2023 AFL Trade Period final countdown – featuring Koschitzke, Chol, Ryan, Gunston, Billings

Jacob Koschitzke to Richmond

Jacob Koschitzke has played 48 games since breaking into a rebuilding Hawthorn side. In 2023 he found himself edged out of the best 22 by Mitch Lewis and Fergus Greene, playing 12 senior games and 13 at VFL level and usually only getting games when one of the former was missing. He was also tried briefly in ruck stints when one of Lloyd Meek and Ned Reeves were unavailable.

With Hawthorn already unwilling to play him as a third tall forward, and with Mabior Chol and Jack Gunston coming into the Hawks, the writing was on the wall for Koschitzke.

The options at the Tigers to grab a regular role may be brighter for him due to the simple lack of tall options for the Tigers, with the retirement of Jack Riewoldt and the perennial availability issues of Tom Lynch. Other immediate young competitors are probably limited to ruck and part time forward Samson Ryan, with VFL leading goalkicker Kaelan Bradtke being delisted post-season.

The question for Koschitzke then comes down to whether he can beat out ‘Nobody’ and stake a claim to the Tigers playing him in addition to Lynch and a resting ruck – or possibly becoming that second ruck himself. The other option, leaving him out, is that the Tigers field no second tall forward and instead continue to lean into their smaller brigade and deploying Martin as a pseudo-tall deep target.

The trade treats Koschitzke as the decent prospect with question marks over long term viability that he is. Pick 49 is a speculative pick, and Koschitzke remains a speculative long term bet, albeit one who will now likely be tested thoroughly.

Verdict: Fair trade.

Jack Gunston to Hawthorn and Brandon Ryan to Richmond

Hawthorn is, partly by necessity, renovating its forward line as three players move out and three others move in. We’ve already seen the Brockman for Ginnivan pieces fall, and Jacob Koschitzke has moved to Richmond. These are the next (and maybe last) dominos to fall in a player swap.

Brandon Ryan was drafted in June in the mid-season draft, a VFL player for about 6 months after rising from Maribyrnong Park to the Bullants at the start of the year. He took the next step to Hawthorn in that draft. He ended up playing three AFL games in the back half of the year and signed a contract extension with the Hawks for 2024. Ryan has now found himself traded to Brisbane. 

Quite the whirlwind year.

Ryan is a 200cm key forward and as with Koschitzke, he faced the prospect of having Chol and Gunston blocking him from senior football, in addition to Greene and Lewis.

Ryan’s name came up in trade discussions ostensibly after the Lions sought to facilitate a trade of Gunston back to the Hawks. Gunston’s departure does open up a small window for the Lions to restructure to and maybe find room for a third big forward alongside their vaunted forward mix, but with Cameron holding down a deep target role, expectations are low on that front.

On exposed form, roles, and career histories, Gunston and Ryan are not remotely similar players, but have become linked through the ephemeral magic of trade period. The hulking Ryan is pretty much a pack and contested marking forward, while Gunston is more undersized, a clever leading player who finds tiny spaces with deceptive leads and can help with inside 50 distribution. Brisbane even deployed Gunston at the wing at times looking for the right fit in their best 22.

Having just turned 32, Jack Gunston has asked for and been granted a trade back to Hawthorn a year after going to the Lions. He missed the finals with injury but otherwise managed 17 games for the Lions, and reportedly has non-football reasons for wanting to return to Victoria.

Gunston is the very definition of a known quantity – a handy undersized key forward with crafty leading patterns and a long history of operating effectively in the spaces between other more highly credentialed forwards. He undoubtedly added to Brisbane’s multi-dimensional threat while in the team.

Returning to Hawthorn is an interesting football move given the flux there. Gunston, with his age and body issues, may only be a bit part in this project. He’s adaptable and could fill a number of stopgap roles depending on what gaps are there, and his experience will be important on and off the park. He’s just plain talented enough to always be in contention for a place in a team trying to compete. At absolute worst he’ll fit in as a defacto assistant coach in a club needing leaders.

