The Surprise Packets of 2023

You may have noticed that this season, I have fluctuated between doing the standard weekly columns (wingmen, championship titles, recruit of the year, etc…) and mixed it up a little bit with standalone pieces.


Okay, go about your business and forget I said anything.

Seriously though, it’s a bloody long season and I need to keep myself invested and interested in different aspects of the game to avoid burning out. Sure, it’s better than fading away, but truth be told, I’d prefer neither fate at this point in time.

And so, I have explored defensive trios, x-factor players (will be uodated this week), and done a few previews or opinion columns to mix things up. And today, I am continuing with that as I scan the league looking for the players that have jumped out of the box in 2023.

Now look… I am positive that I’ll miss the one player some of you have been talking up. I’m not going to cover everyone, so I’ll apologise in advance. That said, I watch a ton of footy, and these are the blokes who have impressed me… and I don’t impress easily.

Oh, look… that dog has  a fluffy tail!

Yes… I’m recycling Simpsons jokes. You don’t expect me to come up with my own, do you?

Last week was a negative column about that clown, Kane Cornes as my weekly freebie. This week, I am going the positive route, with an eye on the biggest surprise packets of the season. Let’s jump in.



I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this bloke, yet, I am.

Luke Pedlar was Pick 11 back in the 2020 Draft, but up until this season, his time in the senior Crows team has been limited due to injury.

At 21 years of age, he looks to have got himself right and is reaping the rewards of playing in a team on the rise. He has four games where he has registered multiple goals (and would have had more but for many of his kicks dropping a few metres short – hit the gym a bit more, Luke!) and is now getting opportunities to ply his trade in the occasional midfield stint. This is where we’ve seen his competitive spirit and mongrel come to the fore – he looks like a combative beast in there and you have to love that about his game.

Pedlar has 12 goals from his nine games and has dwarfed his output of 2021/22 easily. The Crows have looked like they may make some noise this season and if they do, likely it will be Luke Pedlar making a fair bit of a racket, himself.



Coming into this season, it was hard not to look at the Brisbane defence and screw your face up. Damn, they are an ugly bunch!

I kid… I kid.

I kid because I love.

What was causing a few concerns, however, was the news that Marcus Adams was going to be out of action indefinitely stemming from a concussion he experienced last year. Placed on the long-term injury list, things did not look good, and suddenly, the Lions’ defence was under scrutiny.

Who was gonna step up to aid Harris Andrews?

How would they deal with some of the powerful tandems in the league?

Would the dam wall break at Brisbane as the goals flowed?

Those questions were answered pretty quickly, with the form of Jack Payne providing welcome relief to Brisbane fans… kind of like getting home just in time when you’re busting to go to the toilet.

But also, not like that at all. It was a silly comparison.

Payne has had his name thrown around as a potential All-Australian candidate, and whilst that is nice, it is old reliable, Harris Andrews that will likely give that a shake this season. Payne has just been a tremendously reliable second defender right when the Lions needed him to be just that.

Sometimes, all a bloke needs is an opportunity, and Jack Payne has made the most of his in the absence of Marcus Adams. I don’t know him, we’ve never met, but in a way, I am proud of him. He has demonstrated the type of character you want from a key defender – and he has proven many people wrong along the way.

The Lions will be without him this week, as he has delayed concussion symptoms, so it will be interesting to see just how much Brisbane have come to rely on him this year.



A Carlton outcast… we haven’t seen one of them make good since… oh, hang on, there are two of them this season. Forget that.

In his last couple of seasons at Carlton, it seemed as though the Blues either didn’t know what to do with Setterfield, or didn’t think he did enough in his preferred role.

Of course, he preferred the midfield, but often found himself deployed as a flanker, or out on the wing. It was something that was immediately rectified at Essendon, who were in need of a more combative type in the guts.

Setterfield responded to the opportunity with glee,

That’s right, he sat and sang along with Season Three of the TV show, Glee, but then he finished with that, he got down to business and went to work in the guts for the Bombers.

With 20+ disposals in each of his first four games, the former Blue looked right at home in red and black and despite cooling off a little, is averaging a clear career-high of 21.56 disposals per game. That’s a handy +5.1 touches on his previous career best.

He has performed defensive roles, played as the link man, and is tackling like a demon… or a motivated Bomber, more to the point.

After years meandering away at Carlton, it appears as though Will Setterfield knows that this was his chance to shine, and kudos to Brad Scott for recognising what he was capable of and giving him the chance to show it.



This kid has played six games, has been thrown into the deep end as a key defender, and is basically keeping the spot warm until Robbie Tarrant drags his 121-year-old carcass out to play the second half of the season.

But Tylar Young has not wasted his time in defence – not by a long shot.

At 24, he has bided his time waiting for an AFL opportunity, so he is no high draft pick who was always destined for greatness. Far from it – he has come through the hard way and is making the most of the chance bestowed upon him.

As of the time of writing, he is ranked second in one-percenters per game, behind only Tom Barrass. That is some mighty good company.

He still has a few slips ups here and there as he adjusts to the pace of the game, but as crisis breeds opportunity, so too has the absence of Robbie Tarrant opened the door for Tylar Young to demonstrate that the Tigers have a quality young defender emerging in 2023 who may well end up playing 150 games before all is said and done.



Look, I don’t want to sound like an asshole or anything, but I distinctly remember thinking that Collingwood were trading for Billy Frampton because they had nothing better to do at that point of trade week and wanted to do… something!

Boy, am I ever an idiot.

You have to give the Collingwood list management a huge tick this season. They have gone out and recruited with purpose… as opposed to the bloke who was there a couple of years back, who was less like a deer in the headlights and more like a deer that had been run down after staring at the headlights. What a disaster he was…

Frampton started to come alive with an excellent showing against Tom Lynch back in Round Three, blanketing the key forward like a loving parent who really didn’t love him much at all. Kind of smothering him. And remember kids, you can’t smother without mother.

From there, it was Frampton filling in as a ruckman in the dual absences of Mason Cox and Darcy Cameron. And he didn’t just fill in – the bloke started to have a big impact!

Imagine that? Coming into a game against Collingwood, thinking “this will be easy – they have no ruck” and then having your ass kicked all over the park by Billy Frampton?

There are a few rucks who could tell you how that feels. Just check the results from Round Six through to Eight.

So, to Billy Frampton… I apologise for my lack of foresight coming into this season. I was wrong, and you are more of a player than I ever saw at both Port and Adelaide. Go well.



Where the hell did Dylan Williams come from? I heard bugger all about him last season, despite him playing a game last year. Then, this season, out he comes like he’s been shot out of a canon and is taking all before him.

Williams’ emergence as an intercept/rebound player has opened up options for Ken Hinkley. He has been able to move Darcy Byrne-Jones to play as a pressure forward (he had 12 tackles in the win over Melbourne – tick!) and lost very little across the half-back line, As a matter of fact, I reckon he has improved the delivery from that position, with Williams much more confident in his ability to hit targets than DBJ.

Port fans would be thrilled with the way Williams has slotted into the role. With Aliir Aliir as his back up, Williams has feasted on errant delivery and his rebound work has been one of the springboards as Port turn defence into offence.

When someone speaks of a breakout season, the 2023 of Dylan Williams is exactly what they’re referring to. Right now, he is probably the league’s best-kept secret.



The GWS defence is in tatters at the moment.

Phil Davis is a presence in regard to inspiration alone. Isaac Cumming will be missing for a while. And Sam Taylor tore his hamstring to put an end to what he was hoping would be a back-to-back All-Australian season. Throw in the fact that Nick Haynes, who had managed to recapture some great form, is now on the shelf, as well, and you get the idea that the Giants are largely screwed in defence.

And then, someone else steps up. In this case, it is Jack Buckley.

After being forced to sit out to recover from a ruptured ACL, Buckley’s emergence as a strong key position defender would be the type of win Adam Kingsley would hold fast to. I mean, it’s not like he has many of the other type – the real type – of wins, is it?

With his fellow defenders dropping like diabetic flies without their insulin, Buckley has stood up. He is second in the league for total one-percenters, and sits 12th in total intercepts. He is so close to being entrenched in the top ten in the two major defensive categories that I find myself barracking for him when I watch GWS play.

To emphasise just how big a deal that would be, only one player in the league finds himself in the top ten in both categories – Darcy Moore. And everyone is showering him with praise.

Right now, Jack Buckley is two intercepts behind adding his name to Moore’s… but I doubt you’ll hear too much about it in the media, which is why you read us, right?



I’ve had an eye on Darcy MacPherson for a few years now, and often wondered whether we’d see him become a legitimate AFL player. He struck me as the type of player that would be trialled in a role in the preseason, look good, and then eventually be sent back to the seconds during the home and a away season.

Well, he has put a stop to that cycle, finding a permanent role in defence for the Suns in 2023. Stuart Dew played him there late last year, and must have liked what he saw. The plan for this season was to build on that form and DMac has done just that, averaging a career-high 22.5 disposals, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.8 intercepts.

For a bloke his size, it is the intercept numbers that stand out, ranking third on the team behind only Sam Collins and Charlie Ballard.

This struck me as a make-or-break season for Darcy MacPherson, and ten rounds in, it appears that after seven years in the system, he has finally found the role that suits him.



Ah yes, the other player that was not good enough to find a place on the Carlton list.

He’d be pretty handy right about now – an intercept defender that actually defends, as well.

Anyway, enough sinking the boots to the Blues – I am sure many teams give away players capable of being best 22 in a side better than them…

How well has he adapted to life at Moorabbin? Well, his three best disposal games have come this season. Considering he has played just ten games for the Saints and 28 for the Blues, it gives a pretty good indication that he was either not being used correctly, or not being given the opportunity at all at his previous home.

With 6.1 intercepts, and 4.2 rebound 50 disposals, he is absolutely loving life under Ross Lyon, who must be smiling from ear to ear knowing that he was able to nab this bloke for bugger all.

Last week, I wrote a column about the steals of trade period. A few people mentioned Stocker, but I didn’t have him listed as he was not traded for. This guy walked in like it was the 1980s and simply worked hard enough to make the list. You have to respect the hell out of that type of work ethic, and with the results he is producing, I could not be any happier for him.

And out of respect for Carlton fans, we won’t mention that they traded up to get their hands on Stocker…

Oops… just did.



Look, I have a confession to make – I really didn’t rate the Big Sav.

Playing as a forward, he looked so out of place. He would mistime leaps at the footy, find himself out of position constantly, and I had the feeling that he was so unlicku that he could fall into a barrel of nipples and still end up sucking his thumb.

Yep, as a forward, Esava would have made an excellent defender.

And then he became one.

The thing with Ratugolea is that he is an athletic beast. He is powerful, covers the ground well, and when he is given an unrestricted run at the contest, the force he hits with can split the pack wide open and kill the footy. In a way, he is a lot like Noah Balta at Richmond, even down to the fact that both blokes make horrible decisions with the footy in their hands, at times.

And that is his weakness. Sav can hold his own against anyone. At training, he is paired up with the strongest forward in the game, Tom Hawkins. That’s who he practices against, so when it comes time for the real stuff, he is more than prepared. But as a decision maker… it’s probably best to let others decide how to best use the footy.

That said, he has surprised me with the way he has owned the role and some of the jobs he’s done. Then, seemingly as though he realises I am being converted, he goes and does something silly to remind me that he can still be a complete klutz. Thanks Sav!

He is still a work in progress, but given what we’ve seen from him to this point of the season, you’d be silly not to call his move to defence a resounding success.


Phew, that took a bit longer than expected. By all means, if you have your own to add, please do so in the comments below, or on the socials you clicked through to get here. Not sure there are any right or wrong answers – it’s all opinion.

Unless, of course, your opinion is wrong, as I keep getting told mine is.


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