Even if they played in 2022, some players may well be primed to take their game to a new level in 2023, or at the very least return to the levels of old that saw them thrive.
Big-name recruits could be buoyed by a fresh start at a new home, while elsewhere young talent could be set to launch into the AFL spotlight with the benefit of another pre-season.
Foxfooty.com.au set out to determine the player at every club who has the capacity to prove the biggest point of difference from this year to the 2023 season.
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AFLW Finals featuring 8 teams in first | 01:32
McAsey’s future was up in the air at one stage with a trade on the cards, but he remains at the Crows and surely kicks into gear come 2023. The former pick No.6 played 10 senior games in 2020 but has been on the outer ever since. At 22 come next season, McAsey is surely due for a prolonged run in the senior side. His attributes are considerable and coach Matthew Nicks indicated there had been an uptick in McAsey’s work off-field to get himself ready for the rigours of AFL-level action.
Gunston doesn’t have anything to prove given his stellar career, but the form he has shown when able to get out on the park in recent years suggests he will do wonders for the Lions if he gets through a pre-season unscathed. On a short-term basis, Gunston should prove a considerable upgrade on ex-Lion Dan McStay and in turn could bolster the Lions’ premiership hopes. It’s all about how Gunston’s body fares, but he has got a stack to offer if up and running.
He started the season promisingly, but injury once again cruelled McGovern, seeing him out of the side after round two and not returning until round 19. Those opening two rounds were encouraging in terms of the role he could play, with the 28-year-old looking to reinvent himself in defence. The defensive aspect of Carlton’s game remains an area for improvement, so McGovern’s success could prove critical to the Blues’ in 2023.
Collingwood has brought in plenty of talent, but Mitchell could have the biggest impact in 2023 if he’s able to recapture some of his best form. The Pies have struggled at times in the middle of the ground and at clearance and, while he doesn’t offer much speed, Mitchell can help bolster the engine room and by extension the side’s chances of contending once more. He and Jaeger O’Meara found themselves pushed out of centre-bounce attendances by Sam Mitchell this season, but Mitchell will surely get a front-row seat to those in 2023.
Injury curtailed Langford’s year but the Bombers clearly have plenty of faith in the 25-year-old, signing him to a new four-year deal. The midfielder can hit the scoreboard when needed and adds more depth to a side that needs it in that area. He’s struggled to string a full season together in the past but a fresh start of sorts under Brad Scott could be the tonic for Langford to finally hit his straps and thrive in 2023. The former pick No.17 should just be starting to enter his prime.
Roos, Bombers and Suns hold early picks | 04:33
Fyfe barely got going in 2022 and still the Dockers won a final. He’s arguably as big a point of difference as any player in the competition. There aren’t any other active players with two Brownlow medals to their name. Fyfe’s best could catapult Fremantle into genuine premiership contention. Whether the 31-year-old is able to return to said best is another question entirely, but hopefully an off-season training block in Nicaragua proves the circuit-breaker for his injury woes. If he manages to overcome them, he will be a force to be reckoned with, as will his side.
Ideally, Ratugolea would like to be playing at Port Adelaide, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a good fist of his time at the Cats in the final year of his current deal. Sam De Koning, Jack Henry, Zach Guthrie and the like have been great down back, but Ratugolea has shown a lot of promise as an intercepting defender and could well bolster that part of the ground for the Cats in 2023. In addition to that, Ratugolea could begin to announce himself as a genuine ruck successor to Rhys Stanley and veteran recruit Jon Ceglar. Cementing a spot in the senior side at Geelong is no easy task, but Ratugolea approaching age 25 should start to flourish.
GOLD COAST SUNS
An obvious one, but the Suns were dealt a cruel blow at the start of the year with King’s ACL tear. Mabior Chol and Levi Casboult worked wonders in the forward line considering his absence, but King is one of the most promising players in the game and was already starting to deliver on his enormous potential before injury struck. He still isn’t anywhere near his best at just 22, but what he has shown already adds a huge amount to the Suns’ line-up and key position mix. If he returns in the same sort of form that he did in 2021 – when he kicked 47 goals – look out.
Now 27 years of age, Preuss has been a perennial tease throughout his career, particularly at the Giants where he has been fantastic for most of his senior gametime, only for suspension or injury to hold him back. Another twist in the tale came when caretaker coach Mark McVeigh arrived, who appeared to prefer other tall options like Matt Flynn and Kieren Briggs as opposed to Preuss, who McVeigh consistently said needed to show more to get back in the senior side. Adam Kingsley brings with him the prospect of a fresh start and Preuss is one who could thrive on that. The fact Ivan Soldo wasn’t involved in a trade there also boosts his chances of locking down a ruck spot. It’s his for the taking.
