AFL 2022: Aaron Francis wants to leave Essendon, Port Adelaide interested in Junior Rioli

Port Adelaide has held talks with want-away Bomber Aaron Francis, but a move from Essendon to Alberton is far from certain. Here’s why.

Where South Australian defender Aaron Francis plays next year remains in limbo despite some interest from Port Adelaide.

The out-of-contract swingman is keen to leave the Bombers after 54 games in seven seasons and has returned to SA to visit family, as well as catch up with his manager.

It is understood Francis, the sixth pick in the 2015 national draft, has spoken to the Power but has not had a medical and there is plenty to play out.

The club’s interest in the 25-year-old is not considered to be strong and it is taking stock where he will fit in its defensive cohort before making a move.

Port Adelaide is also prioritising other players, such as bringing in Josh Dunkley, Junior Rioli and Francis Evans to bolster its small forward ranks and midfield.

That means a waiting game for Francis, who has a little bit of interest from a couple of other clubs.

The West Adelaide product told reporters Adelaide Airport said he was still unsure of his future.

“I’m not sure, I haven’t been offered a contract (at Essendon),” he said.

“So we will see what happens.”

The Power has been seeking another tall defender and one of Francis’s strengths is his intercepting.

Port Adelaide has also talked to his former coach, Ben Rutten, about potentially joining Ken Hinkley’s staff.

The Bombers sacked Rutten last month after a 17-26 win-loss record in two seasons in charge.

Rutten, a South Australian and 229-game ex-Crows defender, is understood to be on the radar of several clubs, including Richmond.

Port add forgotten Cat to wish list

—Matt Turner

A Geelong small forward plucked from relative obscurity three years ago is on Port Adelaide’s radar, as the Power awaits decisions from Josh Dunkley and Junior Rioli.

While the two premiership players weigh up moves to Alberton, Port Adelaide is also targeting out-of-contract Cat Francis Evans to help fill the void left by retirees Steven Motlop and Robbie Gray.

Evans, who played division two amateur football for Brunswick for much of his draft season in 2019 before two games at Calder Cannons, featured five times at AFL level this campaign, taking his career tally to seven.

The 21-year-old goalsneak booted 20 majors and averaged 17.7 disposals in the VFL.

Dunkley, 25, appears more likely to leave the Western Bulldogs than stay, leaving Port Adelaide or Brisbane in the box seat to secure him.

The big-bodied midfielder, whose girlfriend Tippah Dwan plays netball for Adelaide Thunderbirds, is yet to come to SA to meet Power officials.

Port is expecting Dunkley and Rioli to make calls on their futures in the next fortnight.

Earlier this week, it met with ex-Glenelg forward Rioli, 27, in Adelaide.

He has since returned to Perth and is mulling over whether to stay at the Eagles or join the Power on a more lucrative deal.

Dunkley played every match for the Bulldogs this year, averaging 25.4 disposals for the Bulldogs, while Rioli booted 14.3 from 13 games.

The Power also has some interest in 25-year-old South Australian swingman Aaron Francis, who is without a deal at Essendon for 2023.

Francis, the sixth pick in the 2015 draft, played four times at AFL level this season and finished the campaign in the VFL.

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Injuries, mental health battles and indifferent form have restricted him to 54 games.

Although small forwards, midfielders and tall defenders were top of the Power’s shopping list, it might assess the ruck market if Sam Hayes was to depart for more opportunities.

But it expected Scott Lycett to start next season as its No. 1 big man.

Hayes, 23, is contracted until the end of 2023 and has fallen down the pecking order since playing seven games this season due to the arrival of mid-year recruit Brynn Teakle and strong performances from Jeremy Finlayson.

Lycett did not play after suffering a shoulder injury in round 4.

Out-of-contract duo Trent Dumont and Marty Frederick will have to wait until after the trade period to learn if they will receive new deals.

Dumont is understood to be likelier than Frederick to be recontracted.


Simeon Thomas-Wilson

Small forward Junior Rioli had a medical at Port Adelaide and met with key club figures including Ken Hinkley as he closes in on a decision to stay at West Coast or move to the Power.

The 27-year-old was in Adelaide over the weekend and on Monday underwent a medical with the Power.

It is understood Rioli also met with key Power staff, including Hinkley and footy boss Chris Davies.

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The Power are keen on Rioli to bolster their small forward stocks after Robbie Gray retired and Orazio Fantasia was unable to get on the park this year.

The Eagles thought Rioli would sign a new deal with the club, but the Power’s interest has got the gun small forward considering a move away from Perth.

