Geelong's Jeremy Cameron, Western Bulldog Marcus Bontempelli and Kangaroo Harry Sheezel are leading their Best and Fairest counts so far (Picture: AFL)

With the bye rounds approaching rapidly, The Inner Sanctum takes a glance towards awards season, to predict or look at who’s leading your best and fairest count.

It would be very hard to picture the 2023 Malcolm Blight Medal count, without picturing the first-year captain Jordan Dawson featuring in the votes come awards night. He has only blossomed as the skipper this season, averaging 26.3 disposals in his eight games this year.

Moving from half-back into more of a midfield role has suited the bigger-bodied Dawson, with the Crows benefitting from his elite skills and marking ability (4.8) a game. He has also demonstrated his football IQ and leadership, most prominently in the win against Hawthorn.

Right behind him on the podium looks to be Rory Laird, who will be looking to claim his fourth (2018, 2021 and 2022) Best and Fairest. Continuing as one of the most important players to the Crows’ midfield, Laird has contributed strongly averaging 28.4 disposals, 6.8 tackles and 6.3 clearances.

With the even spread of players contributing at Adelaide, the third spot looks like it will be decided closer to the end of the season. Young defender Max Michalanney, excitement machines Izak Rankine and Josh Rachele, and dependable defender Tom Doedee all look to be firming for a top-three finish.

Madeline Irwin

In what has been quite an even spread of excellent performances to date for the Lions, new recruit Josh Dunkley has had a fantastic season and has proven to be what Lions supporters expected.

Dunkley has given Brisbane another dangerous option in the middle to put next to former Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale and Hugh McCluggage while also providing that two-way running that the Lions have been craving from their midfield.

The 191cm midfielder/forward is averaging 25.1 touches, 5.9 marks, 6.5 tackles (club-high), and 5.5 clearances per game and although the 26-year-old’s numbers aren’t mind-blowing, Dunkley is having a significant impact in his first season up north.

After a disappointing opening round, Charlie Cameron turned back the clock thereafter and has been amazing in the Brisbane forward line.

Cameron’s form this season is one of the big reasons Brisbane is the third-highest-scoring side in the competition through eight rounds with the speedy small forward kicking 26 goals which sees him rank third in the Coleman Medal race. In Round 7 against the Giants, Cameron was at his best, kicking a career-high seven goals.

No defender is safe when Cameron is in their general area with the 28-year-old back to his pressurising best. The Queensland native ranks third among forwards at the Lions in pressure acts per game (15), and first in total tackles inside 50 in the AFL with 17 for the season to date.

With Marcus Adams ruled out for the 2023 season as he continues to experience symptoms of a concussion he suffered late last season and Darcy Gardiner also on the sidelines, the Brisbane Lions’ defence looked short of options and were in desperate need of someone to stand up to help co-captain Harris Andrews, and Jack Payne certainly answered the call.

The 197cm key defender has been in and out of the Lions side since debuting in 2020 but has made the spot his own this season becoming one of the most improved players in the competition.

The 23-year-old has matched up against some of the best forwards in the competition and held his own. His defensive ability was on full display against Carlton in Round 8, holding Charlie Curnow to a single goal after kicking nine the previous week.

Payne’s ability to play on the opposition’s best key forward allows the Lions to unleash Harris Andrews to peel off and play the intercepting defender role.

While taking care of his opponent, Payne has still been able to peel off and intercept opposing teams’ forward 50 entries himself. The Brisbane Lions Academy product currently sits equal fourth for intercept marks in the AFL with 28.

Jordan Janssen

The Blues have had an up-and-down campaign to start 2023 and with that has come some standout performances and contributions.

The race at the top of the John Nicholls Medal at the midway point would more than likely be a two-horse race between reigning Coleman Medalist Charlie Curnow and young gun Adam Cerra.

Curnow has easily been one of the best players in the competition to date kicking 31 goals through the first two months of the season. At this pace, he is on track for just under 90 meaning the 100-goal will be a stretch but certainly a possibility. The key forward is averaging 3.6 marks inside 50, coinciding with his 3.9 goals per game. Curnow has in some instances single-handedly kept Carlton in some games and the season so far would look different without him.

