Marquee Matchups: Sam Berry vs. Zavier Maher

DESPITE remaining in the unknown of football’s temporary absence, Draft Central is set to ramp up its draft analysis with another new prospect-focussed series, Marquee Matchups. We take a look at some of the high-end head-to-head battles which look likely to take place should the class of 2020 take the field, comparing pairs of draft hopefuls to help preview who may come out on top.

This edition features a pair of prospects who have ironically been teammates at representative level over the last two years, with Sam Berry and Zavier Maher both part of Vic Country’s Under 16 and 17 setups. Pending the resumption of all sport, the two were set to team up once again in Vic Country’s Under 18 side given they are both part of the Academy hub, but would eventually face-off in the NAB League and APS school football competitions.

Gippsland’s Berry is a hard-working, hard-nosed midfielder who can accumulate big numbers on the inside. The 180cm jet is solidly built and impressed with his two-way running across 10 NAB League outings in 2019, while also turning out for Melbourne Grammar in between his Power outings. Having honed his craft alongside the likes of Caleb Serong and Sam Flanders within his region, Berry is primed to take over the reigns as a leader in his top-age season.

His counterpart, Maher also boasts an impressive resume having run out six times for Murray in 2019 after making a return from injury through school football with Caulfield Grammar. The powerful 184cm Bushranger also took on the opportunity to train with Richmond in the off-season alongside Caulfield and Murray teammate, Elijah Hollands. Coming off his first ever full pre-season, Maher looked set to really excel through the engine room at all levels with some serious talent surrounding him.

PLAYER PAGES

Sam Berry
Melbourne Grammar/Gippsland Power/Vic Country

DOB: February 12, 2002

Height: 180.6cm
Weight: 81.4kg

Position: Midfielder

Zavier Maher
Caulfield Grammar/Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country

DOB: May 5, 2002

Height: 184.2cm
Weight: 82.6kg

Position: Midfielder

FITNESS TESTING PROFILES

VERTICAL JUMP

Berry – 65cm
Maher – 71cm

RUNNING VERTICAL JUMP (R/L)

Berry – 80/89cm
Maher – 73cm/80cm

SPEED (20m)

Berry – 3.19 seconds
Maher – 2.96 seconds

AGILITY

Berry – 8.24 seconds
Maher – N/A

ENDURANCE (Yo-yo)

Berry – 21.7
Maher – N/A

Note: Maher did not partake in the agility or endurance tests due to injury

The pair returned some seriously impressive results in the athletic stakes, posting elite numbers in a range of tests. While Maher edged Berry in the standing vertical jump, the Gippsland product managed to pip his counterpart of both feet in the running jumps. Maher’s excellent sub-three second 20m sprint time really sets him apart from Berry, showcasing his real burst of power in shorter movements. Berry excels over time and with repeat effort, putting in an elite endurance score of 21.7 – his personal best – on the Yo-yo test. A hip niggle prevented Maher from completing the final two tests, although Berry’s scores are hard to beat in any case.

ON-FIELD PROFILES

2019 NAB LEAGUE STATISTICS

Berry:

10 games
17.7 disposals (53% contested)
2.7 marks
6.5 tackles
7.3 clearances
3.8 inside 50s
1.3 rebound 50s
0.6 goals (6)

Maher:

6 games
10.5 disposals (58% contested)
2.0 marks
3.0 tackles
3.2 clearances
2.8 inside 50s
0.6 rebound 50s
0.3 goals (2)

The stats show that Berry had a slightly greater output in his bottom-age season at NAB League level, proving consistent over a greater number of games. Some of that may come down to the strength of Gippsland’s side in comparison to Murray in 2019, although you still have to find the ball yourself as Berry so often did.

Berry’s exceptional numbers in tackling and clearances showcase his work-rate going both ways at the stoppages, with a contested ball rate of over 50 per cent also ideal for an inside midfield type. Maher actually slightly exceeds him in that area with 58 per cent of his possessions contested, but it is the only key stat which he beats Berry in.

The spread of either players’ numbers suggest their strengths lie in very similar areas, making for an even match-up should the two go head-to-head.

