RECAP | 2023 AFL Draft: Night One

NIGHT one of the 2023 AFL Draft is in the books, with 29 selections made across a bumper first round. There were surprises, bolters, sliders, and dramatic pick swaps aplenty, but the action at Marvel Stadium started with the inevitable.

>> EVERY PICK: 2023 AFL Draft Night One

Pick one, West Coast, Harley Reid. While live trades flew in from other clubs, the Eagles were on the board and did little to live up to the suspense of the arduous five-minute countdown – likely placing their selection within a thousandth of that time.

Reid was presented the number nine guernsey by its former holder, Nic Naitanui to kick off a first half-dozen picks which went largely to plan. Colby McKercher was next, off to North Melbourne, before the Roos bid on Suns Academy gun Jed Walter and took Zane Duursma with their second live pick.

That left Hawthorn to swoop on energetic small forward Nick Watson, who grew up a Collingwood supporter and was thrilled at the potential of teaming up with new Hawk, Jack Ginnivan. Next, Ryley Sanders landed at the Western Bulldogs to make it two Tasmanians within the top six.

Then came the first real bolter, Caleb Windsor. While it had been speculated for some time that Melbourne would be into the flying wingman, few could have predicted coming into the year that he’d land at pick seven.

He became the Eastern Ranges’ second top 10 selection, having also helped the region reach this year’s Coates Talent League grand final. The Dees were stoked, landing a long-term wing replacement and one of the draft’s best athletes. Blink and you’ll miss him.

After seven relatively straightforward picks, it was time to shake things up. Greater Western Sydney traded its pick eight and 17 to Adelaide in exchange for the Crows’ picks 11, 15 and a future second rounder, with the deal revolving around the shaper of the draft – Daniel Curtin.

The West Australian utility, now a Crow, was linked with a range of clubs within the top 10 – no less West Coast. There was speculation that Adelaide could be in the mix for a move, and the South Australian club now has a readymade key back or big bodied midfielder to add to the mix.

Geelong was another team linked to Curtin and was next on the clock, lodging the night’s second academy bid which was duly matched. It was another Sun, this time dynamic ruck Ethan Read. What followed was another trade, as Essendon swooped in ahead of the Cats to land Nate Caddy.

Caddy, who projects as a slightly undersized key forward, is seen by the Bombers as a player in the mould of Jake Stringer. He provides power and presence up forward, but has improved his running capacity and may be able to pinch hit through midfield.

With a swap of picks, Geelong returned to the action and called out Connor O’Sullivan‘s name. The Albury product was presented the number 14 by Cats great Joel Selwood, but left the premiership captain behind to celebrate his good mate Phoenix Gothard going with the very next pick.

It was the Giants who landed Gothard, one of the biggest bolters of the night, having been linked to the lively small forward a little later in the order. The draft room was in raptures as two teammates realised their dreams in succession, and not without drama or tactics from their new clubs.

Things simmered down somewhat when Melbourne got back on the clock, again making a selection which was widely expected in Koltyn Tholstrup. That put Sydney on the clock, a club known to wreak havoc and pull the trigger on bids. That was no different this year.

Diminutive midfielder Jake Rogers became the third Suns Academy member to land at Gold Coast, before the Swans made a consecutive bid for Western Bulldogs father-son Jordan Croft. Eventually, Northern Knights ruck Will Green was secured all the way back at pick 16.

Greater Western Sydney again got on the phones to secure a deal with St Kilda, sacrificing a future second round pick to trade up one spot into St Kilda’s pick 17. It was no surprise then, that James Leake was the Giants’ man, having been linked with their first selection.

Leake, a bolter in his own right throughout the year, ironically ended up being somewhat of a slider on night one. He joined Allies teammate Gothard in the charcoal and orange, making for a masterful bit of recruiting from Adrian Caruso and his team.

St Kilda was then left to land a slider of its own in Darcy Wilson, who had reportedly garnered interest from the likes of Adelaide and Melbourne. The smooth moving midfielder-forward adds class to the Saints’ on-ball group but may well begin his career on the outside or in attack.

Having made two selections in the top four, North Melbourne bid on Hawthorn father-son Will McCabe, then had three of the next four picks. Clearly covering a need, they jumped at raw South Australian ruck Taylor Goad and versatile tall Wil Dawson, before snapping up rebound defender Riley Hardeman.

Wedged in between those picks was Adelaide’s selection of Charlie Edwards, a tall midfielder out of the Sandringham Dragons. He’s another in the bolter category, having enjoyed a stellar back-end of the season en route to Talent League premiership glory.

After the Roos’ rampage, Collingwood decided to play villain with a bid on Swans Academy member Caiden Cleary. Sydney deliberated and shuffled its picks before matching, leaving the Pies to call out a similar player in Harry DeMattia – a powerful, tough and versatile midfielder.

Though it was suspected Collingwood would also bid on Suns Academy product Will Graham, Adelaide was left to do the honours. Graham became the fourth home grown talent to land at Gold Coast, joining two other Palm Beach Currumbin juniors in the big leagues on night one.

Once matched, the Crows were back on the board and pulled a surprise. Murray Bushrangers defender Oscar Ryan, who was there supporting his teammates, had Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks at his table before the pick was officially read out, and was surprised as anyone at the event.

Ryan was the fourth Bushranger to be picked up in the first round, marking an incredible result for the region which finished last in on year’s Coates Talent League ladder. Athletically, he holds up well and takes the game on with his speed, while also being gutsy enough to rise for intercept marks.

Another club-tied player was picked up before the end of an elongated first round, though West Coast could do nothing about St Kilda’s selection of its Next Generation Academy talent, Lance Collard. Brave enough to take a punt on the enigmatic forward, the Saints jumped in before Carlton and the Eagles for their man.

Rounding out the 29 picks was the Blues’ selection of Glenelg forward Ashton Moir. A prodigious talent once considered a top five contender, Moir endured a frustrating year but is beginning to get his body right and is the type of character Carlton was looking to add to its list at bargain value.

Night two – the remainder of the 2023 National AFL Draft – gets underway tonight at 7pm AEDT, again at Marvel Stadium. Stay tuned to Rookie Me Central as we highlight the players expected to go and who may be unlucky to miss out.

>> DOWNLOAD: 2023 AFL Draft Guide

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