It's that time of year when we perform just about the most difficult task in football - settling on 22 AFL players for our 2023 All-Australian team.
As with our previous All-Australian teams, we have selected a balanced side which we would want competing in a real game. This means, players have been selected in their correct positions, while we've also ensured the need for key position players, lock down defenders, ball-winning midfielders and genuine wingers have been met.
Every year there are a number of extremely stiff omissions, so shoutouts go to Zach Merrett, Tim Taranto, Callum Wilkie, Gryan Miers, Jeremy Cameron, and Dan Houston.
FULL TEAM AT BOTTOM OF PAGE
Tom Stewart (Geelong): One of not many Cats to arguably have a better year than in their premiership season, Stewart was again prolific in intercepting and setting up Geelong's defence in 2023. He rated elite (according to Champion Data) for intercept marks (averaged a career-high 3.4 per game), and one contented mark per game, and was elite for kicks per game (18.5), rebound 50s (7.2), and kicking efficiency (81.9%). While the Cats had a down year, Stewart was well up.
Darcy Moore (Collingwood): Moore averaged career-highs in intercept marks (3.8) and contested marks (2.1) which also ranks him elite in those categories by Champion Data. Not only that, but he's an incredibly accomplished leader of men, speaks well, and is stiff not to be our All-Australian captain. In addition, he contested 61 one-one-one contests, and lost just eight.
Jacob Weitering (Carlton): Weitering took the second most intercept marks in the league in 2023 (84) behind only Noah Balta. In addition to his intercepting prowess, his defensive nous was on another level, particularly in the second half of the year; he competed in 78 contested defensive one-on-ones (CDOOO), and had just nine losses for a loss percentage of 11.5 - the lowest of any defender with at least 30 CDOOO (Ryan Lester has a loss percentage of 10 from 30 contests).
Nick Daicos (Collingwood): If Daicos doesn't get injured in Round 21, he almost certainly wins the Brownlow Medal. He still might win it! It's been a second year for the ages from the son of a gun, who hasn't just developed into one of the best ball winners in the game but maybe the best user and decision maker too. The only reason Daicos doesn't find himself in the midfield of this team is because he spent the majority of the season off half-back.
James Sicily (Hawthorn): He was sensationally snubbed from last year's team but there's no way the AFL will be repeating the dose after he produced an even better 2023. Sicily missed four games and is still a lock in this side. Champion Data's rating points have him the No. 1 defender in the game, he also ranks top three for defenders in disposals, kicks, marks, metres gained, intercept possessions and score involvements.
Jack Sinclair (St Kilda): It might not have been quite at the level of Daicos, but Jack Sinclair's production off half-back has been truly exceptional. And like Daicos, his teammates are always looking for him, given his ability to hit pinpoint passes all over the ground. Watch for Sinclair to have St Kilda's best and fairest wrapped up with six rounds to play.
Josh Daicos (Collingwood): His brother certainly drew much of the attention in 2023 but that's not to say Josh isn't also fully deserving of his spot in the All-Australian team. In fact, he was the first winger selected to the side. Daicos excelled for the Magpies this year, finishing the home and away season averaging 26.2 disposals, 443 metres gained, and nearly six score involvements, while he also kicked 16 goals.
Tom Liberatore (Western Bulldogs): If there's was any doubt about Liberatore deserving his maiden blazer it has to be completely put to rest after the Bulldogs' woes with him out of the side. Liberatore has enjoyed a career best campaign and thrown his name into the 'best inside midfielder' debate after averaging 27 disposals, 14 contested possessions, eight clearances, six tackles and leading the league in ground ball gets.
Errol Gulden (Sydney): The man with the most damaging left peg in the competition, Gulden took his play to another level in 2023, making the outside slot in the Swans' midfield his own. He averaged 27 disposals a game -- a career-high -- but had a hard edge as well, averaging four clearances and five tackles. Notably, he kicked 20 goals for the season to be ranked elite for his position.
Toby Greene (C) (GWS): He just has to be the first player selected in this team, doesn't he? Greene has ascended to a point where he pretty much has no peer in the position of small to mid-sized forward. The dynamic Giant booted a ridiculous 60 goals this year and averaged 18 disposals per contest. We love the way he's played since taking over the captaincy at GWS and think he's a no-brainer to do the same in this All-Australian team.
Charlie Curnow (Carlton): Curnow has been a joy to watch throughout season 2023 and has deservedly won himself back-to-back Coleman Medals with dominant performances. Curnow's sheer power allows him to own the Blues' forward line, his assertiveness in the air, elite kick and vision, and ability to take full control of a game something not many others can do. The 26-year-old has already kicked 78 goals, which includes a haul of nine and 10, and never went through a match this season without hitting the scoreboard. This guy has always screamed 'big game player', and he'll have a huge role to play in September.
Christian Petracca (Melbourne): It's been another season of high-quality football from the Demon superstar, one which is sure to make him one of the main players on Brownlow Medal night. The 'Trac' split his time between midfield and the forward line this year, so to average 28 disposals, 14 contested possessions, six clearances, six inside 50s and 480 metres gained is a ridiculous effort. He also led the league in score involvements and was the only player to kick 25 goals and have 25 goal assists.
Charlie Cameron (Brisbane): Cameron is one of the best small forwards in the game, if not the best, and has again done enough to warrant selection in our All-Australian team. Has he had quiet games? Sure he has, but he plays in the hardest position on the ground, and even then he has still managed to kick 53 majors - only one less than last season and two less than 2021, both years that included finals. In fact, the only player listed as a general forward to have kicked more goals than Cameron this year is Greene, so it's fair to say the crafty Lion has earned his spot again.
Taylor Walker (Adelaide): The late career resurgence from 'Tex' is almost unprecedented. The Crows' spearhead looked close to done three seasons ago yet has turned in his best campaign at age 33, falling just two goals short of the Coleman Medal. Walker booted 76 majors for the year, which included 12 bags of three and eight bags of four. He also finished the season with the fourth-most score involvements in the competition.
Nick Larkey (NM): We all just witnessed Nick Larkey kick the most goals in a season by a North Melbourne player since 1999, when a man named Wayne Carey slotted 76 majors for the Kangaroos. It's a seriously astonishing achievement, but not really surprising when you reflect on the campaign the spearhead has just put together. The 25-year-old only went goalless in one match this season (against the Blues in Round 4) - a game where he was hampered by a hip injury sustained in the first quarter. Other than that, he was a multiple goal kicker on 18 occasions and finished with an incredible accuracy with 71.24 next to his name after Round 24. Not to mention he did this for a team that ranked 17th for inside 50s...
Tim English (Western Bulldogs): English was the most effective ruckman not necessarily in the way of pure tap work (albeit he still ranked 6th for hitouts per game in 2023) but for what he could do around the ground. He's a massive part of the Western Bulldogs' elite midfield group and impacts the game at ground level like not too many big men can. English took more marks (145) than any of his cohort for the year, was one of only two ruckmen to rate elite for average disposals per game (19.1), and averaged 4.3 intercept possessions. He covers the ground as well as anyone and absolutely deserves his spot as the starting ruckman.
Zak Butters (Port Adelaide): His elite skill combined with the combative game-style has quickly made Butters one of the most must-watch players in the league. The 22-year-old has been the breakout player of the season and a major contributor in the Power's run to the top four. You can see the panic in the opposition every time he has ball in hand, always finding targets and setting up attacking thrusts. Butters finished the home and away season averaging 27.5 disposals, five clearances and five inside 50s and is a genuine Brownlow Medal chance.
Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs): Bontempelli is once again in Brownlow consideration, which tells you why he's in this team. The Dogs' skipper averaged a career-high 27.7 disposals per game in 2023, a career-high 7.6 clearances, and a career-high 14.4 contested possessions. While the Dogs had a down year, Bontempelli was at his devastating best and deserves his place in this team.
Interchange (including sub)
Lachie Neale (Brisbane): By his own admission, 2023 hasn't been his best year, but that just shows how great Neale is given he is once again among the favourites to win the Brownlow Medal. As always, Neale has been doing his best work in tight and continues to be the clearance king in the AFL. No player won more of them this year. Eight times he had at least 10 clearances and 15 times he had at least eight. Neale also ranks third for contested possessions, fifth for ground ball gets and 11th for total disposals.
Jordan Dawson (Adelaide): Dawson could not have had a better first year as captain of the Crows, averaging 27.1 disposals, five marks, and 6.7 tackles per game, and doing as much defensively as he did offensively. There were in fact only two midfielders in the league that averaged more effective kicks than Dawson throughout 2023, such was his productive influence in the middle of the ground, and he also rated elite in his position for average intercept possessions (4). He had a complete season, and should poll well in the Brownlow count, too.
Kyle Langford (Essendon): We'd love to know what the odds were for Langford to be in this team at the beginning of the year. Tried everywhere from defence, to wing to ruck, the versatile Bomber made the forward line his own this year, booting 51 goals - the equal-eight most in the competition, and 20 goal assists. He's a valuable in-between size, who can play tall, and small, and uses the ball smartly (in both senses of the word).
Connor Rozee (Port Adelaide): Port Adelaide's dynamic mid-forward threat made the All-Australian team last year and he's had an even better campaign in 2023. Rozee has lifted his disposal average from 23 to 26, his inside 50s from four to six and clearances from three to four. He's also kicked more goals, contributed more goal assists and had more score involvements than he did 12 months ago.
Caleb Serong (Fremantle): There's a Brownlow coming this guy's way within the next decade. There has to be. Serong has the perfect inside-outside balance to his game and it was those very traits that had us in awe of his performances this season. The youngster has arguably gone past Andrew Brayshaw -- last year's players' MVP - in the Dockers midfield and has a ceiling as high as any young player in the competition, his thirst for contested ball and explosiveness when he evades his way to the outskirts of stoppages making Fremantle games fun to watch. The 22-year-old finished his year ranking 4th in the AFL for average disposals (30.7), 5th for clearances (7.6), and 4th for contested possessions (14.4).
Adam Kingsley (GWS): Some, but not many predicted the Giants would be a contender again in 2023, after spluttering their way through a mediocre 2022 and parting ways with Leon Cameron, but Kingsley came in with a fresh approach, has played an attractive, gun-slinging brand of footy that has catapulted the Giants into finals. As well as a seven-game winning streak, the Giants also knocked off premiership fanices Melbourne, and secured a spot in the eight while under pressure in the final round. Massive tick.
ESPN's 2023 All-Australian team:
FB: Tom Stewart, Darcy Moore, Jacob Weitering
HB: Nick Daicos, James Sicily, Jack Sinclair
C: Josh Daicos, Tom Liberatore, Errol Gulden
HF: Toby Greene (C), Charlie Curnow, Christian Petracca
FF: Charlie Cameron, Taylor Walker, Nick Larkey
R: Tim English, Zak Butters, Marcus Bontempelli
I/C: Lachie Neale, Jordan Dawson, Kyle Langford, Connor Rozee, Caleb Serong
Official All-Australian team: