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Hawthorn and top West Australian prospect Daniel Curtin are at the heart of the most unpredictable AFL draft in years.
A near-record 28 or 29 picks, including academy and father-son selections, are set to be made in the first round on Monday night, which would fall shy of only the 30 made before the second round in 2011.
One thing is certain: Harley Reid will be pick No.1.Credit: Fairfax Media
West Coast are set to make Tongala teenager Harley Reid the league’s latest No.1 selection.
But the uncertainty begins as early as North Melbourne’s back-to-back picks, including whether they place a bid on Gold Coast academy prospect Jed Walter and, if so, at which selection.
The academy guns
Walter, a strong-bodied key forward who recruiters believe could have challenged Reid for No.1 in an open draft, is highly unlikely to fall any further than pick four, where Hawthorn should place a bid, if it comes to that.
The Suns are poised to match bids on four academy players – Walter, Ethan Read, Jake Rogers and Will Graham – in the first round, while father-son pair Jordan Croft (Western Bulldogs) and Will McCabe (Hawthorn) should also attract first-round bids.
Gold Coast look set to bolster their draft points haul further with impending trades early on Monday night with the Brisbane Lions (picks 30 and 39) and Fremantle (34 and 46) that are likely to see them part with selections 24 and 26.
Sydney could also be forced to make a call on whether to match a bid on All-Australian academy midfielder Caiden Cleary in the 20s, with Collingwood potentially bidding on him and Graham.
Throw in four free agency compensation or AFL assistance picks, and you have an epic opening night of the draft.
Daniel Curtin is set to be an early pick in this year’s AFL draft.Credit: AFL Photos
Where does Curtin land?
Tasmanian rising star Colby McKercher and Zane Duursma – the younger brother of Essendon recruit Xavier and Port Adelaide’s Yasmin – have been linked to the Kangaroos almost ever since they scored pick three as compensation for losing free agent Ben McKay.
There is some chance Curtin is wearing royal blue and white next year, with coach Alastair Clarkson keeping a very close eye on him.
The Hawks interviewed Curtin, Nick Watson, Duursma, Connor O’Sullivan and key forward Nate Caddy at the start of the week, but are leaving few clues on which direction they might head.
The consensus is Hawthorn will choose between Watson and Curtin, with Duursma probably off the board and O’Sullivan and Caddy options only if they trade to a later pick in the top 10. Rival recruiters believe they will select Watson.
However, there is the potential for the Hawks and Demons to swap their first picks, with Melbourne presenting their future first-round selection as incentive to do the deal.
Watson or Ryley Sanders loom as the Dees’ targets in that scenario, while Hawthorn could grab Curtin at No.6.
The Western Bulldogs, with the next pick, would select gun midfielder Sanders, this year’s Larke medallist as the best player at the under-18 championships, but might have a tougher call if Watson is also still available.
Melbourne are another potential destination for Curtin, but may consider trading what will become the No.7 pick for the Eagles’ future first-round selection. West Coast would then snap up Curtin.
The other option at this pick is the Demons drafting highly rated Eastern Ranges winger Caleb Windsor, who would also be strongly considered at the next selection, which the Giants own.
However, there is also a big watch on GWS, who are another possible suitor for the Eagles’ 2024 first-rounder, assuming Melbourne pass on Curtin. The Giants may also weigh up taking Curtin, although they are most commonly linked to Tasmanian James Leake and Caddy. O’Sullivan or Darcy Wilson are other possibilities.
There is also a chance GWS and Adelaide switch their first picks, given Leake is likely to still be up for grabs at the Crows’ selection.
Key forward Nate Caddy.Credit: AFL Photos
The motivation for Adelaide would probably be to select O’Sullivan, although they do like Wilson as well.
Geelong could become part of the West Coast/Curtin conga line, too, but could engage in a trade with Adelaide, who, as above, are keen to move up and hold selections 10, 14 and 20 before bids are factored in.
Curtin, Caddy, Wilson and O’Sullivan would all be in the Cats’ thinking if they retain their pick, while Essendon, at the next selection, would likely pick between Caddy or O’Sullivan if they are available.
If not, there is a good chance the Bombers trade deeper into the first round, with West Australian defender Riley Hardeman someone they would like to draft.
The Crows appear to be focused on O’Sullivan or Wilson, but Leake would be considered if he slid to them.
It gets murkier from here …
Melbourne will be back on the clock at what will likely be the No.13 pick, where they would give serious thought to drafting West Australian forward Koltyn Tholstrup, who they visited in Esperance last week.
So much depends on what happens in the picks immediately beforehand because the Dees might also consider Leake here, if he was still on the board.
Once the Swans finish bidding on academy and father-son prospects, they have a big call to make.
Do they select Northern Knights big man Will Green, the starting ruckman in the Coates Talent League’s team of the year? The other player they have been linked to is draft bolter Charlie Edwards, the 191-centimetre Sandringham Dragons midfielder who had a breakout second half of the season.
St Kilda would almost certainly grab Wilson if he slides this far. Harry DeMattia, Edwards – managed by Saints list boss Stephen Silvagni’s son Tom – and defenders Arie Schoenmaker and Hardeman could also be in the mix.
Hawks father-son prospect McCabe is unlikely to make it past Adelaide’s second pick – assuming they still hold it – but the brown and gold will match that bid, after which the Crows could turn to Edwards, who they met with this week, or local ruckman Taylor Goad, who has rare speed for someone of 206 centimetres.
Dandenong’s AFL draft hopeful Harry DeMattia is also an excellent cricketer.Credit: AFL Photos
The Roos’ run of picks
North Melbourne have three of the next four selections, interrupted only by a Giants pick after the first of them.
The word is they will look to grab a ruckman, a defender (most likely a key) and a smaller type.
DeMattia and Lance Collard, considered Bobby Hill 2.0, are the possible options for the latter at No.20, while Goad or Mitch Edwards loom as the ruckmen in contention – if Sydney take Green – while 200-centimetre backman Wil Dawson has long been linked to Arden Street. Another possibility in this stretch is Hardeman.
GWS also like DeMattia, Edwards and Hawthorn’s Next Generation Academy prospect Tew Jiath, who they have spoken to a few times.
The back-end of the first round
The premiers, Collingwood, are up next, and tipped to be the bidder on academy prospects Graham and Cleary.
Assuming the Suns and Swans match those bids, the Magpies will weigh up going small or tall at their selection, with the likes of Collard, key defender Ollie Murphy, Schoenmaker, Hardeman and key forwards Logan Morris and Archer Reid in their sights.
Dashing Geelong Falcons defender Angus Hastie is one option for Adelaide at the following pick, while Schoenmaker may be considered as well.
Schoenmaker boasts the best and longest kick in this draft class and probably won’t fall beyond St Kilda at the next selection, although they are looking at Archie Roberts and Hardeman, too.
Roberts and Western Bulldogs NGA defender Luamon Lual are potential draftees for Carlton to end the first night, but the other possibility is South Australia’s Ashton Moir.
Moir, a talented forward, started the year as a top-five chance but form and injury issues – potentially connected, at least in part – saw him tumble on most clubs’ draft boards.
Many recruiters would not contemplate him this early, but he is linked to Carlton, whether at this pick or their next one, early in the second round. Cooper Simpson is another player the Blues could consider.
Early mail mock draft
1. Harley Reid (West Coast)
2. Colby McKercher (North Melbourne)
3. Jed Walter (Gold Coast – matching North Melbourne bid)
4. Zane Duursma (North Melbourne)
5. Nick Watson (Hawthorn)
6. Ryley Sanders (Western Bulldogs)
7. Caleb Windsor (Melbourne)
8. James Leake (GWS)
9. Ethan Read (Gold Coast – matching Geelong bid)
10. Daniel Curtin (Geelong)
11. Nate Caddy (Essendon)
12. Connor O’Sullivan (Adelaide)
13. Koltyn Tholstrup (Melbourne)
14. Jake Rogers (Gold Coast – matching Sydney bid)
15. Jordan Croft (Gold Coast – matching Sydney bid)
16. Will Green (Sydney)
17. Darcy Wilson (St Kilda)
18. Will McCabe (Hawthorn – matching Adelaide bid)
19. Charlie Edwards (Adelaide)
20. Harry DeMattia (North Melbourne)
21. Tew Jiath (GWS)
22. Taylor Goad (North Melbourne)
23. Wil Dawson (North Melbourne)
24. Will Graham (Gold Coast – matching Collingwood bid)
25. Caiden Cleary (Sydney – matching Collingwood bid)
26. Lance Collard (Collingwood)
27. Angus Hastie (Adelaide)
28. Arie Schoenmaker (St Kilda)
29. Ashton Moir (Carlton)
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