PRELIMINARY finals week in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) brings along with it another edition of our scouting notes, focusing on the top draft-relevant performers from around the competition this weekend. In this instalment, we widen our scope to cover the prospects running around across all three grades, with a particular focus on State Academy based talent, National Combine invitees, and others who may push for selection along the line.
Please consider that each set of notes showcase the opinions of our scouts individually, and there are only so many players we can keep an eye on each week.
WWT Eagles vs. South Adelaide
By: Tom Wyman
#5 Sam Lowson
The Victorian forward kicked Woodville-West Torrens’ first goal of the game at the tenth minute mark of the opening term. Although he didn’t see a lot of the ball (seven disposals), in-part due to James Rowe‘s dominance, Lowson made the most of his opportunities as all good forwards do. He booted his second of the game in the dying moments of the third quarter and certainly complimented the likes of Rowe, the Hayes brothers, and Jake von Bertouch well inside the Eagles’ forward 50.
Another interstate import, Mansell consistently breached the arcs at both ends of the ground and provided plenty of run-and-carry, as he has done all season. The Tasmanian used the ball beautifully and his teammates evidently trust his delivery whenever he’s in possession of the footy. The damaging half-backman finished his side’s impressive preliminary final victory with 11 disposals, six tackles, four inside 50s and three rebound 50s.
#16 James Rowe
The sheer brilliance and craftiness of Rowe turned the game on its head in the second half and proved vital in the Eagles’ win. He booted goals late in first and second terms, then nailed the first three shortly after half-time to heap the pressure on South Adelaide. One of the hottest mature-aged prospects in the country, if Rowe’s Ken Farmer Medal hadn’t already gotten recruiters talking, his forward smarts, terrific vision, innate goal sense and ability to win the game off his own boot will have almost certainly impressed AFL onlookers. Rowe produced a classic small forward’s game by sparking an abundance of excitement inside 50; drawing free-kicks at ground level, nailing most of his opportunities in front of goal, and annoying the Panthers defenders with his constant niggle and banter. He finished with 22 disposals, five goals, three marks, three tackles and three inside 50s and looms as key to the Eagles’ chances in next weekend’s Grand Final.
#28 Jacob Wehr
Wehr continues to go from strength-to-strength for the Eagles. His neat disposal was a real feature of his game, along with his drive from defence and run up and down the wings. Another Eagle who looked to utilise his damaging foot skills whenever he had possession, Wehr has been one of several youngsters to perform well for the club in season 2020. He finished with 14 disposals (including 12 kicks), three marks, three inside 50s and six rebound 50s.
#34 Lachlan Jones
As he has been all season, the Port Adelaide Academy prospect was a rock in defence. Calm and composed with ball in hand, Jones rarely went to ground, kept the ball in front of him at ground level, and was typically strong in the air, taking a couple of nice contested marks. He read the play well in what was another strong defensive game down back from the potential top 10 draftee, concluding the match with 13 disposals, five marks and three rebound 50s.
#51 Lachlan McNeil
McNeil produced another strong showing in the gold, green and blue as Woodville-West Torrens booked its ticket to Sunday’s SANFL decider. His ability to win the ball on the inside, then run-and-carry the ball when in space was an important factor in the win. His clean, quick hands in-tight were also a highlight of his game. One who will need to perform strongly against the Roosters next week if the Eagles are to claim their eighth premiership, McNeil finished with 14 disposals, a goal, three marks and three inside 50s in a neat display.
#32 Beau McCreery
The teenage small forward has enjoyed a terrific season at SANFL League level, but unfortunately, like many of his teammates, McCreery struggled to have much of an impact on the contest. However, he kicked a true small forward’s goal in the second term when the game still hung in the balance and did just about all he could from minimal effective forward entries. McCreery finished with nine disposals and three tackles.
#33 Jason Horne
The 17-year-old battled hard all day but ultimately struggled against the fast-finishing Eagles, who proved far too good in the second half. After starting up forward, Horne was moved into the midfield in an attempt to stop the Eagles’ momentum as James Rowe ran amok. Horne showcased his overhead marking capabilities by taking a contested grab and nailing a goal in the fourth term, and will certainly have benefitted from the SANFL finals experience. He finished with eight disposals, a goal and a couple of inside 50s.
