There’s no better feel-good story than a Round One AFL Debut.
Everyone is excited about the new wave of talent across the competition who get to show off their skills at the first time of asking. With another bumper crop of draftees, there were sure to be many who would impress.
The Inner Sanctum runs the rule over all the players who stepped onto an AFL field for the first time in their careers across the opening round of the 2023 season.
Max Michalanney: On Sunday, 2022 draftee Max Michalanney became the first father-son pick to debut for the Adelaide Crows. In what was an up-and-down game for the Crows, Michalanney stood up to the pressure from GWS’ forwards considering the dominance they had in the second half of the game.
Playing as part of a very young and inexperienced backline with players such as Jordon Butts, Nick Murray, and Jordan Dawson being the level heads in defence, he fit in as much as a first gamer could expect to. Michalanney showed he could play both small and tall opponents being a taller but slender body, he did not let the forwards out-body him or outplay him.
He finished the game with 12 disposals, four marks, and a tackle from 79 percent of the time on ground. Michalanney should be persisted with considering his calm nature and maturity coupled with the fact he only has four games worth of experience before debuting at the top level.
Will Ashcroft: Ashcroft was touted as the best player in last year’s draft, so it did not come as a surprise when he was named in the Lions’ side for round one. Despite the disappointing loss, Ashcroft was a highlight for fans, with a promising debut that included a goal off one step under high pressure.
Ashcroft slotted in to the star-studded Lions midfield in between Lachie Neale and Josh Dunkley, and he did not look out of place, managing 13 disposals and four tackles to go with his goal. The professionalism that has been spoken of Ashcroft was on display, keeping a cold head when faced with pressure from opponents. Lions fans should expect to see more of Ashcroft across the season as he develops and gets more comfortable at the top level.
Oliver Hollands: In a new-look wing setup for the Blues, Oliver Hollands impressed many on his debut for the club. He worked hard across the ground, with his impressive speed and ability to act under pressure.
The highlight of Hollands’ night came when Shai Bolton sent a high ball into the Richmond forward pocket, where he stood in a two-on-one contest. With Tom Lynch behind him, and speedster Maurice Rioli Jr closely following as well, Hollands successfully forced Lynch to drop the mark, scooping the ball up with clean hands and clearing it out onto the wing.
It was an impressive play, and it exemplified what Hollands’ game style is all about.
Lachie Cowan: With the unfortunate injury of Carlton defender Zac Williams in the preseason, Michael Voss had to seek out a different option on the Blues’ half-back line. Cowan, The Tasmanian selected at pick 30 in the draft after Carlton traded up to secure him, was the man who stood up after he impressed greatly in practice matches against Collingwood and Sydney.
Much like his fellow draftee Hollands, Cowan’s hard-working approach is something that Carlton fans will come to expect from him each week and it was definitely on display against the Tigers. While he didn’t set the world on fire in game one, Cowan has all the attributes to develop into an excellent player as he gains more senior experience. He is a prospect that Blues fans should be excited to watch as the season progresses.
Alwyn Davey Jr: In what was a great day for the Bombers, debutant Davey Jr did not look out of place on the big MCG stage. He provided good pressure across half-forward, laying three tackles, presented well up the ground (claiming five marks), and kicked his first career goal to finish off a great second term for Essendon and take them into the break with great momentum.
Just like his dad, things are more exciting when he is around the ball and leaves fans wanting more. There is little doubt there will be plenty more to come!
Bodhi Uwland: In a mostly disappointing night for Suns fans, local boy Bodhi Uwland gave them something to be excited about in a look to the future. The second-year defender didn’t look out of place in Gold Coast’s 49-point loss to Sydney, as he racked up 20 disposals out of the backline. He showed poise with ball in hand and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, as evidenced by his nine contested possessions and five one-percenters.
Uwland’s debut is a great story for the young club, with the 19-year-old a graduate of the Gold Coast SUNS Academy. He also spent his whole life barracking for the Suns before being picked up by them in the 2021 Rookie Draft. He had a difficult 2022 after suffering a stress fracture in his back but could be set for a big campaign this season if his first game was anything to go by. Uwland could face competition for his spot though when the likes of Lachie Weller, Connor Budarick, and Wil Powell return from injury.
Greater Western Sydney
Cameron McKenzie: In what was a disappointing outing for the Hawks, debutant McKenzie was a rare highlight, showing signs of promise in a solid first outing at AFL level. Having started the game on the bench, the youngster quickly worked his way into the game and didn’t look out of place at the elite level in the midfield, finishing the day with 18 touches.
Despite the Hawks being under constant pressure, the teenager didn’t seem phased, looking clean with the footy, finishing with a disposal efficiency rate of 83 percent off 13 kicks and five handballs. He’d also finish the day with seven score involvements.
