THE 2020 Northern Academy Series got underway over the weekend, with prospects from the Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns, GWS Giants, and Sydney Swans talent programs all looking to impress. State derbies kicked off proceedings, and made for a couple of hard-fought battles.
In a willing contest under sunny conditions, the Gold Coast Suns Academy won by 53 points over their Sunshine State rivals. The Suns booted the first six goals of the game – five came with the breeze in the opening term – to run out comfortable winners.
The Sydney Swans Academy also ran out winners in their clash with the GWS Giants prospects, setting up the victory with a string of five unanswered goals which extended from the second term, onwards. Soggy conditions ensured hard work would be made for the 15-point triumph, with a good bit of niggle to go with the contested slog.
We took a look at some of the Academy members and how they performed, as well as a bunch of other names who impressed on the day.
Brisbane Lions vs. Gold Coast Suns
By: Peter Williams
#12 Saxon Crozier
Played a mixture between the wing and getting back to help the defence, Crozier was neat with his ball use and always looking to create run for the Lions. After a quieter first term – though he had a good handball out of defence – he had an number of impressive plays in the second term. He sidestepped an opponent and got it quickly onto the right, and presented to his teammates around the field. His handballing release to teammates streaming down the ground opened up the play for Brisbane to begin to cut the deficit back.
#13 Blake Coleman
Not a high possession player, Coleman has high level footy smarts and clean hands that make him so difficult to stop. He is one of those players who might not get a touch for a half, then can win the game for his side with a couple of impactful plays. After a few silky moves in the first term, he combined well with Tahj Abberley down the ground to win it on the wing and keep paddling the ball in front of him. Somehow he managed to gain distance, shake off his pursuers and launch a goal from 50m having beaten three opponents in the clear goal of the day. His second major in the third term was more straightforward, floating in from the side to then hold his ground and clunk the grab 35m out. He nailed the set shot six and a half minutes into the term, and almost had another good mark in the final quarter but could not quite hold it. As he booted two of the Lions’ four goals, he did well to play his role in the forward half with great pressure.
#14 Carter Michael
Michael showed a great balance of offensive and defensive traits throughout the contest, playing off half-back and then pushing up the ground when required. His first foray in the match was a good early spoil, getting the body contact out of the way. Throughout the match, Michael ran hard to be an option through the middle, and often ran up to the kicker at a stop in play to receive the get and go, to add an extra number to the play and try and use his speed to drive the ball down the ground. He pumped the ball inside 50 on occasions, and was working hard to look for one-two opportunities for his teammates. He copped a knock in the defensive 50 back pocket, but bounced straight back up and was solid throughout the entire game. Showing nice hands out of congestion, Michael ran down the ground and teamed up with Abberley well in keeping the ball moving. He had a snap on goal of his own late in the final term, but the wind did not help him out and it went out on the full. His reaction in one passage of play saw him bolt down the middle and leave his opponents in his wake. He was a treat to watch on the day and a real highlight for the Lions.
#15 Tahj Abberley
One of the Lions’ best throughout the day, he just kept trying to create off half-back and push up the ground. He set up a goal to Coleman in the second term with his pace off half-back, and then teamed up well with Michael in the final term with the one-two handballs down the ground. He stayed involved in all four quarters, and even drifted forward at times to kick it deeper inside 50, having a clever snap from long range, but it drifted for a behind. He won plenty of the ball in all thirds of the ground, and when the heat was on early in the game, Abberley was one of the few who stood up and continued to try hard against the flow. He used the ball well and showed good hands in traffic throughout the contest, and definitely showed plenty of potential in the defeat.
In terms of others who caught the eye, Shatna Cashen-Harris was lively up forward, with clean hands and a silky side-step, always looking dangerous. In midfield, the combination of Sam Winterbottom and Daniel Lanthois tried hard with the latter kicking a clever goal in the second term, whilst Ben Thomas kicked the other major for the Lions. Over-ager Max McDonald was dominant in the ruck, whilst Noah McFadyen provided a contest up forward, and Kuot Thok was not afraid to crash and bash the packs in defence.
By: Ed Pascoe
#13 Rhys Nicholls
Nicholls did not have the most productive game but he was still able to show his skill and talent with some nice spin moves and classy movement from the back half. The clever left-footer looked very smooth whenever he got possession and like many of his teammates, always took the opportunity to move the ball forward as quickly and cleanly as possible.
