By: Daniel Kelly

New senior coach Brodie Holland ushers in a new era at Genis Steel Oval with plenty of fresh faces in his 2023 VFL Premiership squad to support a solid core of returnees.

The first opportunity to shine will be the Round 1 match up against Richmond at the Swinburne Centre (Punt Rd), 12pm Sunday March 26.

The game, which matches the new Ants up against fan favourite Mutaz El-Nour who now wears the yellow and black of the Tigers, will be broadcast live on Channel 7.

Co-captains Liam Mackie and Matt King’s leadership group of Jean-Luc Velissaris, Jackson Barling, Ben Hurley, and Matthew Gundry will lead 2022 Bullants Nathan Honey, Sean Martin, Harrison Kennedy, Zac Hart, Kobe Brown, Liam Kolar, Jaden Collins, Ryan Gardner, John Roumeliotis, Ben Nikolovski and Peter Gentile into the new season.

That backbone of established and developing talent has been bolstered by a heavy recruiting campaign by Holland, new general manager Darren Bassett, and recruiter Grant King.

Ruckman Tom Stapleton and midfielder Patrick Fairlie headlined early additions to the team early in the summer. Both bring state league experience from the South Australian National Football League (SANFL).

Height, pace and inside midfield muscle has been the consistent trait in the summer arrivals ever since.

Brandon Ryan, similar to Stapleton, stands at 200cm and will see time in the ruck and forward, and has previous VFL experience with Geelong and Essendon.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” King said in regards to Finnbar Maley’s (197cm) vertical leap which gave Williamstown’s Tom Downie problems all day in a recent practice match. With a strong athletic pedigree in the Maley family, King rates the Eltham and Northern Knights prospect as one to watch.

Feeding off the talls will be a fleet of hard bodied midfielders including Tyson Young, a previous best and fairest winner in the Essendon District Football League, Calder Cannons prospect Paul Pascu, Dylan Clarke, Cam Wild, and Ethan Jackson.

Holland signalled early that the gamestyle he wants to play incorporates fast rebounding off half back.

To support that Saad El-Hawli, Spencer Johnson, and Sam Hayes bring accuracy and pace either side of centre half back options Baker Smith and Daniel O’Dwyer.

Forward craft will be provided by Jake Parente, who topped 70 goals in the Eastern Football Netball League for Mitcham in 2022, Lewis Smith, Will Sexton, Steven Kyriazis, and Zac Morris.

With so many new options for how the team plays, versatility will be important for Holland, Arthur Armstrong (a defender/ruck who was part of the Northern Blues team in 2019), Dylan Laurie (forward/wing), and Ethan Mantas (versatile defender) provide optionality.

The team also looked forward to 2022 squad members Will Richards (midfielder) and Harrison Grace (ruck/forward) returning from injuries to show their potential.

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