Unless you’re a prominent ball-winning midfielder, it’s tough to annually find a way into the All-Australian team. Mids like Marcus Bontempelli, Touk Miller, Patrick Dangerfield and Jack Macrae regularly take up residence on the half-forward line or on a wing, with the real half-forwards/wingmen of the competition missing out. Therefore, it takes a special season for a player to earn a gig in the team of the year, with the competition for spots in 2023 expected to be hotly contested once again. First-timers have made up a fair portion of the team over the past few years and after seven rounds of the season, these seven players are primed to contend for the first All-Aus blazer of their careers.
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Mason Wood, Saints
There was a time when it appeared unlikely that Mason Wood would ever feature in 100 AFL games, but over the weekend in just his 35th game for the club, the Saints utility was able to raise the bat. St Kilda didn’t take the four points, although it’s clear that Wood has become an integral part of their early success as he revives his career under Ross Lyon. Delisted by North Melbourne at the end of the 2020 season, Wood was given a lifeline by the Saints and he has rewarded their faith by taking his game to a new level this year. Emerging as one of the most versatile players in the game, St Kilda’s reigning Best Clubman winner has earned league-wide recognition for the impact he is having on the wing, plying his craft all over the ground to help his club sit inside the top-4 after seven weeks.
Caleb Serong, Dockers
Whether Andrew Brayshaw is playing through injury or not, you can’t take anything away from his running mate, Caleb Serong. Viewed as ‘Robin’ to Brayshaw’s ‘Batman’, the former 8th overall pick is breaking out in season four – currently sitting 4th in the entire AFL for total disposals and 6th for total clearances. As Fremantle continue to struggle through the early portion of the season, Serong has been the only consistent midfielder for the club, with 27 disposals over the weekend his lowest tally of the year thus far. Serong has also been able to excel by hitting targets inside-50, despite the Dockers failing to translate those links to a winning score. Even if the Dockers maintain their losing ways, their ascending star still deserves his flowers.
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Jordan Dawson, Crows
A lot of the footy faithful were surprised when Jordan Dawson was named Adelaide’s captain over the summer, especially considering he had only played 22 games for the club at the time. Watch the 2023 Crows go about their business and it’s clear why Dawson was revered internally. Acting as a do-it-all player for Adelaide, Dawson has split his time between the backline and the midfield through seven rounds, succeeding in both areas thanks to his lethal left boot. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Dawson hasn’t made an All-Aus team yet, however at 26 years old he’s just entering his prime. Expect to see the Crows leader earn his first All-Australian jacket this season as he continues to excel no matter where Matthew Nicks deploys him.
Nick Daicos, Magpies
The production from Nick Daicos in his second AFL season is hard to comprehend. The majestic Magpie is staking his claim as one of the best players in the entire competition just 32 games into his career, ranking No. 1 for effective disposals and projected Brownlow votes through seven games. As he continues to defy logic, Daicos is one of the driving forces behind Collingwood sitting atop the table right now, doing all the little nitty gritty things necessary to help his team win. Look no further than his efforts late against the Crows, when Daicos opted to soccer the ball forward twice to gain crucial metres and then smothered a clearing kick from Nathan Murray to force a throw-in inside the Magpies’ attacking 50. This kid is a sight to behold.
Josh Daicos, Magpies
While his brother continues to get all the glory, Josh Daicos is having an eye-catching season of his own. In my eyes, the Collingwood winger should have earned a place in the 2022 All-Australian team, but of course, the two wing spots went to regular on-ballers Touk Miller and Callum Mills. Should the selectors finally decide to reward an actual wingman with a spot on the edge of the centre square, then the elder Daicos brother would be the first player picked – averaging a career-best 27.9 disposals a game right now. Knowing the history of the All-Aus panel, it’s unlikely that Daicos will be rewarded with a spot in the starting 18, although there may be a glimmer of hope that he can squeeze his way onto the bench should he maintain his outstanding averages and the Pies keep chalking up regular W’s.
Callum Wilkie, Saints
The ‘Great Wall of Wilkie’ is in full effect this year as the one-time accountant continues to evolve into a premier defender for St Kilda. As it stands right now, Callum Wilkie leads all players for intercept marks (26) and total intercept possessions (61) with his defensive prowess a catalyst for the Saints’ 5-2 record. Featuring in 92 consecutive games since he made his debut back in 2019, Wilkie has rapidly risen up the ranks both internally (named as St Kilda’s vice-captain before the season commenced) and externally (named in the initial 44-man All-Australian squad for 2022), quelling the influence of both tall and small forwards for the stingiest defence in the AFL. There’s still a lot of the season left to unfold, but it’s fair to assume Wilkie can already be measured up for his first All-Aus blazer.
Harry Sheezel, Kangaroos
First-year players aren’t meant to seamlessly slot into AFL football the way that Harry Sheezel has. Only once so far in his young career has Sheezel been kept under 30 disposals, with the uber-talented forward thriving under Alastair Clarkson as a primary user when exiting the defensive 50. Somehow the budding North Melbourne star is putting forth one of the most statistically impressive Rising Star campaigns we’ve ever seen, even as the Roos struggle to the tune of five consecutive losses. Ben Hart (1992) is the only teenager to ever make an All-Australian outfit and it’s fair to say that Sheezel will face an uphill climb to become the second player to achieve that feat. No matter which end of the ground North opt to utilise their talented teen at, you can expect Sheezel to challenge for a spot in the final team for the duration of the season.
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