It's that time of year again where we assess form and select our (almost) halfway-point All-Australian team.
Who has come from the clouds to put their hand up for a blazer? There are plenty of first timers in contention for the end-of-year gong, as well as a couple of veterans, and SIX club captains.
So without further ado, here's ESPN's (slightly early) mid-year All-Australian team.
(Full team below).
Charlie Ballard (Gold Coast): What a revelation Ballard has been in the Suns' defence. Last year it was Sam Collins who took strides as a lockdown key back, and now it's Ballard as a big interceptor who has the comp talking. Behind just Charlie Curnow for contested marks (30) and leading the league in intercept marks (51), the 23-year-old is proving to be a handful for opposition forwards. His contested defensive one-on-one loss percentage of 15.9 is also the fourth best of any key defender who has with 30 or more one-on-one contests to their name.
Callum Wilkie (St Kilda): A general in the St Kilda defence, Wilkie has added an attacking edge in 2023 which makes him a compelling member of the mid-year AA back six. Averaging 8.1 marks (3.3 intercepts) has him in the 'elite' category for key defenders, and his season average of 20 disposals is well above his career average of 15.4. He's also taking more contested marks than he has in any other year (averaging 1.4 - above average). After a quiet couple of weeks, he needs to keep performing to stay in contention.
James Sicily (Hawthorn): If he wasn't a lock before his 43-disposal outing against the Saints, he is now. Sicily is the player you'd love to have on your team. His hard edge, ability to find space and the ball, and his actual defensive nous makes him one of the more unique players in the league. Like Ballard, he's No. 2 on the list for contested one-on-one loss percentage (12.9) from a minimum 30 contests, while he rates as elite for disposals (26.5 per game), marks (9.8), and rebound 50s (6.7), and above average for pressure acts (8.7) and intercept possessions (9.3).
Jack Sinclair (St Kilda): Rated elite by Champion Data in disposals (27.6 per game), ground ball gets (6.2) and pressure acts (14.5), Sinclair remains a star of the competition, and is such a calm and assured presence coming out of defence for the Saints. His average of 495.6 metres gained per game is also rated as elite, and his ability to move up the ground (including sometimes at the centre bounce) shows just how versatile he is.
Darcy Moore (C) (Collingwood): He's taken on the added responsibility of being Collingwood's captain in 2023, but it hasn't overshadowed Moore's performances on the big stage. Second in the competition for intercept marks (43 through 11 rounds), Moore is elite at reading the play in front of him and getting to good spots to influence the play. He's also averaging a career-high 7.8 spoils per game, and has upped his attacking output, too, averaging 16.6 disposals per game up from a career average of 12.8.
Nick Daicos (Collingwood): It's hard to put into words just how well Daicos is playing in just his second year, but let's boil it down to this: he's a Brownlow favourite at 20 years of age. He's averaging more disposals than anyone in the league (33.8 per game), he's moving the ball well (79% disposal efficiency), and he's got a running capacity which allows him to both get back and defend, and help out in attack. For a general defender, he's rated elite for inside 50s (average of 4 per game) and above average for rebound 50s (4.8). His 16.1 pressure acts per game also has him in elite category. He's a star.
Jordan Dawson (Adelaide): "Dawson doesn't play on a wing," we can hear you arguing. We are aware! But given the lack of standout wings thus far in 2023, we'd far rather have Dawson patrolling one side of the ground than literally any other player who is a fulltime wingman. The Crows skipper has been one of the surprise stories of the year, moving into the midfield in Round 3 and immediately looking as comfortable as any. He's a great runner, can win the ball at will and his use by foot is second to none. Some might even say he'd be well suited to a wing role...
Tom Liberatore (Western Bulldogs): If you're surprised by the inclusion of Liberatore, you simply aren't watching enough Bulldogs games. Libba has been in career best form through the first half of the season, with Champion Data ranking him as one of the 10 best players in the competition. The inside midfielder is averaging 27 disposals, 13 contested possessions, seven clearances, seven tackles and per game. He remains a criminally underrated footballer and a key cog of the Dogs midfield.
Zak Butters (Port Adelaide): Copy and paste exactly what we said about Dawson for Butters, in terms of his position. There are many who deserve enormous credit for the Power's run of eight consecutive wins, but none more so than Butters. In that time, the 22-year-old has been averaging 30 disposals, 17 contested possessions, five clearances and five inside 50s per game, taking his game to a ridiculous level. Butters has shortened in to become the fourth-favourite to win this year's Brownlow Medal, which highlights just how well he's tracking.
Christian Petracca (Melbourne): Premiership Demon Petracca's 2023 season has been good enough to warrant midfield selection here, but his obvious influence forward of centre makes him a half-forward lock. He rates elite in all of average disposals per game (28.4), contested possessions (13.5), score involvements (8.8), metres gained (543.7) and inside 50s (7.2), and despite his side's up-and-down campaign to date, Petracca is once again in the Brownlow conversation.
Charlie Curnow (Carlton): Curnow is perhaps the one shining light in the midst of another frustrating season for Blues fans. The gun forward has kicked 37 majors this season, and has had more shots at goal (65), score involvements (92), and contested marks (33) than any other player. But we don't need stats to justify his position in the team. He's a star who has kicked at least one major in his last 32 AFL matches.
Toby Greene (GWS): Put simply, Greene is putting together a superb season. But are we really that surprised? He can play as an undersized key tall, and he can play as a crafty, niggling small, and dominate teams no matter the role. The GWS captain is a top four forward in the league for inside 50s (4.9 per game), marks inside 50 (2.3), goal assists (1.3), score involvements (8.7), and goals (2.9). In fact, the polarising Giant takes more shots at goal than any other general forward in the game (5.4). He's just elite, and is one of the best players so far in 2023.
Joe Daniher (Brisbane): Daniher's career has been quite the rollercoaster, but in 2023, he's rediscovered the consistency that saw him named in the official 2017 All-Australian team. The big Lion has been in stellar form despite three 'down' weeks -- all coinciding with three Brisbane losses -- which still saw him have nine shots on goal. The 29-year-old has booted 30 goals, and is averaging three marks inside 50, 351 metres gained, and 3.8 inside 50s - all elite for his position. When Joe's up and about, so is Brisbane.
Jeremy Cameron (Geelong): Cameron's start to the season was incredible to the point where the hype around his game was evolving into the 'can he kick 100' discussion. With 27 goals to his name after the opening six rounds, those talks were valid, but the drop off in his output to the tune of nine goals in five games means, unfortunately, we all need to temper that excitement. Still, he's second in the Coleman Medal race. And there's probably no other key forward that has his elite foot skills anywhere on the ground, Cameron averaging more effective kicks per game (8.3) than any of his counterparts.
Charlie Cameron (Brisbane): One of the most exciting players in the competition, Cameron (of the Charlie variety) has hardly put a foot wrong this season, kicking 32 goals from 11 games and providing fans with some extraordinary highlights. He's got hauls of six and seven majors to his name in 2023 and has kicked multiple goals on eight occasions, but it's his constant selflessness -- rating elite for tackles inside 50 - which makes him the perfect small forward threat.
Tim English (Western Bulldogs): Statistically, our mid-year All-Australian ruckman might be the worst tap ruck of all, but boy does he make up for that with all the other things he does. English has been superb in 2023, well and truly elevating himself into the elite big man category. For a ruck, English ranks 'elite' in disposals, effective disposals, uncontested possessions, marks, intercept marks, inside 50s and pressure acts.
Clayton Oliver (Melbourne): Has Oliver been the most consistent A-grade player in the AFL over the last three or four seasons? You can certainly make that case. Once again, the star Demon is a walk-up starter in our All-Australian team, even though he is currently missing time with a hamstring injury. At the half-way mark of the year, Oliver is averaging the ridiculous numbers of 33 disposals, 16 contested possessions, seven clearances, six inside 50s and six tackles per game. If he can get back in the next week or two, don't count him out for the Brownlow Medal.
Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs): After somewhat of a down 2022 (lofty standards, huh!), the Bont is well and truly back to his devastating best. The Bulldogs skipper has become even more of a contested beast, ranking third in the competition for clearances, third for tackles and fifth for contested possessions. On several occasions this year we've seen Bontempelli single-handedly take over games, winning the ball from a stoppage and driving it forward. Another absolute lock in this side.
Interchange (including sub)
Sean Darcy (Fremantle): Two genuine ruckman in the same team? Yep, because you can't ignore the current campaign being put together by Sean Darcy who has flown under the radar. An unfortunate hamstring injury in Round 11 will sideline the big Docker for around one month, but he has had a controlling influence this season, his powerful presence at stoppages and immovable frame when throwing himself forward or helping out in defence a major reason why Freo sit just percentage out of the top eight after a slow start. Darcy averages a 56.8% hitout win - more than any other genuine ruckman who has played multiple games this year.
Jordan De Goey (Collingwood): He's always had a ridiculous amount of potential and it looks as if it's finally being realised on a consistent basis. As brilliant as Nick Daicos has been for the Magpies this campaign, there's an argument to be made De Goey has been top Pie. De Goey is the only player in the competition averaging 25 disposals and a goal per game this season, to go along with his career-highs of six clearances and five inside 50s. He has become one of the most challenging match-ups for any opposition, given his ability to cause damage in the middle and forward.
Lachie Neale (Brisbane): It was a relatively slow start but Neale has caught right up to where he was last year. Yet again, he leads the competition for total clearances -- he has now had at least four in every game dating back to the beginning of 2022 -- and centre clearances and ranks second for contested possessions. The only real area Neale would be looking to improve in during the run to September would be his production in the front half, having kicked just 1.6 thus far.
Noah Anderson (Gold Coast): A gun youngster who is just getting better and better. Anderson has been superb in 2023, filling the void of Touk Miller at the Suns with great effect. Not only is he ranked fifth in the league for clearances and fourth for centre clearances, Anderson is one of the best kicks among midfielders, and averages a shade under 16 of them per game. A great option to jump into the middle of this All-Australian team at first change.
Caleb Serong (Fremantle): Serong was impressive last year, but he has taken his game to new heights this season, the young gun averaging 30.3 disposals per game and also rating elite in contested possessions (13.4) and clearances (7.2). The 22-year-old genuinely hurts opposition teams with his disposal and his rapid rise to stardom deserves recognition. Has he taken over Andrew Brayshaw as Justin Longmuir's best midfielder? It's not outlandish to ponder.
Ken Hinkley: Hands up who wouldn't want to play for Ken Hinkley? No one? That sounds about right. Listen to any of his press conferences, watch him on the bench with his players, and after the game win or lose, and it's easy to see why Port's player love to play for the man. The fact he's turned a 1-2 start into eight straight victories is remarkable, and a major 'up yours' to the doubters of whom there have been many. Good on you, Kenny.
ESPN's 2023 (slightly early) mid-year All-Australian team:
FB: Ballard, Wilkie, Sicily
HB: Sinclair, Moore (c), N. Daicos
C: Dawson, Liberatore, Butters
HF: Petracca, C. Curnow, Greene
FF: Daniher, J. Cameron, C. Cameron
R: English, Oliver, Bontempelli
I/C: Darcy, De Goey, Neale, Anderson, Serong