The trade is reasonably fair in isolation, neither player having much projected value and the picks themselves matching up reasonably well. Hawthorn’s second and third selections decrease their points values for matching Will McCabe, the Hawks get a better future pick to swap for Chol, and Brisbane move up the draft order slightly this year. 

Verdict: Fair trade.

Mabior Chol to Hawthorn

Mabior Chol has been a handy mobile forward target and pinch hitting ruck for a little while but fell out of the Gold Coast forward plans with Ben King, Jack Lukosius, Joel Jeffery, Levi Casboult and arguably Sam Day all preferred up forward. The Suns will also add Jed Walter – the best prospect according to some this year – as an Academy player in this draft. 

The Suns need list spaces to execute their Academy matching plans, and this exit is not complicated for them.

Altogether with other moves, Chol’s acquisition has implications for whether Hawthorn play a third tall or not, whether they stick with two rucks, how they deploy Breust and Wingard, and how Fergus Greene and Mitch Lewis continue to develop.

The trade to Hawthorn perhaps sees the fit being Chol playing as a third tall, where the Hawks young trio of less flexible pure forwards (Jacob Koschitzke, Fergus Greene and Mitch Lewis) couldn’t be used the same way. The Hawks didn’t run a true third tall a lot in 2023, instead running Breust as an extra marking target. How he fits next to Gunston is another question to navigate.

Chol’s greater experience and maturity, and good mobility, probably enables the Hawks to push Breust into a more traditional small forward role in tandem with some combination of Ginnivan, Wingard and Moore. 

Alternatively, Chol’s ability to ruck might lessen the need to play both Meek and Reeves every week and add mobility to the team that way.

They’ll be among the most fascinating watches next year as they work the combinations and chemistry of this new look forward group.

The trade is on the edge of fair, especially given the Suns need the cap space and list spot, but the future second will juice Gold Coast’s returns if the Lions slide down the ladder much, giving the Suns an extra reason to barrack against their home state rival. 

Verdict: Reasonably fair trade

Jack Billings to Melbourne

Jack Billings is another formerly highly rated St Kilda draft pick from the middle of the 2010s who, through injury and team evolution, finds himself on the outer to the extent that he’s the subject of a “cap dump” trade away from Moorabbin. 

It has to be said that Billings’ best footy is pretty bloody good. But, it’s not really a recent thing either.

With reports the Saints will pay a potentially significant part of his salary in order to move his two remaining contract years off the books, Melbourne stands as an attractive destination given they’ve spent their trade period shedding depth midfield players in Harmes, Jordan and the retiring Dunstan.

Billings, if fit, should provide “break glass in case of emergency” level outside run, in a variety of roles, at a bargain basement salary, but is very unlikely to figure in Melbourne’s first draft 2024 plans beyond providing some leadership at Casey.

The trade gives St Kilda a usable pick next year for a player they were willing to pay salary in order to offload. This would suggest if the Dees took on the full salary they could have parted with the most token of late picks, but for Melbourne there’s no doubt the cap space saved on their depth is preferable.

Verdict: Notionally Saints weighted trade.

Durusma and Zerk-Thatcher to Essendon and Port Adelaide

A scant 5 months after HPN wrote about Port’s high end draft cohort and warned that such multi-pick hauls are difficult to keep together, Xavier Duursma has come along to break up the trio like so many have broken up before. Forever compared to Connor Rozee and Zak Butters, Duursma started his career as the better ball winner and ball mover of the three, but he has since stalled as the other two fully took over the Port Adelaide midfield as their show.

Duursma faced injury challenges, with different knee ligament issues in 2021 and 2023 and a neck complaint in between, and when able to get on the park, sometimes struggled to immediately recapture his form.

