The Gold Coast Suns are poised to emerge from the 2023 AFL National Draft with a trio of first round selections, all of whom are expected to make a significant impact on the first team thanks to the team’s investment in Academy prospects.
Jed Walter, Ethan Read, and Jake Rogers are names that every AFL enthusiast has come to recognise over the past year. They have all excelled for Gold Coast’s academy and played pivotal roles in an Allies side that clinched the under-18 championship title earlier this year.
Consequently, the Suns’ list management team dedicated the trade period to manoeuvre picks and players to acquire as many picks and draft points as possible. This strategic move aimed to match bids for these three prospects in the National Draft.
10 Academy players helped the Gold Coast Suns win the 2023 VFL Premiership. (Photo by Kelly Defina/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)
Currently, the Suns hold picks 24, 26, 27, 32, 36, 38, 66, 71, 74, and 84. They are expected to split picks 24 and 26 into later selections to further bolster their draft points. Walter, Read, and Rogers are all anticipated to attract early bids, necessitating draft points from the Suns to retain them—a priority for the Gold Coast team.
Walter is the most coveted among the three players, projected to be bid on at pick 2. He is often compared to Carlton’s Charlie Curnow due to his aerial skills and determination to secure the ball by any means necessary. Throughout the year, several journalists reported that in any draft without Harley Reid, Jed Walter would be the number 1 pick.
Gold Coast insiders highlight his capabilities as a pressure player (tackling) and key forward, making him a highly regarded prospect by senior coaches and officials within the first team. He is expected to receive significant playing time at the top level next year.
Ethan Read is the next standout prospect, regarded as the 9th-best prospect in the draft by AFL.com.au’s Cal Twomey. As an athletic ruckman, Read completed a 2km time trial in 5:56 minutes at the Draft Combine last month. His exceptional athleticism, combined with midfielder-like traits, makes him an impressive ruckman.
Despite his talent, Read faces competition from Jarrod Witts, the current first-choice ruckman. However, Witts, at 31 years old, is likely to contend with more injuries, potentially opening opportunities for Read in the first team.
Jake Rogers, the third of Gold Coast’s first-round-rated academy prospects, is projected to be bid on around pick 13-14. Standing at 172cm, he is a midfielder known for his robust tackling abilities and tenacious on-field demeanor. Rogers possesses excellent ball sense, speed to escape contests, superb foot and hand skills, and the ability to create scoring opportunities.
Incoming Suns coach Damien Hardwick will have plenty of young talent coming through. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Although he spent time as a small forward this year, his versatility suggests he could fill that role in the first team if necessary. Despite his smaller stature compared to Read and Walter, Rogers’ skills, both with and without the ball, are highly regarded by Gold Coast coaches and throughout the league.
Under the mentorship of former players such as Rhyce Shaw, who currently serves as a development coach for the Suns and a team of high-level coaches, these players have not only honed their skills but also learned crucial aspects of professionalism. Developing maturity is vital for draftees entering the league, ensuring immediate success.
The Suns emphasise the importance of maturity, as demonstrated by Mac Andrew, who faced consequences for lacking professionalism, resulting in missed recovery sessions and omissions. Time spent in the academy is invaluable for prospective draftees, providing them with essential insights on how to conduct themselves in the league. Gold Coast’s investment in this developmental process is expected to yield significant rewards in the future.
Gold Coast’s commitment to their academy will likely be recognised as a remarkably astute and effective decision in the future. By nurturing local talent from a young age within the club, the Suns gain direct access to these players in the National Draft. This approach enables them to prepare these players for the transition from junior to senior AFL more seamlessly compared to players from outside academies.
With the guidance of coaches like Damien Hardwick and Rhyce Shaw, the names Jed Walter, Ethan Read, and Jake Rogers are positioned to shine as future stars in the AFL.