Coates Talent League Player Focus: Ryley Sanders

TASMANIAN midfielder Ryley Sanders dined out in Round 1 of the new Coates Talent League season, notching up a game-high 28 disposals as the Sandringham Dragons downed Eastern by 14 points. The 18-year-old has made a name for himself as an on-ball specialist, renowned for his clean distributive work and knack for finding the pill.

Sanders’ first up performance for 2023 came in what was the game of the round, and he certainly rose to the quality of the contest. With plenty of top prospects on the park both in Moorabbin and all around Victoria this past weekend, it was Sanders who ultimately came under our Player Focus microscope.

Ryley Sanders

Height: 186cm

Weight: 85kg

DOB: 21-01-2005

Clean hands
Contested work
Ground balls
Inside game
Midfield craft
Handball distribution
Hurt factor

Sandringham Dragons 12.13 (85) def. Eastern Ranges 10.11 (71)

Player Focus – #15 Ryley Sanders (Sandringham Dragons)
Stats: 28 disposals (5 kicks, 23 handballs), 3 marks, 4 tackles, 1 inside 50, 2 rebound 50s, 1 goal


Attending the opening centre bounce, Sanders was opposed by bottom-age bull Cody Anderson and ended up getting his first touches of the ball on the outside. On two occasions, he created overlap run at half-back and fired off quick forward handballs to set Sandringham in motion, opting against blazing away as others might.

Six of his seven first term disposals were handballs, almost all of which were the product of handball receives. He got busy at the contest too, proving clean in the clinches and keeping his composure, looking to feed runners and allowing them to generate true momentum on the outer.

While clean and efficient, Sanders’ start was relatively safe and with just one kick – a short one towards the top of forward 50 – he played to his strengths and primary role, but didn’t necessarily hurt the opposition with his ball use.


With Eastern’s inside mids paying close attention to him, and after the promise of some added versatility to his game, Sanders spent the large part of the second term as a forward. He was sighted at three of seven centre bounces after attending his first at the 17-minute mark.

It was up forward where Sanders finally let loose with a touch of flair, taking his second uncontested mark for the day all alone on a turnover and taking off towards the 50-metre arc before launching a terrific long-range goal on the run.

It was then time for Sanders to showcase more of his stoppage craft with some clean takes and slick dishes by hand, though he tended to invite a touch of pressure by foot. Still, the intent to be more expansive was there, and three of Sanders’ five kicks for the game came in the second term.


Just like in the second quarter, Sanders started outside of the centre square but eventually found his way into four of the eight total restarts. When shifted on-ball, he showed shrewd spacial awareness in knowing when to sag off and receive, or where to flick the ball out to once under pressure.

Akin to his early runs in the first quarter, Sanders was an outlet and tended to keep the play moving with forward handballs, a tactic many AFL teams adopt. His cleanliness and quick hands were undeniably good, but again, slightly limited in terms of hurting the opposition – he brings others into the game to do so.


Sanders started term four as a more permanent midfield fixture, entrusted to win the ball at the source when it mattered. Almost ironically, it helped his outside game as he looked to step past opponents and take the game on with the result essentially on the line.

That worked both ways. One a couple of occasions, he got the play moving as usual and sparked Sandringham’s forward forays, but on another he turned the ball over atop the defensive goalsquare and gifted Eastern a crucial major.

Nonetheless, Sanders’ work rate was evident as he charged into both arcs and continued to demand the ball. His sheer want to for possessions, albeit to dispose just as quickly as he gained the ball, showed a strong sense of leadership at important times. His team ultimately got over the line.


There is no denying Sanders’ strengths. What he does well is extract and distribute the ball at the contest with clean and lightning quick hands, playing a selfless role with optimal footy IQ and willingness to bring others into the game.

Though he can lift the ability of running receivers, Sanders is beginning to develop his own outside game and that factor will be crucial to his draft chances. AFL clubs tend to be moving away from less explosive, ball-winning specialist midfielders, but Sanders will have plenty of chances to show some versatility.

Being able to shift gears and become more expansive by foot will also help Sanders become a more appealing prospect. Nonetheless, in terms of playing to a role and his undeniably solid traits, the hard-working Tasmanian is as reliable as they come and should be a consistent figure for all sides he represents in 2023.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments