REIGNING premiers, Oakleigh Chargers have plenty of bottom-age talent from 2019 that will lead the assault on back-to-back flags, with a host of Next Generation Academy (NGA) and father-son prospects who will create plenty of traction in season 2020. Talent Manager Jy Bond said the club had a lot more bottom-agers last season that usual but it showed the strength of the group and could mean plenty of good signs for the season ahead.
“I think we played 10 or 11 bottom-aged kids last year in the grand final team so you’d expect that they (will) continue to develop and that they will be thereabouts again which bodes for another strong list,” he said. “We were probably a bit bottom-age dominant last year but that’s what you get when you’ve got such talented kids that pushed for selection throughout the year and it means we’ve got a strong top-aged group this year – which is obvious because the kids are a year older. “It’s going to be good, those kids get another year of opportunity and development, a lot of them are in the (AFL Academy) Hub which will mean they’ve got a lot on their plate with our football, school football, and Vic Metro. “But we’re happy with where they’re at and it gives the bottom-age kids from this year a chance to come and learn from those kids so it’s a good situation to be in.”
Not only will the list now be top-age dominated again, but a number of top talents are finished school or not having to juggle their on-field commitments between NAB League and school football. Bond said whilst many top-agers will be available, it was still important to give the bottom-agers chances for sustained development, though the ability to pick between a larger number of players will be a welcome change.
“It’s a different situation to what has happened in the past in our region with a top-age dominated list, and a lot of those kids are out of school which is another change for our region. Sam Tucker and Alex Lukic, they’re both in the Hub and out of school, we’ve got Lochlan Jenkins, Giorgio Varagiannis, Ryan Valentine, it allows us a bit more stability in our list,” he said. “Last year there were rounds where we struggled to find enough kids to play because of school football and the schedule so this year we should have a bit more continuity with our list which will be a bit better for consistency and development of some of these younger kids. “But I’m assuming with those younger kids we’ve got on our list, we’ll definitely play them. “We’ll play as many kids as we can like last year, I think we played probably 70-plus kids last year and part of the program is to develop kids and give them an opportunity so the more kids we can play, the better. “But it’ll be a little bit harder to manage this year with the top-end talent that’s going to be available every week.”
Oakleigh has always had strong top-end talent and 2020 will be no different with familiar names and consistent players from last season likely to lead what is predicted to be another strong draft crop from the Chargers’ perspective. Bond said it was hard to beat the midfield the Chargers had in 2019, but a fair chunk of that midfield was still running around and despite losing the top two picks – Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson – there was plenty of be excited about for the year ahead.
“When you think of last year, you couldn’t get a much stronger midfield than what we had last year with Ando (Anderson), Rowell, Will Phillips, Lochie Jenkins, Fraser Elliot, (and) Finlay Macrae,” Bond said. “We’ll probably play our kids all over the ground to give them experience and exposure to different roles so we can prepare them for the next level. “But it’s going to be competitive, that’s the reason and if they’re going to be playing at the next level they’ve got to be able to compete and win a position. So if they can do it with us, they’re on the right track.”
Of those with family ties from the AFL, Bond said there were a number of father-son prospects who could follow their father’s into the elite level, but still had plenty of development left in them. Among the familiar names were Tex Wanganeen, son of Essendon and Port Adelaide great, Gavin, Tom Silvagni (Stephen, Carlton), Harrison Free (Tony, Richmond), Maurice Rioli Jnr (Maurice Snr, Richmond) and Sam Darcy (Luke, Western Bulldogs). Of the more talked about talents are the NGA members with Reef McInnes (Collingwood) and arguably the most talked about player in the entire draft, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan who is attached to the Western Bulldogs’ NGA.
“Reef’s had a bit of an injury-interrupted pre-season, he had a bit of a stress response from last year so we’ve taken it easy with him – we’re not rushing him at all,” Bond said. “And Jamarra’s just Jamarra, he’s a fantastic leader and obviously works really hard. “There’s a lot going on this year, obviously these boys are NGA eligible, they’re training with their AFL clubs, they’re training in their respective hubs and they’ve both got school for Scotch (College) and they’ve got the Chargers program. “We’re just monitoring their workloads and their wellbeing and we’ll know that they’ll play great footy for us and we’re really excited that they’re in our program. “It’s just exciting to have such good kids in our region that we’ve got to work with, we’re blessed with talent and we’re pretty fortunate as we have been over the past couple of years and probably will be for the next couple of years as well.”
While many of the above are also in the Vic Metro Academy Hub, there were a few more names that Bond raised who also have earned a spot in the hub with great signs during their time at the club.
“They’re (Academy Hub players) obviously identified as really talented kids,” he said. “Conor Stone is another one in the hub that sort of came out of nowhere last year and Bailey Laurie. “We rated them really highly in our program, that’s why we played them as bottom-agers. Sam Tucker’s another kid who will get an opportunity with us all year being out of school. “We’ve got to look at their continued development, I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we’re there to support them, let them have fun and enjoy their footy. “It’s one of the strengths of our program that they all love being there and they’re a really strong group – I think that’s what we saw last year with the way they all interacted and they all knock about with each other outside of school. “They’re really strong as a group, we’ve done a lot of leadership work with the group and it’s really exciting. “I sound like I’m banging on a bit about them but we can’t fault them. “The coaching group’s done a really good job, we’ve got a really good culture at the program.”
Bond said the likes of Jenkins and Varagiannis had already stepped it up over the preseason, whilst another father-son prospect had come into the program as a bottom-ager after purely playing school football last year.
“I think Lochie Jenkins has really worked hard over the pre-season. Obviously being at a public school (and) out of school being a labourer, we’re hoping he gets a look in. Giorgio Varagiannis has had a good pre-season as well, another hard-working kid who’s not in the hub. We’ve had a fairly standard pre-season, we’ve had a lot of interruptions this year with smoke, with weather, with ground availability so we’ve been a bit nomadic in our preparation but we don’t see that as a detriment. They’ve got to play a lot of footy, so we manage their workloads so that they can come good during the footy season. Nick Daicos has come into the program and he’s been fantastic. A couple of the younger bottom-aged kids in Braden Andrews (and) Alex Lukic, they’ve fitted in well and enjoyed a pre-season with the top-aged kids.”
While with the enviable talent at Oakleigh’s disposal the Chargers are tipped to be one of the team’s to beat again, Bond said it was still about development and getting them to where they need to be in their career progression.
“We’ll go out there and have a crack,” he said, “We like to throw the boys around to give them more opportunities and I guess at the end of the day when you’ve got such good kids they tend to put it on the scoreboard.”