Darcy Parish, John Noble and Tom De Koning are three players that are coming out of contract. (Photos: Collingwood/ Essendon and AFL)

With the 2023 AFL season well and truly underway, there are still players that are yet to decide on their future at their respective clubs. The Inner Sanctum takes a look at the number one priority that your club needs to re-sign.

Tom Doedee

Having performed above the standard that the competition pundits expected, the Crows are to be in the premiership window in a few years. 26-year-old defender Tom Doedee looks to be the big signing that the club is after at the end of the season to continue to build and maintain their youthful back half. 

Last season was a mixed bag for the club and for Doedee as well so the fact that he is playing for a sizeable contract from the Crows, or even as a lure to come home, he will hope he returns to the form that saw him fully realise his potential as the second-coming of Jake Lever.

From his six games this season, Doedee averages 16 disposals and five marks, while also being an integral part of the leadership group for the club since 2020. Adelaide will hope that he will re-sign before the end of the year to reward the club that picked him up as a draft bolter in 2015.

Madeline Irwin

Daniel Rich

The Lions are clearly in the premiership window, having invested in the now with the likes of Jack Gunston and Josh Dunkley joining the club. So whilst Daniel Rich is now 32 years old, his ability to break lines with his long, penetrating left foot means he is still a valuable commodity for any side, and one the Lions will want to sure up the contract of sooner rather than later.

The dependable backman has been in nearly career-best form over the past couple of seasons, averaging 20 kicks per game and playing 46 of a possible 49 games in that period. Not known for his defensive work, Rich can certainly be relied upon to nullify the small forwards of the opposition, however, clearly, his ability to hit targets over 55 metres away is one that few in the league can replicate.

Out of contract at the end of the season, plenty of other sides in the premiership window would be no doubt seeking his services for a couple of years, so the Lions may have to offer the equivalent to keep him.

Scott Kertes

Tom De Koning

There is no denying that Tom De Koning has the capabilities to be an absolute star of the game, both in the ruck and swinging forward. It is the role in which he has already showcased some solid form for the Blues thus far alongside Marc Pittonet, and at just 23 years old, there is still plenty of room for growth.

Now, with De Koning seemingly poised to take the number one ruck spot at the club, they desperately need to lock him down ahead of the 2024 season. Playing five games so far this year, he is now a regular and an important part of Michael Voss’ structure.

There are a number of teams that are reportedly keen on De Koning’s services, most notably the Sydney Swans. With a number of high-priced stars under their salary cap, the Blues may not have the ability to offer what other clubs would be able to monetarily, but if they can present De Koning with a solid deal now, it may be difficult to turn down with the added motivation of a potential premiership charge in the coming years.

Brandon Patane

John Noble 

Since joining Collingwood as part of the 2019 mid-season draft, John Noble has been a fixture of the Pies’ defence. The half-back flanker combines an attacking flair with a strong defensive game and relentless pressure using his speed. In 2023 he’s averaging career-bests in disposals (21.5), marks (5.28) and metres gained (478), which are all above the league average. While his profile isn’t as big as some of his teammates, the West Adelaide product’s value is rated highly within the walls of the AIA Centre.

Noble is an automatic lock in Collingwood’s best 22 and there’s no doubt it will want to keep him. But the club’s list department needs to manage the struggles of keeping a contending list together and might only be able to offer the 26-year-old less than what he could command on the open market.

Noble is in his prime and will likely sign the biggest contract of his career this season. To make the most of this he might look at another team who could offer more money or greater security. Noble also hails from South Australia which could create an opportunity for the Crows or Power if he wants to return home.

Former captain Scott Pendlebury is an unrestricted free agent and still in incredible form, but it should be a smooth process to ensure the club’s games record holder goes on into 2024.

The club has already re-signed experienced trio Jeremy Howe, Jack Crisp and Brody Mihocek, who were due to be out of contract at the end of this season.

Hamish Spence

Darcy Parish

Just a brief glimpse at Darcy Parish’s stats to start 2023 is all the cause Essendon need to lock him away long-term. Parish, 26 in July, is ranked elite in stats including disposals, contested possessions, clearances and metres gained, and presently has the fifth highest average disposal numbers with 32.2, behind Caleb Serong, Tom Green, Clayton Oliver, and Nick Daicos.

Back in the same rich vein of form that saw him earn an All-Australian blazer and finish fifth in the Brownlow in 2021, Parish is among the hottest free agents on the market, and would no doubt carry a high price tag for anyone wanting to pry him out of Tullamarine.

Essendon will be no doubt preparing to not give anyone a chance to do so by signing up Parish to reap the rewards of him playing at his peak, and should he request a trade, his status as a restricted free agent will see the Bombers seeking adequate compensation.

Thomas Grattan

Lachie Schultz

An innocuous list decision by the Dockers three years ago might have potentially made them vulnerable to losing one of their most important forwards. Lachie Schultz is vital a part of Fremantle’s line-up, with the crafty small forward finishing second in the club’s goalkicking last season and experiencing a hot start to 2023 with 10 goals so far.

His contributions are even more valuable to a side that has struggled to consistently score under coach Justin Longmuir. The 25-year-old also embodies the importance the team places on forward pressure and has the ability to play further up the ground when required.

Despite only being in the AFL system for five seasons, Schultz is an unrestricted free agent because he was delisted and re-listed as a rookie by Fremantle in 2020 to fit the AFL’s list requirements. It means the Dockers wouldn’t even have the option to match an offer from another team if he decides to leave. The Williamstown product knocked back interest from Hawthorn two years ago to remain in Western Australia but should be pursued by numerous teams if he remains unsigned.

Two of Fremantle’s greatest players, Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters are also unrestricted free agents. But the duo were considered less likely to leave given their age and tenure at the club.

Hamish Spence

Mark Blicavs

Having started his career late after the well-publicised move over from athletics, the now 32-year-old Mark Blicavs is not nearly as battered and bruised as the typical footballer his age, and would hence be a valuable asset at any club.

Over the years Chris Scott has used him in nearly every position on the ground, with the utility currently starting on ball before becoming an ‘around the ground’ ruckman and a tackling beast. He spent a number of years down back and could be targeted by rival clubs to fill a void in that area if need be.

Geelong will be no doubt keen to keep his services, as he does not look like slowing down any time soon, but if the right amount of money is put to him, he may look to sure up his future at his age with a longer-term deal worth more. Being an unrestricted free agent, he would be also able to decide his club of choice if it came to that.

Scott Kertes

Malcolm Rosas

Coming out of their Darwin-based academy, the Suns are beginning to see a return on their investment with Malcolm Rosas. The young forward has shown glimpses of promise in the past two seasons, having broken out in 2022, serving to add a bit of flair to the Suns’ forward line.

The small forward hasn’t been a prolific goal scorer or ball-winner but has proven he’s an impact player, needing little opportunity to find the goals or create chances for his teammate while his defensive work and general work rate have also been impressive.

His speed also makes him a difficult match for opposition for teammates with the 21-year-old beginning to put together an impressive highlights reel for someone who’s played just 24 games thus far.

With the Suns starting slow out of the gates winning just two games across the first six rounds, Rosas is one of the few players from the club whose input has increased. While the club would like his efficiency in front of goal to be higher, currently going at 22 per cent in front of goal, his effort and ability to get into the right positions is something that will please the Suns.

With his AFL career just beginning, Rosas is not a finished article, and looking to be a genuine prospect, the club will be eager to retain his services. An unrestricted free agent come the end of 2023, the Suns will be looking for their young forward to sign the dotted line prior to the end of the season where he could potentially go elsewhere for nothing.

Giacomo Bruno

Harry Himmelberg

Out of contract at the end of 2023, Harry Himmelberg represents a vital re-signing for the GWS Giants. The restricted free agent is reportedly attracting interest from numerous clubs, a reflection of his versatility and athletic profile.

Himmelberg’s value to the Giants was on full display a couple of weeks ago against Hawthorn, with the 26-year-old kicking the match-winning goal in attack before executing a game-saving spoil on his defensive goal line. It’s performances of this nature that will reinforce his importance to Adam Kingsley’s plans moving forward.

Boasting the capacity to play at both ends of the ground, Himmelberg provides GWS with strong aerial prowess and depth to its key position stocks. Despite predominantly playing as a forward under Kingsley, Himmelberg was also productive in the backline last year, racking up plenty of disposals and intercepts.

The Giants have lost several big-name players to rival outfits in recent years. Should Himmelberg depart, it would serve as a major blow to the club.

Jonathan Potenza

James Worpel

Having offloaded Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara in the off-season, James Worpel will be certainly part of Sam Mitchell’s plans going forward. He will be a player the club will be looking to sign on before the season’s end due to their list build and the fact that they are rebuilding.

Having had a down year in 2022, the former Peter Crimmins Medalist has rediscovered his best form and has been one of the shining lights for the Hawks who’ve struggled in the early going of the season. Providing the Hawks with some much-needed grunt in the middle, Worpel has been damaging in stoppages, ranked inside the top 20 players. He also leads the Hawks for clearances per game, while also being the side’s third top ball-winner.

Having reverted back to his natural position as a grunting midfielder, Worpel is currently averaging 23 disposals, 4.5 tackles, and 6.5 clearances a game, with his stock rising again having been on the decline in recent years.

The 24-year-old is potentially able to depart to a rival club for basically nothing, it will be a priority for the club to ink a new year deal before the end of the year.

Giacomo Bruno

Alex Neal-Bullen

Neal-Bullen is someone that played an integral part in the drought-breaking premiership for the Demons in 2021. He brings great forward pressure, and provides a hit-up option entering the forward 50 if need be, while averaging almost a goal a game over the past couple of seasons.

The Demons internally really rate his work ethic and attitude and he provides valuable leadership in the forward line on the ground. At just 27 years of age and approaching 150 games, Neal-Bullen is entering the point of his career where he can be consistently relied upon for effort and a valuable contribution each and every week.

Melbourne’s forward line, despite the dominance in 2021, seems to be always in a state of flux, so it will be looking to sign the restricted free agent in order to not only provide some stability up forward but also ensure other clubs can’t reap the benefit of his services.

Scott Kertes

Ben McKay

It’s not every day a key position defender in his prime, with the talent that McKay has, comes out of contract. So there is no doubt that there will be other clubs chasing the 25-year-old at season’s end.

McKay has been a strong part of North Melbourne’s defence over recent years, averaging a league-high 4.1 intercept marks last season, from the 15 games that he played, whilst playing on the best forwards in the competition. While a foot injury saw McKay sit on the sidelines for the opening four rounds, his return in Round Five was a much-needed one for the Roos.

When McKay was out due to injury, the Kangaroos used the likes of Griffin Logue, Luke McDonald and Aiden Corr. Whilst they did a good job across the opening four weeks, McKay was sorely missed as he is probably the better one on one defender.

In Round Four against Carlton, North struggled to contain Charlie Curnow or Harry McKay, with the Blues duo kicking 10 goals between them.

If McKay was to leave, it’s uncertain if the Kangaroos have the stocks to cover him when it comes to playing against forwards in the mould of Harry McKay, Curnow or Jeremy Cameron.

In addition to that, still only being 25 years old, North Melbourne will be hoping that McKay will lead their defensive group back into flag contention which makes it all the more important that they get his signature.

Elly McNerney

Mitch Georgiades

Port Adelaide has most of its young brigade signed away but there is one key signature that they still need to chase down, and that is young key forward, Mitch Georgiades.

Georigades has already illustrated in his first three years at Alberton that he is an exciting talent but has found himself on the fringes of Port’s side this season. The 21-year-old showed he is an effective and damaging forward, kicking 65 goals in his short career.

Although he has spent the last three weeks in the SANFL – where he is currently averaging 11 disposals and has kicked five goals, good young key position players don’t grow on trees.

Unfortunately for Port Adelaide, the young West Australian has been dealt a cruel blow and has been ruled out for the rest of the 2023 season after rupturing his ACL in his right knee. The injury occurred with Georgiades landing awkwardly while attempting a mark for the Port Adelaide Magpies against Sturt at Unley Oval last Sunday.

Despite the injury, with Charlie Dixon heading towards the twilight of his career, it is imperative the Power lock away Georgiades to accompany Todd Marshall in their forward line as the club continues their journey for their second-ever premiership.

Port will have its hands full with a number of rival clubs already monitoring the Subiaco product and would love to secure Georgiades’ services, especially the two West Australian teams.

Medium defender Kane Farrell also remains out of contract and will be another player Port will be keen to keep with his elite ball use off half-back a weapon as well as father-son talent Jase Burgoyne who has shown signs of promise in his first two years at the Power.

