NAB League Boys finals action got underway over the weekend and we took a look at those players who received draft combine invitations as well as some bottom-age and 16-year-old prospects who impressed on the big stage. All notes are opinion-based of the individual writer.
Northern Knights vs. Western Jets
By: Ed Pascoe
#5 Josh D’Intinosante
D’Intinosante was a thorn in the side of the Western Jets with his forward craft proving a real handful. His efficiency was impressive considering the windy conditions and his most impressive goal came in the first quarter with a fantastic rove from a stoppage assisted by his teammates trying to lay blocks for the crafty forward. D’Intinosante had good company all day with Morrish Medalist Lucas Rocci manning him most of the game. D’Intinosante finished the game with 13 disposals and five goals with his last game a good reminder to club scouts of what he is capable of up forward.
#11 Ryan Sturgess
Sturgess impressed playing a range of roles where needed, with the versatile player being thrown forward at times when his team had the wind. Sturgess battled hard all day and was courageous to come back onto the ground after limping off late in the game. Sturgess looked best in his normal defensive role attacking the contests and showing good composure when in possession, finishing the game with 16 disposals and five tackles.
#13 Sam Philp
Philp was the standout midfielder for the game with his explosiveness and spread from stoppages really catching the eye. Philp earned a national combine invite with a strong year despite missing Vic Metro selection and he proved why he got that nomination with some eye-catching plays, running the ball out of stoppages and hitting targets by foot. He will not get a stat for it but laid a great block inside forward 50 for his dangerous teammate Josh D’Intinosante in the first quarter, showing that he is a team player and not just out to do the flashy plays. Philp finished the game with 21 disposals and eight tackles.
#23 Nikolas Cox
Cox looked dangerous early on playing as a key forward, making use of the wind and judging the ball in flight to take a nice contested mark, kicking a nice set shot goal in the first quarter. Both his goals came in the first quarter and was moved around the ground more as the game went on to finish the game on the wing. He started the game better than he finished it, showing good composure and movement in the first half but caught holding the ball on multiple occasions in the second half which could come down to biting off more than he could chew. Cox looks a good prospect for the 2020 draft as a taller player that can play a range of roles, finishing with 11 disposals, four marks and two goals.
#1 Lucas Failli
Although small in stature Failli had a big impact on the game with his work through the midfield really impressing. Usually a goal sneak forward, Failli played well in the midfield often winning the ball at ground level and quickly kicking the ball inside 50. He still managed to hit the scoreboard in the third quarter, bobbing up at exactly the right time to kick an easy goal in the square. His clean hands at ground level are often used to snag goals up forward and were used to good effect at stoppages instead. Failli has really shown in the last few weeks that he is more than just an opportunistic forward, finishing the game with 14 disposals, six inside 50s and a goal.
#18 Emerson Jeka
Jeka made the most of his time up forward when his side had the wind, kicking two goals in the second quarter with his bets coming from a nice mark close to goal. Jeka provided a good target for the Jets who had no shortage of talls to go to but Jeka was the one with the most height to potentially expose the Northern Knights’ defence. Jeka was good in the air but did not offer as much when the ball hit the ground, so could be an area to improve on ahead of next week’s big semi-final. Jeka finished the game with 13 disposals and two goals.
#20 Darcy Cassar
Cassar was not able to replicate his big game in defence last week, and although not many of his teammates won a high amount of ball it was still a quiet game by Cassar’s standards. Cassar is one of his team’s better ball users so it would have been good to see him moved up the ground after his quiet first half – hopefully this move can be done if he has another quiet half next week. Cassar finished the game with 11 disposals and four tackles.
Eastern Ranges vs. Sandringham Dragons
By: Ed Pascoe
#7 Lachlan Stapleton
Stapleton typified the brand of football Eastern wanted to play against Sandringham with his attack on both the ball and man setting the tone through the midfield. Stapleton’s brand of football isn’t fancy but it gets the job done, though that didn’t stop him from trying to show some attacking flair which he did with a nice goal on the run in the second quarter. Stapleton finished the game with 18 disposals, 10 tackles and a goal.