#14 Max Pescud
Maybe the most unlucky Suns player not to be included in the AFL based academy, he has been a regular goal scorer in the QAFL and backed that up again. He kicked multiple goals while also unselfishly passing off more opportunities as he could have easily ended up with about five goals himself. A quick player who takes the game on, tackles, and marks with intent despite his light frame, he came undone a few times with his run but when he was up-and-running and taking bounces, he looked very sharp and even got some time through the midfield late in the game, winning a few clearances.
#19 Josh Fahey
Fahey played for NSW/ACT in last year’s Under 16 championships and now finds himself with the Gold Coast Suns, although he wont be tied to any academies for next year’s draft. That’ll come as a sigh of relief for all AFL clubs, as he put on a best on ground performance down back. Fahey wasn’t hard to miss with his blonde locks but he also wasn’t hard to miss for the Lions going inside 50 as they kicked it down his throat multiple times. Fahey cut off plenty of attacks, attacking the contest hard and cleanly. His left-foot kicking from defence was a real feature, both long and damaging, and he had a major influence on the result. Fahey looks to be a very promising prospect for the 2021 draft.
#20 Aiden Fyfe
Fyfe had the ball on a string on his favoured wing position, and would had to have been the leading possession winner on the ground as he was involved in every quarter as one of the most consistent players afield. Fyfe found the ball all over the ground, working hard defensively and offensively. He was one of many to kick a goal in the first quarter with a nice snap and he would set up countless others with his clean hands and composure when in possession. Fyfe rarely wasted his touches and often hit teammates in a better position than himself. Despite not being the quickest player out there, he was certainly one of the sharpest in both skill and mind with ball in hand.
#22 Jack Johnston
The captain of the side, Johnston was a rock in defence at centre half-back. He took some nice strong marks and was cool and composed across the back half. Johnston is a strong player already standing at 195cm and 95kg, using his frame well both overhead and over the ball, and his disposals were often very clean for a big man.
A couple of over-agers who impressed were forwards, Josh Gore and Nathan Colenso. Both were able to hit the scoreboard multiple times and look damaging, with Colenso on the lead, and Gore mixing between the lead and in play. Both have been prominent goalkickers at QAFL level, and brought that same form into the game, with Gore’s clean hands and Colenso’s strength and tackling ability amongst the attributes that stood out for the respective forwards.
GWS Giants vs. Sydney Swans
By: Michael Alvaro
#1 Harry Grant
The diminutive over-ager was thrown right into the cut and thrust of midfield and hardly looked out of place. Grant hunted the ball from the first bounce, with his pace and tenacity at ground level making for a solid two-way contribution. If he wasn’t digging in to win his own ball at the stoppages, Grant was applying smothering defensive pressure to make life hard for opposition midfielders. It seemed the conditions suited his game well, and he would later move forward where he very nearly added a goal to his game with a sharp snap.
#26 Liam Delahunty
Another 19-year-old prospect to show promising glimpses of form, Delahunty was primed to make is mark on the NAB League and VFL in 2020. Instead, he took the opportunity this weekend to show his worth back with the Giants Academy, and had his moments throughout the game. Starting in defence, Delahunty took a nice contested mark to intercept a deep Sydney entry, while also looking to rebound aggressively by running his full measure and delivering by foot. He is somewhat of an in-between size at 192cm and 87kg, allowing him to compete both aerially and at ground level. He continued to take the game on from defensive 50, but was caught holding the ball as he looked to fend off an opponent in the third term. A move forward followed, and Delahunty capped off his performance with a tidy, quick finish for the final goal of the game.
#27 Josh Green
Green cuts a similar figure to his brother, Tom – albeit a touch taller and leaner – and was tried in an inside midfield role for the Giants early on. His 192cm frame allowed him to compete at the stoppages, while his ability to get up either end of the ground made him an influential player throughout the game. While he was a touch slow to truly build into the contest, Green began to show his best form after half time with some terrific overhead marking in tricky conditions. His clearance work built as well with the added confidence, and a later move behind the ball allowed Green to showcase his strong hands and intercept quality.
#42 Maximus Monaghan
One of a number of Giants to have rotated through midfield, Monaghan also showed some good signs while stationed both in defence and attack. The top-ager is strongly built and applied himself at the contest, showing good aggression and strength to break free and dispose of the ball via foot. He accumulated well through the engine room and was later sighted up either end of the ground where he was able to find his way to the ball.
