Sheed

60% – Elliott Yeo

52% – Tim Kelly

40% – Andrew Gaff

28% – Xavier O’Neill

24% – Jai Culley

Luke Shuey will be expected to return to the midfield setup, as will first-round draftee Rueben Ginbey. Andrew Gaff is the most likely to drop out, playing as a natural wingman.

Port Adelaide:

76% – Jason Horne-Francis

64% – Ollie Wines

52% – Connor Rozee

40% – Lachie Jones

20% – Willem Drew

20% – Sam Powell-Pepper

Zak Butters and missed Friday’s simulation and will shake up this rotation considerably. Travis Boak may also join the mix but it’s unsure when he will return after being sent for scans on Friday.

About Author