We are yet another week closer to the kickoff of the 2023 season, with pre-season matches almost underway.
With just five weeks before the ball is bounced in Round 1, we have continued looking forward to the 24 rounds off football ahead of us, naming our bold predictions for the 2023 season.
30. Darcy Parish puts contract talks on hold
One of the biggest free agents in 2023, there is going to be plenty of speculation following the Bomber this season. After playing 16 games in 2022, averaging 31.3 disposals, Essendon will be more than keen to lock away their 2021 All-Australian, but the club, and fans, shouldn't expect it to be so easy. Heading into his eighth year at the club, Parish may hesitate signing a new deal until he sees the promised improvement under new coach Brad Scott.
29. AFL faces growing backlash over floating fixture, ditches it for 2024
The AFL fixture always faces some kind of criticism from fans, whether that's due to prime-time snubs or interstate trips, but the floating fixture hasn't seemed to win over footy fans since its conception. While the 2023 iteration is a little different from the COVID-19-influenced fixtures of the previous few years - with the first 15 rounds locked in from the get-go - the AFL will still face backlash from fans over the uncertainty of the final nine rounds of the season. Amongst the discussion of crowd attendance and the state of the game, fans will rightly point out that uncertainty around start dates and times is a major barrier to getting to games.
28. Saints flounder in celebration game
The Saints seemed to struggle in recent years in their marquee match-ups, losing abroad, in Far North Queensland, and under the roof at Marvel in their themed rounds. In 2023, an important date looms for the red, black and white - April 1. The Round 3 clash against Essendon at the MCG has been scheduled as the club's 150th-anniversary game, set to include celebrations as players don a commemorative guernsey. It would be disappointing, but almost fitting, for the Saints to struggle on a night that celebrates their storied history.
27. Sam Darcy delivers on draft potential
The 2021 No.2 draft pick looks primed to deliver on his draft potential after an injury-interrupted 2022 debut campaign, managing to play just four games for the Bulldogs. The 19-year-old looks to be spending plenty of time in defence so far this pre-season, but questions still remain over where he will play his footy this year. Should injuries stay at bay, Darcy is primed to be a breakout star in 2023, showing why he was so highly rated in the draft.
With new coach Alastair Clarkson at the helm after a disappointing 2022 season, earning another wooden spoon and dealing with the departure of Jason Horne-Francis, the Kangaroos are hopeful for some solid on and off-field improvement this season. Ben McKay looms as a vital part of this, the key defender an important cog in the Roos' rebuild for years to come. Coming into free agency though, the 25-year-old's signature is set to be in demand in 2023, with several clubs expected to be interested in the backman.
25. Charlie Curnow only gets better
The Blues are expected to perform well this season, and their two pillars in the forward line have plenty to do with that. Both Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow have announced themselves as stars of the competition with their work inside 50 and are expected to combine again in 2023. Curnow, the reigning Coleman medallist and All-Australian may have had a stellar 2022 season, but expect him to get even better this year. Heading into the new season with confidence and free of injury setbacks, the 26-year-old is primed to impress.
24. Chad Warner jumps into Brownlow contention
With each year that passes after the Swans selected Chad Warner with pick no.39 in the 2019 AFL draft, the young gun is looking more and more like an absolute steal. In his breakout 2022 season, in which he played 24 games, Warner averaged 22.8 disposals and claimed second place in the Swans best and fairest count, while also being one of the more serviceable Swans on field on grand final day. Expected to improve on 2022 form, Warner is very much on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars in the competition.
23. Melbourne wrap up minor premiership in Round 20
The Demons started the 2022 season with a 10-0 streak after their 2021 premiership success, eventually finishing second on the ladder, two games behind the rampaging Cats. Heading into 2023, Melbourne look primed to reclaim that 2021 glory after a semi-final defeat sent them packing last year. Their off-season acquisitions include Brodie Grundy, Lachie Hunter and Josh Schache, bolstering an already strong side, while the Grundy-Max Gawn dynamic looms as a can't-miss feature in 2023. The Demons claiming the minor premiership perhaps isn't as bold as a prediction could be, but the fashion in which they do it may be the surprise factor.
22. Sydney defeat finals hoodoo
After their disappointing grand final performance last year, the Swans are now facing an interesting, or worrying - if you're a Sydney fan - trend. Eight sides have lost a grand final by more than 48 points since 2000. Of those eight, zero have gone on to win a final the following year. Sydney have a young team - almost half of their grand final side was aged 24 and under - and have plenty of years to reach that expected premiership success. While many are ruling them out of 2023 contention following 2022's ending, they're a good enough team to at least feature in September, and win at least one game while they're there.
21. Twilight grand final given tick of approval
It's an issue that divides footy fans around the country, the ideal start time for the biggest game of the year. Overwhelmingly, it seems that fans are keen for the match to continue kicking off in the traditional 2:30 slot, while league officials and broadcasters are keen for a later start time. We saw a night grand final at the Gabba in 2020 and a twilight game in Perth in 2021, while in 2022 the grand final clash - the first at the MCG in two years- started in the traditional afternoon time slot. The league pondered a twilight match in 2022, but will finally give it a shot in 2023.