SOUTH Australia held firm late-on to finish off its national carnival with a 17-point win over the Allies at Marvel Stadium on Wednesday. Michael Alvaro was on hand to note down some of the prominent players, with all notes opinion-based of the individual writer.
#1 Kysaiah Pickett
The exciting Eagles product proved his worth once again after missing SA’s last game through suspension, collecting 22 disposals and booting a goal. While he is an obvious threat at ground level with his pace and clean hands, Pickett also has good spring and competed well above his head when required. He started well with a ground ball get against three opponents in the first term, wheeling away from them and shooting the ball inboard to Callum Park. Despite spending a lot of time up on the wing, Pickett snared a goal deep inside 50 in the second term with an easy finish into the open goal on the run. It always felt like he was about to do something special when near the ball, and he did as much with a high-flying mark on the wing in the same quarter. Was otherwise a pretty typical display from Pickett, zipping around to mop up at ground level and proving a tackling menace at both ends.
#3 Corey Durdin
Was by no means a big game from the bottom-ager in terms of his disposal output (just seven), but he continues to show little bursts of form in a forward role. There isn’t much of him at 173cm, but Durdin cracks in against bigger bodies and tackles hard – boding well for his inside midfield craft. Showed his class with a snapped goal from a forward stoppage in the first quarter, and caught the eye with a clean pick up and spin on defensive wing in the following term. Should enjoy more midfield time in his top-age year.
#7 Dylan Stephens
The classy mover arguably left his best championships performance for last, racking up a game-high 33 disposals – including nine clearances. Stephens worked tirelessly through midfield for SA, winning the ball in all areas of the ground and proving clinical by foot on his left side. He looked dangerous early when breaking forward, getting hand-offs in areas where he could unleash a long-range shot on goal, despite not quite finding them. While a lot of his best work was done when breaking away from congestion, Stephens also showed an ability to win his fair share of inside ball. His typically pin-point kicking was somewhat compensated as he threw the ball on his boot quickly on occasion in those situations, which is a rare area he can polish up on. Much of his game was one of accumulation, but Stephens’ cleverness shone through at times, with a tap over his opponent and gather on the run at defensive 50 proving shrewd, and his agility in traffic outstanding throughout.
#8 Jed McEntee
Looks to have a really nice mix of class and grit, doing some clever things on the outside while digging in desperately to win the ball at ground level. Had more impact than his stats suggest, and first came into the game with a big tackle on the wing in the opening term. McEntee went on to pop up with little bursts of agility through traffic up the ground, while also running hard forward to mark inside 50 on two occasions, but missing both set shots. He made good on that with his involvement in Jackson Mead’s third quarter goal, diving to get a hand on the ball as an opponent looked to pick it up, winning it, standing up to burst through would-be tacklers and flicking out to Kysaiah Pickett, who moved it on to Mead for a terrific team goal from nothing.
#9 Cameron Taheny
Looked dangerous in the opening stages, showing his typically strong hands overhead and darting a neat kick laterally in his first influential play of note. The dangerous forward spent a lot of time up the ground on a wing, but still proved worthy inside attacking 50 with a slow dribbled goal from a turnover in the first term. Tended to opt for a lot of space on the attacking side when matched up on Mitch O’Neill up the ground, and it allowed him to find over half of his 21 disposals uncontested. It clearly worked in his favour as Taheny used his skills and the time afforded to make a couple of darting hit-up passes toward the forward 50 arc in the third term. A good day for the dynamic SA prospect.
#10 Joshua Shute
Shute managed to accumulate 21 disposals as one of SA’s better outside movers on his customary wing. While his running game was not as obvious as in his other carnival outings, Shute showed good pace when called upon and worked hard to penetrate the arcs at either end by foot. Is one whose stocks have risen after some solid representative action, and has noticeable traits as a rangy outsider.
#12 Will Day
Put in another slick display off half-back, building into the game with a purple patch in the second term. Is a good height while being quite light on, but still held up well in contests to add to his more prevalent outside traits. Only had the two rebound 50s but made some typically neat kicks as he won the ball up the ground. Half-backs are dime a dozen, but Day is starting to set himself apart.
