While the NRL is going to open their season in Las Vegas, four AFL games will be played for premiership points the week before…
Round 23 and the regular season is heading towards an end, which means finals spots are up the grabs and every team has something to play for. Here’s the players who need to have an impact for their club this week.
Daniel McStay has made a difference since returning from injury as he has kicked two goals in each of the last five matches. He has added a different dimension to the Collingwood forward line as he makes a contest and understands his role. He may get the job of curtailing the intercept marking of Harris Andrews when Collingwood take on Brisbane.
Hugh McCluggage kicked Brisbanes’ first two goals of their game against Adelaide and finished the game with an equal game high ten score involvements. McCluggage is one of the most underrated players in the AFL; he finished Round 22 with eight clearances, the most of any Brisbane player. McCluggage could spend time on the wing against Josh Daicos, which would be a tantalising match up in Round 23 against Collingwood.
Liam Baker is a courageous player who never shirks a contest. He showed his ability to hit the scoreboard with two goals to go with six score involvements in Richmonds’ loss to St Kilda. What’s impressive about him is the lack of fear when he attacks a contest. It will be interesting to see what role Baker gets against North Melbourne in Round 23, whether it be on a half-forward flank, half-back flank or used to curtail the influence of Tarryn Thomas. It will be an emotional day for the Richmond faithful as it will be the final game for Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin; it’s now up to the likes of Baker to play a key part in the football club moving forward.
Nick Larkey has had an outstanding season as he not only scores goals, he pushes up the field when needed, but ultimately does his best work in the forward 50, kicking five against Essendon. He currently sits third in the Coleman Medal race with 56 goals and should have a field day against Richmond in Round 23, as he will probably be opposed to Noah Balta who conceded six goals against Max King of St Kilda.
Matt Rowell had nine clearances to go with 11 score involvements and 18 contested possessions in Round 22 against Sydney. He may prove a handful for Carlton and may go head-to-head with George Hewett and Patrick Cripps at times. Rowell evolved his game in Round 22 against Sydney with so many score involvements, which will prove a challenge for Carlton to negate.
Charlie Curnow has been forced to shoulder the load of being the only experienced key forward since Harry McKay got injured. Despite that, Curnow has to just keep on doing what’s been working for the forward structure of the team, as he has still been kicking goals. Remarkably, he is still five goals ahead of Taylor Walker in the Coleman Medal race with 70 goals. What Carlton need from him is to bring the ball to ground for their crumbers as the Suns have two good intercept defenders in Sam Collins and Charlie Ballard.
Toby Greene has been a revelation as captain; who would’ve thought that Greene would be talked about as a possible All-Australian captain. He will probably have to contend with Andrew McGrath or Nick Hind against Essendon in Round 23, but he needs to hit the scoreboard and create opportunities for the likes of Brent Daniels and Toby Bedford.
Zach Merrett needs to continue to lead from the front in Essendon’s push to play finals. He carries the team on his back at times and the standards he sets are elite; he never shirks a contest and is a key cog if Essendon are to feature in September – they must win their remaining two matches and rely on other results. Merrett will probably go head-to-head with Tom Green in Round 23 against GWS.
Max King must prove that his performance against Richmond wasn’t an aberration; he finished the game with six goals which was the margin by which St Kilda won the game. In Round 23 against Geelong he needs to prevent the intercept marks, in particular Tom Stewart and Esava Ratugolea, in order for the ball to be brought to ground so Jade Gresham, Dan Butler and Jack Higgins can swoop.
Jeremy Cameron kicked seven goals against Collingwood which should give him plenty of confidence. There’s no disputing Geelong need Cameron to be at his best when they take on St Kilda in a must win game. Callum WIlkie will probably get the match up on Cameron, which will mean that he needs to at least make a contest and bring the ball to ground.
Reilly O’Brien needs to take the pressure off the midfield by hitting the ball to the advantage of his teammates when he takes on Swans ruckman Tom Hickey. There’s a chance for O’Brien to show the way in what is one of the best three starting midfielders in the competition; Rory Laird, Jordan Dawson and the addition of Matt Crouch.
Isaac Heeney needs to have an impact on the game as his best is better than most, shown in his All-Australian selection last year. There’s no disputing we have started to see glimpses of what Heeney is capable of in the second half of the season. He can build his confidence as Adelaide could find it difficult to curtail his influence on the contest, given he is a tough match up.
Marcus Bontempelli will need to carry the team on his shoulders as they will be without Tom Liberatore against West Coast. Bontempelli will need to help his teammates pick themselves up after a disappointing loss to Hawthorn in Round 22. They need to be resilient and perform to their optimum level against the worst team in the competition.
Christian Petracca could prove to be a tough match up for Hawthorn; it will be intriguing to see whether Finn Maginness or perhaps Will Day gets the job of curtailing him. In Round 22 against Carlton he had the most score involvements of any player on the field with eight, to go with two goals. Clayton Oliver returned to the Melbourne midfield in Round 22, which will give Petracca the opportunity to spend more time forward.
Jai Newcombe is a freak of a player at his best and it clearly shows why recruiting isn’t an exact science; Newcombe was taken number two in the 2021 mid-season rookie draft. Maybe it made him more resilient not being recruited in the national draft. He played an incredible game in Round 22 against Western Bulldogs where he finished the game with 40 disposals, a goal and ten score involvements. Remarkably, he has averaged the most score involvements per game of any Hawthorn player in season 2023 with 6.43. He could go head-to-head with Clayton Oliver or Jack Viney.
Luke Jackson has relished being the number one ruckman for Fremantle in the absence of the injured Sean Darcy. It’s essential Jackson continues on his good form as he has polled 19 out of a possible 20 coaches’ votes in his last two games, which may mean Fremantle look at trading Darcy. Hopefully for Fremantle he can expose the one player missing in the Port Adelaide team, which is a quality ruckman.
Dan Houston continued to impress in Round 22 against GWS; he amassed 30 disposals to go with seven score involvements, seven intercept possessions and the most metres gained of any player on the field with 698. There’s an opportunity for him to further solidify his case to be in the frame for selection in the All-Australian team if Fremantle find him difficult to negate.