Jordan Janssen

Nathan Broad

Resolute and ever-reliable, Nathan Broad has grown to become a vital part of the Tigers’ defensive structure. With an ability to play on all sizes or purely as an interceptor, it should come as no surprise that Richmond will be eager to secure the signature of its versatile triple premiership backman.

Since establishing himself as a regular best 22 player in late 2017, the 30-year-old has been unassuming, yet unrelenting, in his efforts to repel opposition attacks. In 2022, Broad was ranked first at Richmond for marks (140) and rebounds from defensive 50 (120), second for intercept marks (40) and contests lost in defence (17.1 per cent), and third for intercept possessions (124).

Now a restricted free agent, rival clubs will almost certainly be circling in the hope of securing Broad’s services, with West Coast reportedly initiating plans to lure the Swan Districts’ product back home to Western Australia.

Fellow ‘Sandgroper’ Kamdyn McIntosh remains without a deal in place for next year, while beloved club heroes Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt could call time on their illustrious careers.

At this stage, co-captain Dylan Grimes is also out of contract at season’s end but is tipped to remain at Punt Road in 2024.

Liahm O’Brien

Mason Wood

Putting together his best season yet in 2022, playing 19 games for St Kilda, Mason Wood was rewarded with a one-year contract at the end of the year.

Now though, Wood has taken his game to yet another level as one of the standouts in Ross Lyon’s side which has surged to the top of the ladder in the first six games of the year.

Averaging 23.3 disposals, along with 7.7 marks and kicking just under a goal a game, Wood is now a crucial piece in the Saints midfielder setup. With strong defensive capabilities, and the ability to surge forward and make an impact, the 29-year-old has truly hit the prime of his career, and the Saints should definitely lock him down as soon as possible.

He is making the most of the one-year deal the club gave him, and it’ll be hard for them to not make it a multi-year deal before the end of the season.

Brandon Patane

Joel Amartey

In the twilight of Lance Franklin’s career, Sydney has searched for the next key forward to fill in once the legend steps aside. None have stood out this season quite like Joel Amartey.

Taken in the 2017 Rookie Draft, Amartey has become one of the Swans’ most explosive athletes, often filling the role of the third tall forward to cover injuries. Though in 2023, he’s taken control of the main target role in Buddy’s absence.

He kicked four goals in the first half against Hawthorn in Round Two in his return from injury, before being subbed off for load management. He had two goalless weeks alongside Franklin in Rounds Three and Four.

Lining up against Richmond in Round Five, he looked set for another elite performance after kicking two goals in the opening quarter. Unfortunately, he succumbed to another soft tissue injury, a hamstring that will see him miss 6-8 weeks.

Out of contract beyond 2023 and in his best form without Buddy in the side, Amartey is a player the Swans simply must retain for the future of their forward line.

Jakson Bertoli

Jeremy McGovern

Having struggled with injuries in the back end of his career, these two factors you’d suggest would sway most clubs from re-signing most players, but McGovern is not most players, as when fit, he’s one of the best key defenders in the competition.

A brilliant interceptor, the defender has been a brilliant servant for the Eagles since breaking into the side’s senior side back in 2015 and played a major role in the premiership season back in 2018. And with the club in the midst of a rebuild, they’ll be looking to hold some of their veterans to help aid the development of the next crop of players coming through.

With no young defender coming through at the moment that could fill the void left by McGovern, the Eagles will be looking to retain his services.

An unrestricted free agent, the 31-year-old will garner interest from rival clubs despite the fact he’s closer to the end of his career. Having become a life member at the club, Eagles will be keen to sign the defender who’s been a staple of the side’s defence for nearly the last decade.

Giacomo Bruno

Alex Keath

The Bulldogs have done a great job over the first half of the season locking away key players and exciting prospects like Arthur Jones, Tom Liberatore, and Sam Darcy for the next couple of seasons.

The next focus that the Bulldogs have when it comes to locking away players, could go a few ways but with a relatively thinly-spread backline, it should be Alex Keath.

Whilst the addition of Liam Jones has helped the Bulldogs in 2023, it showed in the match against Port Adelaide and at times in the game against Richmond, that Keath is still a required player at the Whitten Oval when it comes to the Bulldogs’ defence.

From five games this season, Keath has averaged 1.8 intercept marks and nearly 12 disposals per game. Whilst Sam Darcy and Jedd Busslinger are still developing, the Bulldogs will be looking to secure Keath for the next few seasons.

Elly McNerney

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