18/04/2024

Liam Jones, Tim Taranto and Jason Horne-Francis have been some of the best performers for their sides this season (Picture: AFL)

With the bye signalling the middle of the season for the AFL clubs, The Inner Sanctum looks at the clubs and analyses how their draftees and recruits have slotted in. The final teams are Carlton, GWS, North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Richmond and the Western Bulldogs.

Last week Adelaide, Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, Melbourne and West Coast were analysed, you can read about them here.

Blake Acres

Acres arrived at Carlton following a career-best season for Fremantle last year. The winger loomed as a potential final piece for the Blues, given outside speed and ball use were things they lacked last season.

So far the 27-year-old has been unable to reach the highs he hit last year, but his form has still been solid overall. The former Saint and Docker has been averaging 24 disposals and six marks and has only missed one game.

Jaxon Binns

Carlton fans have been begging the club to play Jaxon Binns for weeks, with the outside midfielder in scintillating form at VFL level. Taken with pick 32 in last year’s National Draft, Binns has been averaging 28 disposals and 7.8 marks in the seconds to push his case for a senior debut.

The Dandenong Stingrays product has shown a great ability to accumulate the ball and covers the ground well. He shouldn’t have to wait too much longer for his opportunity after being among the emergencies in recent weeks.

Alex Cincotta

Cincotta was elevated to Carlton’s AFL list from its VFL program after Zac Williams injured his ACL. The pre-season supplemental selection period signee hasn’t looked out of place at the level and has played seven senior games so far.

The 26-year-old has added to the Blues’ defensive stocks and provided important run off half-back. Cincotta will be hoping to cement a spot in Michael Voss’ starting side in the latter half of the season.

Lachie Cowan

Dashing off half-back with a long flowing mullet, Lachie Cowan should quickly become a fan favourite at the Blues after arriving with their second pick (no. 30) in last year’s National Draft.

The Tasmanian was awarded the Morrish Medal, the best and fairest in the Coates Talent League last season and has shown promising signs at AFL level so far. The defender played the first six games of the season but has been stuck in the VFL ever since.

Ollie Hollands

Ollie Hollands hasn’t taken long to settle in at Ikon Park, with the first-round pick (no. 11) playing every game at AFL level before fracturing his collarbone.

The winger has shown an impressive ability to cover the ground and looks poised with ball in hand in his 11 senior matches so far.

Beyond being a great long-term prospect for the club, Hollands has addressed an immediate need for the Blues as an outside midfielder.

Harry Lemmey

Once considered a top 10 draft prospect, an underwhelming 2022 campaign resulted in Harry Lemmey falling to pick 47 last year. The young key forward is developing in the VFL, where he has kicked nine goals and spent time in the ruck.

Like all key position players Lemmey will take time to develop and he is currently behind the last two Coleman Medallists. But the South Australian’s high upside makes him an intriguing talent to track for Blues fans.

Hudson O’Keeffe

After going undrafted last year, Hudson O’Keeffe landed at Carlton during the pre-season supplemental selection period.

The 202cm ruck was part of the Oakleigh Chargers and Vic Metro’s championship-winning side and has been developing in the VFL since joining the Blues and will be a long-term prospect if the club decides to persist with him.

Hamish Spence

Aaron Cadman

Taken with the number one pick at last year’s National Draft, the young Giant is slowly finding his feet in 2023.

With appearances in nine games so far, Cadman is averaging 4.3 disposals, 1.6 tackles and 0.6 goals per game. Whilst his statistics are quite limited at the moment, he has shown glimpses and will only improve with more experience under his belt.

The 19-year-old’s season best so far was seen in round one against Hawthorn. Cadman had six disposals, three marks and a goal on debut.

Darcy Jones

Giants fans will have to wait until next season to see Jones take to the field as the 19-year-old is rehabilitating an ACL injury after rupturing it in a reserves match earlier in April.

Harry Rowston

Since making his debut this season in round two, Rowston has steadily been putting up respectable performances in his seven AFL appearances, three of which came as the activated sub.

The 18-year-old midfielder is averaging seven disposals and 1.4 tackles per game. His best performance so far in the Giants colours was in his side’s loss to Carlton when he finished the game with 14 disposals, three tackles, and three marks.

Jason Gillbee

The midfielder is another name on the Giants’ list which is yet to make their AFL debut. Selected as a category B rookie during the pre-season, Gillbee has been performing well in the VFL.

However, a calf injury and more recently concussion has put his opportunity to debut on hold. Prior to injury, Gillbee had been putting up a strong case for selection in the reserves, averaging 19.1 disposals and 5.9 marks per game.

Max Gruzewski

Taken up with pick 22 in last year’s National Draft, the young gun has not yet made his debut for the club.

The 18-year-old key forward has been refining his craft in the VFL. Appearing in 11 VFL games, Gruzewski is averaging a respectable 8.5 disposals and five marks per game.

Nicholas Madden

The 18-year-old ruck has since been refining his craft in the reserves appearing in five games and is averaging 10.2 disposals, 11.8 hit outs, and two marks per game.

Toby Bedford

The former Demon has found a new home at the Giants following his trade request last year, slotting in well, playing eight games in 2023 so far.

Since his club debut in round seven, Bedford has been putting up consistent performances with his new side, averaging 12.4 disposals and 5.5 tackles per game.

Toby McMullin

Yet to make his debut, the 18-year-old has been playing in the VFL. McMullin is averaging 11.8 disposals and 2.2 tackles per game.

Ashleigh Matosevic

Harry Sheezel

The brightest spark in what has been a turbulent season both on and off the field for the Kangaroos has been first-year player Harry Sheezel. Pick three in the 2022 National Draft, the rookie burst onto centre stage in North Melbourne’s Round one win over West Coast amassing 34 disposals, the third most ever on VFL/AFL debut.

Sheezel earnt himself a Rising Star nomination with his debut performance and has been a picture of consistency ever since. His 374 total disposals so far in 2023 is the 10th-best tally of any player in the AFL, and his per-game average of 26.7 has him on pace to break the single-season rookie record.

Sheezel has operated out of half-back for the majority of the campaign to date. However, due to his versatility and North’s lack of experience across the field, the 18-year-old has cut his teeth in the centre and at half-forward as well.

George Wardlaw

Kangaroos fans had to wait a while before seeing rookie George Wardlaw in action in the AFL, but since his debut in Round 10, he has won the hearts of fans and pundits alike.

After his draft year was heavily interrupted by injuries North Melbourne made a point early in the season of not wanting to rush their pick six in the National Draft. He first wet his feet in the VFL averaging 18.6 disposals in five games before making his AFL debut against Sydney.

Tough and fearless, the ‘Warlord’ has impressed early with his knack for winning a hard ball; 47.5 per cent of the 80 possessions in his young career have been contested. Coupled with an average of 5.6 tackles a game, he is evidently an embodiment of the shinboner spirit.

Wardlaw’s 22-disposal effort against GWS in Round 13, which included his first AFL goal, was enough to earn him a Rising Star nomination.

Darcy Tucker

Traded to Arden Street from Fremantle along with Griffin Logue during the off-season, Darcy Tucker has been a largely stable figure in North Melbourne’s midfield. Operating in the centre or half-back, the 26-year-old has averaged 15.7 disposals so far this season and has been solid when called upon.

The former Docker has spent three games in the VFL this season but has performed exceptionally each time.

Griffin Logue

The second piece of the trade from Fremantle, Griffin Logue has slid seamlessly into the North Melbourne backline. Playing all but one game this season, Logue was crucial in the Kangaroos’ two wins against the Eagles and Dockers as the primary tall defender in Ben McKay’s absence.

Since McKay’s return, the two have been a solid defensive tandem with Logue’s 13 contested marks the third-highest tally at the club behind only McKay (15) and Nick Larkey (17).

Logue has fast become one of the most trusted members on the North list. The 25-year-old leads all North players in one percenters with 73, showing a willingness to make the right plays that don’t always get noticed.

Liam Shiels

Liam Shiels has been one of North’s most consistent performers this season after coming out of retirement to join his former coach Alastair Clarkson at the Kangaroos.

The 32-year-old is averaging 18 disposals and leading all-comers at the Kangaroos in tackles with 71. It also can’t be understated the importance of his presence as a veteran who is familiar with Clarkson’s system and a cool head on North’s young list.

Daniel Howe

Another who swapped his brown and gold stripes for blue and white is Daniel Howe. Howe hasn’t quite enjoyed the same level of success as Shiels but his average of 15.3 disposals is not a bad return by any means.

The midfielder enjoyed a consistent spell in the team between rounds two and seven, but since then has struggled to find a place in the team.

The emergence of young talent in Wardlaw, Sheezel, Will Phillips and Tom Powell has made it tough for Howe to break into the North midfield. Howe has averaged 26.4 disposals in the five VFL appearances he has made since round seven, making a consistent case to be re-selected should circumstances change.

Blake Drury

Drafted from the Oakleigh Chargers with pick one in the 2022 Rookie Draft, Drury had to wait until round eight before he made his first senior appearance.

The quick, small midfielder collected 13 disposals on debut, but in the two senior games that followed he didn’t quite have the same impact.

He has since returned to the VFL where he has shown some promise, but the 19-year-old may be a slow burner whose emergence as a regular senior player may have to wait until year two.

Cooper Harvey

Son of the legendary Brent ‘Boomer’ Harvey, Cooper Harvey was selected with pick 56 of the 2022 AFL Draft as a father-son prospect.

The midfielder/forward has yet to make his AFL debut but has been steadily working on his craft in the VFL.

Averaging 12.7 disposals and 1.5 goals a game at 18 years of age, Harvey is a promising long-term prospect for the Kangaroos.

Brayden George

With pick 26 in the 2022 AFL Draft, North selected talented forward Brayden George.

Sporting a 187 cm frame with eye-catching speed, George was predicted by some to be drafted as high as top 10 before an ACL injury saw him fall down the board.

George has spent the majority of this season rehabilitating his knee injury but remains an exciting prospect for the Kangaroos.

Hamish Free

North Melbourne used pick 19 of the Rookie Draft to select ruckman Hamish Free, but the 24-year-old has yet to see the field in the AFL.

Free had been performing consistently in the VFL, averaging 13 disposals and 23 hit outs until going down injured in round eight.

He is yet to return, and with the rise of Callum Coleman-Jones and the return of Tristan Xerri from injury, he may find it hard to break into the senior side.

Robert Hansen Jr

After an injury to Jack Mahony opened up a list spot, North Melbourne used pick two of the Mid-Season Rookie Draft on Robert Hansen Jr from the WAFL.

The small forward made his debut in the VFL in Round 12 and has grabbed a goal in each of the two games he has played, averaging 10.5 disposals.

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Junior Rioli

Junior Rioli arrived at Port Adelaide to fill the small forward vacancy left after the retirement of Robbie Gray.

Rioli is playing his role perfectly in a Port forward line that is currently the highest-scoring team in the competition, pressuring defenders and taking his chances in front of goal.

Among Port Adelaide’s forwards, the 28-year-old currently ranks in the top five in several key aspects, including goals (fifth, 14 goals), average shots on goal (fourth, 2.8 per game), average score involvements (fifth, 5.2 per game), and average pressure acts (fourth, 13.2 per game).

Jason Horne-Francis

One of the biggest moves of the trade period was Horne-Francis coming back home after his debut season. And despite what he has faced this year, the former number-one pick continues to show the football world why he was selected that high.

Although he isn’t averaging high numbers, the continued growth Port Adelaide supporters are seeing from the 185cm midfielder is promising, especially his defensive work rate when his team doesn’t have possession.

The former South Adelaide product is averaging 18.3 disposals, five clearances, 4.3 inside 50s, and 5.4 score involvements per game and plays a big role in the Power’s engine room alongside fellow young guns Zak Butters and Connor Rozee.

Francis Evans

Evans was brought across as small forward depth, the former Cat has played five games this season, however, three have been as the activated sub.

The 21-year-old is continuing to ply his trade at SANFL level, averaging 15.7 touches, four marks, almost four tackles and 1.7 goals per game in seven games this season.

Despite showing strong form in the reserves, Evans still finds himself stuck behind Darcy Byrne-Jones, Junior Rioli, and Sam Powell-Pepper as the preferred smalls.

Tom McCallum

Taken with Port Adelaide’s first pick (pick 36) in last year’s National Draft, McCallum is plying his trade in the SANFL for the Magpies as the 192cm key defender continues to develop his craft.

