Luke Davies-Uniacke, Hayden Young and Connor Macdonald. Pictures: AFL Photos

WHILE the players are getting some run into their legs and getting stuck into match simulation, plenty of AFL Fantasy coaches are working just as hard piecing together their round one squads.

Plenty of players get to train with the Warne Dawgs in the pre-season. The shortlist isn't very short. Whether it's due to my glass half full attitude about how potential recruits may perform in the upcoming season or that I find it hard to put a line through too many until I see the practice matches, there's a revolving door on who makes the squad of 30 day to day.


Reports from training and where players are lining up in match simulation can see wholesale changes.

Opening Round has brought some challenges with the early byes and strategy continues to evolve. Do we try to avoid all players with an early bye? Do we just select the value players? Will Opening Round scores help or hinder decision making?

Competition for spots is strong at the Warne Dawgs as they're far from settled.

That said, I've built a squad that I'd be happy with for round one … but there's a lot of water to go under the bridge before the first bounce of Richmond v Carlton to start the Fantasy season.


Judging by ownership figures, it appears most coaches have locked Nick Daicos (DEF/MID, $982,000) into D1. There's plenty to love. He's likely to be the best defender by a margin and it's going to be hard to upgrade to him if his price ends up north of $1m.

But, like last year, I'm fading the gun Pie.

The early bye and the potential date with Finn Maginness in round four is enough to scare me off and instead roll with Tom Stewart (DEF, $869,000) as my top defender. If it wasn't for his first-quarter injury in round one, he would've averaged 100.

Listen to the AFL Fantasy Podcast with The Traders at Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

Hayden Young (DEF, $805,000) is a no-brainer with his midfield role, while fellow defenders from the west, Elliot Yeo (DEF/MID, $633,000) and Heath Chapman (DEF, $494,000) offer value and will hopefully make some cash over the first six weeks before dual-position players are added.

Discounted players must all be considered and I've currently got Zac Williams (DEF, $442,000) in my team. I've tried to avoid players with the round two or three bye, but the value is too much to pass up. Same goes for Marty Hore (DEF, $307,000). If named, there's only one way his price is going!

Nick Daicos celebrates a goal during the Toyota AFL Grand Final between Collingwood and Brisbane at the MCG on September 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos


I've been thinking a lot about the early byes and I'm keen to avoid any premiums, but while doing that, load up on the big point scorers who won't have a bye.

Five premiums make up my midfield, all of which I believe have some upside, but most importantly will play during the round two, three, five and six byes. They may help me get a bigger score in those four weeks and get an early leg up.

In saying this, it is a line where the magnets are getting moved a lot. Zach Merrett (MID, $1,019,000) certainly isn't a lock, but can act as the team's captain due to his high ceiling. Rory Laird (MID, $986,000) and Jack Steele (MID, $884,000) are priced well below their best.

But it's Zak Butters (MID, $898,000) and Luke Davies-Uniacke (MID, $879,000) who I'm backing in to be those players taking their sub-100 average to 105-plus and be knocking on the door of the top 10 Fantasy midfielders in the competition.

While I've avoided any mid-priced players in this version of my squad, the cash cows are basically locked in. Coby McKercher (MID, $297,000) looks likely to be running off half-back and should pick up dual-position status after round six. He'll be flicked back then as I hope to upgrade one of the mid-priced defenders.


The old set and forget. Max Gawn (RUC, $831,000) and Brodie Grundy (RUC, $677,000) have the opportunity to put quite a few points on their 2023 averages.

Gawn has gone in and out of my team, being switched with Tristan Xerri (RUC, $580,000). The North Melbourne ruck was an early favourite to be R2 after Todd Goldstein was traded, but recent facial surgery has meant he's on the outer.

Xerri may still be a starter. Most teams will see their ruck line-up coming from two of these three players.

I've spent up on the bench with Jordon Sweet (RUC, $387,000). It goes against my usual strategy here, but as cover for Gawn and Grundy during the early byes and the cash increase if he's Port Adelaide's No.1 ruck, I'd have to do it.


Last season we started with five premiums … this year, it's just one for me. Jack Macrae (MID/FWD, $829,000) is the top-priced forward but he's priced at his lowest point since 2014. Can he get involved in more stoppages? Let's hope so.

I've got new Swans Taylor Adams (MID/FWD, $691,000) and James Jordon (MID/FWD, $454,000). I'm bullish on both, but in reality, I don't think I can start both. Their Opening Round scores may dictate what I do here … especially considering they have the round five bye that is shared with Finlay Macrae (FWD, $310,000).

Connor Macdonald (FWD, $636,000) is a speculative pick and the one with the lowest ownership in my 22. Could he be a point of difference as he aims to build his midfield time – and Fantasy game – at the Hawks?

Forwards are going to be very interesting. Mid-priced players is where a lot will be looking. If Zac Fisher (FWD, $623,000) recovers from his recent hamstring injury to take part in the Community Series, then he'll be a live option given he's mooted to be playing half-back.

Zac Fisher kicks the ball at North Melbourne training on November 17, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

By the time you've finished reading this, the team may have changed again. That's the beauty of the unlimited trades we have in the lead up to round one. I'm quite happy with the structure, but so much will come down to which cash cows are likely for round one. This is not only their scoring potential, but also their position, job security and how they fit in with other players and fixturing.

There's a bit to think about!

For now, I'll hang off every training report and suggestion that 'Player X' is getting more midfield time and keep moving the magnets.

NOTE: The Warne Dawgs as it stands on Thursday, February 1 (for now!). There is $32,000 remaining in the salary cap.