With the suite of experienced players now gone, this is officially a midfield that belongs to the next wave of Hawthorn midfielders, with Worpel right among them. For whatever reason, Worpel’s football since winning the best and fairest in 2019 has fluctuated wildly, with injury only adding to the degree of inconsistency he has been synonymous with since that career-best season. Worpel will be 24 when the 2023 season gets underway and he will hopefully have enjoyed a solid pre-season. He will be under no illusions as to the opportunity in front of him to help lead this new midfield and surely he steps up to the challenge.
Grundy has well and truly established himself as one of the game’s best rucks, but recent years have seen him fall down that pecking order in the eyes of many external observers. The trade to Melbourne brings with it considerable opportunity for Grundy to emphasise once again that very few in the competition – if any – can offer what he does in the ruck role, acting almost as a sudo-midfielder once the ball hits the ground. He was important for Collingwood this year before injury struck and his move to the Dees makes for one of the most fascinating narratives of the 2023 season. If he manages to stay injury-free, Grundy should be at the peak of his powers and make Melbourne an even more formidable force.
Phillips has had an absolute nightmare run, with glandular fever the latest in a string of setbacks for the 20-year-old. A former top-three pick, Phillips looms as a ready-made addition to a Kangaroos midfield that already has begun to develop a solid core for the next five or so years at least, headlined by the likes of Luke Davies-Uniacke and Jy Simpkin. Phillips’ talent is considerable and he will play plenty of senior football if fit. His fitness is in the hands of the footy gods but he’s due for a break.
Clarkson arrives for first day at Nth | 03:20
There were moments of promise for Horne-Francis in his first year, but so much of it was overshadowed by the narrative around his impending exit. The talent Horne-Francis possesses was abundantly clear in his draft year, but it wasn’t seen enough in year one, with a move to Port Adelaide potentially giving him the clean air he may need to thrive. Port Adelaide recently revealed he had addressed “debilitating pain” in his legs via surgery and that too could give him the springboard to launch in 2023 once he gets back out on the park. He could prove a vital addition to a side right in the mix for a premiership despite a horrid 2022 season.
We’ve only seen glimpses of the Dustin Martin of old since that lacerated kidney late in 2021 and understandably so given the personal turmoil he has gone through off-field with the passing of his father. Performing to his best in the final two years of his current deal will only strengthen Richmond’s premiership credentials. Martin has nothing left to prove and is one of the greatest players of the modern era, but the fact also remains he has not been at his best in the last year when it comes to on-field output and a return to somewhere near said best would be enormous for the Tigers.
Things just haven’t gone Clark’s way in the early parts of his career, with the 23-year-old unable to hit his stride. A former top-10 pick, Clark was keen on a move to North Melbourne, but is set to get a fresh start of sorts anyway under a new coach in Ross Lyon and a commitment from the Saints to reinvest in their youth. There’s plenty of untapped potential in Clark and with the right preparation he could prove a new weapon for the Saints in 2023.
An obvious choice, Francis has just never been able to genuinely get going, which is a shame given the considerable talent he holds. The former pick No.6 wouldn’t be the first key position prospect to move to the Swans and enjoy a rejuvenated career, with Paddy McCartin doing just that in 2022. Francis may well play alongside McCartin next year in defence and at 25 years of age is approaching the peak of his powers from a key position point of view. It’s a big if, but if the move pays off it will pay off big for the Swans.
WEST COAST EAGLES
Allen looms as the clear standout in terms of young talent at the Eagles ready to embrace the big stage. Injury has been a huge roadblock for the youngster, but nearing 24 years of age he is primed physically to begin maximising his considerable talent. The Eagles took a cautious approach with his foot injury this season in order to better prepare him for 2023 and beyond. Hopefully, that move can begin paying off from round one next season, because if it does it will be a huge boost to the side as it navigates life after Josh Kennedy.
It was a cruel move from the footy gods to cut Bruce down just as he was starting to play his best football for the Dogs. He returned late in the 2022 season but just didn’t look anywhere close to his best, which was understandable given his ACL injury. Competition for spots will be fierce given the addition of Rory Lobb in the off-season, but Bruce at his best is well and truly a lock for senior football. With a full pre-season, he could almost be considered a new recruit come 2023.