As AFL players around the country gear up for the holiday break, the next time we’ll see them on the track, 2022 will be well and truly behind us. Over the offseason thus far, we’ve seen a new batch of draftees enter the AFL fraternity and 36 player switch clubs during free agency and the trade period, with some clubs and players enhancing their position in our eyes, while others are clear ‘losers’ of the summer. With that in mind, who has seen their stock move the most during the 2022 AFL offseason?
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One of the clear winners of the offseason, the Brisbane Lions are poised to make another serious run at a premiership next season. The only real absence from last year’s team will be Dan McStay after he found his way to the Pies, and Brisbane more than compensated for his loss by adding Jack Gunston from the Hawks, Josh Dunkley in a massive deadline day trade, and then bolstering their roster further with a pair of top-12 draftees. Will Ashcroft looks like he’ll enter next season as the Rising Star favourite and there’s a chance he can capture a flag with the Lions in his rookie campaign, should they put all the pieces together.
Watching the reactions of draft prospects having their AFL dreams realised is annually one of the best parts of the draft. This year, we saw Elijah Hewett go nuts when West Coast selected the WA-born talent, but some like Lachie Cowan had to wait until day two to hear their names called. Cowan, a classy rebounding defender, grew up a Carlton fan and after some draft day dealing, the Blues were able to secure pick No. 30 and draft the Tasmanian talent. The co-captain of the Allies in 2022, Cowan may find it tough to squeeze his way into this budding Blues outfit in year one, however, he’ll never forget the moment he was drafted by the club he supported his whole life.
Adding Jack Bowes, Oliver Henry, and Tanner Bruhn during the trade period and drafting Jhye Clark 8th overall leaves the reigning premiers in great stead to defend the throne next season. Fresh off their first premiership in 11 years, no one expected Geelong to drop off in 2023, and after the roster changes they made to their list in the summer there’s no denying that they’ll enter next season as one of the favourites to challenge for the flag. Dad’s Army did lose some experience from their squad following the retirements of Joel Selwood, Luke Dahlhaus and Shaun Higgins, although the Cats will be able to cover those losses without too much hassle.
It’s a bit of a stretch coupling Chris into this, but after his success on Grand Final day and following his twin brother Brad’s appointment as Essendon head coach, there’s bound to be plenty of Christmas cheer at the Scott household this year. The new head honcho for the Bombers will look to turn the proud club around after an inconsistent few seasons, and he’s shown previously during his 10-year stint as North Melbourne’s head coach that he’s capable of leading a team into the finals. It’s a long shot to see Essendon featuring in September action next season, but maybe Chris will give him a few pointers?
Free Tom Mitchell! The 2018 Brownlow winner clearly wasn’t at his best last season as Sam Mitchell opted to utilise Tom’s talents in unique ways that took him out of his usual role as a stoppage specialist. Enter Collingwood, who traded for the prolific ball-winner following rumours about his future at the Hawks over the duration of the entire season. Finding a new home at the Magpies should see Mitchell regain his title as one of the competition’s premier ball-winners and a fan favourite in AFL Fantasy circles.
West Coast Eagles
With a year from hell behind them, there are still a few footy pundits predicting a long road back to relevance for the West Coast. However, I’m not selling all my Eagles stock, with the club certainly aiding their list transition during the trade period/draft by bringing talented footballers to assist their already established stars. Injuries were the main factor that contributed to West Coast’s struggles last year and there’s a world where they make a giant leap back towards finals contention next season. To do so, they’ll need to keep their top performers on the park and get strong contributions from ‘generation next’, but vaulting themselves up the ladder in 2023 isn’t mission impossible.
Image from thewest.com.au
Gold Coast Suns
I was confident last season was going to be the year we saw the Suns break through for their first finals appearance. Those who are advocates of Gold Coast will be quick to point out that the club recorded double-digit wins for just the second time in franchise history, however, they still underachieved in the eyes of most. Making matters worse, they hardly strengthened their list in the offseason following the loss of Jack Bowes and Izak Rankine, even though they managed to free up salary cap space to resign ascending stars like Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson. It’s time for the Suns to experience success, but I’m not sure their roster is capable of cracking the finals mix, even if they do regain talented forward Ben King in 2023.
Speaking of the Gold Coast Suns, there were a number of headlines linking them with 200+ gamer Daniel Hannebery throughout the summer, but their interest in him has seemingly cooled. Hannebery announced his plans to ‘retire’ late this year after a treacherous run with injury in his four years with St Kilda, although, there is a popular belief that he was forced out of the door by the Saints rather than ending his AFL tenure on his own terms. That led to plenty of speculation around his future, as footy fans wondered if another side would offer him a lifeline to extend his career at a third club. There’s still a chance he captures a spot throughout the preseason, but after his lengthy hamstring issues, it’s fair to assume we’ve seen the last of Dan Hannebery at the top level.
The pressure is well and truly on Matthew Nicks to generate more wins and give Crows fans a glimmer of hope regarding their future. Unfortunately for Adelaide’s head coach, their offseason was hardly a home run, even though the addition of Izak Rankine will provide them with more class in their forward 50. He still has support at West Lakes and there’s optimism that the Crows can start their climb back up the ladder this season, but after the uninspiring list changes they made this summer, things may go pear-shaped for Nicks if Adelaide starts slowly next season.
St Kilda Saints
Yuck. That’s how I summarise St Kilda’s summer in one word, with hardly anything going right for the Saints following their 10th-placed finish in 2022. The hiring of Ross Lyon is a move that I actually approve of, however, the way they handled Brett Ratten’s dismissal was a legitimate fiasco. To make matters worse, their team didn’t get any better, missing out on Jordan DeGoey during the trade period, with Zaine Cordy the only player they traded for. Couple that with a shoulder injury to their premier goal-kicker Max King and this offseason was one St Kilda fans would like to forget.
It’s a bad time to be an AFL skipper with a changing of the guard occurring right before our eyes. We’ve already seen veterans of the game Joel Selwood, Ben McEvoy and Scott Pendlebury bring an end to their reign as captains and there could be more to follow. Nat Fyfe and Dyson Heppell are no certainties to lead the charge in 2023 and the same could be said for Jack Ziebell, Dayne Zorko, and perhaps Luke Shuey, who has only led West Coast for 10 games since his appointment in 2020. It’s hardly the end of the world, but we’re witnessing a ton of turnover amongst the game’s great leaders.
Ripping the Band-Aid off and triggering a rebuild at Hawthorn was somewhat of an inevitability for the club. Still, losing tenured leaders Liam Shiels, Jaeger O’Meara, Jack Gunston, Tom Mitchell and Ben McEvoy in one offseason is bound to have a negative impact on the Hawks next year, with the prestigious club the early odds on favourite to secure the wooden spoon. Sam Mitchell ensures fans that the ‘vast majority’ of the club’s next premiership team is already on their list, but they’ll still suffer in the short term as they prioritise youth.