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The Roar's predicted AFL All-Australian team: Dusty must make the cut... but who should be left out for him?

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28th August, 2023
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The 2023 AFL All-Australian squad of 44 is in, and all eyes now turn to Wednesday’s Awards night, when the team will be named.

There are already a handful of controversial omissions – Tim Taranto, anyone? – and there are bound to be more when the squad is cut down to a best 22 for the season just past.

After 12 rounds, I named my mid-season All-Australian team, with several calls that still hold up (Dan Houston at half-back, for one), while some others… let’s just say, haven’t aged well. (*laughs in Matt Rowell*)

I’ve made a whopping nine changes from that team to this final form – but there were plenty of close calls that made putting this 22 together difficult, and safe to say I don’t envy the actual selectors’ job.

So without further ado, here is The Roar‘s 2023 All-Australian team!

Backs

Dan Houston (Port Adelaide)

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WHY: With a lethal right boot and a sharp footy mind, Houston has been crucial to the Power’s ball movement all season, and is a big reason why they find themselves among the season’s leading flag contenders.

Rating elite for disposals and metres gained, he also has a penchant for sneaking forward and bombing through vital goals from outside 50, as Essendon fans can attest.

Harris Andrews (Brisbane)

WHY: The AFL leader in spoils and fifth for intercept marks, Andrews returned to his brilliant best in 2023 after a down couple of seasons to marshal the Lions’ defence with aplomb.

With plenty of competition for key backs in this team, the Lions co-captain is arguably the best in the business once again; rarely beaten, he just squeezes in ahead of Carlton’s Jacob Weitering by virtue of a more complete season, and St Kilda’s Callum Wilkie thanks to having nearly double the spoils and considerably more intercepts.

James Sicily (Hawthorn)

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WHY: No player has been more important to their team in 2023 than the Hawthorn captain is to his; whether plucking intercept marks by the barrelful to repel opposition attacks or beginning Hawk rebounds with his precise right foot, the All-Australian blazer that controversially eluded him last season should surely be his.

While missing four games with suspension leaves his spot slightly more clouded than it would have been, that didn’t stop Tom Stewart, his major rival for this spot in the team, from being named in 2022, and isn’t enough games to deny Sicily what has been rightfully his for about two years now.

Half-backs

Jack Sinclair (St Kilda)

WHY: Perhaps the AFL’s best kick, the reigning All-Australian half-back has, if anything, gone to another level under Ross Lyon.

Whether as a damaging rebounder or in stints on-ball, Sinclair has been a huge part of the Saints’ resurgence in 2023; averaging more than 500 metres gained and 29 disposals per match, he’s clearly the standout running back of the year.

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Darcy Moore (Collingwood – vice-captain)

WHY: Despite a sluggish end to the season that finished with a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the last two and three-quarter matches of the home-and-away rounds, the Collingwood skipper had already done more than enough to pencil himself in.

Equal top of the league for average intercept marks despite that early-match injury against Geelong, Moore also lost just 13 per cent of his contested one-on-one duels with some of the AFL’s most fearsome forwards, making critics of the defensive side of his game look a bit silly. In another stacked field, he’s probably unlucky to miss out on captaincy honours as well.

Nick Daicos (Collingwood)

WHY: One of the Brownlow Medal favourites – he’d have been outright if not for that injury – the only question is whether the second-year sensation should make the team in his early-season half-back spot, or as a fully-fledged midfielder.

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I’ve gone for the former primarily because that was where his absolute best footy, in the first seven rounds of the season, was played; given his truly staggering disposal numbers, elite ball use and ability to impact the game in so many ways, you couldn’t possibly leave him out.

Centres

Errol Gulden (Sydney)

WHY: After years in the wilderness, it looks like proper wingmen will be back in the All-Australian team in 2023 – but it has taken some season to secure it.

Another contender for ‘best kick in the AFL’ status, Gulden leads the AFL for inside 50s, and impressively, only Houston in the top 20 for that stat has more rebound 50s. Running from end to end and using the ball beautifully wherever he goes, the third-year Swan is another who picks themselves.

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Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)

WHY: The standout midfielder of 2023, Bontempelli does it all: he leads, he tackles, he racks up disposals, he uses it brilliantly, he kicks goals, AND he nearly pulled a rabble of a team into the finals all by himself.