#11 Mitch Mellis
Mellis was one of the most important players in Eastern’s engine room, providing the speed and dare with ball in hand that he has made a staple of his game this year. His kicking was rather scrappy at times, but always tried to make up for any mistakes and was always willing to do the one percenters. Mellis showed a good mix winning his own ball but also providing that run on the outside, finishing the game with 21 disposals and three inside 50s.
#13 Jamieson Rossiter
Rossiter was the dominant big man on the ground and has picked a good time of the year to hit some strong form. His first goal was his team’s first, taking a lead up mark and converting the set shot from 45 metres out. His best play was a bone crunching tackle in the second quarter, showing he could influence without ball in hand. He was also strong in the second quarter taking a strong mark on the wing, flying over the pack. Rossiter finished the game with 10 disposals, four marks and four goals.
#20 Connor Downie
Downie is not eligible to be drafted until next year but he has already made a name for himself this year and had another strong performance showcasing his run and dash and willingness to drive the ball forward. Downie showed great composure and intent throughout the game and worked hard up and down the ground. His left foot can really be a weapon when given time and space and he finished the game with 19 disposals and three marks.
#52 Tyler Sonsie
Sonsie did not get a lot of the ball but he bobbed up with goals just when his team needed them. His first goal was something special crumbing a pack 40 metres out on a pocket, running to goal and kicking the ball perfectly with the wind to guide the ball through. It was the best goal for the day and really showed why he is considered such a high talent for the 2021 draft. Earlier that quarter he showed terrific vision, kicking across ground to find a target that took real courage to hit. Sonsie finished the game with two goals from six disposals.
#4 Finn Maginness
Not a lot went right for Hawthorn father-son Maginness, and he had a tough day at the office. Despite not having the impact he would have liked he really worked hard in the last quarter and looked desperate to try and get his team the win. Maginness had an average day unable to get his hands on the ball, and when he did find the footy he did not use it as well as he has shown he can. He got to a point in the last quarter where he just threw himself into contests and tackled hard, finishing the game with 14 disposals and 10 tackles.
#5 Ryan Byrnes
Byrnes was the clear standout through the midfield for Sandringham and as their captain led from the front to do everything he could to win the ball and drive it forward. Byrnes was a hard worker at stoppages, getting to the fall of the ball and bursting away from stoppages. His kicking has been an area to work on this year and it didn’t let him down as he often picked the right options. Byrnes finished the game with 28 disposals, 11 inside 50s and three tackles.
#6 Miles Bergman
Bergman was his team’s most dangerous forward, proving too strong overhead and too slick at ground level. His first goal came from a nice clunk mark before going back to slot the set shot close to goal on a slight angle. His best patch of play came with a quick lay on and kick into the middle of the ground, opening up the play which was something his teammates couldn’t quite pull off all day. His second goal came in the final quarter with a long bomb from past the 50 metre arc, finishing on a high with 13 disposals, seven marks and two goals.
#13 Louis Butler
Butler was the standout defender for his team, winning plenty of the ball and using it very well in the windy conditions. Many players throughout the day struggled with the wind but Butler kept confident with his kicking and kept many kicks low and straight. His rebound from defence was fantastic, though he could have used some more support from his teammates. Butler finished the game with 26 disposals and nine rebounds.
#29 Fischer McAsey
McAsey played more of a loose role down back, often floating around to impact contests with a strong mark or a big spoil. His marking wasn’t as strong as usual but the wind was playing tricks on plenty of players throughout the day. McAsey had a good knack of reading the play and he would have been dominant if it wasn’t for the conditions, which made it hard work for talls. He will look to improve his output next week as he will be incredibly important for Sandringham’s tilt at a flag. McAsey finished the game with 11 disposals and four marks.
Calder Cannons vs. Dandenong Stingrays
By: Ed Pascoe
#1 Daniel Mott
Mott was one of Calder’s standouts through the midfield, winning the ball with ease on both the inside and outside. Mott was rewarded early when he shot up Mason Fletcher nicely inside 50 before being returned the favour further inside 50 where he went on to nail a classy set shot goal. His entries inside 50 were dangerous and he was especially dangerous inside 50 himself kicking a classy goal on the run in the last quarter. Mott finished the game with 23 disposals, seven marks, seven inside 50s and two goals in a complete performance through the midfield.