North Melbourne have also registered an interest but it is understood Rioli will either re-sign with the Eagles or move to the Power.

It is expected Rioli will make a decision on his future in the next two weeks.

Rioli is not a free agent and would require a trade to get to Port Adelaide.

He played under Port’s SANFL coach Matthew Lokan at Glenelg and has family in Adelaide.

Rioli joined the Eagles after impressing with Glenelg, and won the premiership in his debut 2018 season, kicking 28 goals in 24 games for West Coast – including one in the grand final win over Collingwood.

When asked if he could see himself at Port Adelaide next year, Rioli said he wanted “to make the most of being in the industry I’m in now” and spoke about how he needed to be comfortable to produce his best footy.

“Hopefully we’ll see how I go,” he told Channel 9.

“See if my manager can look after me. But you know I don’t understand all that, I’m not into the politics side of footy.

“So if I can set myself up for the rest of my life that’s all I want to do.

“I’ve been through too much in the last 18 months. So I just want to make the most of being in the industry I’m in now.”

Rioli also caught up with four-time premiership winner Shaun Burgoyne, who is in an off-field role at the Power.

Rioli said Burgoyne was a good family friend of his.

“He’s got relatives up in Darwin that are close to my family up there,” he said.

“Good to have a chat to him and see a side of Adelaide more from his point of view”.

DAVIES Q&A: Port footy boss reveals trade plans, 2023 expectations

It wasn’t the season Port Adelaide had in mind in 2022.

So how will the Power look to rebound up the ladder after making two preliminary finals before the poor 2022 campaign?

Port Adelaide general manager football Chris Davies tells News Corp what went wrong at the start of the season for the Power, why the club is confident it can rebound quickly, the ruck situation at Alberton, how good Connor Rozee can be, why Ken Hinkley is still the man for Port and what type of player will be targeted in the trade period.

Simeon Thomas-Wilson: How would you sum up the season?

Chris Davies: The reality is, it was a disappointing season where we didn’t meet any of our expectations.

We were pleased with the group’s willingness to fight and scrap back from the 0-5 start, but from that position everything needed to go right for us to end the season in the top eight.

Losing so many of our games by such small margins provided even greater frustration for all


However, we’ve also seen some of our players take significant steps forward. The growth of Todd Marshall, Sam Powell-Pepper and Connor Rozee, who achieved All-Australian selection, were standouts.

STW: How did you end up 0-5?

CD: It’s never due to any one thing, but a number of factors. A narrow Round 1 loss to Brisbane, at the Gabba, was certainly a setback given we were in a winning position and lost a number of players across the night to significant injuries.

A lack of continuity with selection across that next period of time meant we were plugging some gaps in key positions at both ends of the ground and we played some inconsistent football because of it. Our team defence wasn’t at the level it had been at in previous years and our ability to move the ball lacked any sort of efficiency.

We saw our best football challenging our opponents but we weren’t able to sustain it for long

enough to get the results we were craving.

STW: Did lingering effects from the prelim affect the start of your season?

CD: We reviewed the 2021 Preliminary Final at length with our playing group at the end of last season and identified key areas for improvement. We touched on it again when the players returned for the 2022 season. We confronted the disappointment of that game and no one hid from it.

STW: Tom Jonas said after the Showdown to end the season “we saw a similar thing after the 2014 prelim – sometimes you think it is going to happen again”. In your view, did the team maybe get ahead of itself and if so why and if not why not.

CD: I’m sure each individual will reflect on the way that they approached the 2022 season and will make adjustments if they need to.

That’s the challenge of mindset in high-performance sport.

STW: Did you get your pre-season right?

CD: There’s no way anyone can suggest we wouldn’t do things differently with the benefit of hindsight.

The game changed, teams challenged us with their offence and as I’ve mentioned previously, our team defence didn’t stand up to it at the start of the year. So, of course we’d do some things differently.

STW: Why did you have such a poor record against top-eight sides?

CD: Obviously, we weren’t playing well enough to beat those teams consistently. If you want to look a little deeper, four of those losses were against the two best minor round teams in Geelong and Melbourne.

We lost by a couple of kicks to Fremantle in Perth where we had enough opportunities to win and by a goal to Collingwood at the height of their form at the MCG. Statistically, we’ve struggled to be able to score with enough efficiency and potency against the better teams and this is something we must address through our coaching, with the right personnel on the field for us.

STW: What were the major positives of the season?

CD: From a team perspective, to hang in after our 0-5 start talks to the resilience and connection of this group.

