2023 AFL Draft Review: Western Bulldogs
A HAUL of five fresh faces landed at Whitten Oval as Western Bulldogs recruited heavily at the 2023 AFL Draft. Two first round selections were welcomed on night one, including a father-son gun, along with a trio of late picks on night two. We recap the Bulldogs’ draft effort.
>> UPDATED: Every Pick in the 2023 AFL Draft
10. Lachie McNeil (re-listed)
21. Taylor Duryea (re-listed)
>> ANALYSIS: Big winners, bolters & sliders
It was no surprise to see the Bulldogs select Ryley Sanders with pick six after being heavily linked with the Tasmanian midfielder. This year’s Larke Medallist proved a consistent performer whose inside craft is all class, on top of a developing outside game based on smarts and work rate.
Sanders offers relatively readymade on-ball depth to an already strong Bulldogs engine room and was arguably one of the leading two pure midfielders available this year. His numbers were breathtaking at the National Championships, averaging 36 disposals for the title-winning Allies.
The move to nab a midfielder comes on the back of the Bulldogs drafting relatively tall over the last few years. It became evident that the club was looking to go smaller at this pick ever since trading with Gold Coast for it. Sanders was their man.
Matching a bid for father-son nominee Jordan Croft was the Bulldogs’ next focus on night one, and it came in the expected range. Sydney called out his name with pick 15 and he duly became a Dog, following in the footsteps of his father Matthew, who played 186 games in red, white and blue.
At 200cm, Croft is a terrific runner with both speed and endurance in his arsenal. He also attacks the aerial ball with vigour and has serious upside. He’ll need some time to fill out, develop, and become a more consistent player, but his potential is among the best of this year’s talls.
He joins a strong group of key position players who have been tied to the Bulldogs in recent drafts. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy are among them and will be a couple of starting 22 players whose quality should allow Croft the time to settle into life at the top level.
The Bulldogs made three selections within 10 picks on night two, starting with GWV Rebels graduate Joel Freijah (45). A specialist wingman, the 190cm running machine holds his width well and works into either arc of the ground. His discipline and understanding of the role appealed to the Bulldogs.
Freijah was once considered a first round chance after bursting onto the scene with a remarkable Coates Talent League outing in Round 4. He booted six goals from 26 disposals to put his name on the map, before becoming a consistent performer for the Rebels and Vic Country throughout the year.
Freijah’s Vic Country teammate Lachlan Smith was next off the board at pick 47. The physically imposing 202cm ruck is a late developer footballing-wise, but has hit the heights of the talent pathway despite relatively limited exposure. His stature, presence and scope for improvement appealed.
Rounding out the Bulldogs’ crop was West Australian wingman Aiden O’Driscoll. The brother of Fremantle’s Emma and Nathan is a hard-running outside type who can also roll forward, perhaps set to be utilised as a small utility of sorts.
He tested brilliantly at the National Draft Combine and brought his flair to this year’s WAFL Colts Grand Final, where Perth went down by 11 points. His energy as a 175cm runner is terrific and he’s the type of player capable of opening up the play in exciting bursts.
Re-listing Lachie McNeil and Taylor Duryea was the Bulldogs’ only point of call in the Rookie Draft. Having brought in five fresh faces, former-Hawk Lachlan Bramble was also welcomed to the club recently as an SSP addition.