#35 Tom Highmore
The Canberra native fulfilled a key position role down back and did just about all he could against an onslaught of Eagles inside 50s. He wasn’t as effective in the air as we have become accustomed to seeing, but generally used the ball well when exiting the backline. He backed his foot skills in and provided some nice rebound, finishing with nine touches and five rebound 50s. It was a disappointing end for South Adelaide, but Highmore has proven to be one of the recruits of the season and may find his way onto an AFL list later in the year.
#45 Daly Andrews
Andrews was the most prolific of the young Panthers. South’s best clearance winner for the game, the former-Williamstown and Western Jets product ran tirelessly between the arcs, helping to rebound from defence and also sending the ball inside 50 on three occasions. Andrews pieced together an excellent season after joining the club in July and will likely have caught the eyes of a couple of AFL recruiters.
Central District vs. North Adelaide
By: Michael Alvaro
#49 Thomas Graham
He may come from good pedigree as the son of former Hawthorn and Richmond defender, Mark Graham, but Thomas is quite raw in a footballing sense having only committed to the code over the last couple of years. Much like his champion father, the basketball convert is sound aerially and kicks on his left side, with both assets coming to the fore in this outing. Taking up a key defensive post, Graham was seen following his direct opponent up the ground and getting a hand in for countless spoils. He also chimed in with some nice intercept marks inside defensive 50, with one clunked after shrewdly deciding to run off his man.
Graham was quite sound with ball in hand and despite a somewhat unconventional kicking action, he showed good composure to spread the ball out of defence. He also bolted up the corridor in the third term to get on the end of a handball receive and boot a booming goal on the run from 50 metres. Versatility and scope are ticks for Graham, as he also showed off his vertical leap in the ruck late on. The next step in his defensive development will be to clunk contested marks where he would usually opt to spoil.
#52 Lachlan Grubb
The flying wingman has returned some of his most notable performances in the forward half this season, but played almost exclusively on the wing throughout this outing. His first contribution came through a strong mark at half-forward, keeping his hands up to hold on as opposition heat arrived from behind. He was often stationed on the outside of stoppages, hunting the loose ball when not afforded the space or opportunity to handball receive. In general play, Grubb worked hard to find space on the outer and link into forward 50, but could not always use his pace to close down direct opponent, Mason Neagle in the opposite situations. The defensive side is something Grubb is working on, and the 17-year-old is still quite light-on at senior level.
The highlight of Grubb’s day came in the attacking realm; as he latched onto a loose ball over the back, burnt his opponent with three running bounces inside 50, steadied, and kicked arguably the goal of the day on his right foot. It takes a good deal of confidence to pull off such a play on the big stage, and it provided a window into what the youngster can do in full flight. He was a touch scrappy by foot, particularly on the move, but backed himself to dispose on either side of his body and gained some decent meterage down the line. As a December birth, the top-ager could be one to come on quickly with a touch more time to develop, but has plenty of eye-catching qualities.
Small midfielder Steve Burton worked hard through the engine room to be Centrals’ most prolific ball winner, while Joseph Brown was relentless in his pursuit to take the game on from defence. 21-year-old Cooper Dahms snared a couple of nice goals up forward, including the Bulldogs’ first of the day. Fellow forward Ben Kelly was another to contribute in the front half, and is the son of Sydney Swans champion, Paul.
#27 Harrison Magor
The 19-year-old was one of North Adelaide’s best, doing all the tough work and one-percenters through midfield. He extracted plenty of ball at the coalface, able to stay strong through the hips, gather cleanly at ground level, and flick out handballs to release teammates. Magor also managed nine clearances among his team-high 23 disposals, but saw many of them bombed forward with no real direction. Nonetheless, his ball winning prowess allowed North to gain meterage and control the territory.