#8 Sam Ramsay
Ramsay continued his hot form with a big game through the midfield, showcasing his running power both with and without the ball. Ramsay was all class with ball in hand and would often use his long left foot kick to his advantage with some nice kicks inside 50. He kicked his only goal from a nice set shot in the third quarter and would continue to set up other scoring opportunities with his run and spread from the midfield. Ramsay has averaged 31 disposals from his last seven games and this was one of his biggest games with the midfielder finishing with 35 disposals, six marks, six inside 50s and a goal.
#12 Jeremy O’Sullivan
O’Sullivan was a great target up forward, able to get up the ground and take some great marks. O’Sullivan didn’t hit the scoreboard himself but he played a pivotal role up the ground with his marking a real feature, taking two big contested marks in the last quarter that really caught the eye. In general play he looked to move well, showing he had some tricks other than his leading and marking. O’Sullivan finished the game with 20 disposals and eight marks.
#21 Harrison Jones
Despite not hitting the scoreboard Jones still showed why he is one of Calder’s prime prospects for this year’s draft. You can see Jones’s talent when he gets the ball, showing slick and clean skills with ball in hand for a taller player. Jones showed he could also have an impact without the ball with a fantastic chase-down tackle in the last quarter and an occasional stint in the ruck where he would follow up well around the ground. Jones finished the game with 11 disposals, eight tackles and seven hit outs.
#23 Cody Brand
The Essendon NGA prospect in 2020 was recently selected to feature in the U17 Futures game before this year’s AFL Grand Final, and he showed why he was selected with a strong performance in defence playing on the dangerous Sam De Koning for most of the game. Brand was strong and assured in defence, marking and spoiling strongly and showing good composure with ball in hand. Brand even showed some foot candy in the last quarter to prove he is more than just a dour defender. Brand only finished with eight disposals and six rebound 50s but played his role perfectly to keep De Koning goalless.
By: Craig Byrnes
#2 Hayden Young
The potential top five prospect was not as influential behind the ball as we’ve become accustomed to, but still provided those moments that prove why he is so highly rated. He used his body to perfection to win a well fought ground ball on the city wing before hitting a target with ease. Young finds targets in the corridor that others either wouldn’t see or dare to take on, and is rarely made to regret those risks. As Calder gained momentum as the game went on Young found it difficult to find the ball in positions to impact the contest, but still finished with a respectable 19 disposals.
#11 Ned Cahill
Cahill worked hard in the opening three quarters, but struggled to get his hands on the ball as Calder often got first possession through Mott or Ramsay. He often ran without reward offensively and defensively, highlighted by a 100 metre effort from inside 50 to the wing during the first term that was ultimately fruitless. He went to the opening centre bounce of the fourth term and immediately won a long clearance that he kicked inside 50, which sparked a busy period for him. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to change the momentum of the game and Cahill ended with 15 disposals.
#20 Sam De Koning
It was a tough day for the All Australian defender, who could not get into the game forward and fell victim to some average supply throughout. He fought when the ball was in his area, but it rarely fell his way. He made his way back to defence in the final term and looked more comfortable, but the damage was already done by then.
#24 Bigoa Nyuon
Nyuon had some good moments in the ruck and forward for the Stingrays. He didn’t dominate, but you couldn’t question his effort on a difficult day. He had a real crack at the stoppages against a much bigger body in Josh Hotchkin, winning his fair share of hit outs. He was able to expose his opponent once the ball hit the ground, spreading to space to create an option forward or get in intercepting positions. He nearly kicked an outstanding goal on the run in the first term and clunked an impressive intercept mark on the lead in the third. ‘Biggy’ gave away a couple of unnecessary free kicks competing in the ruck, but got on the end of a 50-metre penalty to kick a goal in the second quarter.
#32 Blake Kuipers
The athletic tall started the game well in defence, getting his hands on the ball and was unlucky not to be paid an outstanding contested intercept mark in the first term. But like many of his teammates, as Calder took control he became less of a factor. He certainly didn’t disgrace himself, but the excellent Calder entrances were difficult to counter. Kuipers finished the day in the ruck and collected nine disposals by the final siren.
#50 Lachlan Williams
One of Dandenong’s better performers for the day, Williams started on the wing and was involved from the outset. After a long snapped behind in the first term, he showed his strength in a big tackle, keeping his balance and releasing in a difficult position. He took the game on when the opportunity presented, running to receive the ‘one-two’ from half back before superbly hitting a target at half forward. He proved his speed and carry again later in the game, intercepting a handball and exploding from the contest. I still feel Williams is underrated overhead too, taking a brilliant contested intercept mark in the second term. He moved to defence in the fourth quarter and was serviceable when his team was down and out, finishing the game with 25 disposals.
Gippsland Power vs. Oakleigh Chargers
By: Craig Byrnes
#2 Caleb Serong
A well rested Serong returned to the NAB League for just his third game of the season in the Power colours, after approximately a month off footy to be cherry ripe for finals. He was influential from the start, just missing a set shot in the opening minutes before taking two big contested intercept marks to showcase his aerial strengths. He was super aggressive, asserting his physicality toward Anderson and Rowell whenever the opportunity presented. He went a little far when giving away a free kick off the ball, but immediately got one back after getting in the face of his opponent and drawing a reaction. He was excellent around the stoppages, clean in congestion and used the ball well in space, highlighted by a well placed kick inside to Flanders while on his hot streak. Serong finished with 29 disposals and will be even better next week after the run.
#4 Sam Flanders
Flanders may have produced the best underage half of footy for the season to date, or at the very least the most dynamic 10 minutes of the year. From the eleventh to the twenty-second minute of the second quarter, Flanders completely took control of the game and at the time it did not look like anything was going to stop him. He kicked four goals during this period to give Gippsland a huge advantage going into half-time, highlighted by brilliant body work, positioning and quality kicking. He was excellent through the midfield too, constantly winning first possession and providing explosive clearances. He went into the main break with crazy numbers, 18 disposals and four goals. Unfortunately he was reported immediately after the break and wasn’t able to get near the heights of the first two quarters, which was not helped by the rain arriving when Gippsland were kicking home with the breeze. Still, it was a brilliant 27 possession performance despite Power not being able to take advantage of his earlier heroics.
#6 Riley Baldi
Baldi started the game at the opening centre bounce, but wasn’t his usual prolific self as he spent more time forward to finish with his lowest disposal tally (14) of the season. He still had an impact though, winning the heavy footy when required against the likes of Rowell and Anderson. Baldi’s stoppage nous is as good as any, protecting the ball with smart body positioning and getting in the drop areas first. He kicked a clutch goal in the final quarter just before the rain arrived which appeared to be an important moment at the time before Oakleigh’s bigger bodies took hold.
#10 Leo Connolly
Connolly is improving with every game he plays in 2019 and appears to be gaining confidence with every touch too. He is a genuine elite user of the pill and is becoming a vital cog at half back. The obvious highlight was his thumping goal from outside 50 in the second term that sparked the Gippsland goal flurry before half time. He had some excellent contested moments to balance out the carry and skills nicely, using smart body work to take a great intercept mark in the second term. He finished with 23 disposals and a match high 11 rebound 50s. Connolly is in form at the right time of the year and giving recruiters plenty to think about.
#15 Ryan Sparkes
Starting on the wing, it wasn’t Sparkes’ busiest day with the ball, but he still managed to find it on 15 occasions. The play often bypassed his area, but he put his body on the line when required. He had an awkward aerial ball to contest on the wing in the second term and despite being completely out of position, he went back with the flight and impacted the drop. Expect him to bounce back with big numbers next week.
#16 Josh Smith
Smith struggled to have an impact forward, but made his physical presence known in the ruck against Nick Bryan in the absence of Charlie Comben. He was the relief for Zach Reid, but threw his body around and made it tough for Bryan to have an impact at the stoppages. Smith helped out his defenders when he could too, getting back to take a well-read intercept in the third term before competing again shortly after in the defensive 50 to spoil a dangerous entry. Smith will benefit with the return of Comben next week.