It would have been easy for the group to fall apart at that point, but at no stage did this group

show signs of fracturing.

Even after our Round 21 loss to Richmond, I was pleased with the way the group finished off the last two rounds.

From an individual player perspective, we saw some significant growth in Todd Marshall, Sam Powell-Pepper and Connor Rozee. Jase Burgoyne showed he can have a career at AFL level if he continues to develop the way he did. We also saw some good signs in Kane Farrell moving to halfback at the end of the season. It would be easy to forget the significant injury he also came back from.

Todd had a standout season kicking 45 goals, including five games when he kicked four or more goals.

He stood up in Charlie’s absence in the first half of the season and continued his consistent form throughout.

Sam was challenged at the end of last season and he responded emphatically with his most

consistent season ever. He played every game; he’s matured, he’s a father and is very settled which was reflected in the way he played.

STW: How good a player can Connor Rozee be?

CD: We identified Connor as a player we wanted at our club in the lead up to the 2018 Draft.

His form in the midfield is no surprise to us. We played him forward of the ball up until Round 5 to serve a need due to what the coaching group felt was a shortage of forward options at that point.

Since moving into the midfield, he has shown the football world what he is capable of. He can win his own ball, is dangerous on the outside and can push forward to kick goals. He deserved his All-Australian honour but we still think he can get better.

STW: Are you happy with your ruck situation?

CD: The Round 4 season-ending injury to Scott Lycett forced us to rethink our ruck plan moving forward.

Sam Hayes, as a developing ruckman got an opportunity and his strength at the moment is clearly his hitout work. He needs to continue to develop his all-round game because the game is not going to be about hit-outs alone.

We would have liked to have given Brynn Teakle more opportunities but his season was also

impacted by injury.

We continued to look for ways in which the team could get better and Jeremy Finlayson, in

partnership with Charlie Dixon after Round 11, made us change our thinking in regards the ruck position for the remainder of the season.

Jeremy’s strength was clearly at ground level and he effectively became an extra mid for us around the ground. It might not be the way in which we approach the 2023 season, but it was the way in which we felt was the best way to get results in 2022.

STW: What changes need to be made to the footy department?

CD: Inevitably, there will be changes. We’ll assess it over the coming weeks and make what we believe are the right calls in order for us to perform in 2023.

STW What is the internal expectation next season?

CD: We expect a response from the group. We certainly believe we have the ability to turn 2022 around and perform strongly in 2023.

STW: Why does the club think Ken is the right man for the job?

CD: Ken had his contract extended by the club to the end of 2023, in 2020.

We could talk about our club having an impressive record under Ken, comparatively, in the minor round and in winning finals games.

But, when you set out at the start of the year to win the premiership, anything other than the flag sees you leave the year disappointed.

As a group, we didn’t perform to anywhere near our expectations in 2022. But we still believe that Ken is best placed to facilitate an environment which will deliver the uplift in performance that we’re all aspiring to achieve in 2023.

STW: Why are you confident the club is in the premiership window?

CD: We believe in our playing list. From an age perspective we have more than a dozen emerging players aged between 19 and 25 who we believe will help us significantly moving forward. The emergence of Jase Burgoyne as a 19-year old, the upside of 20-year-old’s like Lachie Jones, Jackson Mead, Miles Bergman and Mitch Georgiades and then with players aged 21 to 23 such as Zak Butters, Xavier Duursma, Connor Rozee, Kane Farrell, Willem Drew and Todd Marshall ready to take the next step, we believe we have plenty of growth.

Yes we have lost the genius of Robbie Gray, the experience of Steven Motlop and the outside run of Karl Amon, but we still believe we are in good position to challenge.

STW: Do you feel with Bergman, Duursma, Sinn, Farrell you’ve got ready-made replacements for Amon?

CD: Yes we do. We have confidence in our next crop of young wingers. We’ll need some of these players to take a step forward to replace Karl but we think they have the capacity to do it.

STW: Is a small forward your biggest off-season need?

CD: We’d like to have some more options in the high forward type roles, yes. Some of those options will come from within, but we’ll also look for reinforcements through the trade period and the draft.

STW: What other types of players/positions are highest on your list of targets?

CD: We’ll approach the trade period with an open mind and reassess our list at the end of that before the draft. We go into every trade period wanting to improve our list. We want to add quality but at the same time, we’ll need to address some positional depth in some areas too.

Originally published as AFL 2022: Latest Port Adelaide trade and free agency news AFL 2022: Aaron Francis wants to leave Essendon, Port Adelaide interested in Junior Rioli

Nate Jones

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