ROUND 4 of the AFL Premiership Season got underway last night, with Sandringham Dragons graduate Louis Butler making his debut in the Western Bulldogs’ win over Sydney. He is one of four confirmed debutants, with a further four hopefuls named among extended squads in anticipation of this weekend’s action. Jamaine Jones will also make his club debut for West Coast after appearing seven times for Geelong. We take you through the list and give a little reminder of what each player may bring to the table.
Shane McAdam* (Halls Creek/Sturt)
Named among an extended squad once again, McAdam will be hoping that new coach Matthew Nicks hands out another debut in Round 4. The high-flying medium forward promises to bring some excitement back to the Crows’ lineup, which has lacked pace and the ability to bring the ball to ground inside forward 50.
As mentioned when McAdam narrowly missed selection last week, the Crows traded to get ahold of the 181cm hopeful as a pre-access draft pick, so obviously think highly of his talent. Adelaide really has little to lose given its current form, so do not be surprised to see yet another fresh face take the field in the tri-colours come Sunday.
“A highly skilled and athletic medium/small forward, McAdam has ability to create goals for himself and those around him with a host of scoring assists all year and 31 goals from 17 League games this year. He averaged almost a scoring shot per game as well as almost two goals per game, making him have a high impact inside 50.
“He has that terrific ability to know how to use the ball, and then find the goals with ease. He is silky and packed with class inside 50 and his X-factor is clear for all to see. These natural footballing abilities go hand in hand with his sensational athletic traits. He has always had these abilities, but in 2018, McAdam has begun to show them on a regular basis.”
Connor Ballenden* (Brisbane Lions Academy)
A Brisbane Lions Academy product who was drafted back in 2017, Ballenden has since staked his claim for senior selection with some promising form at NEAFL level. While he looked poised to suit the Lions’ structures as a key forward in his draft year, the 21-year-old has shown he is capable of also rotating through the ruck and key defensive posts.
The 200cm bigman has been named in an extended squad to take on the Crows, a selection which puts pressure on the likes of Eric Hipwood to perform, and makes for good competition for Stefan Martin‘s currently-vacant ruck spot. The Lions may also feel the need to add height to their defence, so there are plenty of ways which Balldenden could sneak into the Round 4 side.
“If the Brisbane Lions utilise Ballenden as a forward/ruck, there’s no doubting that he has the ability to fit into their structures up forward in the future. His contested marking and pinpoint set shot goal kicking are forwards dreams, and despite a quiet top age season, his bottom-age year was very impressive and suggested that Ballenden has a bright future ahead of him.”
Sam Philp (Northern Knights)
The first confirmed debutant on this alphabetical list, Carlton fans, coaches, and players alike are excited to see what Philp can produce at the elite level. Somewhat of a surprise first round selection in last year’s National Draft, Philp was a feel-good story of hard work and perseverance among his cohort, bolting into contention despite having missed out on Vic Metro representative selection.
Philp is a hard-nosed midfielder with the ideal balance of speed and endurance, which he uses both ways to either charge the ball forward or apply smothering pressure on the opposition. He was the fastest player of his draft class with a 2.867-second 20-metre sprint time at the National Combine, and will certainly showcase all of that power upon his berth at the AFL level.
“On the field, Philp wins his own ball and is most typically seen bustling out of congestion with his trademark speed and strength to generate some forward run. He is just as apt going the other way too, with Philp’s aggression translating to a fearsome tackling game on the rare occasion where he does not win the ball himself.
“A big improver from his bottom-age season, Philp has continued on the upward trend and could be the kind of player a club will seek to snap up earlier than expected given the upside his unique mix of traits brings.”
Caleb Serong (Gippsland Power)
Another confirmed starter who narrowly missed out on a selection nod last week, Serong is set to make his AFL debut against the red-hot Gold Coast SUNS. The opposition boasts a number of 2019 draftees who have made an immediate impact, but the prime-time Saturday night fixture gives Fremantle’s budding first-round stars like Serong and Hayden Young the chance to snatch centre stage.
Dockers fans will love the intensity that Serong brings to the table, a true leader who does not shy away from the tough stuff and will bleed for the jumper. His skills are also notable too, with a terrific burst of speed and the clean hands to make up for the supposed disadvantage of his sub-180cm frame in contested situations. While he is a capable ball winning midfielder, Serong will likely start on a wing or inside forward 50.
“Touted as one of the top prospected behind the obvious Oakleigh Chargers’ duo, Serong is one of the more well-rounded players in the AFL Draft crop, with very few glaring areas of improvement. The biggest upside for the 178cm midfielder/forward is the areas he could improve on are more easily doable compared to other players.