Widely regarded as the best player in the game at the moment, the Bulldogs captain misses out on leading this team only because of the sheer number of other candidates – but as one of the Brownlow Medal favourites, there’s every chance an even loftier accolade is coming his way.

Josh Daicos (Collingwood)

WHY: I’m seeing double here – FOUR wingers!

For all the hype surrounding his younger brother, the elder Daicos’ season has been equally impressive. A wonderful ball-user off the wing and averaging 26 disposals per match, I’d argue he’s actually more of his father’s son than Nick, because when the Sherrin is in his hands, magic happens.

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Gulden and Daicos are the best two wingmen we have seen in years; so good have they been that it would be a travesty if both weren’t rewarded with spots in the 22 – forget a specialist role, their seasons have been outstanding enough to earn their place on merit.

Followers

Tim English (Western Bulldogs)

WHY: This was the biggest line-ball call of them all, with English, the season-long favourite for the All-Australian ruck position, facing stiff competition from Saint Rowan Marshall after a superb end to the season.

English leads the way for hitouts to advantage, intercept marks, goals and score involvements; Marshall for disposals, contested possessions and clearances. It’s bloody tight.

In the end, I’ve gone with the big Bulldog for one reason: the only stat that isn’t close between them is English’s disposal efficiency of 72.5 per cent to Marshall’s 64.1. But by gee, there’s nothing in it.

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Zak Butters (Port Adelaide)

WHY: Sitting just seven votes behind Nick Daicos for the AFL Coaches Association MVP award, Butters is every chance to pip the Magpies star for what might just be the most prestigious award of all.

It would be fitting reward for a superb breakout season in which he has lifted himself into the AFL’s elite, with the Power star’s 41-disposal, two-goal match in a thrilling win over Melbourne the undisputed best individual game of the season.

Jordan Dawson (Adelaide)

WHY: The Adelaide captain has missed selection in several pundits’ All-Australian teams, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

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Dawson’s move into the midfield has arguably been the catalyst for the Crows’ surge into finals contention; fifth in the AFL for inside 50s, as well as top-20 for clearances and one of only two non-half-backs (the other Gulden) to be in the top 20 for effective kicks this season, the Adelaide skipper has been truly immense.

Half-forwards

Christian Petracca (Melbourne)

WHY: Petracca’s stints as a pure forward in the second half of the season make him the perfect player for any All-Australian selector: clearly good enough to justify his inclusion, his 27 goals justify selecting him in the hardest spot on the ground to fill without cheating, on a half-forward flank.

That being said, with more score involvements than any other player, a top-three ranking for inside 50s and goal assists, and sitting 11th for clearances despite large chunks of time in attack, you’d pick Petracca anywhere just to squeeze him in.

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Joe Daniher (Brisbane)

WHY: He might ‘only’ be eighth for the Coleman Medal, but Daniher’s wonderful season as a roaming key forward have been just as critical to Brisbane’s rise to second on the ladder as anyone.

Poor goalkicking accuracy was both the reason for the above and why his spot was more clouded than the other two forwards, but while Nick Larkey finished with 20 more majors, Daniher’s larger influence around the ground, averaging 15 disposals and six marks compared with nine and four, more than make up for that.

Dustin Martin (Richmond)

WHY: The Dusty for AA campaign has been growing for a number of weeks, and reached a crescendo after another starring role in the Tigers’ loss to Port Adelaide to and their season.

For me, the case is compelling: averaging nearly 24 disposals and more than a goal a game, this has certainly been Martin’s best season since his halcyon years of 2017-2020, and as the definitive forward-mid, his year has flown under the radar given Richmond’s relative mediocrity.

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With the unluckiest omission from this 22 by far Tom Green, this was a line-ball call between the Tiger champion and the GWS young gun; but goals matter, and Martin’s accomplishments in a season without the success he’s surely accustomed to by now can’t be overstated.

Forwards

Taylor Walker (Adelaide)

WHY: He lost the Coleman Medal to Charlie Curnow, but 76 goals is nothing to be sniffed at anyway, especially from a 33-year old veteran who, if anything, seems to be getting better with age.

Still one of the best set shots in the business, 19 of Walker’s goals might have come against West Coast (equal to Curnow), but with more shots at goal than anyone in the league, a top-four ranking for score involvements behind three of the top-five players in the game (Petracca, Curnow and Bontempelli) and just the most colossal presence when at his best, it’s time to finally give Tex his first ever All-Australian blazer.