Not one for frills, Magor’s most significant efforts came on the defensive end, as he laid some tone-setting tackles to earn possession back for his side. His run-down effort to win a holding the ball free kick in the second term was crucial, thwarting a Centrals fast break. He continued with the same vigour, digging in hard and punishing his opponents who proved idle in possession. Magor could not quite cap off his day with a goal in the final term as a quick snap fell short of the big sticks, but it was a solid outing in any case.
#32 Mason Neagle
Neagle was in everything early, putting in a monster first term to help his side gain the major ascendancy. Stationed out on the wing, his work-rate to push back into defence and spark North Adelaide’s transitional play was impactful. He gained plenty of ground, and even added a goal to his monster first term. While a little quieter in the latter proceedings, Neagle popped up with some nice moments on the outer, carrying the ball forward with purpose and putting it into dangerous areas. He even got under the opposition’s skin, frustrating Nicholas Gillard into giving away a free kick in the second term. His line-breaking ability could prove key in the Grand Final for the Roosters.
#42 Dakota Nixon
The 2020 Reserves Margery Medal winner showed just why he was so deserving of the award this year, returning another powerful display from midfield. The strongly built engine room operator kicked off his game with a courageous two-grab overhead mark, before playing on quickly and hitting up Mason Neagle for a goal assist. His ability to wrench the ball free from congestion and bomb it forward proved a tick to his contested game, but Nixon was also able to improvise some nice kicks on the outer as he moved forward. His lone goal of the day came in the second term while resting forward, as he found space to mark and converted the set shot opportunity. In essence, Nixon is hard at the ball and uses his physicality to put the Roosters on the front foot. As much was evident on this occasion.
Mackenzie Slee was outstanding in defence, providing a cool head with his intercept marking and sound use of the ball. He also shut down dangerous Bulldogs forward, Nicholas Lange, which went a long way to earning credit as North’s best player afield. James Langley was a busy figure up forward, and Charlie Dowling put the cherry on top of North’s even team performance with a goal after the final siren.
Sturt vs. WWT Eagles
By: Eli Duxson
#9 Malachy Carruthers
One of the better performers in a strong team performance for Sturt, the dashing half-back ended with 21 disposals, one goal, six marks, and six inside 50s. A massive first half after missing last week’s game saw him reach 16 disposals as he was prepared to defend stoutly and intercept mark, but then run off his opponent and break lines. His strong work in tackling and nice kicking were both aspects which allowed him perform defensive and offensive duties. He quietened up in the second half as the Double Blues began to get on top, so he was seen pushing higher and higher up the ground to impact. He eventually intercepted an errant kick and after gathering the bouncing ball, he accelerated and goaled from 50 metres.
#13 Bradley Jefferies
Another good game for Jefferies saw him playing in every third as he reached 24 disposals, while managing a goal, nine marks, and six inside 50s. He kicked a goal in the forwardline early from a nice set shot, having moved to a dangerous spot after trusting his teammates to work it out of congestion. Not just a glory-hunter, he pushed back defensively when playing in the midfield to help clear or work it out of the back half. Jefferies hunts the ball and does the bulk of his work on the inside, staying strong over the ball and often extracting a kick or a handball from nowhere. He provided some run off half-back in the final quarter and showed off his composure and tidiness with ball in hand. He even managed to sneakily work his way just inside 50 to mark, but just missed the set shot.
#17 Mani Liddy
The equal-leading ball winner, Liddy put up strong numbers as he usually does; finishing with 29 disposals, one goal, five tackles, eight clearances, and seven inside 50s. His innate ability to always manage a handball out of obscurity highlighted his inside work in the first half, utilising the strength that we have come to expect from him. A three-versus-one on the wing saw him apply relentless pressure and then force a stoppage, a team-lifting sort of play. A big second half saw him do some damage on the outside as Sturt dominated possession. He was everywhere on their slow play and though he lacks blistering pace, he found space on the outside to construct forward sequences. A beautiful set shot from the boundary saw Sturt’s lead get out to two goals and capped off a good game for him.
