Queenslanders in the AFL – 2023 preview

By Peter Blucher

Thirty years less 12 days ago today three young men from different parts of Australia, all sharing the same football dream, came together to ‘write’ the previous to a beautiful moment in Queensland football history.

It was Saturday afternoon, 27 March, 1993, when the Brisbane Bears played North Melbourne at the MCG. Playing together for the first time was an Adrian Fletcher (23), Marcus Ashcroft (21) and Darryl White (19).

Fletcher, originally from Tasmania and initially an AFL player at Geelong (1989-91) and St. Kilda (1992), played his first game for Brisbane. It was his 46th game overall as Ashcroft, born in Victoria but a Queenslander from age three, played his 63rd game and White, a Northern Territorian from Alice Springs, played his 23rd game.

Today, Fletcher, Ashcroft and White share the enormous pride of being new AFL fathers as their sons Jaspa, Will and Darryl Jnr look forward to their first season in the AFL with the Brisbane Lions.

Ashcroft will debut for the Lions against Port Adelaide in Adelaide on Saturday afternoon, becoming the first all-Brisbane father/son player after a football apprenticeship like none before.

Fletcher and McDowell-White, who also carries the name of his mother Bianca, will bide their time at VFL level as the AFL season gets under way, but despite pre-season injury niggles already have done enough to have Lions insiders expecting good things down the track.

And one day, like their fathers, they will look forward to playing together in a repeat of what was a huge day for the Bears/Lions – and not just because of the Ashcroft-Fletcher-White connection.

It was also the AFL debut of young Bears Nathan Buckley (20), Justin Leppitsch (17), Nathan Chapman (17) and Matthew Clarke (19), and the seventh game for a 17-year-old Michael Voss.

That North won 24-22 (166) to 22-11 (143), thanks heavily to eight goals and three Brownlow Medal votes from full forward and now Sydney coach John Longmire, is now irrelevant. But the combined legacy of the Bears side that day lives on.

Ashcroft, Fletcher and McDowell-White, whose brother Will has been a star as the starting point guard with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL grand final series that finished Wednesday night, are three of four newcomers to the Queensland AFL ‘family’ this year.

They join Sunshine Coaster Shadeau Brain, a Lions Academy graduate from Noosa, among 33 Queenslanders spread across 11 clubs looking forward to the start of the 2023 Toyota AFL premiership.

The four newcomers to take 13 the number of Queenslanders on the Lions list.

Gold Coast talent Bodhi Uwland will also make his AFL debut this weekend for the SUNS’ season opener against Sydney Swans at Heritage Bank Stadium Saturday night.

Uwland has been a lifelong SUNS fan and started his footy journey on the Gold Coast with the Burleigh Bombers, first pulling on the red and black Guernsey from Under 6s, before joining the Broadbeach Cats as part of their QAFL squad.

Looking forward to a third chance at the elite level at Fremantle after is Corey Wagner, grandson of Queensland Football Hall of Famer Gary Wagner.

A veteran of eight games at North Melbourne (2016-17) and 11 games at Melbourne (2019-20), Wagner, 26 next week (23 March), earned a fresh opportunity after some stellar form with VFL club Port Melbourne.

Having played primarily up forward in his past AFL stints, Wagner found a new lease of life as a rebounding half back flanker at Port Melbourne and was drafted at pick #57 by the Dockers last November.

He made an immediate impression, and until a hamstring injury last month, had been slotted in to play for the Dockers in Round 1.

Also looking forward to a new challenge at a new club is Jack Bowes, a Cairns junior turned Gold Coast SUNS top 10 draft pick who finds himself at Geelong after 83 games at the Suns from 2017-22.

He was big news over the summer, off-loaded by the SUNS as part of a massive salary dump and effectively joining the Cats with the prized #7 pick in the 2002 draft in exchange for Geelong’s third-round pick in the 2023 draft.

Bowes has won lavish praise from Cats coach Chris Scott and is tipped to debut in the blue and white hoops in Friday night’s MCG blockbuster against Collingwood.

The other Queenslander wearing different colours this year is ex-Aspley speedster Oskar Baker, who, after being delisted by Melbourne, was snapped up as a supplementary selection by the Western Bulldogs.

Having played 15 games in five years at Melbourne, but none since mid-2021, he too has won good early praise at his new club and is tipped to play for the Bulldogs against his former club in another massive game at the MCG on Saturday night.

Queenslanders listed with AFL clubs in 2023:

Adelaide (2): Elliot Himmelberg, Ben Keays
Brisbane: (13) Harris Andrews, Will Ashcroft, Shadeau Brain, Charlie Cameron, Blake Coleman, Keidean Coleman, Jaspa Fletcher, Tom Fullarton, Eric Hipwood, Darryl McDowell-White, Carter Michael, Jack Payne, Dayne Zorko
Fremantle (1): Corey Wagner
Geelong (1): Jack Bowes
Gold Coast (7): Connor Buderick, Mabior Chol, Alex Davies, Caleb Graham, Alex Sexton, Bodhi Uwland, Lachie Weller
GWS (2): Lachie Keeffe, Brayden Preuss
North Melbourne (1): Bailey Scott
Port Adelaide (2): Aliir Aliir, Charlie Dixon
Richmond (2): Noah Cumberland, Ryan Samson
Sydney (1): Tom Hickey
Western Bulldogs
(1): Oskar Baker

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