The Roar
The Roar

AFL
Advertisement

The Roar's 2023 mid-season AFL All Australian team: Why this underrated Port star should be an AA bolter

6th June, 2023
Advertisement
Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Editor
6th June, 2023
28
1343 Reads

12 rounds down, 12 to go. We’re at the exact halfway point of season 2023 – so what better time than to bring out a mid-season All Australian team?

As always, there will be players included in my best 23 (yep – I’m even picking a sub!) that you’d have nowhere near yours, and players you think I’m crazy to have overlooked. No one’s AA team at this point of the year is ever going to match, and every one of us is going to like some players more than others.

As you’ll see, there are some sneaky, left-field picks in my team – including a Port Adelaide unsung hero who’s one of my bigger locks, and a Cat who might just be the best inside 50 kick in the game.

So without further ado, here is my full All Australian 22 after 12 rounds of the 2023 season, along with a few honourable mentions who just missed the cut.

Backs: Tom Stewart (Geelong), Liam Jones (Western Bulldogs), Charlie Ballard (Gold Coast)

Half-backs: Nick Daicos (Collingwood), Darcy Moore (Collingwood – captain), Dan Houston (Port Adelaide)

Picking a back six is always tough. Unlike the midfield, where you can frame your choices around standouts in clearance, disposals or even inside 50s stats, and up forward, where goals and goal assists rule, there are so many ways to be a good defender in modern footy.

Advertisement

Is it better to be an intercept king or a one-on-one monster? Do you need a lockdown small defender, or is this the age of the rebounding half-back? And is Nick Daicos really a backman considering he plays, well, everywhere?

Be that as it may, I’ve gone for a balance between talls and smalls, and between interceptors and stoppers. But there are so many stars that deserved to make the cut here that missed out.

The small defender role, once again, goes to Tom Stewart. Apologies must go to Luke Ryan, who has occupied that spot in my team for the first 11 weeks of the year; but a best-afield performance against the Western Bulldogs on Saturday night, and being able to see him in action for the first time, has earned Stewart the nod.

He’s not quite been at his very best in 2023, but Geelong would be in a far more precarious position right now without Stewart’s safe hands, great positioning and leadership in defence. He’s eighth in the league for intercept marks despite missing nearly the entire first two rounds due to injury, and unlike some defenders who simply don’t take a risk by foot, his disposal efficiency of 82.7 per cent is pretty reflective of what an outstanding ball-user he is.

A four-time All Australian after just six years at AFL level, I’m expecting Stewart to make it five from seven come season’s end.

The half-backs were also a tight choice: Nick Daicos was an obvious pick, having racked up a league-high number of disposals, most of them immaculate, doing as he pleases for Collingwood. Critics will point to the amount of outside ball he gets and the lack of tags, but no one serious could possibly leave the Brownlow Medal favourite out of their team.

The other spot is more contentious: the easy pick would be either a star intercept-marker in James Sicily, or the reigning AA half-back in Jack Sinclair, both of whom have been exceptional to start 2023.

Advertisement

Instead, I’m going for the season’s most underrated player: Dan Houston.

Other Port Adelaide players have won more praise during their remarkable nine-game winning streak, but few if any are as important as Houston. His beautiful right boot, exceptional decision-making and intercepting capabilities make him a weapon in all facets for the Power in defence.

Dan Houston celebrates a goal.

Dan Houston celebrates a goal. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Nothing on his stats sheet jumps out at you, but whether it’s saving the game with a serious of clutch contested marks like in their win over St Kilda, or roosting goals from outside 50 like he did at crucial stages against the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, Houston is a man for the big moment. Someone had to give him the respect he deserves, and I’m more than happy for it to be me.

As for the talls, there has been one standout all year: Darcy Moore. The Magpies skipper has been impassable this year, bringing down 46 intercept marks after 12 rounds – even more impressive when you consider the Pies have conceded the fourth-fewest inside 50s all year.

Add to that his ability to play on and win contests against the biggest, meanest key forwards going around – twice in six months he’s put the clamps on Tom Hawkins, as just one example – and Moore isn’t just the biggest lock in this team, he’s also the obvious choice as captain.

The other two are more controversial. I might be biased, but I honestly think this year, while Moore has been the best backman in the game, Liam Jones has been the best defender.

Advertisement

Averaging only a little more than half a goal per game conceded to his direct opponent this year, Jones is the sole reason the Bulldogs have become one of the league’s more miserly teams. With very little support, he has not only dominated the likes of Joe Daniher, Harry McKay, Darcy Fogarty and Mitch Lewis, but has reeled in 42 intercept marks, fourth in the league, including ten against Gold Coast in Round 11.

Numbers like that, and the obvious change he has brought to the Bulldogs this year, make him a no-brainer for mine, as good as rivals Callum Wilkie and Aliir Aliir have been.

Speaking of Wilkie, I’ve had him pencilled in to at least one key defensive spot for much of the season, but his last few weeks have seen a slight drop off, and the form of Charlie Ballard has been just too good to ignore.

Ballard is the clubhouse leader this year for intercept marks, having brought down 54; while also ranking third, behind Blues pair Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, for contested grabs. Losing just 11 of 52 one-on-one contests this year, his work in that regard rivals Jones, Steven May and Harris Andrews. Impressive company.

The Suns have conceded the fourth-most inside 50s this season to date, so to be a respectable 9th for points conceded says a lot about what Ballard is doing to marshal his defensive group. Next time your team plays Gold Coast, it’s well worth watching how good his positioning is and how often he nudges opponents under the ball with perfect timing.

Honourable mentions: Aliir Aliir (Port Adelaide), Luke Ryan (Fremantle), James Sicily (Hawthorn), Jack Sinclair (St Kilda), Callum Wilkie (St Kilda)

Advertisement

Centres: Josh Daicos (Collingwood), Clayton Oliver (Melbourne), Zak Butters (Port Adelaide)

Followers: Tim English (Western Bulldogs), Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs – vice-captain), Christian Petracca (Melbourne)

Interchange: Jordan Dawson (Adelaide), Tom Green (GWS), Matt Rowell (Gold Coast), Caleb Serong (Fremantle)

Substitute: Connor Rozee (Port Adelaide)

Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, I have half-cheated with my wings.

The wing role has become contentious when it comes to All Australian debates of late, because while it is unquestionably a specific, crucial role in modern footy, it’s also one where a player’s impact is hard to quantify with cold, hard numbers.

Therefore, with major apologies to St Kilda surprise packet Mason Wood and Sydney rising star Errol Gulden, I’ve chosen only one proper wingman: Josh Daicos.

Advertisement

Because his brother is Nick, the senior Daicos’ year has flown under the radar a bit: but my word, he’s absolutely a star in his own right.

A beautiful kick on both feet, Josh covers an inordinate amount of ground, regularly running to half-back as an outlet passing option when the Magpies choose to switch, then busting a gut back the other way to finish the play by marking near goal. Then, when that happens, he nearly always converts, with a 9.4 scoreline this season.

Averaging nearly 26 disposals a game, Daicos can win the hard ball too – his games against Richmond and Adelaide in slippery conditions were a delight to watch – but it’s his role as a core plank in the Magpies’ ultra-rapid ball movement that wins him this spot.

Most of the rest of the starting midfield is easy to pick. Marcus Bontempelli has been this year’s standout on-baller, winning huge amounts of the footy, using it beautifully, kicking goals, setting them up and doing a mountain of work defensively, too. Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca, too, are locks once more: Petracca is second in the league for goal assists and first by a mile for score involvements, and is the league’s most damaging midfielder when at full flight, while Oliver is a clearance king who is the best in the business by a long way at the coalface.

Tim English, despite some calls for Sean Darcy, has been the standout ruckman of the year in my book; not only has he improved out of sight at ruck contests, but averaging nearly 20 disposals a game and reeling down intercept marks galore, particularly in defence, he’s having a prime Max Gawn-type year.

Zak Butters’ red-hot form is too good to ignore, and I’ve used his predominantly outside role at Port Adelaide, as well as his goalkicking nous, as an excuse to plonk him on a wing to get him into the starting line-up. My argument with this is: if you had an option between playing Butters or Gulden or Wood, every coach in the game is picking Butters and making it work.

Advertisement

The options become harder to distinguish when you get to the bench, but Jordan Dawson is a straightforward one: the best kick in the game, Dawson’s move to the midfield has been a huge reason for the Crows’ surge into finals contention in 2023, and the only real question is whether you choose to cheat and name him in his old half-back role to squeeze another midfielder in.

I’ve also been a huge fan of Tom Green since day one, and argue that right now he’s the second-best contested ball player in the game behind Clayton Oliver. An absolute monster of a human being, Green isn’t just a hard-ball monster, ranking equal sixth for averaging contested possessions; he’s also damaging on the outside, with eight inside 50s against Richmond and a three-goal haul against the Western Bulldogs the two best examples. I’ve squeezed him in just ahead of Tiger Tim Taranto… but it’s line-ball.

It was also a toss-up between Caleb Serong and Tom Liberatore, but the Dockers clearance wins have been more explosive to my eye, while his consistency is exemplified by reaching at least 24 disposals and four clearances in every match. He’s as worthy a choice as Matt Rowell alongside him, whose remarkable run of form and incredible bullocking work in close gets him the nod over teammate Noah Anderson and, more controversially, Essendon captain Zach Merrett, who is coming with a bullet for one of those spots. Mostly it’s because I love the man; how could you not adore a man powered by grass

I’ve gone for a sub as well, because I couldn’t squeeze Connor Rozee into the starting 22 but couldn’t bear a team without him in it – he’s second for inside 50s this year behind Petracca and is playing considerably better than he was in making his first All Australian team last year.

Honourable mentions: Noah Anderson (Gold Coast), Tom Liberatore (Western Bulldogs), Zach Merrett (Essendon), Tim Taranto (Richmond), Mason Wood (St Kilda)

Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs celebrates a goal.

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Advertisement

Half-forwards: Toby Greene (GWS), Jeremy Cameron (Geelong), Gryan Miers (Geelong)

Forwards: Charlie Cameron (Brisbane), Charlie Curnow (Carlton), Joe Daniher (Brisbane)

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: yes, that is Gryan Miers you see on my half-forward flank.

Why? Simple: he’s the best kick inside 50 in the AFL. His kicks into attack are, on average, marked 45 per cent of the time, far and away top of the charts. He’s ahead of Petracca with 20 goal assists – all the more remarkable considering he’s kicked just two himself.

Averaging a career-high 18 disposals a match, providing plenty of pressure and using it exquisitely, he’s one I probably wouldn’t have the guts to pick in an end-of-year team, but in a harmless mid-season edition acknowledging his stellar form in a difficult role is well worth it.

The rest of the group are more well-established stars: Jeremy Cameron and Charlie Curnow sit equal-top of the Coleman Medal chart with 38 goals apiece, and are both locks – Cameron is still my pick for the best player in the league, while Curnow has done a remarkable job to maintain his extraordinary 2022 output despite playing for Carlton.

Advertisement

Every All Australian team needs a good small forward, and Charlie Cameron has been comfortably the pick of the bunch this year; with a whopping 32 goals, stacks of pressure – he’s third in the league for tackles inside 50 – and a fear factor unmatched by other goalsneaks going around, only Adelaide’s Izak Rankine even comes close.

Toby Greene is just as big a lock: the GWS captain just finds a way to have a big say on proceedings with every passing week. 29 goals for the season despite missing two games is good enough; but four to half time in a stunning win over Geelong in Geelong, another four including the match-winner against Sydney, and three to go with 24 disposals in a thrilling win over Hawthorn, are the performances of a champion. There’s no better big-game player in the league.

Lastly, I thought long and hard about the role of the third key forward in this team. Brody Mihocek and Ben King have been excellent but not quite dominant enough to crack this team, and while Oscar Allen has been an incredible shining light in the Springfield tyre fire that is West Coast, he doesn’t do a whole lot other than kicks goals. Which is why, by a sliver, I’ve given the spot to Joe Daniher.

Not only does Daniher average slightly more goals per game than Allen, but he does it playing a traditional centre-half forward role.

He roams up the ground, takes big pack marks, drives the ball into attack – only Jeremy Cameron has more inside 50s this year among key forwards – and his form surge has perfectly coincided with Brisbane’s output lift as well after a sluggish start to the year.

Advertisement

Honourable mentions: Oscar Allen (West Coast), Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Jordan De Goey (Collingwood), Brody Mihocek (Collingwood), Izak Rankine (Adelaide)

close