Thomas Scully

Another prospect for the future, Tom Scully continues to develop at SANFL level. The 203cm key forward has played every game so far this season and has shown glimpses, kicking goals in seven of 10 games (12 overall).

Kyle Marshall

Similar to McCallum and Scully, Kyle Marshall is a key defensive prospect for the future. Taken with the last selection in last year’s draft, the South Adelaide product has played eight games at reserve level for Port as he develops his skills.

Nathan Barkla

Picked up as a Category B rookie, Barkla has struggled at SANFL level this year as he adjusts coming off playing in the U18 SANFL competition last year. In nine games, the Port Adelaide Next Generation Academy product is averaging almost seven disposals and 3.5 tackles.

Quinton Narkle

Port Adelaide selected Narkle in the mid-season draft as a ready-made midfield/forward option after the fruitful start to the VFL season.

After being selected it only took two impressive appearances at SANFL for Narkle to make his club debut, coming in as a late change against his former club Geelong.

The 25-year-old impressed on debut, finishing with 13 disposals and two goals. Narkle remains an X-factor should he remain in Port Adelaide’s best lineup for the rest of the year.

Jordan Janssen

Kaelan Bradtke

Kaelan Bradtke made the jump from country football star to AFL player after impressing Richmond over the pre-season.

After spending 2022 playing for the Corowa-Rutherglen Kangaroos in the Ovens and Murray League, the NSW key forward was invited to train with the Tigers to vie for a rookie spot. The 22-year-old ultimately beat out former Cat and recent Power mid-season draftee Quinton Narkle to be the club’s pre-season supplemental selection period signing.

Bradtke is yet to feature at senior level but looms as a possible long-term prospect with 14 goals in the VFL so far this season.

Seth Campbell

After sliding in last year’s National Draft, Seth Campbell landed at Tigerland with pick 12 in the rookie draft.

The crafty high half-forward has been limited to just one VFL game during his time at Richmond due to an adductor injury, though the club is hopeful that he will be fit after the bye.

The Tasmanian will be looking to string some games together in the reserves to show the club his potential.

Matt Coulthard

Richmond is hoping Matt Coulthard will be the mid-season draft’s next great success story after taking him with pick four earlier this month. The small forward had only played three senior games for Glenelg in the SANFL prior to being selected, marking an extraordinary rise after he was playing for his local club Port Noarlunga last year.

Coulthard has played three VFL games since arriving, including a two-goal performance in his last outing. In the latter half of the season, the 22-year-old will be looking to push for senior selection and extend his initial six-month contract.

Steely Green

The Tigers’ second selection (pick 55) in last year’s National Draft, Steely Green is yet to feature at senior level.

Coming into the system as a small defender who could push into the midfield, the West Australian has played all over the ground in the VFL, including as a forward most recently.

Green has shown solid form in the seconds, averaging 11 disposals and four marks, and should continue his development in the second half of the season.

Jacob Hopper

One of Richmond’s two high-profile off-season recruits, Jacob Hopper has made a good start to life at his new club.

The bruising inside midfielder was averaging 23 disposals and five clearances, despite the Tigers’ mixed start to the season, before he suffered a left soleus strain in Round 9 against the Cats.

The club’s form has taken a turn while the former Giant has been on the sidelines and the prospect of adding him back into the mix is an exciting one.

Kaleb Smith

Taken with Richmond’s first selection (pick 49) in last year’s National Draft, Kaleb Smith has endured a tough start to his AFL career.

The West Australian defender suffered a bone stress injury in February which ultimately resulted in him being ruled out for the rest of the season.

Tim Taranto

Arguably the league’s best off-season pick-up, Tim Taranto’s recent form has him placed as one of the best players in the game this season.

The former GWS best and fairest winner was good to start the year but has hit an unrivalled purple patch. Over his last five games, the inside midfielder has averaged 35 disposals, eight clearances and two goals a game to put him among the competition’s elite.

The new Tiger is well placed to secure his first All-Australian blazer, fourth in the AFLCA coaches’ votes and a Brownlow contender.

James Trezise

James Trezise’s decision to join the Tigers’ VFL program proved to be a fruitful one, with the rebounding defender taken with the club’s second pick (no. 13) in the mid-season draft after just six months at Punt Road.

The 20-year-old made the jump from the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition this season and quickly impressed people at Richmond with how quickly he adapted to VFL level. Tresize is averaging 16 disposals and five marks in the reserves and will be hoping to push for senior selection later this year.

Tylar Young

Another player who’s graduated from Richmond’s VFL side, Tylar Young has made a strong impression since joining the AFL program.

The 25-year-old has played 10 senior games this season, including all four during McQualter’s tenure. The Albury product has reinforced the Tigers’ key defensive stocks after injuries to Josh Gibcus and Robbie Tarrant and ranks elite for spoils (nine per game) so far in his short career.

Taken with Pick 26 in last year’s rookie draft, Young has already signed a new two-year deal to continue his stay at Tigerland.

Hamish Spence

Liam Jones

The former Bulldog arrived from Carlton as a free agent in 2022 and has fitted into the team seamlessly, playing 14 games this season – averaging 5.4 spoils and 3.1 intercept marks per game as a key defender.

One of the first picked from the back six each week, Jones’ intercept marking and spoiling has given the Bulldogs a release valve when their defensive structure is under pressure, including strong in the one-on-one duals.

With the ability to read the play and become second man into the contest, it was a much-needed addition to the Bulldogs’ defensive stocks which was a weakness heading into the 2023 season.

Rory Lobb

Coming to the Bulldogs via trade from the Fremantle Dockers, Lobb’s arrival at the kennel continued the trend of key stock bolstering with his ability to fill two areas across the ground – a strong key forward presence and relief in the ruck.

With Tim English taking the number one ruck role, Lobb has been able to pinch hit in the ruck, while also providing a forward target option, which allows Jamara Ugle-Hagan and Aaron Naughton more freedom inside the forward 50.

Lobb has played 13 games this season – averaging a goal per game, it has been a slow start to Bulldogs life for Lobb, but a 14-disposal game against Port Adelaide – a season-high, might be the start of a more consistent game.

Oskar Baker

A pre-season supplement selection the pacey midfielder has played every game this season since taking over a wing position.

Using speed and running capacity, Baker has been an important link-up cog in the Bulldogs system with an ability to cover the ground well, averaging 5.2 marks per game.

Jedd Busslinger

First-round selection – pick 13 overall, Busslinger is an exciting key defender that is a terrific mark and has a strong aerial presence.

Yet to debut at AFL level, Busslinger has played 10 games for Footscray in the VFL, where in Round Seven against GWS Giants took a season-high 11 marks highlighting why the Bulldogs selected him with their first pick.

After a niggling injury at the start of 2023, Busslinger is starting to find consistent football at VFL level and will be a key part of the Bulldogs’ next key defensive group.

Charlie Clarke

Selected with Pick 24 in the 2022 draft as a small pressure forward, Clarke has yet to debut for the Bulldogs at AFL level.

Clarke has played 11 games for Footscray in the VFL – finding a place in the backline, where a recent Round 13 clash against Williamstown highlighted that renowned pressure, finishing the game with five tackles and a goal.

Drafted as a forward and learning his craft down back in the VFL, Clarke gives the Bulldogs plenty of options if an AFL call-up was to come.

Harvey Gallagher

Picked at 39 in the 2022 draft Gallagher was the Bulldogs’ last selection, the former forward/midfield-turned-defender was dominant for the Bendigo Pioneers in his draft year.

Gallagher was overlooked in the 2021 draft but is now finding himself in familiar territory with a return to the forward line at VFL level for Footscray in 2023. Making his VFL debut in Round 9, Gallagher has played seven games at the level.

A versatile player, Gallagher is finding his feet at the Bulldogs and will look to build into a strong VFL campaign in the backend of the season.

Caleb Poulter

Poulter arrived at the Bulldogs with Pick 10 via the 2023 AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft as they look to add some athleticism and versatility to the list.

A footballer who offers plenty of run and carry, and at 194cm can play short or tall, Poulter has played 11 games for Footscray in the VFL but is yet to debut in Bulldogs colours at AFL level.

Poulter had a season-high 26 disposals against Carlton in Round 6 of the VFL, including nine marks and a goal in what was a standout performance.

Andrew Macdougall

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