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AFL crucial cogs: The players who must make a difference in the semi-finals

12th September, 2023
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12th September, 2023

For the second weekend of the finals, we’re taking a look at three players from each team who’ll need to make a difference if their club is to progress.


Jack Viney finished the qualifying final against Collingwood without a clearance. What it does show, is that there’s plenty of upside for him, which could be pivotal for Melbourne, as there should fire in his belly to perform better than he did against Collingwood when Melbourne take on Carlton in the semi-final.

Bayley Fritsch is arguably the most dangerous forward Melbourne has, as he has kicked multiple goals in 13 of the 16 games that he has featured in. He is the leading goal-kicker for Melbourne with 36 goals, but the pressure that comes with playing finals can impact kicking accuracy; despite kicking two goals against Collingwood, he kicked two behinds and missed another chance to hit the scoreboard totally.

He needs to move on from that and take his opportunities against Carlton, if Melbourne are to progress to the preliminary final. His importance to the team is even greater, given the Jacob van Rooyen suspension.

Bayley Fritsch celebrates a goal.

Bayley Fritsch. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Lachie Hunter is a player who needs to lift in the absence of Angus Brayshaw, as Hunter will play on the wing and may play as an inside midfielder at times so Christian Petracca can push forward when Melbourne take on Carlton.

Despite Hunter having an average game against Collingwood, nine of his 18 disposals were intercept possessions, which showed that he still worked hard defensively. Given that Hunter has had the experience of winning a Premiership at the Western Bulldogs in 2016, he should be able to have the resilience to help the team bounce back from their narrow loss to Collingwood.



Tom De Koning is a player that appears to be growing, as he showed in the elimination final against Sydney where five of his 15 disposals were clearances and he also finished with 11 hit-outs and four score involvements.

He is a player that will be important for Carlton when they take on Melbourne in the semi-final, as he needs to negate Max Gawn when he plays in the ruck and Steven May and Jake Lever at times, when he’s up forward, as Harry McKay is unavailable for the game due to concussion. Hopefully for Carlton De Koning he can hit the scoreboard.

Sam Walsh is hitting form at the right time given he was arguably the best player on the ground when Carlton defeated Sydney; he had 16 contested possessions and nine inside 50s, the most of any player on the field. Walsh should be desperate to prove that his performance against Sydney wasn’t an aberration when Carlton take on Melbourne.

Blake Acres showed his value to Carlton against Melbourne as he polled nine votes in the Gary Ayres Medal. He is a player that kept Oliver Hollands and Zac Fisher outside of the Carlton team against Melbourne, which is a feather in his cap.

Acres had six score involvements, four intercept possessions, a goal and 570 metres gained, and prevented two goals by touching the ball near the goal line, which would’ve been certain goals for Sydney. In the sem-final he will be up against Ed Langdon and Lachie Hunter, which will be a challenge he should be up for.


Port Adelaide

Sam Powell-Pepper has kicked multiple goals in four of his last five games, which is impressive. Having averaged 5.29 score involvements per game and featuring in all 24 games so far this season shows his worth to Port Adelaide. Powell-Pepper could cause the GWS defence plenty of headaches in the semi-final.

Ryan Burton did a good job in curtailing the influence of Charlie Cameron in the qualifying final, when Port Adelaide played Brisbane. Burton kept Cameron goalless in the first half, which showed he can play a lockdown role on a small forward.

Unfortunately, the class of Cameron shone through and Burton conceded two goals at crucial times, so hopefully he bounces back from that. It will be intriguing to see who Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley choses him to negate, as GWS have a plethora of small forward options. Toby Greene is the one that springs to mind, but we’ll see.

Toby Greene celebrates kicking a goal.

Toby Greene. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Willem Drew showed that he is probably the best tagger that Port Adelaide have at their disposal, when they took on Brisbane; Drew restricted Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale to nine disposals in the first half and 10 in the second half. Along with that Drew finished the game with 20 disposals and eight clearances. He will probably get the job of curtailing Greene, who accumulated 35 disposals against St Kilda.



Josh Kelly is a superb player, which he displayed in the elimination final against St Kilda; he had 19 disposals and kicked two goals in the first half. When the game had finished, he had seven clearances and 622 metres gained and the most score involvements of any player on the field with 10!

He had to step up in the absence of Stephen Coniglio, who was a late omission due to an injury. Kelly will need to impact the contest against Port Adelaide in the semi-final as he is a key player for GWS and may go head-to-head with Zak Butters or Connor Rozee at times.

Jake Riccardi kicked three goals in the game against St Kilda, but it should’ve been more as he missed a couple of gettable goals. At his best he is a dangerous key forward, but at his worst he can go missing; GWS will be hoping it’s the former, when they take on Port Adelaide, as Jesse Hogan will probably be used to curtail the intercept marking of Aliir Aliir. Riccardi must hit the scoreboard when he gets the opportunity.

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Lachie Ash will need to provide run off the half-back flank as he did in the game against St Kilda as he had 31 disposals, 22 of those coming in the first half. He had the third-most metres gained of any player on the field with 588.

Ash showed that he has been a revelation in season 2023 against St Kilda and it’s difficult to think of anyone stopping him influencing the game against Port Adelaide as Lachie Whitfield is the player opposition teams tend to focus on stopping.