Cerra on the other hand had a slow start to the season, only reaching 25 disposals on two occasions in the first five rounds. Since then, Cerra has undoubtedly been Carlton’s best player. Between Round 6-8, Cerra was ranked the fourth highest-rated player according to Champion Data.

In this three-week span, the 24-year-old is averaging 34 disposals, 7.7 score involvements, seven inside 50s and a goal per game. There is no question that Cerra will poll near maximum BnF votes in these three rounds, so if he can continue this form, he could be set for his first Carlton medallion.

Callan Cummins

Off the back of what some might argue is one of the best first seasons of any player in recent history, Nick Daicos continues to exceed expectations.

Playing the role of the quarterback off half-back or through the midfield for the Pies has seen Daicos average the most disposals per game across the competition (34). It has also seen him average 19.8 kicks at 75.9 per cent kicking efficiency.

For someone who has only played 33 games, the reigning Rising Star plays like a seasoned veteran and someone beyond his 20 years of age. Nick, the younger son of Magpie great Peter, has already added an ANZAC Day medal to his collection this season, and if he continues his current run of form, could soon be adding Copeland Trophy winner to his ever-growing list of accolades.

It can be hard enough to stand out and forge your own path when your father is a legend of the game, and your younger brother continues to excel. However, Josh Daicos has managed to do just that.

With so much focus on Nick, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the rise of Josh this season. Forming a lethal combination with veteran Steele Sidebottom on the wing, the 24-year-old is averaging 4.2 inside 50s per game, along with 27.3 disposals.

Daicos is on track to play his 100th game at season’s end, should he continue to feature in every game for the Pies going forward, and could be a pivotal piece in their finals campaign come September.

Having taken on the captaincy role at the start of the season, Darcy Moore has taken his game to another level.

Whilst he may not collect as many disposals as his teammates, his leadership combined with his reading of the play has seen him become the number one key defender across the AFL.

Averaging 3.4 intercept marks and 8.6 intercept possessions per game to go with that mantle, the only way is up for Moore, and he’ll continue to be a key cog in Craig McRae’s well-oiled machine.

Monique Quercio

After a dominant 2021 season, Darcy Parish faded slightly in 2022, but has recaptured his 2021 form this year, and is the clear favourite for the Crichton Medal in 2023.

Parish is rated elite in a number of categories in the competition, and is currently averaging 33 disposals, 8.4 clearances, and 7.6 score involvements per game. Parish’s best outing came against St Kilda in round three, where he collected 35 disposals, seven marks, and booted a goal.

Hotly chasing Parish is the new skipper Zach Merrett, who is suspected to be only trailing in the Crichton Medal race due to a suspension forcing him out of the clash with Collingwood. Merrett averages 27.8 disposals, putting together a strong campaign. Merrett has handled the captaincy to perfection so far in 2023, helping lead Essendon to a strong start to the season.

Nic Martin has shown his first season wasn’t an anomaly, averaging 20.4 disposals and a goal per game. Essendon has had strong contributors so far in 2023, with the likes of Jake Stringer, Dylan Shiel and Mason Redman starting strongly, but Martin has taken his game to the next level. Martin finished eighth in the Best and Fairest count last season but is expected to poll many more votes to the current point.

Lachlan Dand

In what has been a disappointing season for Fremantle to date, it is certainly not through the contributions of Caleb Serong.

The young Dockers midfielder has taken his game to an elite level this year. He has had at least 27 disposals every game, including 37 against the Suns in a best-on-ground performance and 35 in a dominant display in the derby against the Eagles.

Half of his disposals have been contested and he is averaging seven clearances a game. He has simply been great and would be a Brownlow chance if his side could string a few wins together.

Defender Luke Ryan has been a sure body in a defence that has been under pressure all year. His elite kicking makes him the perfect person to give the ball, and he has an innate ability to intercept mark at will.

Ryan is averaging 25 disposals and eight marks and has certainly done his job. At this point of the season, he would certainly be in All-Australian discussion.

A left-field choice for a podium place at this point of the season for the Dockers would be small forward Lachie Schultz.

Schultz has been a bright spark in an otherwise mostly dysfunctional forward line – his pressure has been great and he has hit the scoreboard at key times in their two victories. A career-high average of 15 disposals per game at an effectiveness of 75 per cent has meant he has often been a critical link-up player heading into the forward 50.

Scott Kertes

Jeremy Cameron would be leading the Cat’s best and fairest by the length of the Flemington straight at this point of the season. The forward has already kicked 30 goals for the season (after seven games), including bags of seven against Hawthorn and six against Carlton.

It is his ability to bring others into the play which has also gone to another level. Cameron has already often racked up 20+ possessions in games, been a hit-up target across half-forward and delivered with perfection to the leading forwards. He also has started in the centre bounce on occasion and has been back in defence helping out as needed. He has been purely dominant.

After a slow start, new Geelong captain Patrick Dangerfield has put together four great games, not surprisingly coinciding with Geelong’s winning streak. He has been back to his best, bursting from the centre square and giving his forwards first use. The Cats have been smart with his game time also, giving him extended periods of rest on the bench so he can have more impact when on the ground.

The once whipping boy Gryan Miers is having his best season to date and would be right up there in the best and fairest at this point. Miers leads the league in goal assists and is finding himself further up the ground as a linkman between defence and attack. His fitness has improved significantly, as has his ability to avoid tackles and hit targets with precision. All Geelong supporters would be eating their words from this time 12 months ago.

Scott Kertes

In what has been quite an even spread of excellent performances to date for the Suns, young midfielder Noah Anderson has probably been the most consistent high performer to this point of the season.  A career-high season average of 27 disposals per game and two scoring shots per game have meant he has become more reliable each week to have a meaningful impact.

With Touk Miller’s medium-term injury, Anderson had 32 disposals and a goal against the Tigers – it would be silly to not expect this level to continue in the coming weeks.

Nearly the most improved player in the competition is the forward-turned-half-back Darcy Macpherson.  Stuart Dew has certainly unlocked his potential, with the Suns putting the ball in his hands more often to use his excellent kicking skills to good effect. Macpherson is averaging 23 disposals (compared to just 11 last season) as well as eight marks and would be well in contention for the best and fairest at this point of the season.

Rounding out the podium at this point of the season could be any number of players, but Jarrod Witts is likely to be right in contention still, despite missing a couple of games due to injury.

Witts is a man mountain in the ruck and works tirelessly around the ground, inspiring his teammates with his consistent effort each week. The 30-year-old is averaging 17 disposals per game this season, a great return for a ruckman, as well as a huge 36 hit outs.

Scott Kertes

Although there are a handful of players that stand out, midfielder Tom Green has exploded onto the scene in 2023.

Enjoying a career-best across all stats, the young gun is making a strong case for the Kevin Sheedy Medal. Green is proving to be a weapon on the ground, averaging 33.3 disposals per game.

His season-best so far is a whopping 38 touches against the Western Bulldogs in round eight. Green is also rated elite for his averages of total clearances (6.4 per game) and tackles (6.0 per game).

Stephen Coniglio is trailing just behind his Giants counterpart Green for the medal, but no doubt having a strong 2023 campaign so far.

A club fan-favourite, Coniglio is also enjoying a career-best across a majority of his stats. Starting off the season with 32 disposals in his side’s win against the Crows, the ball magnet is averaging 29.9 disposals per game. The midfielder is also impressive with his averages per game in total clearances (6.6) and tackles (4.4).

Despite a disappointing run from the Giants so far, the influence of Josh Kelly in the midfield should get a mention. The 28-year-old’s consistent performances on the field include averages in disposals (29.6), tackles (5.4) and total clearances (4.7) per game. He is a worthy recipient to round out third place. 

