THE FIRST Phantom Form Guide for 2023 is in.

The end of the AFL Under-18 Championships has given recruiters and clubs a chance to take stock on the draft pool for this year and it is also time for the July Form Guide.

As always, the Form Guide is not a prediction of where prospects will be selected at the draft at the end of the year and does not take into account where bids on Academy or father-son prospects will come. It is a ranking of the leading 20 players in the crop and will be updated each month until November's draft.

This is the 50th edition of the Phantom Form Guide since introduced the rolling ratings to draft coverage in 2013.


The Harley hype exists for a reason – he is a matchwinner, game-changer and high impact player. The Bendigo Pioneers prospect set himself near-impossible levels to reach in his draft year after a bottom-age season in 2022 that saw him dominate games as a defender, forward and midfielder and be touted as the likely No.1 pick more than a year and a half from his own draft. This season the strong-bodied, effective fend-off producing midfielder has been a level above in the Coates Talent League (averaging 20 disposals and two goals a game), was a standout for the AFL Academy in its two games, impressed off half-back for Carlton's VFL side and, after a five-week break after a concussion, his performances for Vic Country were exciting. His best game came against Western Australia in Perth, where he gathered 26 disposals, took 10 marks and kicked 2.3, before he finished his carnival in style with 24 disposals and 11 clearances (including six out of the centre) against Vic Metro on Sunday.


Everyone loves a big, strong, aggressive key forward and Walter is all of that. The Gold Coast Academy talent came into this season with big wraps after being an under-18 All-Australian last year and he's backed it up. He confirmed his place right near the top of the draft order at this year's carnival where he was a crucial cog in the Allies' breakthrough championship win, kicking 11 goals across four games and being a dominant player. It came after big games for the Suns in the Talent League, where he booted eight goals against the Northern Territory and six against the Greater Western Victoria Rebels. He chases and tackles and puts on more defensive pressure than you'll have seen from a key forward, he marks and outbodies and crashes packs and has a thirst for the contest. The Suns will have to match a very early bid for Walter, who is the leading key position player in the pool.


There isn't a draftee I've enjoyed watching over the years as much as Watson, who lights up games with his skills and lights up faces of fans. He will continue to do that at the next level. We dubbed him 'The Wizard' for a reason – Watson is a special small forward who can jump and take big marks, who is elite at ground level, who has brilliant finishing skills and who can produce moment after moment of trickery. At 170cm, Watson's size is there for all to see, but he has always been a smaller player in his junior footy and it hasn't held him back. This season he has also played across half-back and through the midfield for the Eastern Ranges, but he kicked 14 goals for Vic Metro in the championships – the most of any player – and will be picked as an electric small forward.


McKercher ticks all the boxes as a premium midfielder in this year's draft crop. He's a terrific left-foot kick, he's consistent, plays well in big games, has a turn of speed and sets up the game. The Zach Merrett comparisons are well applied to McKercher, who took things up a notch for the Allies, where he proved himself as the best outright midfielder in the draft, averaging 33 disposals in their four games, including a mammoth 40-disposal performance against Western Australia. He closed his carnival with 32 disposals and two crucial goals in the Allies' title-winning game against Vic Country. He went back to play with Tasmania in the Coates Talent League last weekend and kicked 2.3 from 41 disposals, including a brilliant running goal.


As the year has gone on, Curtin has shown more and more of his capabilities as a prospect. Used predominantly as a marking key defender last year, from where he was named best afield in the Grand Final under-17s game at the MCG, Curtin has spent some time in that role again this year, including taking on Jed Walter in Western Australia's clash with the Allies during the championships. But it has been Curtin's midfield work that has really caught the eye. He finished the carnival with 23 disposals (and a terrific goal) against Vic Country and then 27 touches and eight clearances against Vic Metro. Curtin's athleticism, size and versatility makes him an appealing talent.


Duursma had his standout game for Vic Country in the final outing of the championships, gathering 22 disposals, 10 marks and booting 4.2 against Vic Metro in a best-afield showing. It came after he had spent the majority of the previous three games in a midfield role and was a strong reminder of his polish. There's a unique blend to Duursma's game that makes him one of the most talented in the draft crop. He can fly in front of packs and take marks, he kicks goals (last year he booted 31 goals for Gippsland and this year he's kicked 13 from 10 games), he is a taller midfielder and has penetration to his game. He's also got the layer of class that separates him from others.


Caddy has done some very exciting and eye-catching things this season, firstly playing as a marking and long-kicking key forward and then at stages as a powerful clearance midfielder. He overcame a broken leg earlier in the season to return to form with the Northern Knights, where he's kicked 15 goals from four games, including a recent six-goal haul against Bendigo from 25 disposals and nine marks. In his previous outing for them, he lined up at centre bounces and used his strength and size to be a commanding presence while also finishing with four goals from 21 disposals. Illness saw him miss Vic Metro's first game of the carnival but he finished with six goals from three games.


Another of Gold Coast's group of promising Academy products, Read has a very nice mix of traits for a player his size. The 200cm ruckman can jump and impact in the air but also has the mobility of smaller types, is able to pick the ball up at his toes and shoot off handballs, has very good kicking skills and can float forward to hit the scoreboard as well. He trained with the Suns' AFL side in the pre-season and didn't look out of place and has proven he can find the ball – he averaged 20 disposals for the Suns in their Coates Talent League stint at the start of the season.