BEST GAME

Berry:

2019 NAB League Rd 12 vs. Geelong

20 disposals (16 kicks)
18 tackles
9 clearances
2 inside 50s
2 rebound 50s
3 goals

Maher:

2019 NAB League Rd 13 vs. Eastern

15 disposals (10 kicks)
3 marks
4 tackles
5 clearances
7 inside 50s
1 goal

Either players’ true strengths truly come to the fore when taking a glance at their best NAB League outings in 2019. Berry’s 18 tackles and nine clearances against Geelong are a testament to his endurance and desire at the contest, while Maher’s five clearances and seven inside 50s against Eastern are credit to his metres gained style and penetrating kick.

The two games are also true to form for both players’ overall stats, with Berry’s output greater overall in most areas, but Maher still having a profound impact on the game with his damaging disposal. It is worth noting that Berry’s performance was extra-impressive given he also booted three goals. This was a game where Gippsland came back from 27 points down at three-quarter time to win, and consecutive final term goals from Berry played a major part in that.

STRENGTHS

Berry:

Endurance
Two-way work rate
Contested ball
Accumulation

Maher:

Explosive speed
Metres gained
Kick penetration
Vertical leap

The areas which set either player apart have already been delved into, and there are subtle differences between the two which make them unique. While they are both a similar size, powerful, and apt in the contested stakes, the way they go about it is very different.

Maher uses his power and explosive speed to break away from congestion and rack up meters, while Berry uses his strength and agility to break free, while also staying in the hunt going the other way. Berry’s impact is felt over time, and he is always a presence credit to his endurance base, while Maher has those bursts of energy where he can break the lines and set his side on the front foot.

IMPROVEMENTS

Berry:

Speed

Maher:

Short field kicking
Durability

Like all draft hopefuls, these two prospects have a few areas which they are looking to fine-tune. Berry’s speed stands out as one, with his 20m sprint time not indicative of his power in the short term. At pre-season testing, Berry said his repeat speed and ability to chain up for handball receives as the ball enters the outside are what he is working on.

One of Maher’s improvements is something that is slightly out of control, with durability there on account of his injuries as a bottom-ager. But with a full pre-season under his belt, he looks on track to rectify that. Maher is also working on the fundamentals; being clean with the ground balls for his inside game, while also honing his short field kicking.

Leadership is an added aspect Maher is hoping to develop, and he has already taken fellow Murray prospect Josh Rachele under his wing at Caulfield Grammar.

KEY SCOUTING NOTES

Berry:

Berry was his team’s standout player with his grunt work in the middle setting the tone for the day.

His work rate with and without the ball was impressive and that carried on for the four quarters.

He would also hit the scoreboard with his goal coming from reading the play to mark 40 metres out and slot the nice goal.

His clearance work was great but it was also his skill with ball in hand that stood out, and despite looking like the type to just win the hard ball and bomb it, he actually took the time to hit his targets on both feet.

Maher:

Maher combined well with fellow midfielder Sam Berry to not only win plenty of the ball but also offer something a little different with his ability to get forward and take the game on.

The Murray product covered plenty of ground and played a good mix to win his own ball but also work hard to get around the ground on the outside, which showed with his seven marks, three rebound 50s and seven inside 50s.

The inside 50s especially late in the game stood out where he often hit his targets and lowered the eyes.

ACCOLADES

Berry:

2018 Vic Country Under 16 representative
2019 Vic Country Under 17 representative

Maher:

2018 Vic Country Under 16 representative
2019 Vic Country Under 17 representative
2019 Under 17 Futures All Star representative

FINAL WORD

It is often difficult to place players like this pair on draft boards in comparison to one another given the different traits that they offer – while they are similar in so many ways, they set themselves apart in others. At this point in time, it is a case of placing a consistent, hard-working midfielder against one who perhaps catches the eye more, but in less-consistent bursts. Ceiling is often what analysts look to when comparing players and while Maher may have the edge in that area given his athletic base, Berry has greater runs on the board in terms of production. A truly interesting matchup, and one we hope to see if/when football returns.

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