Brodie Grundy had his first hit-out in Sydney colours today (Photo: Joshua Davis / The Inner Sanctum)

Brodie Grundy had his first hit-out in Sydney colours. (Photo: Joshua Davis / The Inner Sanctum)

Footy is (kind of) finally back, as the first club v club pre-season matches got underway this past week.

Players from all 18 clubs got their first taste of matchups against another opponent, as we dissect who was the most impressive player from each game.

Could it have been a returning player from a long term injury? a player trialled in a new position? or a player set to make their debut in season 2024?

Stats have been fan-provided via AFL Central and may have slight inaccuracies or are otherwise unavailable


Ned McHenry: 11 disposals, 3 goals

In a hard fought content against the Power, a lot of the Crows young players appeared to struggle in their first club v club hitout. Ned McHenry was a name that stood out, after kicking just four goals in 2023 from 11 games, the 20-year-old nearly matched that tally in the match sim. McHenry also gathered 11 possessions showing promise with speed, agility and ball use for Adelaide supporters.


James Tunstill: 15 disposals (3 quarters)

As Brisbane approaches the Opening Round, there are several potential openings in the team, one of which being 20-year-old James Tunstill who made a compelling case to secure one of those spots. Tunstill showed exceptional cleanliness in the challenging conditions and demonstrated high engagement while dominating the wing, accumulating 15 disposals in the first three quarters. The match was dominated in the front half by the Lions with the big names stars making the most impact.


Ollie Hollands: 14 disposals, 1 goal, 7 tackles

It was a hot and windy day at Ikon Park, but Ollie Hollands was the clear standout for the young and new Blues, with his increased presence inside. Hollands in his new number four jumper offered plenty of run and deliberate ball use in trying conditions. Entering his second season at his boyhood club, Hollands looks to assert himself as a starting winger for Carlton, contending the likes of Blake Acres, Matt Cottrell and Sam Docherty. Ashton Moir also impressed Blues fans, slotting two goals in his first appearance for the club.


Reef McInnes: 3 Goals

‘It’s only pre-season’ is what Collingwood supporters will be telling themselves this week after a defeat against North Melbourne but despite the result, a positive for the defending champions was Reef McInnes. He kicked three goals throughout the game, and took some very nice contested marks, also playing some time up the ground. McInnes would certainly be putting is hand up and would be hard to completely ignore him come selection in Opening Round.


Jade Gresham: 16 disposals, 3 clearances, 3 marks

In a dull day for the Bombers, a rare shining light was Saints recruit Jade Gresham. Against his former side Gresham had 16 disposals and three clearances, in an 11-goal defeat at RSEA park. While the scores of course don’t matter the Bombers sure had their woes. Gresham was everywhere where he needed to be, and looked to be more assertive when the opposition was really firing up. Gresham looks to take a rotation of midfield and forward minutes this season, and should be rewarded with more on-ball time on the back of this contest.


Nat Fyfe: 21 disposals, 86% disp. efficiency, 7 clearances (first half)

He. Is. Back. Nat Fyfe is set to spend more minutes in the midfield again in 2024, and he showed why he’s deserving of that position. Racking up 21 disposals (taken off at half time) in a dominant showing against West Coast to conclude the match simulation round. His first half was absolutely dominant, He had 9 CBA’s and seven clearances intop of his possession count. Over the past couple years Fyfe has seemed a bit lost going foward, but looks set to get back to his best ways on ball this season.


Ollie Dempsey: Stats unavailable

Ollie Dempsey was the pick of the Cats youngsters at Ikon Park on Thursday. Exact stats were difficult to find for Dempsey, but one special moment was when he drifted forward to take what would be a mark of the year contender before kicking truly. Dempsey was lively in all thirds of the ground, providing consistent run and carry as well as success delivering the ball by hand and foot. We saw glimpses of mature-aged rookie Shaun Mannagh when he only took the field in the second half and his maturity showed with on-ball composure.


Alex Sexton: 14 disposals (first half)

The Suns under new coach Damien Hardwick experienced a significant shift when Alex Sexton transitioned from the forward line to half-back. Despite a few errors and thus questions on his efficiency, it was certainly noticeable how frequently Gold Coast relied on Sexton’s long ball use to exit defence. His transition provided considerable momentum up the field, and perhaps could be a rejuvenation for the 30-year-old under Hardwick.


Harvey Thomas: 18 disposals, 78% disp. efficiency, 1 goal

If there was one name to really excite Giants fans, it’s the 18-year-old rookie taken at pick 59 in last year’s draft, Harvey Thomas. It is very rare that a fourth-round selection is amongst the contenders to play in Opening Round. Thomas proved that he could shape as a draft steal in years to come for the Giants, playing both outside midfield/wing and forward minutes in the match simulation defeat to Sydney. Jacob Wehr was also eye catching for the Giants with over 10 disposals in the last term.


