From key forward kicking lessons to a grand final memory-wiper: Here’s what your team wants Santa to bring this Christmas

    Christmas is here!

    But unless you barrack for Geelong, you’ll undoubtedly be hoping that Santa brings that last piece of the puzzle your team needs to shoot back into premiership contention.

    From new captains to strong starts to 2023, from injury-free guns to unearthing new talent; here is The Roar’s tips to what your team wants for Christmas this year.

    Adelaide Crows

    To catch Fischer again

    Jordon Butts is coming along nicely as a monster-stopper key defender, but as even he would have attested after getting taken to the cleaners by a retiring Josh Kennedy in Round 21, he needs some extra tall support in defence.

    That’s where Fischer McAsey comes in; granted personal leave away from the club until after Christmas, the one-time No.6 pick hasn’t played since midway through 2020. Contracted until the end of 2023 but regularly linked to one Victorian club or another, the 21-year old is exactly what the Crows need in defence – if he can fulfil the potential he showed in his draft year.

    Fischer McAsey going back with the flight ????#AFLCrowsSaints pic.twitter.com/r8nrMZtdrg

    — AFL (@AFL) July 20, 2020

    Brisbane Lions

    One last hurrah for Jack Gunston

    The arrival of Josh Dunkley stole most of the headlines for the Lions during the trade period, but with Daniel McStay having departed, it’s Gunston who might have the bigger impact for their premiership chances in the short term.

    After 32 goals last season, the triple-premiership Hawk might be 31, but he still oozes class and has forward craft to spare – more than handy attributes in a side with as many offensive gifts as the Lions. Working in tandem with Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher, Gunston as a third tall in attack would give many opposing defences sleepless nights… provided, of course, his return to fitness in 2022 after years of injury woes wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

    Carlton

    No (more) injuries

    It’s a Christmas tradition at the Blues to have an important player suffer a cruel injury blow over the holiday period; this year, it’s Sam Walsh undergoing surgery on a bulging disc in his back.

    Injuries destroyed the Blues’ finals hopes late in the year, with Matthew Kennedy, George Hewett, Zac Williams and Marc Pittonet among those to miss big chunks of the season. President Luke Sayers has already revealed the club has made off-field changes in a bid to keep their players healthy. Whatever they are, they haven’t exactly got off to a great start – no doubt Blues fans and officials alike will hope Walsh is the only injury concern, at least until Round 1.

    Collingwood

    A quiet one for De Goey

    It’s so far so good off-field for Jordan De Goey, with the Magpies gun enjoying a scandal-free time since an excellent finals campaign nearly lifted the Pies into the grand final.

    However, with the 26-year old sidelined until at least the new year after undergoing shoulder surgery, the club will undoubtedly be praying De Goey reins himself in during his time off. He’s been in the last-chance saloon more times than most, but another off-field controversy would be difficult to bounce back from.

    JORDAN DE GOEY!

    ???? Watch #AFLCatsPies on ch.504 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/c5Vwhmwg3e
    BLOG https://t.co/KwhLmuAgFI
    ???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/DVh35VqDzg pic.twitter.com/k6zjsB1KPz

    — Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) September 3, 2022

    Essendon

    A time machine for Dyson Heppell

    The Bombers captain’s fall from his best perfectly mirrored their disastrous 2022 season. Heppell is still captain, but now the wrong side of 30, he might be one more below-par season away from the end.

    At his best, Heppell offers leadership, a calm head and excellent decision-making out of half-back, none of which were on display all that often during 2022. In a still-youthful side and with a new coach in Brad Scott at the helm, a bounce-back from the veteran isn’t just important for the team, but also his own career.

    Fremantle

    A gym membership for Jye Amiss

    The future of the Dockers, Amiss showed glimpses of his potential with two game-turning goals in the elimination final against the Western Bulldogs. But if Freo want to stay in the eight, let alone take the next step, a breakout season from the 19-year old in 2023 is a must.

    Rory Lobb has departed, as has stop-gap tall Griffin Logue, meaning the injury-prone Matt Taberner is the only proven key forward on the Dockers’ list, with new recruit Luke Jackson yet to really show his capabilities in attack. Amiss has suddenly gone from being a bonus option to being a key pillar in just his second season; if his development can be fast-tracked, Freo’s biggest chink in their armour disappears.

    Welcome to the first kick, first goal club Jye Amiss ????

    ???? Watch #AFLFreoNorth LIVE on ch. 504 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/5fyunetIHO
    BLOG https://t.co/dlzV7MCAVj
    ???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/DdaiBOGhRo pic.twitter.com/43CBQ968SE

    — Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) May 6, 2022

    Geelong Cats

    A new skipper

    For the first time in more than a decade, the Cats have a captaincy decision on their hands. The great Joel Selwood makes for some mighty big shoes to fill, and the fact they haven’t made the call three months after their premiership triumph speaks to the lack of an obvious frontrunner.

    A vice-captain last year, Tom Stewart is the favourite, but Patrick Dangerfield, Mark Blicavs and maybe even Tom Hawkins are among a slew of other contenders. The Cats have no shortage of experienced heads and cool customers, but they will surely also be tempted to, as they did with Selwood, pick a skipper to lead the side into a new era, rather than one in the twilight of their career.

    Gold Coast Suns

    A seamless Ben King comeback

    The Suns found a way to be competitive without their young spearhead in 2022 – but while the Levi Casboult-Mabior Chol pairing was a great success, King is a huge part of the Suns’ future.

    No doubt Stuart Dew will be praying King can bounce back from a year on the sidelines as seamlessly as Charlie Curnow made his injury comeback last year – a Coleman Medal might be wishful thinking, but having booted 47 goals in a weaker Suns team in 2021, the 22-year old could be the circuit-breaker to drive them into the finals for the first time in their history.

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    GWS Giants

    ‘Cadmania’ to catch on

    The Giants’ decision to enter the ‘Jason Horne-Francis trade’ and come out of it with pick 1 was twofold: it ensured their prime draft target, Aaron Cadman, would be a guaranteed Giant, while also bringing with him the prestige and hype of being the top seed of his draft pool.

    Starting to lose traction in Sydney after a horror year, and staring down the barrel of a long-term rebuild, ‘Cadmania’ could be just the trick to get the crowds back in. If he can start strong, unlike the Giants’ last number one pick Tom Boyd, then the hype will only grow – great news for a club that needs all the help it can get to remain relevant.

    Number 1 draft pick Aaron Cadman of GWS. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

    Hawthorn

    Peace off the field

    No team dealt with more crisis than the Hawks in 2022; from the bombshells unearthed by the external review into the club, to the messy departure of Jeff Kennett as president and the boardroom drama that it entailed.

    As has been proved so often in recent AFL history, teams are hard-pressed to perform on-field when the club is in dire straits off it. Priority number one for Andy Gowers is smoothing over the cracks that have fissured within the Hawks over the last few years, the racism scandal chief among them, and ensuring no distractions for Sam Mitchell and his team to begin the long, slow process of lifting the Hawks up the ladder.

    Melbourne

    A plan for ‘Gawndy’

    The Max Gawn-Brodie Grundy ruck partnership at Melbourne next year promises to be among the most fascinating subplots of the premiership race. If it works, the Demons will have a weapon no side has ever had before: if it doesn’t, well, they’ll be left with a top-heavy problem to solve.

    The Dees tried a ruck partner for Gawn a few years ago when Braydon Preuss was brought in, which worked about as well as mixing Red Bull with a sleeping tablet. You’d hope the Dees have a better plan this time for their ruck duo than ‘plug them both in and cross your fingers’… call me a pessimist, but I’ll believe it when I see it in Round 1.

    Gawn, Grundy and Farris-White getting to work ???? #DemonSpirit pic.twitter.com/hsWGcroObo

    — Melbourne Demons (@melbournefc) December 9, 2022

    North Melbourne

    Some early Clarko magic

    His first weeks as North Melbourne coach could scarcely have been more controversial, but Alastair Clarkson now seems certain to lead the Kangaroos’ charge back up the ladder for the years to come, just as Sonja Hood hoped he would when she secured the biggest fish in the pond in August.

    After a nightmarish last five years, this won’t be an easy ship to turn around; but facing both West Coast and Hawthorn in the first three rounds, there is a real opportunity for Clarkson and North to make a bright start to 2023.

    But with that handy fixture comes pressure: Clarko and the Roos will want to attack pre-season like maniacs if they want to hit the ground running and get their success-starved supporter base dreaming of an exciting future ahead.

    (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

    Port Adelaide

    A pleasant JHF homecoming

    Homesickness was reportedly a big reason for Jason Horne-Francis’ abrupt, messy departure from North Melbourne at the end of last year, alongside ice baths and a mutual enmity with Cam Zurhaar.

    Now back in his beloved South Australia, Horne-Francis is perfectly set up to fulfil the extraordinary potential he showed in the SANFL as an under-ager in 2021. For starters, he won’t have to travel nearly so far to return home and see his family if the mood strikes him.

    Ken Hinkley will be hoping the off-field drama is behind the young gun when the season proper begins; a nice Christmas at home with the family would do very nicely for both club and player.

    Richmond

    A new ‘string for Dusty

    The great Dustin Martin is closer to the end of his glittering career than the start; but with the Tigers looking to solve their biggest weakness at the trade period, one last elite season from the triple-Norm Smith Medallist could be the difference between a fourth flag and more finals heartbreak.

    Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper’s arrival will likely mean ‘Dusty’ can spend the bulk of his time in the forward line, where his explosive speed and one-on-one strength would make him a nightmare opponent. If he can avoid the soft-tissue issues that curtailed him for most of 2022, then an attack featuring him, Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt, with Shai Bolton and Noah Cumberland thrown into the mix, is utterly terrifying.

    St Kilda

    Kicking lessons for Max

    The Saints courted controversy during the season after snubbing Max King’s request for goalkicking lessons with mentor and legendary sharpshooter Matthew Lloyd. You suspect, though, that Ross Lyon will have few qualms about bringing in his fellow Footy Classified pundit to try and sort things out – once King returns from his shoulder injury, of course.

    Lyon is known for turning his best players into greats of the game – and from Nick Riewoldt to Matthew Pavlich, his teams have always featured a champion spearhead. King had 93 shots at goal last season in a mid-table team – become reliable in front of goal, and he could match that even if he does miss the first few rounds.

    Max King can’t miss today!#AFLSaintsSwans pic.twitter.com/zmZhvto42r

    — AFL (@AFL) August 21, 2022

    Sydney Swans

    A Neuralyzer

    In the film Men in Black, agents of the MIB famously use ‘Neuralyzers’ to wipe the memory of anyone who witnesses alien activity. The Swans could do with a similar gizmo at the bottom of their stocking this Christmas – just instead of extra-terrestrials, it would erase everything to do with the 2022 grand final.

    Many runners-up in recent seasons have found coping with a disastrous loss on the biggest stage of all an impossible task – Adelaide slipped into ruin after 2017, GWS missed the finals following their 2019 humiliation, while Port Adelaide took six years to so much as make the final again after a 119-point walloping in 2007.

    A young side with the world at their feet, the Swans can easily go a step further in 2023 – if they can move on from what happened at the MCG on the last Saturday in September.

    Amazing scenes as the final siren goes!#FootyOhWhatAFeeling | #AFLGF pic.twitter.com/civo0KOIev

    — AFL (@AFL) September 24, 2022

    West Coast Eagles

    No more COVID

    Western Australia’s COVID-19 crisis in 2022 proved catastrophic for the Eagles – reduced to needing top-up players to start the year, they never recovered, winning just two games in a serious annus horribilis.

    COVID is lurking ominously in the background still this holiday season, and another serious outbreak would be disastrous for the league – and the Eagles in particular, whose players have already proved they aren’t exactly well-equipped to behave in the most responsible manner.

    Western Bulldogs

    Help for Bevo… whether he likes it or not

    Watching Luke Beveridge coach is to recall a famous Richie Benaud quote from the Twelfth Man: ‘we do it as a team, and we do it my way’. From team selection, to tactics, to recruiting, and apparently even in which opposition father-son players they bid for, there are few facets of the Bulldogs that ‘Bevo’ doesn’t rule with an iron fist.

    Recruiting Brendon Lade as a senior assistant, having worked alongside Damien Hardwick at Richmond and at Port Adelaide and St Kilda, is a good start, with the Dogs sorely missing departed assistants Ashley Hansen and Steven King in 2022.

    Whether Beveridge is willing to bring in fresh perspectives on getting the spark back into the Bulldogs after a difficult campaign is, of course, a completely different question.

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