The seven teams that can win the AFL flag in 2023

Here we go again. And no, I don't just mean the start of a new AFL season. I mean, specifically, one of those predictive exercises in which you, the reader, get to metaphorically smash me over the head six months from now.

To be frank, I've only just stopped cringing at easily my worst call ever this time last year, when I tipped Collingwood to take out the wooden spoon. Nice one, hey?

But if there's one consolation, it's that you can rest assured there will be more embarrassing calls than ever among the football commentariat in 2023.

Why? Because the difference between the best and worst in the competition continues to narrow to wafer-thin. And even more pleasingly for the AFL bean counters, that difference appears to be thinnest where it matters most, right at the top.

I'm not sure I can remember a year where there has been this many legitimate premiership chances, at least seven by my reckoning, perhaps eight at a squeeze (though I think I am prepared to say Fremantle can't win it).

Here then, in order of probability, is who I reckon can win the 2023 AFL premiership. Genuinely.

Western Bulldogs

I tipped the Dogs to win the flag last year. I'm doubling down in 2023. Their list overflows with individual talent. And having loaded up on height near goal, an attack which was already statistically fifth-best in the competition is going to be some handful for opponents.

Aaron Naughton, Rory Lobb, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy is some quartet of potential goalkickers. Importantly, Liam Jones' return as an accomplished key defender to help Alex Keath, and a couple of other potential defensive key position additions in Darcy (at the other end) or Josh Bruce also gives them more back six depth.

Yes, Josh Dunkley and Lachie Hunter are midfield losses. But the Dogs' midfield depth is still enviable, flexibility and the capacity of even the likes of Caleb Daniel or Cody Weightman to rotate through there a major plus.

The Dogs coughed and spluttered through last season yet were still never less than a threat. I see things ticking over a lot more smoothly, and for opponents ominously, in 2023.


It's easy to be seduced by individual talent, but it's hard to think of two names with more potential to significantly change the equation for a team than the Tigers' addition of former GWS midfield pair Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper. Not just in their own contributions, but in how that frees up Dustin Martin to be a lethal almost-permanent forward.

Like Geelong, Richmond still has the bulk of its veterans still contributing consistently, Tom Lynch (winner), Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin top six in the best and fairest, Robbie Tarrant just outside the top 10.

I still think the Tigers' frenetic style stacks up provided pressure around the ball is sufficient, and the rapid growth of Maurice Rioli junior last year made a big difference on that score. He and the likes of Josh Gibcus and Tyler Sonsie look potential stars, Noah Balta should be a superstar, and Shai Bolton now is. For me, the Tigers are still a very big flag chance.


Those previous examples of teams smashed in Grand Finals struggling to rebound are worrying, but are the Swans, given their relative youth, less likely to be scarred by that "pantsing" at the hands of Geelong? I suspect so, I think the Swans more likely to take it in their stride as just another step in the learning curve.

No team has a more imposing group of emerging young stars - Chad Warner clearly now the pick, but Errol Gulden, Justin McInerney, Nick Blakey and Logan McDonald all capable of reaching a similar level.

There's perpetual hand-wringing about Lance Franklin's durability and the Swans' defence, but they were ranked fourth for both attack and defence in 2022, and remain well-coached by John Longmire, as much about method as personnel. Won't take much at all for Sydney to improve further as a team, and given their runner-up status last year, clearly don't have to improve much anyway.


One of the oldest teams ever, no one wanted a bar of the Cats as potential premiers this time last year. Little has changed on that score in 2023, Geelong's average list age still the oldest in the AFL (25.5 as opposed to 25.7 in 2022).

Perception certainly has, though, barely a pundit in the country prepared to leave the Cats out of at least the top four. And how could you given the continued form and durability of the likes of Patrick Dangerfield, Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron, Cam Guthrie, Mitch Duncan, Tom Stewart, Mark Blicavs, Zach Tuohy etc., etc.? Six of that group finished top 10 in the Cats' best and fairest last year, which says it all, really.

And if the newer "guns" like Tyson Stengle, Sam De Koning, Tom Atkins, Brad Close and Max Holmes aren't guarantee enough, this coming era still has plenty - how's the arrival of Tanner Bruhn, Jack Bowes and Ollie Henry? This side is going nowhere, rather just hanging around the top of the ladder as it has for much of the past 30 years.


There's often an overreaction to a team's early finals exit. But jumping off the Melbourne bandwagon on the basis of a straight sets departure last September you sense would be a big mistake. Yes, the Demons tailed off. But their two finals losses to Sydney and Brisbane were nonetheless by only 22 and 13 points and they've still won 36 of 49 games across the last two years.

Brodie Grundy is a more than adequate replacement for the ruck talents of Luke Jackson, and Lachie Hunter could potentially provide as much drive from a wing as Ed Langdon has since he arrived at the club.

As ever, the midfield tandem of Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver and key defensive duo of Jake Lever and Steven May are the cream.

The difference, however, between very good and great (as it was at the end of 2021) is the forward set-up's ability to convert. And that will make the performance of at least one of key forwards like Ben Brown, recruit Josh Schache or young Jacob Van Rooyen critical.


A 1-5 finals record over three years became 3-6 last year, and the MCG semifinal win over Melbourne a massive ice-breaker. But in psychological terms, were those gains given back the following week in a 71-point spanking at the hands of eventual premier Geelong?

The pick-ups are particularly good, with Josh Dunkley steeling the midfield, Jack Gunston's forward smarts cream on a cake already rich indeed via names like Charlie Cameron, Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood. It's the other end that is more "iffy", the Lions only ranked 10th for defence in 2022, and Marcus Adams, already ruled out for the year with concussion issues, a significant absentee. Is Brisbane still a little questionable psychologically? Perhaps.

But there can be no question if Chris Fagan does elicit a little more resilience among his charges this season, the stocks of talent are clearly there.


Despite finishing just a couple of points short of a Grand Final berth, the Pies will be a popular pick to drop a few spots in 2023 given their incredible record in the tight finish last season, 11-1 in games decided by 11 points or less until the finals, when they finally dropped a couple of close ones.

Method and evenness of contribution typify the Magpie brand more than star power, and to that end pick-ups like ball magnet Tom Mitchell (albeit a Brownlow winner), hard-working key forward Dan McStay and likely key defender Billy Frampton are of similar ilk.

The class of the Daicos brothers, new skipper Darcy Moore and forward Jordan De Goey aside, it's the positivity of coach Craig McRae which is as big a weapon for Collingwood as anything. If any man can convince his charges that the big wave of momentum and considerable slice of luck last year was no happy accident, it's him.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at Footyology.