A turnkey key defender who was at the peak of his powers before choosing not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the end-of-season market for Liam Jones could be bigger than you could to expect.
Jones was coming off a best season at Carlton when he decided to retire, rather than get the vaccination.
Now, with the mandates relaxed, Jones will be allowed to enter an AFL side in 2023 and there is no shortage of need for his services.
We went through all 17 teams (excluding Carlton, who ruled out the 31-year-old being taken over again) and ranked them by how much they would benefit from adding Jones for 2023.
The lingering question will be whether the Blues deserve some sort of compensation given the unique circumstances.
From 17 (least) to 1 (most), here are our rankings:
17. West Coast
The Eagles have Tom Barrass in his prime, they have an experienced key defender in Jeremy McGovern and a few younger options in Harry Edwards and Rhett Bazzo.
Given where they are and the composition of their list, they don’t need Liam Jones.
Of course, when you’re in the premiership window, it’s always great to add depth. But the Dees have needs on the other side of the ground and must also find support for Max Gawn, especially if Luke Jackson leaves.
Their backline is fine.
As above actually. Freo’s focus should be on acquiring Jackson and strengthening their key positions. They have more significant defensive draft than they currently know what to do.
14. Gold Coast
The Suns already have a strong defensive core with Sam Collins and Charlie Ballard. They have depth with Rory Thompson and Caleb Graham. Even Levi Casboult can swing back when needed.
13. North Melbourne
As on the West Coast, the Roos probably don’t feel like splashing on an upcoming 32-year-old key defender. The difference is that in theory they could benefit from having someone pressure Ben McKay for a few years.
However, they won’t.
Sydney has the McCartin brothers, a veteran already on Dane Rampe and a few depth options as well. Pass.
Given where the Hawks are, plus the fact that their backline is already pretty solid, they don’t have to think too hard about Liam Jones.
Like the contenders above, the Lions have sorted their main defensive stocks with Harris Andrews, Darcy Gardiner and Marcus Adams. Injuries have exposed their depth and Adams has been injury prone throughout his career though, so they sit a little higher.
The Tigers’ place on this list kind of depends on Robbie Tarrant and whether he goes around again. If he doesn’t, can the Tigers think of another short-term option? Josh Gibcus looks like a future star and the rest of their backline is as solid as they come.
8. GWS Giants
With Phil Davis seemingly at the end of his career, the Giants could use a ready-made short-term option to mate alongside Sam Taylor. Lachie Keeffe’s handy draft and other options on their list are young and raw. But they’re not chasing the premiership, so they probably won’t be thinking short term.
Can you win a flag if your primary key defender is as raw as Sam De Koning? The advantage is obvious, but would the Cats bite the bullet and add Jones to give De Koning some help? Considering they’ve rarely used Mark Blicavs in defense this season, it makes sense (on paper).
6. St Kilda
Dougal Howard is a reliable key defender and Callum Wilkie has had an excellent season against bigger opponents, but the Saints would benefit from adding Jones and building a defensive core from that trio. Josh Battle has had a good season, but is also not a good fit for the big forwards.
Adelaide is in the process of rebuilding, but unlike the Eagles and Roos they can’t really afford to sit around and let players like Jordon Butts and Nick Murray take all the bullets. They must be better in 2023 or the pressure will increase. Jones could give them a reliable defensive buffer.
Fischer McAsey hasn’t come by yet, Billy Frampton has had a few shots in defense and we haven’t seen much of Josh Worrell.
Collingwood without Darcy Moore vs North Melbourne was a little eye opening. Suddenly, Jeremy Howe and Nathan Murphy were playing key primary positions and they were just too small. Jordan Roughead is retired and Charlie Dean and Will Kelly aren’t ready yet.
Jones would make a lot of sense for the Pies.
3. Port Adelaide
The Power feels underpowered in defence, with the 194cm tall Aliir Aliir their biggest defender. Adding Jones and taking the pressure off Aliir, Tom Clurey and Tom Jonas would make a lot of sense, especially if they still believe they can take on the challenge in 2023-2024.
Jayden Laverde has struggled manfully for the past two years, but he is near the top in conceded goals this year. Zach Reid is far from done, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher is equally young and they have moved on from James Stewart.
The Bombers have reportedly already met with Jones, and it makes sense.
1. Western Bulldogs
The Bulldogs shipped inconsistent key-forward Liam Jones to the Blues for a few bits in late 2014. Now, in 2023, they should be desperate to acquire reliable key defender Liam Jones.
Ryan Gardner, Tim O’Brien, Josh Schache, Zaine Cordy… it’s time for the Bulldogs to get serious and enlist Alex Keath’s legitimate help and plug their biggest hole.