Ashleigh Matosevic

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Now donning the prestigious number three, Jai Newcombe has picked up from where he left off in 2022, assuming the lead role within Hawthorn’s young midfield brigade. Renowned for his hard-nosed approach at the coalface, Newcombe has averaged 22.8 disposals, 10.8 contested possessions and 5.3 clearances across the opening eight rounds of the season. The 21-year-old is also generating scoring opportunities for the Hawks, highlighted by an average of 6.3 score involvements per game. He has consistently been amongst Hawthorn’s best, despite the club’s challenging start to the season. 

Had it not been for a two-week suspension, emerging star Will Day might just be leading Newcombe in the Peter Crimmins Medal count. Day has thrived in the absence of departed duo Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara, slotting into the Hawks midfield seamlessly in 2023. His toughness around the contest and poise by foot have been defining features of his game, seeing him currently average 25.8 disposals. Still only 21 years of age, Day has plenty of upside moving forward.

Rounding out the podium at this point in the campaign is likely big-bodied midfielder Conor Nash. The Irishman has reached new heights so far this season, demonstrating an ability to win his own ball whilst also holding some of the premier midfielders in the competition to account. A standout performance came in Gather Round against GWS, with Nash collecting 31 disposals, laying nine tackles, and quelling the influence of Giants on-baller Tom Green in the second half.

Jonathan Potenza

After a dominant 2022, Clayton Oliver has picked up where he left off and looking on track for a fifth Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Trophy. The elite midfielder has shown amazing consistency throughout his career and after a career year last season, Oliver looks set to potentially top that. After eight rounds, the 25-year-old leads the Demons in disposals, contested possessions, and tackles as they look for a deep run in September.

Hotly chasing Oliver is Christian Petracca who continues to dominate opposing midfielders with his power and explosiveness out of stoppage. The Demons are the second-highest-scoring side in the AFL and Petracca is involved more often than not in their scoring chains, either finishing in front of goal or finding and setting teammates up, Petracca is always among Melbourne’s best and is currently averaging 28.8 disposals, seven inside 50s, six clearances, and 8.2 score involvements per game.

Going into the contract year you always want to perform well and Kysaiah Pickett has done exactly that. Pickett is turning into one of the elite small forwards of the competition and after a strong pre-season has added the ability to spend a few minutes in the middle.

The 21-year-old started the season playing possibly the best game of his career to date. Against the Western Bulldogs, Pickett finished the match with four goals, 19 disposals, 11 score involvements, and eight tackles (seven of which were inside the Demons’ forward 50). 

After his stellar start to the season, Pickett signed a new four-year deal which will see him stay in the red and blue until the end of 2027.

Jordan Janssen

It would be safe to say that Harry Sheezel is looking on track to potentially claim the Syd Barker Medal this year. Following a strong debut by the classy defender in round one, the 18-year-old has continued to put out impressive performances weekly. Currently averaging 28.4 disposals and 3.1 tackles per game, Sheezel’s class on the field has put him in the conversation for the prestigious club medal.

Following on from his breakout season in 2022, Luke Davies-Uniacke’s game is once again being taken to another level. The young midfielder is enjoying what looks like another season to remember for him. Across five games he’s played so far, ‘LDU’ is averaging 27.0 disposals and 6.6 clearances. 

To round out the top three on the podium, Jack Ziebell should be bought into the discussion for third place. Across his first seven games played this season, the classy defender has shown an improvement in his numbers. The North Melbourne veteran is currently averaging 23.9 disposals and has gained 481.8 metres per game.

Ashleigh Matosevic

Port Adelaide is currently sitting fifth on the ladder and to a large extent it has been done by committee, and several players are having spectacular seasons to date, but one player has stood out more than others this season and that is Zak Butters.

Butters has really come into his own in the last four rounds, splitting his time between half-forward and centre bounce. The 22-year-old adds a different dimension to the Power’s midfield mix, using his hard-at-the-ball attitude and silky skills to manoeuvre out of contest and has proven to be one of the Power’s barometer, often firing when his side needs him to stand up.

After a breakout season last year, the Western Jets product looks set to top those highs again, currently averaging career-highs in disposals (24.5), contested possessions (10), inside 50s (4.8), and metres gained (384.9) per game.

Fellow 2018 draftee and close teammate Connor Rozee would be hot on Butters’ tail come awards night as he looks to claim his second John Cahill Medal. Rozee has proven that last year which saw him awarded the Showdown Medal, the Peter Badcoe VC Medal, an All-Australian selection, and a top-five finish in the AFL Coaches’ Association’s voting was no fluke. The 23-year-old continues to show why is one of the best emerging young players and currently sits in the top three at Port Adelaide in disposals (24.1), tackles (five), inside 50s (5.2), and score involvements (6.2) per game this season.

Rounding out the podium at this point of the season could be any number of players thus far given the even contribution across the Port Adelaide playing group, but a left-field choice is Sam Powell-Pepper. Known as a fan favourite among the Port faithful, no one can deny that ‘SPP’ encompasses what it means to be a Port Adelaide player.

Currently averaging 15 disposals and over a goal per game, Powell-Pepper’s numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, but his passion and his actions on the field are things that are sure to stay on the coaches’ minds come the end of the season.

Jordan Janssen

While injuries and inconsistency have been the major talking points with regard to Richmond’s lacklustre start to 2023, the form of Tim Taranto has been far from disappointing. 

After making the highly touted move to Punt Road at the end of 2022, the ex-GWS Giant has lived up to the hype, playing in a manner that is as much centred on attacking flair as it is defensive intent. At the conclusion of round 8, Taranto leads the Tigers for disposals (245), tackles (54), pressure acts (223) and score involvements (53).

Such prowess was on full display in round 6, where the 25-year-old managed 33 disposals, 10 tackles, 32 pressure acts and 10 score involvements in his side’s loss to Melbourne.

In hot pursuit of Taranto is Tiger faithful favourite Liam Baker. The Western Australian is on track to make it three top-five Jack Dyer medal finishes in succession, with the hard-nosed defender playing a pivotal role in an undermanned backline.

Often, Baker finds himself as the starting point in the transition from defence to attack, largely on the back of the interceptor role he excels in. The dual premiership player’s place inside Richmond’s top five in key stats such as; intercept possessions, score launches, score involvements and intercept marks, serves as proof of strong all-round play.

Rounding out the top three, fellow defender Daniel Rioli has continued to innovate off of the half-back line. In a side that, at times, has seemed disconnected, the 2022 best and fairest runner-up has continued to attack with gusto, always searching for a way to link up with teammates further afield and leads the club for total metres gained (3426) as a result.

Liahm O’Brien

The Saints have found themselves improving after the re-appointment of head coach Ross Lyon, sitting third on the ladder after Round Eight of the home and away season. 

Having one of the best defences in the competition, they have managed to concede less than ninety points in each of their first seven games, only conceding seventy points or more in two games so far. 

With the Saints’ resilient defence all season, it’s no surprise that two of the following top three nominations for the Best and Fairest award come from the defensive end of the ground. 

Callum Wilkie

Leading the way for St Kilda’s Trevor Barker Award is Key Defender Callum Wilkie, who finished second behind Jack Sinclair in last season’s Best and Fairest count. 

Callum has been a shining light in the Saint’s backline, ranking top ten in the league for some of the most important defensive statistics. 

The 27-year-old Backman currently sits top of the ladder for intercepts, averaging 8.7 a game with a total of 61 across eight rounds of footy. 

Wilkie has found himself in the top five-mark takers in the competition this season, averaging 8.6 marks a game with 60 in total coming off full-back.

Jack Sinclair

Last years Trevor Barker Award is having another stellar season, with Jack Sinclair on track to poll highly again this season subject to any injuries or sudden drop off of form. 

The 28-year-old defender ranks high in the competition for disposals, averaging 29.0, with an average of 19.6 of those being kicks coming out of defensive 50, deemed to be ‘elite’ by AFL standards. 

As a defender, its imperative he gives away as little amount of free kicks as possible. Jack does this superbly well, ranking in at 483rd in the competition for free kicks against, averaging only 0.14 a game. 

