Dan McStay celebrates a goal during Collingwood's clash against Port Adelaide in round two, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Things We Learned, we discover who Collingwood is missing, the Power are challenging their tag as flag favourites and much, much more.

Check out what we learned from round 13 of the 2023 season.


1) Collingwood needs McStay back

The Pies have got away with a shorter forward line against most of their opposition this year, with the likes of Brody Mihocek, Bobby Hill and Ash Johnson shouldering most of the load. But up against Melbourne's fearsome back six, Collingwood's forward line floundered, finding it near-impossible to outmark the talls in Steven May, Adam Tomlinson and Jake Lever, while Michael Hibberd and Judd McVee scooped up the ground balls. There aren't many backlines quite as accomplished as Melbourne's, but come finals, Collingwood can't afford to mess around going into attack. The return of a focal point in McStay (finger) after the bye couldn't be more important, particularly with games against Port Adelaide, Geelong and Brisbane still to come. – Sarah Black

Dan McStay is seen during a Collingwood media opportunity on June 7, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

2) Two-metre Peter is the missing piece

If Essendon fans believed 2023 was the year they could end their long wait for a finals win, the return of reigning Crichton Medal winner Peter Wright offers further reason for optimism. Wright had been forced to watch Essendon's 7-5 start under new coach Brad Scott from the sidelines due to a pre-season shoulder injury, but booted five goals on his return against Carlton on Sunday night, including three in the decisive third quarter. In the absence of Wright, who kicked 53 goals in 2022, Kyle Langford has played valiantly as a forward target, booting 25 goals, while off-season recruit Sam Weideman has managed 13 goals. But on Sunday's evidence, Wright showed no signs of injury and clearly makes the Bombers' forward line much more potent as they chase a first finals win since 2004. - Ben Somerford


3) Mitch Owens is a serious Rising Star contender

After missing the game before the bye due to concussion, 19-year-old Mitch Owens produced a standout performance on Thursday night that keeps his name in the conversation alongside Harry Sheezel, Will Ashcroft and Bailey Humphrey to win the 2023 Rising Star. Owens kicked 2.2 from 21 disposals and eight marks against Sydney, taking him to 15 majors for the year. Charlie Curnow, Max King and Jeremy Cameron are the only key forwards averaging more player ratings points per game in 2023, according to Champion Data. With Max King up and running across the past month, Owens is proving to be the joker in the pack as the Saints march towards September under Ross Lyon. - Josh Gabelich

Mitchito Owens flies for a mark during St Kilda's win over Sydney in round 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

4) No player is more important than James Sicily

While he's set for another stint on the sidelines, Hawthorn skipper James Sicily gave us another example of the significant stature he holds in his team on Saturday. Sicily was central to a Hawks victory, this time over top four outfit Brisbane, with his game-high 32 disposals (at 78 per cent efficiency), 12 marks, eight score involvements and 10 intercepts. It came a fortnight after one of the best individual performances of the season in a win over St Kilda and continued another stellar year for the rebounding defender. Marcus Bontempelli, Max Gawn, Toby Greene and Jeremy Cameron all have huge influences over how their team's perform, but Sicily is right in the conversation for having the biggest impact for his team when he's on the field. – Michael Whiting

James Sicily gets a handball away during round 11, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

5) Port are challenging the Pies' mantle as flag favourites

Amid suggestions the premiership is Collingwood's to lose, Port Adelaide is mounting its own case for flag favouritism. With Friday night's victory over the Western Bulldogs, the Power notched up two new club records; it's longest ever winning streak, now at 10 games, and nine straight victories at Marvel Stadium. The Power know how to win at home and away, have proven they can stand up when challenged, and are leaning on their young contingent to get the job done. Zak Butters once again put up a best on ground performance, Jason Horne-Francis stole the show with a stunning, momentum-swinging goal and Lachie Jones had a coming-of-age game at half back. There's a lot to like about the 2023 iteration of Port Adelaide. - Gemma Bastiani


6) Nick Larkey deserves more credit

Similarly to Oscar Allen at West Coast, Nick Larkey's goalkicking feats in a team that has rarely been on the winners' list this year deserves recognition. The Kangaroos forward is now fourth in the race for the Coleman Medal after bagging another four majors in round 13 and - as of Sunday evening - sits just two goals behind Jeremy Cameron, Charlie Curnow and Taylor Walker at the top. Larkey was a constant threat against the Giants on Sunday and kept his side in the game until GWS surged late. In a team that has won just two games for the season, and none in the past 11 weeks, kicking 36 goals from 13 games in an incredible achievement. - Martin Smith

Nick Larkey celebrates a goal during round one, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

7) A 'Mini' revival is on at Richmond

Road wins can mark a turning point in a season, so what will back-to-back travel victories under a new coach do for the Tigers? Saturday night's 15-point win against Fremantle was Richmond's best this season and it showed us there is a pulse in 2023 under Andrew McQualter, who is 2-1 since taking over and is making a compelling early case to win the top job permanently. The Tigers are clearly playing for the coach they call 'Mini' and doing the tough, gritty things he demands. A sixth win for the season against St Kilda next Saturday night at the MCG and finals will be right back on the agenda. – Nathan Schmook


8) Don't forget about Walker

Plenty has been made of Adelaide's exciting small forwards, centred around Izak Rankine, Josh Rachele and Luke Pedlar, but Taylor Walker showed once again - unequivocally - that all that flourish needs a rock solid foundation. The veteran Crow's 10-goal 250th against West Coast was a masterclass in key-position forward craft that Riley Thilthorpe and Darcy Forgarty will do well to learn from, and by the look of it they’re studying hard. While Walker can’t go on forever, he will play a big part in the Crows' future well after he's gone. - Howard Kimber