#19 Fraser Phillips
Phillips was in and out of the game, but constantly created anxiety when the ball went in his area. A brilliantly read crumb in the second quarter saw him convert his first for the day during Power’s purple patch. His best goal would come in the third term when he competed for an aerial ball and kept his feet to gather the ground ball, before swinging onto that lovely left foot to kick an important goal. He has serious goal sense and naturally knows how to get in scoring positions. While he may take time, I am looking forward to seeing what he can produce at the elite level.
#37 Harrison Pepper
The Hawthorn NGA prospect had some excellent moments in defence and perhaps some others he would like to have back, but was solid overall. While there was the occasional fumble under pressure, he won some important ground balls and rebounded the ball out of dangerous positions on numerous occasions. His highlight came in the third term when he held Matt Rowell in a physical tackle to earn a holding the ball free kick, a feat only few can boast to have achieved. Pepper finished with 14 disposals and five rebounds from the defensive arc.
By: Ed Pascoe
#4 Nick Bryan
Bryan was expected to win the hit outs easily against bottom age key defender Zach Reid coming into the game and though he did so, the Gippsland midfielders did a good job of reading Bryan’s taps throughout the game. His tap work is great which makes it more dangerous when the opposition can also rove it. Bryan looked good around the ground with his use by hand just as good as most midfielders, finishing the game with 13 disposals and 30 hitouts.
#5 Trent Bianco
Bianco was all class down back, playing his usual role sweeping and causing damage by foot both on his left and right. Bianco was a consistent player down back providing good rebound and using the ball well as usual, the rain hit in the last quarter and Bianco got some time on the wing, making the most of his time up the ground. Kicked a classy goal on the run in the wet conditions showing his talent in any weather condition, finishing the game with 24 disposals and one goal.
#8 Noah Anderson
Anderson did not have his usual output, with the talented midfielder usually a dangerous threat going forward. The Gippsland side did a great job of nullifying Anderson’s influence to get forward and hit the scoreboard. Anderson was later moved forward to give Oakleigh the dynamic they needed in the third quarter but still could not quite hit the scoreboard. Anderson still looked good with ball in hand and looked composed and clean whenever he was around the ball, finishing the game with 29 disposals and four tackles.
#9 Will Phillips
Phillips was fantastic in Oakleigh’s strong start to the game, seeing the bottom age midfielder show some good clean hands in transition and getting involved in a number of plays going forward. Mostly playing on the wing he had no issues winning the ball with his smart running and willingness to also get in and win his own ball. Phillips kicked a nice goal in the third quarter showing some dash and getting back the handball to snap on the run. Phillips finished the game with 29 disposals, six inside 50s and a goal.
#11 Matt Rowell
The incredibly consistent Rowell was again a force that couldn’t be stopped through the midfield, and despite a slow start it was his desire and drive that really turned the game back in Oakleigh’s favour in the second half. Rowell was targeted by the opposition, copping some big tackles and blocks and made to earn a lot of his possessions through the midfield. When he did he would usually still get a handball out, proving he is as hard a worker on the outside as well as working into space to show off his great running power. Rowell finished the game with 29 disposals and eight tackles.
#25 Jamara Ugle-Hagan
Ugle-Hagan was the dominant key position player on the ground, proving a real handful with the clean ball movement of Oakleigh particularly early on. His lead up marking was superb with every one sticking and he kicked two nice goals and even passed another off unselfishly. He would show again he wasn’t just a lead up and mark player with a great chase down tackle in the last quarter, converting the set shot to reward his effort. The bottom age talent could have had an even bigger day if he had kicked straight, going on to collect 13 disposals, six marks and kicking 3.3 with a few kicks going out on the full as well.
#73 Cooper Sharman
Sharman had one of his quieter games for the year especially in front of goal but he still had some good moments. His best movement came with a quick thinking handball over the top of his head that lead to a goal in the first quarter. His most productive quarter was his final quarter in the wet weather, moved back in the last five minutes. He took some telling marks that showed he could have some versatility to play both forward and back. Sharman finished the game with 13 disposals and six marks.