Now after four seasons with Port, he’s after a change of scenery and a fresh start with a move to the Bombers. His role, most recently, has been more on the outside but there’s no reason to doubt that he can become more of an inside burst midfielder once more, especially since his sometimes wayward kicking limited his effectiveness in a pure transition role.

Essendon’s low key revitalisation didn’t end in finals in 2023, but it did give fans a version of the Bombers more capable of defending transition than any time in the previous half decade, albeit at the cost of slower ball movement. A part of that improved defence was Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, a late blooming big man who at the age of 25 put together his first full season of AFL footy. Zerk-Thatcher can arguably already be described as a “much maligned” big man as he has been singled out in the press as “conceding the most goals” of any key defender in 2023.

However, that should be taken with a slight grain of salt. Firstly, the detailed matchup statistics that HPN has seen are questionable as currently recorded. Secondly, and more importantly, defence is an incredibly team oriented process. Sometimes issues with structure and role will just cause goals to be kicked “on” certain players but not necessarily due to their errors.

It’s not necessarily clear that Zerk-Thatcher is a standout defender, but he’s more of an intercept marker than an accountable body to body defender, and considering Essendon still lacked size and specialist lockdown defensive options and were implementing a new gameplan in 2023, neither is it really the case that he’s terrible because of this.

At any rate, with Essendon throwing a huge free agency contract at Harry McKay to fill some defensive holes, Zerk-Thatcher now seeks a trade to the Power, who like Essendon have long grappled with some issues of size and accountability in defence. Like Ratugolea, his fit alongside an existing group of interceptors will be interesting to watch unfold.

The trade could really, as mooted by Adrian Dodoro, have been a straight swap, but Port needed to get at least some sort of token picks back in after selling them all off. In a trade period marked by the absence of big deals, it seems appropriate that the last deals came down to haggling about the top sides’ fourth round selections.

The sum of three picks in the 70s essentially have the projection of a generic list spot, which add up to look like they weight the trade, but given Essendon weren’t going to use these picks anyway, it’s all a bit notional.

Verdict: The late picks notional values make this look unfair, but it’s fine.

Massimo D’Ambrosio

Massimo D’Ambrosio is a solid enough young depth defender/outside midfielder who may be useful to a developing Hawthorn side, but the most interesting thing about this trade is the fact that it happened at all given an AFL ruling that he could move for free as a delisted free agent due to being a third year rookie list player.

Why didn’t Hawthorn just sign him like that? Why send the admittedly minor draft pick for him instead? The answer is likely answered by the fact that 22 year old James Jordon was a free agent who moved without recourse from Melbourne to Sydney this year, years before players normally become free agents.

Delisted free agents, you see, become lifelong unrestricted free agents immediately. This means once someone delists a player, no club can hold them for trades when they’re next out of contract. Jordan was delisted and re-rookied before he emerged as a serious AFL level footballer, and triggered that status change before anyone really valued him.

Here, D’Ambrosio is perhaps in a similar boat, on the outer for Essendon, wanted but not a key need for Hawthorn. But for a cautious club doing due diligence, and maximising its control and leverage over its playing stocks, the hypothetical chance of D’Ambrosio reaching his potential and then subsequently wanting to change clubs in future is probably worth throwing a token pick over to Essendon now. And similarly, that desire for future control for the Hawks let them slightly up the price of what pick they would accept.

The picks are fairly minimal. Pick 61 becomes Essendon’s fourth selection in the draft should they choose to take it, and Collingwood’s future 4th replaces the two late future fourths they just traded out for next year. All fairly minimal stuff.

Verdict: Minimal values in this trade

Note: This post is part of a series of posts using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Readers can explore these values with tools such as the HPN Trade Calculator to evaluate potential trades.

Elsewhere, read much more about the method and theory behind PAVExpressing the value of players and picks in terms of expected future PAV provides a common currency for comparing them in trades and other movements. Players are projected using PAPLEY, a method to derive expected future PAVs.

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