Will Ashcroft for months has been the buzz player of the 2022 draft class.
But Aaron Cadman, like the breathtaking finish to his season, has come with a late rush.
And when a club is so keen to acquire a player like Cadman – to the point where it acquired Pick 1 amid the meatiest, multi-club trade in AFL history – you have to take notice.
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The Giants were central to Monday’s blockbuster four-team deal, which helped Port Adelaide snare last year’s No. 1 draftee Jason Horne-Francis from North Melbourne and premiership forward Junior Rioli from West Coast.
But while the Power got their men – by essentially trading out of this year’s draft – the mega trade will have a significant impact on this year’s draft, specifically around which players will be picked when.
The Giants traded away Picks 3 and 12, as well as a future second-round pick (tied to Collingwood), in order to help them land Pick 1. It’s the first time in 20 years the No. 1 selection has been traded pre-draft after Fremantle traded in Trent Croad and Hawthorn, subsequently, selected Luke Hodge with the first pick.
Elsewhere North Melbourne gave away Pick 1 – and Horne-Francis, the first player drafted last year – but acquired Picks 2 and 3 in this year’s draft, as well as Port Adelaide’s future first-rounder. And West Coast traded away Pick 2, but nabbed Picks 8 and 12, as well as Port Adelaide’s future second-rounder, in return.
Port ‘wins trade period’ in mega deal | 02:07
GIANT PLAY FOR CAMERON CLONE
Foxfooty.com.au reported in late August that a fight loomed for Cadman – a gun 194cm key forward renowned for his goal sense, athleticism, swagger, long left-foot kick and ability to win the ball up the ground, hence the comparisons to Geelong superstar Jeremy Cameron. Both the Giants and Essendon – who then had the two picks after the Kangaroos and Eagles, who both need a key forward – had quickly warmed to Cadman. At that stage, he‘d booted 16.10 and averaged 20 disposals and six marks from his final five NAB League games before being named in the Under 18 All-Australian team after a 10-goal national carnival.
But two years after Cameron sensationally left western Sydney to join Geelong, the Giants appear destined to recruit a Cameron clone from country Victoria. Not only is it a play to fill a positional need, it’s a play to help the Giants replace the class that has recently departed – and is set to depart – in Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper, Tanner Bruhn and Bobby Hill.
Come draft night, though, Cadman isn’t expected to be taken with Pick 1. That mantle – and the cash that comes with being the first player selected – should still belong to Brisbane father-son prospect Ashcroft – the star Sam Walsh-like midfielder that’s always been considered the best player of this year’s class.
It’d be a major surprise if the Giants didn’t bid on Ashcroft, the son of triple premiership Lion and 318-game player Marcus Ashcroft. He’s barely put a foot wrong during his 2022 campaign, winning almost every award possible – Larke Medal, NAB League premiership captain, best on ground in the NAB League grand final and NAB League Team of the Year captain – and dominating at every level he’s played, including a couple VFL games for Brisbane.
Despite the Giants trading up to help them land Cadman, they’re still expected to place a bid on Ashcroft at Pick 1 – and there’s no way Brisbane will be letting him go to the Giants. It means the Lions, who Ashcroft has already nominated under the father-son rule, will use the draft points they’ve been accumulating over the past fortnight to match the Giants’ bid and secure Ashcroft, who one recruiter told foxfooty.com.au mid-season “could play AFL this week”.
It’s a different narrative to last year when Horne-Francis was taken by North with Pick 1 and Collingwood father-son prospect Nick Daicos – considered by many recruiters the top player in the 2021 draft class – didn’t attract a bid until Pick 4. Horne-Francis had put together a mighty draft campaign — including standout performances at SANFL league level — while Daicos barely played any footy due to Covid-enforced restrictions in Victoria. North also clearly rated the South Australian as the best player in the draft, so perhaps bidding on Daicos before Horne-Francis would’ve made the latter feel somewhat slighted.
This year there’s a greater chasm between Ashcroft and the rest. And even the humble Cadman – who just wants to get on an AFL list, “whether it‘s Pick 1 or Pick 100” – knows it.
Asked which player he’d take if he was in charge of the club with Pick 1, Cadman told foxfooty.com.au last week: “You can‘t go past Ashcroft. Just how switched on he is, his competitiveness and just how professional he is when it comes to footy – that’s pretty rare.”
Cadman would’ve filled a key forward chasm at North – assuming the Giants still select him, of course – but the Kangaroos now face the prospect of adding midfielders and a mid-sized hybrid goalkicker to their list.
North great rages over Pick 1 deal | 03:31
WHERE TO FOR THE ROOS
While Cadman has roared into top-two contention, Oakleigh Chargers duo George Wardlaw and Elijah Tsatas haven’t wavered from their top-five status, despite their respective injury concerns this year, with Wardlaw missing the back-end of the year with hamstring issues and Tsatas only recently returning from a foot fracture. Exciting Sandringham Dragons forward Harry Sheezel is also in the early-pick mix.
A speedy mover that can break lines with clean hands and an efficient kick, Tsatas is a prototype athlete and everything a club is looking for in a wing/midfield prospect. Wardlaw, conversely, is a powerful, competitive and combative inside midfielder that plays with great intensity and models his game on Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver.
Most clubs have had Wardlaw ahead of Tsatas on their draft boards all season, especially after Wardlaw’s epic Round 1 NAB League performance against Sandringham, followed by his best-on-ground performance for the AFL Academy against Collingwood’s VFL side in May. But some recruiters now have Tsatas ahead of Wardlaw, with the former racking up 30-plus disposals in each of his past three games where he showed ability to play as an inside midfielder.
The Roos are also already stacked with young on-ballers, using their past six top-13 draft picks on midfielders in Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Tarryn Thomas, Will Phillips, Tom Powell and Horne-Francis. But the Roos this year were ranked bottom five for both contested possession differential and clearance differential – and, in that case, inside mid Wardlaw might be the better option over Tsatas.
Some would argue the Roos really need some firepower forward of centre – specifically a smaller forward to support Nick Larkey and Cam Zurhaar – after ranking last for points scored and scores per inside 50 this year. Considering the Kangaroos’ plight, Sheezel would bring great excitement and a point of difference.
Sheezel, the best pure hybrid forward prospect in the draft class at 184cm, is a crafty, composed mover inside 50 and an excellent decision-maker that can not only conjure goals in many ways, but also set up teammates to score. A player who can do damage in the air and at ground level, Sheezel models his game on Toby Greene and Connor Rozee.
“I don‘t really have that strong of an indication as yet (as to where I could be drafted),” Sheezel told foxfooty.com.au last week. ”But I think like some teams around there, like Essendon, Hawthorn, GWS, maybe North Melbourne as well … they’re showing the most (interest).”
At this stage, the Kangaroos’ options for Pick 2 and 3 would come from the aforementioned three players. Wardlaw and Sheezel, on paper, appear the most appropriate, which might leave Essendon with a choice between Tsatas and powerful top-10 bolter Bailey Humphrey, who’s been compared to Norm Smith Medallist Christian Petracca. Tsatas would give the Bombers some much-needed outside run, but also the ability to go inside if needed.
However reports emerged on Monday the Roos could be open to offers on Pick 3, as long as they could split the selection while maintaining a spot within the top 10 and gain another “early selection”. As it stands the Giants (15 and 18), Swans (14 and 17) and Eagles (8 and 12) hold two first-round picks. So too does Gold Coast (5 and 7), although that latter pick is set to be traded to Geelong in the Jack Bowes salary dump.
Both the Swans and Carlton (Pick 10) have made it clear they’d love to move up the draft order if possible.
WEST COAST‘S RISK
Eagles fans, on paper, mightn’t have liked how their club fared in the mega trade and that splitting Pick 2 into two mid-first rounders is a risk.
But rival recruiters believe this is the year and time for the Eagles to target WA-based talent, for there’s a sense several Victorian players, who are expected to be taken in the top 10, are less prepared to move interstate compared to past draftees. And many club draft boards have this year’s best WA prospects close to Picks 8 and 12, rather than Pick 3.
Foxfooty.com.au understands the Eagles are keen on East Perth’s Reuben Ginbey, who’s steadily worked his way into top-10 calculations throughout the season.
In a tough national champs campaign for his state, Ginbey won WA’s MVP award as he thrived in a move to the midfield and impressed recruiters with his consistency, attitude and grit at the contest, averaging 20.8 disposals and 9.8 contested possessions. The 189cm prospect was then a standout at the national combine on the weekend, placing in the top 10 in the standing vertical jump, running vertical jump, 2km time trial and 20m sprint.
AFL talent ambassador Kevin Sheehan told Fox Footy this year Ginbey was “the AFL prototype with his size, strength and power”.
Fellow WA prospects Jedd Busslinger (East Perth) and Elijah Hewett (Swan Districts) could still be on the board come the Eagles’ second first-round pick.
A rangy 196cm key-position player who reads the ball superbly in the air and has great defensive nous and composure, Busslinger is regarded as one of the best key backs in the draft class. Hewett, a powerful midfielder and renowned leader, would also be in the mix.
But even though the trade period ends on Wednesday night, picks can be swapped one week until the draft and then on draft night itself.
Therefore, there’s still ample to play out. Yet the mega deal’s impact on the draft already seems profound.