The Zebras' 2023 season was filled with many highlights and exciting moments, and as we head into our Best and Fairest later this week, we decided to preview some of the favourites for the award.
Campbell takes a mark against Essendon
AFL-listed Tom Campbell was a monster in the ruck, amassing 394 hit-outs at an average of 28.1 per game to finish eighth across the entire Smithy’s VFL competition. He also got a lot of the ball, averaging 17.4 disposals per game and chiming in with a goal every now and then to finish with five.
Campbell’s leadership was vital for the Zebras and was on show each and every time he played. He is a great role model for the younger players coming through and they often question him on what it takes to be a professional athlete.
Having won this award last year, Campbell knows what it takes to deliver on the big stage and play consistent football all season long. He would be a deserving back-to-back winner if he was to take home the award on Saturday night.
Noah Gown in Pat's Match
Noah Gown has had an excellent 2023 season, leading our goal kicking with 21 majors, and averaging 3.4 marks per game. It’s this presence up forward that his teammates and coaches love, because if he isn’t clunking them, he is bringing the ball to ground for our small forwards to finish off the work.
Consistency is a hallmark of Gown’s game, evident through playing 17 out of 18 games this season and kicking two or more majors in six of those. Those performances also included two games of three goals against Essendon and Frankston.
Moreover, Gown took five or more marks on six occasions, including a season high eight against Carlton, emphasising his importance in aerial contests in the forward half.
Having been our main target up forward and leading goal kicker, Noah would be a worthy winner of the Best and Fairest.
Hipwell kicks a goal against Gold Coast
The Zebras' Vice-Captain for 2023, Darby Hipwell often proved a handful for the opposition wherever he played. Averaging a touch under 20 disposals per game as well as kicking nine goals, Hipwell was always involved.
A player who thrives for the contest, Hipwell also averaged 4.2 tackles per game and would never shy away from a bit of contact. He had three games with eight or more tackles, including a season high nine in round four.
A former Sandringham Dragons player, Hipwell has already taken out a couple of awards in his short time at the Zebras. They include Best First Year Player in 2022, alongside the Most Determined Player, and he has continued on from this to take his game to the next level in 2023.
After finishing fourth in last year’s Best and Fairest count, Hipwell will be aiming to claim another award later this week in the form of the Neil Bencraft Best and Fairest.
Moose flying high
AFL-listed Max ‘Moose’ Heath has become a cult figure during his time at Sandringham and is loved by both fans and teammates. Moose played predominately in the forward line, as well as assisting Tom Campbell in the ruck and even becoming the sole ruckman in a number of matches. Booting 20 majors this season, he demonstrated how dominant he can be up forward, proven by his haul of five against Essendon in round two.
Additionally, Heath averaged 17.3 hit-outs per game, but it was his follow up work around the ground that impressed the coaches the most. He averaged 3.2 tackles and 3.6 marks per game, proving that his work rate was brilliant all season long.
Having played all 18 games this season, Heath showed his versatility and commitment to the team to come out and deliver for the Zebras as such a young player. If Heath was to take home the Best and Fairest on Saturday night, I don’t think anyone would be surprised.
Highmore gets a kick against Gold Coast
A pillar down back, AFL-listed Tom Highmore was a player that the coaches could rely on week in, week out. He regularly set the tone and standards down back and was someone that teammates could follow on field.
Highmore played 16 games this season, displaying his aerial prowess to average 6.8 marks per game, on top of 22.3 disposals.
He started the season in fine form, with 32 touches, including 26 kicks, and 5 marks in round one against Southport, and he managed to accumulate 20+ disposals and 5+ marks in the same game on eight occasions.
He had a season high 13 marks in round 12 to go along with 28 possessions, and he even managed to kick an unlikely goal in round four.
After securing a top ten finish in the Best and Fairest last season, Highmore will again be aiming to feature in the pointy end come Saturday night.
Vince Zagari was someone everyone wanted to play with, a selfless teammate who would often sacrifice himself for the benefit of the team. Averaging 14.3 disposals and 9.1 kicks per game, he was a terrific link up player for the Zebras.
Zagari was also never afraid to crack in and lay some tackles, averaging 2.1 per game, including a nine tackle effort against Frankston in round four. He accumulated a season high 25 disposals against Coburg in round 10 in a dominant display, showcasing his elite kicking skills at RSEA Park.
Zagari had nine games of 10+ kicks in 2023, highlighting his importance to the Zebras and their transition game this season.
On Saturday night, many expect Zagari to feature high up in the votes on the back of a terrific season.
Regardless of who is crowned Best & Fairest on Saturday night, the winner will be well deserved.