A ball magnet with hurt factor. Sanders has barely put a foot wrong in an ultra-consistent under-18s season that saw him play a huge role in the Allies' title win and claim the Larke Medal as the best player in the carnival. Sanders has his socks pulled up and has a gait similar to Jason Horne-Francis, and some of his powerful bursts from stoppage carry a likeness to the Port Adelaide star as well. From Tasmania but studying at Melbourne Grammar, Sanders played the first three games of the Coates Talent League with the Sandringham Dragons, where he averaged 32 disposals and a goal. With a stronger frame, he uses his hands to be clean and collect the ball while also making the play, with his 39-disposal game against Western Australia his standout showing, which included a run and bounce goal from a centre clearance.

Ryley Sanders during the U18 National Championships double header on July 9, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

O'Sullivan's capacity to play in different spots enhances his draft stocks, but it was his settling into the centre half-back role for the Allies that solidified him as a top-10 chance. The 18-year-old, who had played as a midfielder earlier in the year with the Bushrangers, was an intercept machine during the championships, including against Western Australia when he gathered 21 disposals and took 10 marks in an impressive aerial display. Sits as one of the leading key backs of the group and was named the Allies' MVP.


For a smaller player, Rogers packs a punch. He's able to be thrown into a range of positions but is most at home as a busy midfielder who is clean with his hands and neat by foot. Rogers has been terrific all season, a consistent operator who averaged 25 disposals for the Suns in the Coates Talent League and also was a standout for the AFL Academy in its pair of games against senior opposition earlier in the year. Another member of the Gold Coast Academy who could attract a top-15 bid, Rogers finished his Allies championships with 22 disposals, eight inside-50s, six tackles and five clearances against Vic Country.


Wilson brings a couple of different traits to the fore as a potential first-round selection. He has genuine speed and endurance, has a spring in the air, takes marks inside 50 and hits the scoreboard. Wilson started the season strongly as a goalkicking midfielder for the Murray Bushrangers, including two games of three goals and 20-plus disposals in the first three rounds, but played a fair portion of Vic Country's championships as a medium forward. He was a consistent goalkicker at national level as well, booting two goals in games against Western Australia, South Australia and the Allies before having 23 disposals against Vic Metro.

Darcy Wilson during the Championships match between Vic Country and Vic Metro on June 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

After grabbing Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (NGA in 2020) and Sam Darcy (father-son in 2021), the Bulldogs have priority access to a third key position player in the first round with Croft, who has quickly crept up draft boards. The son of former Bulldogs defender Matthew, Croft is a fleet-footed tall forward who is agile, quick and efficient with his goalkicking, having booted 14 goals in his past four Coates Talent League games for the Cannons. His best game of the carnival came against South Australia when he kicked 3.2 from 10 disposals.


Edwards got good exposure to the under-18 national level last year as a bottom-ager and this season was the leading ruckman for Western Australia and also the AFL Academy. He went head-to-head with Ethan Read in the WA v Allies clash, where he picked up 11 disposals and had 30 hitouts. He will take time at the next level but his height and mobility gives him weapons. Has ties to Fremantle's Next Generation Academy but the Dockers would only have access after pick 40 under NGA rules and Edwards is expected to have been snapped up by then.

Mitch Edwards during the National Championships match between Western Australia and Vic Country on June 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Hawthorn will have first call on McCabe, the son of former Hawk and current board member Luke, at this year's draft. McCabe is a tall defender who enjoys going for his grabs, intercepting and kickstarting play out of the back half. He has done that at under-18s level for Central District, where he has averaged 22 disposals and six marks a game. He had less of the ball in South Australia's championships, where he played on Jed Walter in the opening game and then missed the second match due to a groin injury.


Murphy is a tall defender in a top part of the draft that doesn't have many of his type. The left-footer takes his grabs and can shut down opponents and has also pinch-hit in the ruck at stages through this season at school level. Murphy played throughout Vic Metro's campaign during the championships, including having 15 disposals and five rebounds against Vic Country last week.

Oliver Murphy during the National Championships match between Vic Metro and WA on July 09, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

With 24 disposals and eight rebound-50s, Roberts finished his championships campaign well on Sunday against Vic Country. The attacking half-back can use the ball from defence, take the game on and enjoys making the play with it in his hands. He averaged 21 disposals across Vic Metro's four games and is given the responsibility to be a distributor on his left side.

Archie Roberts during the National Championships match between South Australia and Vic Metro on June 11, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The rebounding defender has pieced together a strong resume at junior level in recent seasons and this year also jumped up to make his League debut with Swan Districts. He averaged 23 disposals in the colts competition and was also consistent for Western Australia's under-18 side, with his best game coming against Vic Country when he collected 23 disposals, nine marks and eight rebounds. The AFL Academy member is a penetrating left-foot kick and can also duck in front of forwards to be an intercepting player.

Riley Hardeman of the AFL Academy against Port Adelaide on April 15, 2023: Picture: AFL Photos

The promising cricketer – DeMattia ran water for Australia at last year's Boxing Day Test match at the MCG – also has exciting traits on the football field. DeMattia has genuine speed (he runs the 20-metre sprint in 2.94 seconds) and he showed that with his dash during the carnival, particularly in Vic Country's clash with Western Australia. The Country co-captain can play through the midfield and as a half-forward and has hit the scoreboard with Dandenong during the Coates Talent League.

Harry DeMattia during the Coates Talent League match between Dandenong and Eastern Ranges. Picture: AFL Photos

It was a game last month for the Northern Knights that kickstarted Green's rise up the draft board. The ruckman starred that day with 22 disposals, two goals and 18 hitouts, all the while showing off some of his movement and mobility for a taller prospect. Green, who was a member of the AFL Academy program as well, took that confidence into the under-18 championships, where he led Vic Metro's ruck division and performed consistently. He is among a strong group of ruckmen who are shaping as potential top-40 picks this year.

Will Green (left) during a Coates Talent League match on March 25, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos