North Melbourne could enter the 2023 draft with an even juicier hand than last year as concerned rival clubs fear the Roos will be handed an excessive assistance boost from the AFL.
After selecting three players in the first 26 selections last year – including Harry Sheezel and George Wardlaw with Picks 3 and 4 respectively – the 17th-placed Kangaroos this year hold their natural first-rounder (Pick 2), as well as the first-round selection tied to Port Adelaide’s finishing position (Pick 17).
But rival teams are now wary the Roos could also be granted free access to a top-10 draft prospect via a pre-listing, as well as another top-five pick as a compensation selection.
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Multiple reports in recent weeks have indicated that if free agent Ben McKay leaves the Kangaroos, the club would receive a first-round selection as compensation for losing the key defender under the AFL’s secret free agency formula. As the Roos hold Pick 2, that compo selection would land at Pick 3.
The Herald Sun reported the AFL this week had assured clubs it would not manipulate the free agency compensation formula to help the Roos get Pick 3, even if McKay’s salary doesn’t meet the ‘band one’ requirements.
North Melbourne, as flagged earlier this month by interim coach Brett Ratten, is also in the process of applying for a priority draft assistance this year, given they’ve won just 11 of their past 79 games. The Roos last year received one future second and one future third-round pick – which they had to trade – as part of an assistance package. Ultimately, they used those picks to acquire Griffin Logue and Darcy Tucker from Fremantle.
While a similar package appears less likely this year, draft sources have predicted to Foxfooty.com.au the AFL will allow North to pre-list star Tasmanian midfield prospect Ryley Sanders, who ranked eighth in Foxfooty.com.au’s Draft Power Rankings released last week and is widely considered a prospect worthy of a top-10 selection.
The Kangaroos, who remain in negotiations with the AFL, are optimistic Sanders will be added to their Next Generation Academy after he recently received his certificate of Aboriginality. Under current draft rules, clubs that have existing links to NGA players are unable to match bids inside the top 40 selections on the prospects they’ve helped develop.
But it’s understood the Roos are seeking a free hit at Sanders and want the ability to pre-list him – a move that has left rival clubs frustrated as they believe he should be eligible to all teams within the first 40 picks. Scouts also pointed to the fact the Kangas have used first-round picks on the likes of Sheezel, Wardlaw, Will Phillips, Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Tarryn Thomas over the past seven years.
Getting Sanders, plus their natural pick (likely 2) and top-level McKay compensation (pick 3) would virtually hand the Kangaroos three top-10 selections.
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Sanders this week said North Melbourne had provided him with support over the past three years.
“It’s good that North Melbourne are keen on me,” Sanders told AFL Media’s Gettable.
“I’d be happy to go anywhere. Whether it’s North Melbourne or whenever I end up going, I’d be happy to just get a chance on an AFL list.
“I’ve been talking to North Melbourne since I was like 15, so they’ve always been good to me. If I ever need anything, they always say just let them know.”
There have been suggestions the Roos would like to pair Sanders with fellow Tasmanian star Colby McKercher at the club. That would be a big coup, as the duo are considered the best pure midfield prospects in a draft class where most of the top players are outside the centre square.
But North list manager Brady Rawlings this week indicated the club was keen to add a tall defender to its list – which would be an even more pressing need if McKay left – telling the club’s website: “We certainly need to look at that key defensive position … We are well aware we haven’t picked very tall over recent seasons.”
Versatile 195cm Claremont star Daniel Curtin, who starred in the recent national carnival and won WA’s MVP award, is considered a top-five prospect. While he showed in the championships he can play as a tall midfielder, most AFL clubs see him playing as a key defender in the AFL.
Other tall backs in the first-round mix include Murray Bushrangers’ Connor O’Sullivan and Sandringham Dragons’ Ollie Murphy.
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While rivals could see the Kangaroos taking Curtin with one of their top picks, they also wouldn’t be surprised to see North make a play for West Coast’s No. 1 selection and, subsequently, Bendigo Pioneers star Harley Reid. A powerful 185cm prospect, Reid is being dubbed a generational talent – one experienced recruiter told foxfooty.com.au earlier this year Reid was the best prospect they’d ever seen – and would be hard to pass up with the first selection.
The Kangaroos, along with Melbourne, are seen as the teams that would be best placed to trade with the Eagles and acquire Pick 1, should West Coast wish to part with the prized selection.
Multiple clubs suggested to foxfooty.com.au last week the Eagles also like Curtin and could be prepared to slide down the order if they could ‘guarantee’ they could draft the local product.
North Melbourne this weekend faces West Coast at Optus Stadium. But even if the 18th-placed Eagles win, the Kangaroos will almost certainly still avoid the wooden spoon due to their superior percentage.
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