#15 Harry Schoenberg
Was arguably one of the biggest improvers across the national championships, finishing off an outstanding carnival with 27 disposals to earn his state’s MVP award and be named All Australian. Plays a more unheralded role given the class of his centre bounce partners, but well and truly did it all from midfield with five marks, five clearances, four tackles, and a goal. That goal came on the run from range in the second term to spark South Australia’s dominance, and Schoenberg enjoyed a short game of kick to kick with Will Day later in the quarter to pad his stats. He almost snared another goal on the fly in the third term but missed, but just seems to win the ball wherever he goes. Hands out and kicks forward well, making him a rounded midfield prospect.
#18 Jackson Mead
Another strong showing from the potential Port Adelaide father-son, and he started beautifully with a couple of spearing hits through the corridor to find teammates leading up to the forward 50 arc. Mead would go on to rack up the ball well and continued to push forward in damaging fashion on the outside when allowed the time and space. Showed a bit of cheek to throw the ball at his opponent as he was shoved out of bounds, and capped a solid game with his neat checkside goal in the third term. Mead used his frame to win the ball between the arcs, but bit off a bit too much when moving through congestion as he was caught holding the ball just before his goal. Rightly earned All Australian honours, but Port fans will want to keep that on the down-low.
#19 Luke Edwards
One of few bottom-agers in the SA squad but was again impressive in spurts, making him a leading father-son prospect (Adelaide) for next year. Found a spot in the back six throughout the carnival, but will become a good midfielder in time with his clean hands and strong frame. Edwards had a shaky moment early with a pretty bad turnover by foot on defensive wing, but would make amends later in the game with some clean gathers off the deck and improved composure inside defensive 50 as the game wore on. Also had a nice bit of play when recovering from a spilt mark, putting in a quick first few steps to get away from danger. Has a handy bit of versatility and will have impressed many.
#20 Lachlan McNeil
Another less heralded midfielder pre-championships, McNeil was again one of his side’s leading ball winners as a hard-working cog on the inside of SA’s engine room. His impact is not always noticeable, but McNeil’s touches and tackles at the stoppages proved vital in allowing the likes of Stephens to work the ball forward in space. Can work on polishing up his disposal at times, shown by a kick and handball under pressure in the final term, but is a great role player in the midfield mix.
#24 Will Gould
The two-time All Australian defender is an absolute unit, and used his frame to good effect throughout the game. You just always feel nervous for his opponents as he closes in, exemplified best as he threw his body around early and laid a crunching bump on the much smaller Errol Gulden later in the third term, who he has 30kg on. On top of his physicality, Gould is also surprisingly damaging by foot – playing as one of SA’s designated kickers from defence. Given his ability to stand up in tackles, Gould is often cool in a crisis and has the confidence to take the game on by playing on from kick-ins. He did so in the second term, and got busy in the following quarter inside defensive 50 with some neat touches to keep his side composed. He hits the ball hard from that centre half-back position, and that boded well for his 10 rebound 50s from 25 disposals. His ability to play tall became obvious with a couple of marking efforts from the side too, and he looks a dynamic prospect.
#33 Dyson Hilder
Was swung forward in this game and while Hilder did not find whole lot of the ball (eight disposals, two marks), he still had some nice moments with efforts in the air. He was unlucky not to claim a couple more marks in the second term, flying well for one on the forward 50 arc and having one taken away from him with a free kick inside 50. He did manage to hold on for a mark in the final quarter among a decent pack, booting his only goal for the game with the resultant set shot. Enjoyed a promising carnival, formerly forming a solid partnership with Karl Finlay down back.
#35 Karl Finlay
Assumed his usual role as the leading key defender for SA, and did so to great effect to be one of his side’s best in the first half. Only had the four marks from his 11 disposals but it seemed like he had more, starting with a strong take going back on the defensive arc. Finlay followed it up with a couple of spoils in aerial contests in defence and up on the wing, putting in similar efforts in the second quarter. His attack on the ball and consequential rebound on the fly was excellent for a player of his size, and he could be that intercepting defender at the next level – rather than a key position back.
