20/04/2024

Josh Daicos, Will Day, and Callum Wilkie are some of the players around the league whose stock has risen so far in 2023. (Image: @7AFL; @HawthornFC; @stkildafc - Twitter)

With the first month of the 2023 AFL season now in the books, The Inner Sanctum has taken a look at which players from each club have started strong out the gates, had a leap in form and seen their stock rise.

Nick Murray

After being selected as a Preseason Supplementary Selection in 2021, the 22-year-old key defender has grown in leaps and bounds but seemingly more so this season in his four games.

Playing as the second key defender (often behind Jordon Butts), the Adelaide defence is a smaller, more mobile unit comparatively.

Having only 33 games under his belt, Murray has not always enamoured supporters with his body positioning or defensive work. He is usually undersized against his opponent but hopes to use his leap, marking and football IQ to better them.

This season, in particular, Murray has shown more finesse and confidence which has resulted in the rise in his stock. Coupled with the loss of form to Butts, Murray has been a pillar of strength in the young defensive unit.

His next test will be in the form of the taller Carlton forward line consisting of Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow.

Madeline Irwin

Will Ashcroft

The number two draft pick from last year came into the season with expectations that he would pretty much slot into the midfield from game one, but for him to actually do so and play a significant role in the two wins to date speaks volumes for his ability, even at this young age.

Ashcroft was arguably the Lions’ best player in the impressive win against the Demons which saw him earn the Round Two Rising Star nomination, amassing a team-best 31 disposals and kicking a goal. He followed that performance with 23 disposals in the loss to the Western Bulldogs and a team-high 26 touches in the great win against the previously undefeated Magpies.

Despite the high expectations, Ashcroft has looked right at home, when other youngsters would perhaps take time to find their feet at AFL level.

Scott Kertes

Lewis Young

After the departure of Liam Jones in late 2021, Carlton were very much in need of a full-back replacement. Lewis Young ended up being the man for the job, and while serviceable throughout 2022, he hardly set the world alight.

This season however, Young has continually matched the levels of his key defensive partner Jacob Weitering, who has one club best & fairest to his name and has deservedly been in the All-Australian conversation on multiple occasions.

Averaging 16.8 disposals, along with 6.8 marks and 7.5 spoils, and 7.8 intercept possessions per game, Young has become a dangerous presence in the Carlton backline. Alongside Weitering and Mitch McGovern who has finally pulled together some brilliant form this season, the trio have established themselves as one of the most solid key-defensive setups in the competition throughout the first four rounds.

Brandon Patane

Josh Daicos

So much attention has been on the remarkable rise of younger brother Nick Daicos, one could understand if you have missed the breakout of Josh Daicos this season.

Dacios is enjoying career highs per game in kicks (15.5), handballs (10.5), disposals (26), goals (0.8), inside 50s (4.5), clearances (4.3), metres gained (501), and score involvements (6.8).

At 24, Josh Daicos has emerged as one of the best wingmen in the game, known for his two-way running, brilliant field kicking, and ability to not only kick goals but set them up too.

Dacicos will become a restricted free agent in 2024 and will attract considerable interest from opposition clubs.

Collingwood will face a challenge to match the offers of opposition clubs given the breadth of young star players, led most notably by brother Nick who at this point can not be labelled with a price. He is arguably the best player in the AFL and Collingwood will pay whatever it takes to keep him.

It is for that reason, Josh Daicos is the biggest stock riser at Collingwood this season and it will be fascinating to see how they manage the situation in 2024, given they still have salary commitments to ex-players Brodie Grundy and Adam Treloar.

Shaun Lay

Will Setterfield

In what is shaping up to be one of the biggest trade steals of 2022, Will Setterfield is thriving in his new colours. The Bombers acquired Setterfield from Carlton for a mere future fourth-round pick.

Through the first four games of the season, Setterfield is enjoying career highs in kicks (13), handballs (10.8), disposals (23.8), marks (6.5), tackles (6.5), clearances (3.8), meters gained (434.6), and score involvements (7.3).

At 25, the big-bodied midfielder is showcasing his potential at AFL level and providing Brad Scott with a much-needed physical presence in the midfield and is a catalyst in Essendon’s 3-1 start.

Setterfield is no doubt the biggest stock increase on Essendon’s list and will fall out of contract in 2024. Given the Bombers threw him a lifeline last year, becoming his third AFL club, they will no doubt need to offer him a greater deal to reward and encourage him to stay when he enters non-free agency next year.

Shaun Lay

Luke Ryan

Luke Ryan has been one of the few standouts in what has been a sluggish start to the season for Fremantle.

The intercepting defender started the season with a bang, collecting a huge 37 disposals (including 30 kicks) and 13 marks in the close loss to St Kilda. He again topped 30 disposals in Round Two with another 10 marks in the close loss to North Melbourne – a loss that would have been much worse if not for his efforts. Ryan was quieter in the Western Derby, a sign that his midfield was able to get on top and ease the workload on the stalwart defender.

After four rounds, he has the fifth most marks in the competition with 36 and has the 7th most fantasy points – a sign of his all-round game improving significantly. If the others around him can get close to his level of effort, Fremantle will be in a much better position.

Scott Kertes

Jeremy Cameron

Is it possible for a best and fairest winner in a premiership year to go to another level? If it is, then Jeremy Cameron has done so.

In a lacklustre start to the season for the defending premiers, Cameron has pretty much been carrying the team on his back.

Six goals and 25 disposals in Round Two against the Blues almost single-handedly helped get his underperforming side over the line. In Round Three against the Suns, he was nearly as dominant, but just couldn’t hit the scoreboard, kicking 3.3 and putting a couple out on the full.

In the first half of the must-win clash against the Hawks, Cameron had three of the four first-half goals to keep his side in the contest, before continuing to dominate to end up with 7.1 and another 22 disposals.

Cameron leads the Coleman at this early stage with 18 goals and is getting up the ground a lot to allow his teammates to use his precision kicking to hit targets inside 50. He is also pushing back to be the deepest forward at times when Tom Hawkins has struggled.

If this form continues, he is a huge chance to win the Coleman and finish quite high in the Brownlow Medal.

Scott Kertes

Darcy Macpherson

Having fallen out of favour in recent seasons, Macpherson looks to have a new lease on life in 2023, having had an impressive start to the season while others around him have struggled at the Suns.

Struggling to break into the Suns’ best 22 having predominantly played across half-forward and the midfield, the 25-year-old looks to have found a new home across halfback with the transition from the forward line to defence has been a swift one.

Amassing over 20 disposals and gaining territory, averaging over 370 metres gained across the first four rounds, Macpherson is performing well above his career average to start the season. He’s also been solid defensively with six marks a game, sitting inside the top 15 players in the competition for intercept marks per game.

Having struggled to lock down a regular spot in the senior side in recent years and having looked to be on the outer, Macpherson’s new role as a rebounding defender is proving to be successful thus far and looks to be one of the few players whose stock has risen at the club in the early going of the season.

Giacomo Bruno

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Lachie Ash

Lachie Ash is seeing an improvement in his numbers compared to the start of his 2022 campaign. Despite his side’s current position on the ladder, Ash is becoming a standout for the Giants.

The rebounding defender is currently averaging 24.5 disposals per game, meters gained (467.7) and kicks (15.8) which are all career highs for the young Giant.

Across the first four games, Ash has been flourishing on the field and proving himself to be a ball magnet. The young gun had solid performances against the Crows and Eagles, before following it up with an impressive 30-disposals game against the Blues.

All eyes will be on Ash as he is currently in the final year of his contract. The future looks bright for the footballer should he continue his strong form throughout the rest of the season.

Ashleigh Matosevic

Will Day

Having been an exciting prospect since debuting back in 2020, Day looks to finally be living up to the early promise having been setback with injury and coming off an inconsistent 2022 season. Having been predominantly used across half-back and a wing, Day has cemented a spot as an inside midfielder and has been one of the shining lights of the Hawks’ 2023 campaign thus far.

Averaging just under 25 disposals a game, in addition to five clearances and seven marks a game, Day is putting together quite an impressive season. Having been rewarded for his good run of form to start the year, Day recently re-signed until the end of 2027, an indication the Hawks see the youngster as part of their future plans.

In a side that has been on the receiving end of some heavy defeats to start the year, it certainly hasn’t been due to a lack of trying on Day’s part, with the 21-year-old having been one of the few consistent performers in the opening four rounds to start the year.

With the jury out last season on whether he’d kick on and take his game to the next level, Day has made a statement that he can be an impactful player at AFL level and is one whose stock has risen massively while others have either stagnated or regressed in form around him.

Giacomo Bruno

Kade Chandler

Chandler has risen significantly after a strong pre-season showing which saw him earn a round-one call-up, and he has repaid the faith every week so far, with six goals from four games.

After struggling to earn his spot over his previous four years at the club, Chandler has been deployed up forward, where he currently ranks elite for marks.

More importantly, with Kysaiah Pickett missing two games through suspension, Chandler was able to help fill the void up forward, with his new career-best three goals coming in the Dees’ big win over the Swans.

Chandler has hit the scoreboard every game to date, is in career-best form, and may just be getting started in the Demons team after finally breaking through.

Thomas Grattan

Cameron Zurhaar

With an increase to his midfield minutes this season, Cam Zurhaar has burst onto the scene in 2023. The 24-year-old is looking to be one of North Melbourne’s best, averaging career highs in both disposals (19.3) and goals (1.8) per game.

The young gun is having a significant impact on games. Particularly in the Round Three clash against Hawthorn, where he stepped up in the absence of Luke Davies-Uniacke with 20 disposals and two goals. Zurhaar followed up with another strong performance against Carlton (17 disposals and three goals) which he was rewarded with the coaches’ votes.

Zurhaar’s strong start to the season could be a sign of what’s to come as the season progresses.

Ashleigh Matosevic

Jason Horne-Francis

Despite the turmoil that happened in his first year at AFL at North Melbourne, former number-one pick Jason Horne Francis continues to demonstrate why he was selected that high.

Despite having surgery on both legs and a limited pre-season, Horne-Francis couldn’t have started the season with a bigger bang, playing a massive role in Port’s demolition of Brisbane in Round 1. On that day ‘the Hornet’ amassed 25 disposals, 10 inside 50s, seven clearances, and 532 metres gained.

Although he hasn’t amassed 20 disposals since the young midfielder has shown glimpses of how good he will be once he develops and continues to build up his frame. When not in the midfield, Ken Hinkley was thrown Horne-Francis up forward, and he is often found deep in the goal square.

Still only 19 years old, Horne-Francis still has plenty of room for improvement which is a scary thing for the rest of the competition.

Honourable mentions to Sam Powell-Pepper whose effort and passion for every contest no matter the situation and Kane Farell who has gotten off to a career year after settling into his role at halfback that he started near the end of last season.

Jordan Janssen

Liam Baker

Entering 2023 on the back of consecutive top-five finishes in Richmond’s best and fairest, many expected Liam Baker to continue serving as a vital utility in a side tipped to see September action.

Instead, the 25-year-old has returned to the position that he owned during the 2019 and 2020 premiership seasons. Baker has become a pillar of the Tigers’ defensive setup, playing with trademark grit and determination. Not only has he filled the role of a resolute half-back stopper, but he has also found himself as the first link in the attacking chain on numerous occasions.

After four rounds, Baker sits inside the competition’s top 10 for intercept possessions (36) and rebounds from defensive 50 (24). This has been of great importance in the absence of fellow premiership defenders, Nathan Broad and Jayden Short.

While Damien Harwick will more than likely be hoping to cash in on the Western Australian’s versatility at the pointy end of Richmond’s season, this current trajectory of form could see Baker solidify his place among the competition’s very best small defenders.

Liahm O’Brien

Callum Wilkie

The newly appointed St Kilda vice-captain has thrived under Ross Lyon so far in 2023, helping his defensive group concede the least amount of points across the competition during the opening four rounds of the season.

Wilkie has stepped up in the absence of senior personnel, averaging 21 disposals, 9.8 intercept possessions, and four intercept marks per game. These numbers represent a significant boost from previous campaigns.

Typically known for his lockdown roles, the 27-year-old appears to have added more strings to his bow. This has included improved disposal efficiency by foot and a greater preparedness to intercept in the air.

Wilkie might not necessarily be a household name in the AFL landscape, but his value wouldn’t be underappreciated within the four walls of the St Kilda Football Club.

An honourable mention also to Mitch Owens whose strong form in the forward half saw him recently earn a Rising Star nomination.

Jonathan Potenza

Logan McDonald

Has the apprentice taken over the master? As of Round Four, Logan McDonald is currently leading the Swans goalkicking with 10, including a career-best haul of five against Hawthorn.

With Lance Franklin struggling for form, and beginning to show his age, McDonald is fast becoming the main target for the Swans up forward and is showing his growth made after missing the Grand Final loss last year. The 21-year-old is currently ranked elite for goals and goal accuracy as well as above average for marks.

If the young West Australian can continue this form, the Buddy-sized hole in the Swans’ forward line may be filled sooner than they think.

Thomas Grattan

Oscar Allen

Allen has had his fair share of struggles in recent years whether it’s been inconsistency due to being thrown across the forward and backline and being unable to get settled in one position in addition to injuries, he looks to have gotten his career back on track after showing glimpses of promise.

With Josh Kennedy retiring and Jack Darling in the back end of his career, Allen has become the focal point of the Eagles’ forward line and has relished in the role of being the side’s number-one forward option, kicking 10 goals inside the opening four games of the season.

Averaging 2.5 goals a game, he’s ranked elite for his output, sitting amongst the top goal-kickers in the competition. In a side that isn’t getting as many looks at goals as their opponents, Allen has taken his chances and is starting to develop into a dangerous power forward, with the future of West Coast’s forward-looking bright.

Giacomo Bruno

Oskar Baker

Baker was recruited to the Bulldogs as a supplemental selection period signing and four rounds into the 2023 season he looks to be one of the best value recruits of the off-season.

Coming from the Melbourne Demons bereft of opportunity in recent seasons (15 games in five seasons), the Dogs had a wing position open after the departure of Lachie Hunter (who coincidentally moved to Melbourne) which they thought Baker could fill.

The 24-year-old has brought a different dimension to the Bulldogs’ midfield with his speed and class across and between the two arcs.

Despite the small sample size, Baker looks set for a career year, already setting career highs in key indicators for a winger such as disposals (16), marks (5.8), inside 50s (four), score involvements (four), and metres gained (396.8) per game.

The Aspley product has had a particularly good season but his best games as in the red, white and blue have come more recently in the Dogs’ last two wins in Round Three and Four respectively against the Lions (18 disposals, seven marks, a goal, eight inside 50s, and two goal assists) and the Tigers (20 disposals and seven marks).

Jordan Janssen

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