Sinclair is on track to poll top three again in St Kilda’s end-of-season awards. 

Rowan Marshall

An honourable mention in St Kilda’s Best and Fairest awards as of round eight of the home and away season is Rowan Marshall.

The 201cm ruckman is having a good season to date, as he begins his life as a starting ruckman following the retirement of veteran Paddy Ryder. 

Rowan is averaging elite disposals stats for ruckmen in 2023, with the 27-year-old averaging just over 20 disposals per game, with 13 of those being kicks. 

Out of his 422 ruck contests this season, Rowan is averaging good numbers amongst the competition rucks, sitting inside the top ten for total hit outs, and just out of the top ten for hit-outs to advantage with 52 so far. 

Rowan Marshall will continue to have an important role to play in St Kilda’s finals push towards the latter end of the premiership season. 

Liam McMahon

Luke Parker- The three-time Bob Skilton medallist has started 2023 in his usual consistent form. The evergreen skipper is doing his best work at the coalface, leading the club in clearances.

He has only dropped below 20 disposals twice this season and is averaging 4.5 tackles per game. In a side that has been struggling to win the midfield battle, Parker has attended a club-high 77 per cent of the centre bounces and is shouldering the load of a young midfield.

Chad Warner- At just 21 years old, Warner is providing most of the ball movement and outside spread from the Swans’ midfield. He currently leads the team in disposals (24.5), score involvements (6.9) and contested possessions (11.4)

After finishing second in the tally last season, Warner is putting together a strong resume in 2023. Patching some inconsistencies from the start of the season has seen a strong run of form emerge into the heart of the season.

Errol Gulden- Another member of Sydney’s youth brigade, Gulden’s move into the midfield has repaid John Longmire’s faith tenfold. Increasing the Swan’s ball movement and quality of disposal coming out of the middle.

Gulden leads the club for inside 50s (6.8), and ranks second for tackles (4.6). He has formed a strong partnership with the other Swans’ midfielders that has seen the club’s ball movement remain as some of the best in the league.

Jakson Bertoli

If there’s one bright spot in a season that has been dogged by injury for West Coast, it is the form of Tim Kelly, who would be tough to deny his inaugural club best and fairest at this stage of the season. 

Already a podium finisher in 2022, Kelly is averaging 29.4 disposals a game in 2023, well clear of the next best at the Eagles, and leads the club in disposals, contested possessions, and inside 50s, while being above average or elite in disposals, clearances, and tackles. 

A resurgent Oscar Allen, who missed all of 2022 with a foot issue, has made the forward line his own with Josh Kennedy’s retirement, with the young forward making the most of every opportunity given, averaging 2.8 goals a game, and also being one of just two players to score multiple goals in every game, alongside Jeremy Cameron. 

And Andrew Gaff is always thereabouts, with the midfielder, and one time John Worsfold medal winner second to only Kelly in handballs and disposals, averaging 22.25, while also leading the Eagles in uncontested possessions. 

Thomas Grattan 

Despite a quiet 2022 season, Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli is back to his explosive best and is in the mix to be right up there if his outstanding form continues for the remainder of the season. Currently averaging 25 disposals and 8.1 clearances, Bontempelli continues to stand up when his side needs it, whether that be in the middle of the ground or on the scoreboard, kicking four goals so far in 2023. 

Ruckman Tim English is around the mark for a career best season, after having a strong 2021 his form dropped off at times across the 2022 season but with the introduction of Rory Lobb into the Bulldogs mix, which gives English more freedom around the ground with Lobb pinch hitting in the ruck. English has also provided that extra tall around the ground, whether it’s up forward or down back. 

When looking at this present moment, rounding at the top three would be Adam Treloar, who is arguably putting together his best season in the red white and blue. Using his speed to break out of stoppages and get the ball into forward fifty. Averaging 28.9 disposals per game and 6.3 clearances, the 30 year old has had two best on ground performances from a club perspective against Fremantle and Melbourne. Although a hamstring injury will keep him out for the next fortnight, Treloar will be looking to come back in a few weeks time and pick up where he left off.

Elly McNerney

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