ANOTHER Rising Star nominee and a debutant booting his first goal, there was plenty to like about the first-year draftees in the AFL on the weekend.
In his side’s loss to Collingwood, Bulldogs defender Ed Richards could certainly hold his head up high. In what was his ninth consecutive senior game for the 2016 premiers, Richards produced what was the best performance of his young career. The speedster collected 23 disposals (including 10 contested at an impressive 74 per cent efficiency), four marks and sent the ball inside 50 on five occasions. The youngster also laid four tackles and had three rebounds in his role across the Western Bulldogs half-back line. In the absence of the retired Matthew Boyd and Robert Murphy, Ed Richards is mounting a strong case to be the club’s next general in defence.
The 2017 top ten draft pick Hunter Clark endured a strong final quarter to see out arguably his best game in the red, black and white of St Kilda. Despite the Saints suffering another loss, this time to Richmond, Hunter managed 17 disposals at 71 per cent efficiency, five marks (including one strong contested grab), four inside 50s, four rebounds and gained 373 metres. Finding 65 per cent of his disposals in the defensive half of the ground, St Kilda clearly value his neat foot skills, run and carry as a rebounding defender. After a somewhat slower start to his career in terms of statistics, Hunter Clark is starting to get his hands on the ball more often as his continues to adjust to life in the AFL.
In his first game of AFL football, Swans half-back flanker Ryley Stoddart ticked off a key box by slotting home his first goal at AFL level last weekend against the Lions. Having re-signed with the club earlier in the month, the smooth-moving Stoddart also managed to tally together nine disposals, two marks and two tackles in Sydney’s 18-point win over the Brisbane Lions at the SCG. Having impressed John Longmire and the Swans coaching staff with his work in the pre-season, look for Stoddart to manage a few more games as the season progresses.
Carlton midfielder Paddy Dow was impressive for Carlton, again managing to get his hands on the ball inside the forward 50, creating opportunities at goal. Unfortunately for him, his two shots lead to two minor scores, however his ability to win the contested ball and accelerate out of the stoppages was on show. Dow collected 18 disposals (seven of which were contested), took six marks, laid six tackles, had two clearances and gained 334 metres in a confidence-building display from the second overall pick from the most recent draft. Dow will continue to be deployed in the Blues midfield as Carlton continue to blood the youth.
Essendon’s mature-age recruit Matt Guelfi also produced his best showing at the level in the Bombers hard-fought victory on the road against the Giants. The 20-year-old former Claremont midfielder was solid all game, spending some time on-ball but finding 80 per cent of his 21 disposals in the defensive half of the at-times smoke covered Spotless Stadium. Guelfi took four uncontested marks and rebounded the ball five times for the game. He laid an impressive five tackles and had 27 pressure acts, proving his defensive pressure in congestion. Given Essendon’s recent resurgence, expect Guelfi to play a part in getting their season back on track. Matthew will look to work on his kicking in future games, ending with a 38 per cent disposal efficiency.
In Melbourne’s thrashing of the Adelaide Crows in Alice Springs, Charlie Spargo was polished and clean in his role as a small forward, managing to push up the ground to find eight of his 14 disposals on the wing. Spargo’s work rate was impressive, working tirelessly up and back, ending the game with a career-high nine marks, all of which were uncontested as the former-Murray Bushranger shrugged off and outran his direct opponents. Each of Spargo’s four tackles were laid inside-50, highlighting his strong defensive pressure. He kicked one goal but had eight score involvements and spent 82 per cent time on the ground, providing his endurance.
Fremantle’s second first-round pick in 2017, Adam Cerra showed another side of his game, laying nine tackles from his outside midfield role, to compliment his classy foot skills. With all-bar-two of his disposals coming in the midfield/wing zones, Cerra collected a total of 15 disposals at 67 per cent disposal efficiency and had 26 pressure acts. Cerra has hardly missed a beat since making his debut in round two. Now having strung together nine consecutive games, the product from the Eastern Ranges is making a very strong impression in his first year at the club.