#1 Errol Gulden
The bottom-aged Sydney Academy member was again impressive, buzzing around the forward half and proving damaging as he wheeled craftily onto his left side. He started in ideal fashion with a well-read crumb off hands inside 50 and clinical finish for his side’s first and only goal in the opening term. While his spearing passes on the left look good when they come off, Gulden has a tendency to look for those low-percentage kicks across the 50 arc and did turn one over in this game. Can pick his shots better, but is so damaging when he hits them and you would not want to smother his natural talent. Finished with 14 disposals (12 uncontested).
#2 Hewago Paul Oea
The Papua New Guinea-born forward made his usual impact, but also did well to find more disposals than his carnival average (15). His defensive pressure and damage on the outside was terrific, while also flicking out effective handballs when under a touch more pressure. Better known as ‘Ace’, much of the Suns Academy member’s best work was done over the back when streaming forward, sending the ball inside 50 on five occasions and finding Noah Cumberland well to supply him with one of his two goals.
#3 Connor Budarick
Named All Australian in the back pocket, Budarick’s Academy Series MVP award was largely earned for his work through the midfield, and his handball-heavy 21 disposals ensured a solid end to his national carnival. The Suns Academy skipper continued to do the dirty work as the anchor at centre bounces, laying eight tackles and winning over half of his possessions in contested situations despite only standing at 175cm. He is all heart, but has the speed and finishing qualities up forward to make him even more desirable for the Suns. Found the goals with the first major of the second half after cleaning up from Tom Griffiths’ tackle on Will Gould.
#4 Malcolm Rosas Jnr
Rosas continued his electric end to the national championships, combining harmoniously with the Allies’ brigade of zippy smalls to give the opposition defenders headaches. While there is not much of him, the Darwin product has a good knack of prizing the ball free with opponents around, but works even better in space and has the speed to find it. Was one of the more influential Allies with his 15 disposals and three inside 50s, and could have had an even better game with better finishing. Still managed to post two goals after his first-half woes in front of the big sticks and offers some real silk forward of centre.
#9 Mitch O’Neill
The hard-nosed Tasmanian earned second All Australian honours with another solid outing, collecting a respectable 16 disposals on the wing. He often started with a fair bit of separation from his opponent when the centre bounces went up, and it showed as he found a touch more uncontested ball than usual. Did not have as profound an impact as he has shown he can over the last two games with his role on the outer of midfield, but always manages to attract the ball and works hard both ways to help out his defenders and provide for forwards.
#12 Ashton Crossley
The Lions Academy member is a contested ball beast, complimenting fellow big-bodied midfielder Tom Green well at the stoppages to have arguably his best game for the carnival. Is a handball-happy kind of player in his extraction role, and that was no different in this game with his 16 handballs from 22 disposals – with six clearances to boot. Played his role well and provided a physical edge, but can work on polishing up his disposal and running game.
#16 Ben Jungfer
Another inside type in the Allies midfield, Jungfer was slightly down on his usual disposal output with 10. Still fulfilled his role of prizing the ball free and winning it at the coalface, with eight of his possessions contested and three of them ending in clearances. Just gets the ball going forward when allowed to throw it on the boot, and got it moving inside 50 when he could.
#20 Matt McGrory
Was one who stepped up in patches and looked to have built into the game nicely after a relatively quiet opening. Is usually employed out on the wing, but had a couple of good moments under pressure with kicks going inside 50 and showed glimpses of his class that had been more few and far between in previous outings. Showed some promise with his 14 disposals and consolation goal in the final term.
#22 Tom Green
Again led the way for his side as their leading ball-winner (23 disposals, 18 contested possessions, six clearances), bossing stoppage proceedings but having less impact around the ground than he did in his previous outing. Used his big frame to stand up in tackles and keep the ball alive in typical fashion, while laying seven of his own on South Australia’s nippier midfield types. Rightly earned All Australian honours and pushed his case well for top 10 selection come the end of the year as the pool’s leading inside midfielder.
#46 Noah Cumberland
Cumberland just continues to get better and found form at the right time during the carnival. Loves to kick long down the line and get his side going with some rugby-like dash, but was caught out for running too far early on as he tucked the ball under his arm. While he shows moments of his rawness, Cumberland also proved classy with his two goals, and particularly with his nicely weighted set shot in the third term. Had 18 impactful disposals, four tackles and four inside 50s as one of his side’s best. Will be an interesting prospect for the Lions to consider going forward.