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Harley Reid, the Tongala-raised boy wonder, entered the year as the consensus best prospect in the 2023 draft crop, and West Coast confirmed he remained there by anointing him the No.1 selection at the AFL draft on Monday night.
But there were some unexpected moves in a first round that stretched to 29 picks as seven bids were made and matched for academy and father-son prospects.
Top draft pick Harley Reid in his new Eagles jumper.Credit: Justin McManus
The draft went to script until pick eight, when Adelaide swooped on Greater Western Sydney’s coveted eighth selection – trading picks 11 and 31 – to draft key defender Daniel Curtin.
The Crows, along with most clubs, did not expect Curtin to be available so late in the draft until last week and did their homework across the weekend to ready themselves for the opportunity.
“It’s been a bit hectic and a bit all over the place, too, but I tried to stay away from it as much as possible, and I’m happy for it to finally be done,” Curtin said. “I had a lot of clubs contacting myself and my manager [Jason Dover] today but I’m absolutely stoked to be going to Adelaide Crows and excited to get started.”
After Gold Coast matched Geelong’s bid on their academy ruckman Ethan Read at pick nine, Essendon traded places with the Cats to nab key forward Nate Caddy, whom they hope will add much-needed firepower to their attack.
New Bomber Nate Caddy.Credit: Justin McManus
Geelong then grabbed key defender Connor O’Sullivan with pick 11 before the first draft twist occurred, with GWS using Adelaide’s old pick to select small forward Phoenix Gothard, who was tipped to be a late first-round pick at best.
The room erupted as Gothard’s name was read out and his peers piled onto Gothard – who had to borrow O’Sullivan’s Bushrangers shirt – in celebration.
The Giants were widely expected to instead select mid-sized swingman James Leake at that selection, but they managed to grab Leake, too, at No.17 after a pick swap with St Kilda – moving up with a future second-rounder.
The other first-round shock was the Crows’ third pick of the night, speedy Murray Bushrangers and Shepparton United defender Oscar Ryan, who was as surprised as anyone to hear his name called out.
Ryan was attending the draft as a plus-one, and like Gothard had to borrow a Bushrangers shirt to slip on over his casual clothes as his name was unexpectedly called out on the first night.
“This is a massive shock to me, I’m so grateful to the club for putting trust in me,” he told Fox Footy.
A fend-off like Dusty’s
Top pick Reid will wear Nic Naitanui’s old No.9 – the retired Eagles great presented the 18-year-old with his jumper moments after his name was read out. Brownlow medallist Ben Cousins is another West Coast champion who donned that famous number.
“It’s a huge relief. I was pretty cruisy going into it, and butterflies kind of got to me in the end, but I’m just super grateful to be in the position I am, and lucky enough to have ‘Nic Nat’ present the jumper to me,” Reid said.
“I couldn’t think of anything better to look at the number on my back, too, so it’s a huge privilege.”
Speculation swirled for most of the season that Reid – the most-hyped AFL prospect in years – wanted to remain in Victoria and the Eagles would trade the top pick, after they regained it with North Melbourne’s final-round upset of Gold Coast in Hobart.
“It was obviously pretty annoying at times, when they say it and they really haven’t even met you,” Reid said.
“To be honest, it’s [West Coast’s jumper] on me now, so hopefully that puts a bit of word out there that I’m keen to go over there and get stuck into it.
“[Handling the interest and expectation] is part of the journey, I suppose, and obviously, it’s pretty humbling, too, but obviously motivation, too, to be a superstar, and get in there and earn respect off the teammates. There’s a great young core group there, and obviously a lot of experience and a lot of history behind that club, too.
“I’m keen to get in there and hopefully influence that club and help them get back to the top and play finals footy, where they play their best footy.”
There were no shortage of attempts to prise the pick out of West Coast’s hands, with North Melbourne, Hawthorn and Melbourne all making offers.
However, it became apparent that Eagles list boss Rohan O’Brien meant it when he said during the trade period they were leaning towards keeping the selection – and instead clubs’ pursuit of trades to nab Western Australian Curtin dominated headlines.
The Eagles will benefit from new draft rules from the latest collective bargaining agreement, whereby first-round draft picks sign three-year initial contracts instead of two.
Reid boasts a fend-off Dustin Martin would be proud of, and can dominate games as a midfielder, where his physicality comes to the fore, or out of the goal square, just like Richmond’s triple Norm Smith medallist.
The 18-year-old did exactly that in a three-goal, 10-minute blitz to start Victoria Country’s national under-18 championships clash with South Australia. Reid is one of only two players in this class, along with Gold Coast’s Walter, to be a dual under-18 All-Australian.
Asked how his fend-off matched up with Martin’s, Reid joked he would have to “test it out on him”.
“He’s obviously had that trademark, so I’ve looked at him and seen him do that, and look up to him,” Reid said. “I think that’s something that he does really well, and hopefully, I can implement that to my game at the highest level, too.”
‘A dream come true’
Colby McKercher (No.2) and Zane Duursma (No.4) joined North Melbourne either side of a bid on Gold Coast’s hulking academy forward Jed Walter, while small forward Nick Watson joined Hawthorn, midfielder Ryley Sanders went to the Western Bulldogs and winger Caleb Windsor became a Demon.
“I’m super stoked to be joining the Dogs – it’s a dream come true. They’ve got so many good players, and amazing midfielders, who I’m so keen to learn off … and hopefully be as good players as them [eventually],” Sanders said.
“I’m trying to work as hard as I can. I understand it’s going to be a tough midfield to crack into, so I might have to start in other positions, but I’m more than happy to do that.”
Ryley Sanders in his Western Bulldogs jumper.Credit: Justin McManus
Sanders also loved seeing fellow Tasmanian Leake find an AFL home at pick 17, pumping his fist as league chief executive Andrew Dillon read out Leake’s name.
Forward-midfielder Koltyn Tholstrup was Melbourne’s second selection at pick 13, after being heavily linked to the Demons in the lead-up, before Sydney made consecutive bids, as they were tipped to do, on Gold Coast academy midfielder Jake Rogers and Bulldogs father-son forward Jordan Croft.
The Swans eventually selected their ruckman of the future with pick 16, 204-centimetre Will Green, who was the No.1 big man in this year’s Talent League team of the year and will develop under recruit Brodie Grundy.
Green was one of two ruckmen snapped up in the first round, with North Melbourne drafting South Australia’s Taylor Goad, a 206-centimetre project big man who ran under three seconds for the 20-metre sprint at the combine.
The Saints not only added a 2024 selection, their pre-draft hope that hard-running Murray Bushranger Darcy Wilson would make it to them eventuated. Wilson, who finished runner-up in the two-kilometre time trial at the draft combine, delivers in spades on coach Ross Lyon’s wish for more running power.
They also selected West Australian goalsneak Lance Collard, a mercurial talent with high upside likened to Collingwood’s Norm Smith medallist Bobby Hill.
Carlton took a punt on gifted South Australian Ashton Moir, once regarded as a top-five prospect but who struggled with injury and form throughout this year, with the final pick of the first round.
The first round
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