Every Thursday AFL.com.au presents Inside Trading, with breaking news and the best analysis of the Continental Tyres AFL Trade Period covering contracts, re-signings, free agents, the NAB AFL Draft and industry insights.
HAWKS STAR EYES LONG-TERM DEAL
HAWTHORN free agent James Sicily is set to target a long-term deal having made a starring impact in his first game back from injury.
Sicily was close to best afield in the Hawks' win over North Melbourne on Sunday in what was his first game in the brown and gold since undergoing a knee reconstruction in August, 2020.
His 27-disposal and six-mark performance was a reminder of his standing at Hawthorn as contract talks continue for the Hawks' biggest priority re-signing.
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As one of the top-line free agents in 2022, Sicily appears likely to follow the same path of other key free agents in looking for a deal as long as five years, which has become a benchmark for the game's best once they reach the free agency mark of their career.
Earlier this week, Western Bulldogs star Jack Macrae, as first revealed in last week's Inside Trading, locked in a five-year deal to take himself out of free agency while Collingwood has put forward a deal up to six years for its free agent Darcy Moore.
Richmond free agent Jayden Short is also eyeing a deal up to five years as he falls out of contract this year, while Isaac Heeney inked a six-year deal to take him off the free agency list at Sydney earlier this month.
The mega-deals have become mainstays for those who would have been restricted free agents, with Josh Kelly, Zach Merrett, Patrick Cripps, Christian Salem, Nick Vlastuin and Luke McDonald among those to sign deals of five or more years in their free-agency campaigns in 2021.
Sicily, 27, has played 93 games for the Hawks and is viewed as potentially the club's next captain. – Callum Twomey
BIG ROO DELAYS TALKS
PROMISING young ruckman Tristan Xerri has put contract talks on hold as he looks to cement his place in North Melbourne's best team.
AFL.com.au understands the Kangaroos moved to open discussions around a new deal for the uncontracted Xerri earlier this year, just months after the 23-year-old requested a trade to the Saints.
However, with interest in his signature expected to rise as the ruck market heads into full swing yet again later this year, he will instead put an emphasis on his football for the time being after earning the position as the side's starting ruckman in round one.
Xerri requested a trade to St Kilda last October, but a deal for the contracted big man couldn't be negotiated after North Melbourne demanded a future second-round selection be involved in talks.
Still under contract for 2022, he has since enjoyed an outstanding pre-season – described by coach David Noble as being "in our top three or four performers" over the summer – to earn his place in the Kangaroos' round one side.
Xerri won 10 disposals, a team-high 18 hitouts and took five marks in the 20-point loss to the Hawks, working well in tandem with veteran Todd Goldstein as new recruit Callum Coleman-Jones was played in a purely attacking role. – Riley Beveridge
GOLD COAST YOUNG GUN HEADED FOR NEW DEAL
YOUNG Suns defender Connor Budarick is closing in on a contract extension with Gold Coast in a fillip for the club.
Budarick is understood to be edging towards a three-year deal which would make him a Sun until at least the end of 2025.
The powerful, smart small defender had a strong debut season in 2020 by playing 15 games and last year played in the first two rounds before going down a season-ending knee injury.
The 20-year-old joined the club at the 2019 draft as an Academy player through the Suns' list concessions and made an immediate mark within the group, claiming the NAB AFL Rising Star nomination for round three in 2020.
He didn't feature for the Suns in their round one win over West Coast but is considered likely to soon be in the backline where his sharp skills, temperament and leadership are key facets.
Budarick joined the Suns via Labrador with Matt Conroy and Malcolm Rosas Jr also included via Academy concessions. First-round picks Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson and Sam Flanders also arrived at the club that season. – Callum Twomey
EARLY NO.1 PICK CONTENDERS SET TO STAR
BRISBANE father-son prospect Will Ashcroft heads a group of four draftees who will start the season as the leading No.1 pick contenders in 2022.
Ashcroft, the son of Lions champion and three-time premiership player Marcus, is tied to the club under the rule and trained there over summer. The powerful midfielder starred at under-17s level last year and is likely to make a call on his nomination later in the season.
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A father-son has never been bid on with the No.1 pick, with Sam Darcy (who last year received a bid at No.2 from the Giants) the earliest ever father-son taken.
Club recruiters feel there is another three players who will start the season in the mix for the top pick, with Oakleigh Chargers midfield pair George Wardlaw and Elijah Tsatas and West Adelaide tall forward Harry Lemmey the standouts heading into the 2022 draft season.
Wardlaw is a tough inside midfielder who played at NAB League level last season and also performed well for Vic Metro in the under-17s program, where he excelled with his contested disposals, while Tsatas' brilliant speed, run and carry was also on show for Vic Metro.
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Lemmey's credentials are already strong as a young key position player, with the 199cm forward debuting at senior SANFL level last year. He finished the season with 17 goals from seven games for West Adelaide's under-18s, including 3.2 from 20 disposals and 10 marks in the preliminary final.
The SANFL under-18s competition begins this weekend while the NAB League has a round of practice games before the start of its season next week.
Powerful Murray Bushrangers prospect Brayden George, a forward/midfielder, is another who starts the season as a top-10 chance. – Callum Twomey
SUNS GOALKICKER KEEN TO STAY
OUT-OF-CONTRACT forward Ben Ainsworth wants to join the growing list of top-10 picks committing to Gold Coast long-term.
Ainsworth, taken at No.4 in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft, started his sixth season at the Suns in fine fashion on Sunday, kicking two goals and setting up two others from his 18 disposals in the win over West Coast.
After being dropped last season and fighting his way back into the senior team, the 24-year-old told AFL.com.au he would "love" to stay at the Suns.
"I've been here for five or six years now and loved every minute of it," he said.
"I'm happy to stay here for however long they'll give me. I think the club's going in the right direction."
Ben King (two years) and Elijah Hollands (two years) are two top-10 picks that have extended their stays in recent months. Ainsworth is two years from reaching free agency at the Suns.
"Hopefully discussions start sooner rather than later, but for now I'm just focussing on my football and proving I can play at the highest level," Ainsworth said. – Michael Whiting
GIANTS YOUNGSTER IN NO RUSH
GREATER Western Sydney young gun Tanner Bruhn doesn't feel a need to rush to re-sign with the club just yet as he starts his second season in the AFL.
The No.12 pick from the 2020 NAB AFL Draft made his debut in the opening round of last season before playing 13 games in 2021.
The Giants are confident the Geelong product will extend his time at the club beyond this year, but the club has had to deal with losing inexperienced first round picks after a short period of time since its inception, with Jye Caldwell and Jackson Hately moving at the end of their first deal at the end of 2020.
Bruhn was named the Giants' medical substitute in round one against the Swans but is set to be exposed to more midfield minutes this year after an impressive pre-season that many inside Giants HQ have labelled as the best alongside Tom Green.
"I'm loving where I'm at, at the moment. I'm loving the club and loving the boys and feeling really settled at the moment," Bruhn told AFL.com.au earlier this month.
"I'm just looking forward to hopefully starting the year off well and playing some consistent footy. That’s at the forefront of my mind right at the moment.
"I feel like the club and my manager will take care of the contract talks when the time is right. For the moment it is about playing some good footy and we'll worry about that when it comes."
While Tim Taranto is the most important signature for Jason McCartney and Adrian Caruso to secure this year, Bruhn also looms as a priority. – Josh Gabelich