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Charlie Curnow (Carlton)

WHY: Coleman Medallists have occasionally missed out on All-Australian teams in seasons past. It won’t be happening this year.

A shining light in the bin fire that was Carlton’s start to the season, and an undisputed superstar during the nine-game winning streak that saw them surge into September, only Petracca had more score involvements than Curnow, while he finished just one behind Tom Hawkins for marks inside 50 and a staggering 12 ahead of the next-best for contested grabs.

I’m almost prepared to dismiss my fear of Victoria imploding in the event of a Carlton premiership for the chance to witness the big Blue on the September stage as many times as possible in the next month. Almost.

Toby Greene (GWS – captain)

WHY: 60 goals from a mid-sized forward is just ridiculous. When you add to that his inspirational leadership, his selflessness – Greene ranks fifth for goal assists despite missing two games through injury – and his love of the big moment, he might just be the most valuable player in the league.

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The only question is whether he, as the most captivating on-field skipper in the game, he is rewarded with All-Australian captaincy: with respect to Moore and Bontempelli, if the gong is awarded on merit, it should without question be Toby’s.

Interchange

Tom Liberatore (Western Bulldogs)

WHY: Second in the league for average contested possessions. Equal top for average ground ball gets. Second for clearances and in the top 10 for tackles as well. The beating heart of the Bulldogs’ midfield machine, Liberatore’s career-best season at 31 years of age, like Walker, deserves a maiden All-Australian blazer.

His sharp hands, incredible football brain and capacity to make the right decision almost every time constantly get the Dogs out of scrapes; his importance to the team was emphasised in their shock loss to West Coast with Liberatore on the sidelines due to concussion.

Profuse apologies to Tom Green and Caleb Serong for missing out – it was close, but at least they have a decade plus to become staples in this team.

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Zach Merrett (Essendon)

WHY: The Bombers’ season may have fizzled out, but up until the last six weeks, Essendon’s new captain was one of the first picked in this team.

It’s not just the huge amount of ball he won, or the polished kicking – of the top 20 disposal-winners in the league this year, only Houston’s kicking efficiency was higher than Merrett’s 67 per cent – or even the captaincy. It was that Merrett’s best games were better than just about every other midfielder this side of Bontempelli and Butters.

His 39-disposal, match-winning effort on Dreamtime at the ‘G night to help sink Richmond might only be behind Butters against Melbourne the night beforehand as the season’s best individual game.

Connor Rozee (Port Adelaide)

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WHY: I argued last season that Rozee’s breakout campaign was only rewarded with All-Australian selections due to the difference expectations placed on him and the overlooked Bontempelli; there can be no disregarding his merits this season, though.

Complementing Butters beautifully as an inside-outside hybrid with beautiful kicking skills and underrated toughness, only Gulden finished the year with more inside 50s than the Port Adelaide gun, and while Butters was more prolific, Rozee had just as much impact on the Power’s top-four finish.

That pair, plus the rapidly emerging Jason Horne-Francis, are going to be the best midfield trio in the game for the next decade. Surely there’s a flag or two on the way.

Jack Viney (Melbourne)

WHY: Along with English, the final spot in the 22 was the hardest to pick. It came down to three candidates: Green, Serong, and Jack Viney.

Serong’s stats are the most compelling, while Green became a dominant clearance machine and contested beast; both would have been more than worthy selections. However, I’ve gone with Viney for no other reason than that he’s utterly inspirational.

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Stepping up big time to fill the void of Clayton Oliver during his long-term absence, the former Demons captain lifted his team time and again when the chips were down, be it with a big tackle, a clutch goal or a heart and soul centre clearance.

He only nabbed this spot off Green on the final day of the season, when with Melbourne looking down for the count against Sydney in the third quarter, he turned the match with a dominant 12-disposal, four-tackle term to simply refuse to let his team lose.

Like Liberatore, there is an element of ensuring Viney at 29 years of age, is rewarded for an All-Australian calibre season in what might prove to be his last chance; but this team is nothing if not a nod to legacy, and this Demons great well and truly deserves the acclaim that has eluded him in recent years in the shadow of Oliver and Petracca.

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