Massimo D’Ambrosio: 26 disposals, 4 inside 50’s

D’Ambrosio was very impressive in his first game in Hawks colours. The former Bomber, spent a lot of time around the ball, also drifting into the front half of the ground and pressuring inside 50 on some occasions. D’Ambrosio finished with 26 disposals and four inside 50’s. In his two years and 16 games for Essendon he only reached the 25+ disposal mark once, giving Hawks fans another reason to be excited. Also impressive against the Bulldogs was young Henry Hustwaite who had 24 disposals and two goals also in a very impressive showing.


Caleb Windsor: 22 Disposals, 3 Marks

Demons fans should certainly be impressed with their recent selection in the 2023 draft, as Caleb Windsor proved every ounce of why he was a top-10 pick. With more than 20 disposals playing primarily on the wing, Windsor was running up and down all day, giving himself the best opportunity to make an impact. He appeared a but rushed with the ball, turning it over a few times by foot, but it was his first hitout against AFL opposition. Certainly far more positive signs than negative.


Colby McKercher: 25 disposals, 80% disp. efficiency, 3 marks

While scores don’t actually matter, there was a lot to like about North’s 34-point win against the reigning premiers. Number two draft pick Colby McKercher really impressed in his first outing for his new club. McKercher spent majority of his time in the midfield accumulating 25 disposals at 80 percent efficiency. Also impressive for the Roos were Tristan Xerri with 21 disposals and 30 hitouts as well as Tom Powell who racked up 32 possessions.


Mitch Georgiades: 3 Goals (periods 4-6)

There is no denying the natural talent of the 22-year-old, and features in this list on the back of just two games in 2023 due to an ACL rupture. Georgiades only played in the final three out of six periods, but displayed that he is well on his way to making a return early in the season for the Power. Alongside the likes of Dixon, Rioli and Marshall, Port Adelaide’s forward 50 taking real shape with five multiple goal kickers (not including Georgiades) in the first four quarters alone.


Thomson Dow: 24 Disposals, 3 Marks

The Tigers midfield already looks to be tough to break into, with the likes of Martin, Prestia and Taranto all missing in the match sim, now Thomson Dow has stuck his hand up after an impressive showing against Melbourne. He was one of the Tigers more prolific runners and ball users, and found himself weaving in and out of traffic on countless occasions. He generated several inside 50’s, but one criticism perhaps is that he could have been more direct with his entries rather than kicking to a big pack which he did multiple times. Dow also attended the joint-most centre bounces for Richmond at 71%.


Riley Bonner: 28 disposals, 79% disp. efficiency, 7 marks

As a team, St Kilda put up one of the more dominant match simulation performances across the board. At the forefront was new recruit from Port Adelaide Riley Bonner, who finished with xx disposals and a second quarter goal in the 66-point victory over Essendon. The Saints were near flawless particularly with their ball movement much of which included the ball speed of half-back from Bonner. It now becomes near impossible not to pick Bonner for Round 1, after the performance we saw on Friday afternoon.


Brodie Grundy: 22 hitouts, 17 disposals, 9 tackles

It was no surprise that Grundy would improve on his troubled times at the Demons, and we saw first hand what the new Swan recruit can dish up. In first game in red and white did not look out of place, impressive in the air and at ground level laying nine tackles (eight in the first half). Grundy clearly has been craving a number one ruck role, after a year behind multiple-time All-Australian Max Gawn. Now he has the freedom to get back to his best, with a fresh start in fresh colours, and if the match simulation was any indicator, the Swans are far better with Grundy.


Jayden Hunt: 29 disposals, 5 marks (3 quarters)

Jayden Hunt, with his dynamic style and an aggressive approach to run, carry and deliver from half-back, gathered an impressive near 30 disposals during the opening three quarters. Hunt looks to bring the experience needed in this young Eagles lineup. All eyes were on Harley Reid, who alongside Hunt spent some time at half-back but he was a bit dissapointing for Eagles fans with just eight disposals, perhaps just on managed itensity ahead of his highly anticipated Round 1 debut.


Ryley Sanders: 25 disposals, 8 tackles, 1 goal

He was unbelievable, Sanders might well have been the most impressive of the recent draft class in the opening week of the preseason. Sanders dominated around the ball, looking like he had years of experience under his belt. The 19-year-old slotted a lovely goal on the run against the Hawks, just one of his many highlights in a near best-on-ground performance. He finished the match with 25 possessions and eight tackles as evidence of his contested ball-winning ability.

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