“Among his list of strengths in his game is his clean hands, footy IQ, clearance ability and strength, while his consistency and competitiveness are up there with Matt Rowell. The areas that Serong can improve are his kicking under pressure – which has developed over the course of the season – his on-field emotion – which while good at times can also be a hindrance – and his size – which while his height will not change too much, he can still improve his muscle tone.”
Harry Jones (Murray Bushrangers)
One of a few 2017 draftees who will hope to finally crack the senior side in Round 4 is Jones, an early rookie selection who can provide midfield depth for the Hawks. Despite suffering untimely injuries in his draft year, the Hawthorn showed faith in what the youngster had already produced as a strong, extractor-type midfielder who can accumulate and run all day.
He was touted for a senior opportunity in 2019 and after having been made to wait his turn, could see a debut appear on the cards early this season as Alastair Clarkson searches for the right balance. A starting midfield of James Worpel, Tom Mitchell, and Jaeger O’Meara is tough to look past though, making it tough for budding starters like Jones.
“Jones had his year cruelly ended early after a back stress fracture mid-season. At that stage he was hitting his strides winning plenty of the ball and impressing in close for the Murray Bushrangers. Jones is a strong inside midfielder who has a great centre of gravity which sees him stand up in tackles and handball to teammates who are free on the outside.
“He is a fierce tackler and endurance runner who just wears down opponents across four quarters. While his kicking could improve and he could have more of an impact on the scoreboard, Jones’ bread and butter is at the coal face, dishing off handballs with quick hands.”
Jack Mahony* (Sandringham Dragons)
Mahony is among two potential newcomers named in North Melbourne’s side to face Hawthorn on Sunday night, having impressed in last week’s scratch match with three goals. The crafty sub-180cm prospect was highly-touted at junior level, but lacked the explosiveness or size to be seen as a true midfielder upon transitioning to the AFL ranks – hence his slide to pick 34.
But the Sandringham graduate has all the smarts, agility, and professionalism to break into the Kangaroos’ side in 2020 should his first opportunity not be afforded here. Employed mostly as a small forward by North, Mahony will use his work rate to get up the field as a high half-forward, while also getting back deep inside attacking 50 to generate terrific creative output and a sneaky goal threat.
“While big-bodied and athletic midfielders seem to be the in-vogue archetype for recruiters in the modern game, Sandringham’s Mahony proved this year that smaller, creative types can have just as much of an impact through the engine room. Touted as a high-end prospect from as early as his Under-16 year, Mahony has consistently performed for the Dragons when available, while also proving a match winner for Vic Metro and school side, St Kevin’s.
“The final on-field glimpse we got of Mahony was one which stuck in the memory, with his 19 disposals and three goals against the Allies very nearly dragging Vic Metro over the line to end a sub-par carnival. His combination of shrewd winning, spread from the contest, and crafty use going forward make him relevant in many ways, with the potential to continue as a forward flanker absolutely there.”
Tristan Xerri* (Western Jets)
From small to tall, Xerri is the other possible Kangaroos debutant for Round 4. With Mason Wood a key omission, Xerri could well slot straight into the forward line to provide a touch more height, while also aiding Todd Goldstein in the ruck. The Western Jets product is a terrific overhead marker and remains strong in one-on-one situations or in the ruck, with his 201cm frame a constant presence around the ground. He has been a big improver upon entering the AFL system, and could be in with a shot in 2020.
“Xerri is a raw tall who despite his 96kg frame is still learning the game. At times he would make some mindboggling decisions on the field, but he seemed better suited in the ruck than up forward. He is a nice field kick who, while not overly quick, is good in the air and can play deep or high in the forward line.”
Louis Butler (Sandringham Dragons)
The sole player on this list to have already taken the field in Round 4, Butler was a late pick by the Bulldogs in last year’s draft, but impressed enough on the training track to make a steep rise into the senior side. A classic rebounding half-back who is hard at the contest and uses the ball well, Butler looked relatively comfortable among more experienced peers, collecting 14 disposals (11 kicks) in his side’s Thursday night victory over Sydney.
“High-possession half-back flankers are dime-a-dozen in each draft crop, but Sandringham’s Butler is one with a point of difference. The ultra-competitive defender has not only proven his worth in setting up play from the back half with long rebounding kicks, but also showed traits more typical of lock-down types.
“Early in the year, Butler caught the eye with his ability to get to a number of contests on the defensive arc and sweep the ball up at pace, earning a spot in the Vic Metro side for all four games before being tried in a couple of different roles upon re-joining the Dragons squad. The kick-happy prospect seldom had a game under 20 disposals across his 10 NAB League games, getting as high as 31 touches and averaging 22.3 to show marked improvement in his impact on games from his bottom-age year.
* – denotes named in extended squad.