Making a strong first impression, coach Sam Mitchell will be happy with McKenzie’s output.
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Bailey Laurie: After a couple of eventful years on the Demons’ list and a strong pre-season on the track, Bailey Laurie finally got his opportunity to make his AFL debut after pushing hard for selection late last season.
Despite Melbourne’s dominance in the forward half on Saturday, the 20-year-old couldn’t get his hands on the ball. In three quarters, the Oakleigh Chargers product recorded four disposals, two clearances, a mark, and a tackle before being subbed out at the three-quarter time break.
With premiership stars set to return in the coming weeks, Laurie looks set to lose his spot in the side, but he will be better for the run as he continues his development.
Judd McVee: Rookie selection Judd McVee was made to wait for his AFL call-up after missing selection in the 2021 National Draft, but there was plenty of interest in the defender mainly due to his class off half-back.
But similar to Laurie, a strong pre-season and performances in the practice matches saw the former East Fremantle defender take the spot of dashing defender Christian Salem (who just missed selection as he continues to recover from a thyroid concern) on the half-back flank rotating with Angus Brayshaw, Jake Bowey, and Trent Rivers.
In his debut game, McVee did not look out of place, bringing plenty of class and composure with the ball coming out of the backline. With the Bulldogs’ forward 50 entries consistently being intercepted by the Demons’ defence, it allowed him to set up attacks for his side.
The 19-year-old held his own finishing his debut game with 14 disposals (at 79 percent disposal efficiency), four intercept possessions, three marks, and 212 metres gained. But with Salem potentially returning for this week’s clash with Brisbane, McVee could find himself out of Melbourne’s best side.
Harry Sheezel: On Saturday, North Melbourne’s prized number three pick Harry Sheezel delivered a debut to remember. The young Roo was slick off half-back, racking up a scintillating 34 disposals. His dazzling debut places him third all-time on the most disposals recorded by a debutant, just behind Greg Williams (38) and Dean Greig (39).
Along with the momentous record, Sheezel finished off the afternoon with nine marks and 625 meters gained. It was an impressive performance from the eighteen-year-old considering the teenager said post-game that he had not previously played in the backline before. With his debut in the books for the young gun, North fans will be eagerly waiting to see what’s next for a new favourite at Arden Street.
Anthony Caminiti: Without an AFL contract just two months ago, the 19-year-old continued his rapid rise with a round one debut. With the Saints missing their first-choice key forward targets through injury, Caminiti competed well against a staunch Freo defence, giving Jack Higgins, Dan Butler, and Mason Wood a chance to get to work when the ball hit the ground.
He finished with nine disposals, two marks, and a behind, while his twisting and turning to set up a fourth-quarter Wood goal showed Saints fans what the young key forward is capable of with a few games under his belt.
Mattaes Phillipou: The saints prized top 10 draft pick was named to debut after a string of impressive pre-season performances. Starting across half-forward Phillipou worked his way up the ground to get his hands on the ball early. His first AFL goal with a measured set shot in the second quarter from 40m was a special moment and in the last quarter, he was sent into the midfield at stages as the Saints charged home.
Finishing with 16 disposals, one goal, and six score involvements (second highest for the game) it looks like Phillipou will be a Saints fan favourite for many years to come.
Reuben Ginbey: The ninth pick of the 2022 draft waited no time to get his first crack at AFL level on Saturday. Mixed into an experienced midfield possessing the likes of Luke Shuey, Dom Sheed and Tom Kelly, Ginbey did not look out of place at all. His effort all day could certainly not be questioned, recording the second-highest number of tackles by a debutant with 12 (Jai Newcombe 13).
Attending the majority of centre bounces, Ginbey was an important factor in West Coast’s late 4th quarter charge, recording 15 disposals and 3 clearances. After only 1 game it appears that Ginbey will be a staple of Adam Simpson’s midfield setup in 2023 and beyond.
Noah Long: The lively small forward was one of three debutants named in the Eagles’ starting 22 to take on North Melbourne.
After a quiet first half, Long sprung into action in the back half of the game, laying three tackles in the 3rd quarter before kicking his first AFL goal in the fourth quarter. Much like Ginbey it was his effort without the ball that impressed, playing his role to perfection with 17 pressure acts.
Long finished with 10 disposals, three tackles, and a goal, a solid performance first up for the youngster.
Campbell Chesser: After a tough run of injuries last year, Chesser got his chance to debut on the back of a strong preseason. Deployed on the wing/half-back Chesser remained relatively quiet throughout the game, finishing with five disposals, three marks, and two tackles.
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