On a day where the conditions made it tough to take a lot out of the game, there were a number of players to have provided little flashes of form. Bottom-age forward Sam Stening presented well up the ground early and was later rewarded with a goal for his run-down tackle on Max Geddes. The likes of Coopa Steele and Joel Dunstall dug in to find plenty of the ball, while Harrison Grintell looked lively up forward, and Sam Frost was among a few solid defenders. Under 16 NSW/ACT MVP Kai Watts booted a goal from his permenent forward position, while Jack Driscoll rotated back through the ruck.
#2 Sam Gaden
Gaden proved a strong a flexible key position option for the Swans, starting forward and eventually plying his trade down back. The over-ager worked up the ground well in the early stages, presenting as a link into Sydney’s forward 50. He provided a goal assist to Jackson Barling in the second term with a hacked kick into the arc, and doubled his impact with some forward 50 ruck work. Having been moved down back in the second half, Gaden showcased his ability to intercept, sweeping well both in the air and at ground level.
#3 Kye Pfrengle
A player who needs only a few touches or moments to catch the eye is Pfrengle, who looked particularly lively in the first term with some incredible marking attempts. The top-age AFL Academy hub member certainly has a spring in his step, leaping high for the ball to intercept GWS’ long defensive rebounds. While he failed to hold onto most of his speckie attempts, Pfrengle was positioned well behind the ball to begin with, allowing him enact that intercept game. He would later be seen a touch deeper in defence, locking the ball in and taking the kick-outs, making handy contributions just when it seemed he was drifting out of the contest.
The leading Swans Academy prospect looked like tearing the game apart as he dominated the opening stages, showing terrific signs through midfield. While his speed and damaging kicking on the outside often garner the most praise, it was Campbell’s toughness and ability to adapt to the conditions which stood out most on this occasion. His clearance work was sound throughout the match, and despite coughing up a rare turnover by foot in the second term, he was able to find his range consistently. With some opposition attention incoming, Campbell was moved to half-back and also rotated off the wing, while pushing forward to slot a goal in the third term. He looked most dangerous with his burst away from the stoppages though, and hunted the ball well when on the inside.
#15 Sam Thorne
Another over-ager to have made his mark on the game was Thorne, a small midfielder who thrived in the soggy conditions. He was a regular at the centre bounces and stoppages, accumulating the ball with ease at ground level and releasing well to his teammates on the move. Thorne’s ability to shark the ball off hands and get his legs pumping to burst away was noticeable, and it helped set the tone for Sydney from where it mattered most. He finished as one of the most prolific ball winners on the day, and kept his name in the hat as far as the Swans are concerned.
#22 Errol Gulden
Campbell’s partner-in-crime, Gulden was a consistent threat for Sydney and managed to find the ball at will while rotating from the wing, through the middle, and up forward. The 176cm mover relies more on agility and smarts rather than pure pace, so initially found it hard in the wet conditions to have his usual impact on the game despite constantly getting his hands on the ball.
Still, Gulden snared the opening goal after being tackled high inside 50, and used it as a catalyst to work more effectively at ground level. His work-rate forward of centre was outstanding, and he could be seen pushing inside 50 from the wing to snare his second major, hardly breaking stride as he gobbled up the loose ball and slotted it home on the fly. Gulden was arguably best afield in the second half, and is just so difficult to stop at full flight. It was good to see him get busy up forward too, as that high half-forward role looks most like being his starting position at the elite level.
#25 Jackson Barling
Barling is another Academy talent to have missed out last year, but seems to have taken it in his stride after an impressive performance. He was first sighted using the ball cleanly in the back half, staying composed to provide a refreshing point of difference in the largely-contested game. His biggest impact came upon his move to the forwardline though, where Barling would kick three goals. His first came on the back of a juggled mark inside 50, which was quickly followed by another strong grab and set shot conversion in the second term. Yet another big clunk helped deliver a third major in the final quarter, though he selfishly burned Thorne as he looked for a fourth. Still, Barling’s scoreboard impact helped turn the game significantly in Sydney’s favour, and his hardness at 183cm and 85kg was impressive as it should be for an over-ager.
The talent in the Swans Academy runs deep, and there were plenty of others to have pitched in across the day. Marc Sheather was hard at the ball through midfield, while fellow AFL Academy member Marco Rossmann showed some promising signs early in his role up forward. Oscar Bird was another solid contributor who got involved in Sydney’s forward surges.