#18 Tom Powell
The Torrens University Cup MVP winner was again a big contributor the Double Blues, but that is hardly a surprise at this point as he further pushes his case for draft night. Powell finished with 29 disposals, one goal, 10 marks, seven clearances, and seven inside 50s to help his side reach a Grand Final. His strong handballing and spread from stoppages were his main modes of contribution, sensing the opportunity to go on several occasions and provide supporting runs. A quiet second quarter all but reserved energy for a 17-disposal second half where he started on fire, intercepting Eagles forward entries and running endlessly to be involved in transition. He runs all day so even if he is closely checked at a stoppage, he will just run off and seek another opportunity to get ball in hand. The closing stages of the game highlighted the highs and lows of football for Powell, copping a whopping falcon, but then scoring the final goal with a snap out of a stoppage.
#25 James Borlase
Returning to the Under 18s to bolster the Double Blues’ defence saw Borlase start the game on fire, taking intercept mark after intercept mark. After quietening down after the first term, he finished with 11 disposals and five marks. He spent all game in the defensive half and was mopping everything up early as it looked like he was going to have the massive game he has been waiting for. The Eagles eventually worked it out to avoid him, although sometimes if you do not notice a defender, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Besides an undisciplined 25-metre penalty, there were no real blemishes to his game either defensively or offensively. He pushed up the ground with the Sturt squeeze later in the game to try and impact so it will be interesting to see if he stays in his defensive post in the Grand Final, or if he is tried up forward.
#27 Ned Grieve
A bit of a quiet game for Grieve but much like Borlase, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He finished with 13 disposals, five marks, and six rebound 50s as he just did his job. The height of the Eagles’ forwardline did not seem to bother the key defender as he hardly lost a contest. He also pushed up the ground at times to get involved and in combination with Borlase, proved difficult to get through. A brilliant one-handed mark was the highlight of his game in the final quarter, having read the flight of the ball better than his opponents. Sturt’s midfield and forward line will play a big role in Grieve’s and Borlase’s effectiveness next week as they managed to slow down the Eagles’ transitions and force long, high, and poorly placed entries. If Norwood can use its fast and attacking style of ball movement well, it may stretch the tall stalwarts of Sturt.
A good spread of input is exactly what Sturt was after, needing to bounce back from the Norwood game to earn another crack at the Redlegs. Morgan Ferres enjoyed a good game but was not far off a best afield performance. He kicked 2.4 from his 17 disposals and nine marks, providing a solid leading target for much of the game. He found space on leads and held his marks, with only wayward kicking letting him down. Jordan Opperman also provided a good target up forward, kicking 2.3 and taking eight marks, while Lachlan Thomas worked hard for his 20 disposals.
Under an injury cloud coming into the game, Schofield’s heavily strapped right hamstring was aggravated after receiving a crunching tackle in the first quarter. He hobbled off and did not return, ending the game with just the three disposals.
One of the best for the Eagles as he continues to push his name up the draft board with 22 disposals, seven marks, and four clearances. He started on the wing but eventually pushed forward and into the midfield, showing his versatility with his height. A very reliable distributor, he made good decisions with his trusty left boot while also working hard both ways. He was forward for much of the third quarter and proved to be a viable option, but the delivery was not great. A nifty one-hand intercept mark and inside 50 gave the Eagles a bit of hope early in the final quarter, but the Sturt dominance left little room for rectification. A solid game capped off a very handy season for Poulter as he bolstered his draft stocks in a big way.
#19 Zac Phillips
One of the twin-towers for the Eagles lost the ruck battle and even though he worked hard around the ground, it was a quiet return. Finishing with just 10 disposals and 11 hit outs, Phillips did do a decent job of at least not letting Sturt ruckman Declan Hortle get clear taps to advantage. Although he did not get a lot of it, he looked to be trusted by teammates with ball in hand to clear defensively and handball in-tight. A tall with a lot of potential, but still quite raw it seems.
#25 Henry Smith
Played a similar game to Phillips but at 204cm, he was able to make more of an impact up forward. His five marks from 13 disposals were mostly taken on the lead as he managed to get separation from his opponent, but his finishing let him down. Although he was not able to get great looks on goal, his kicking still needs some work, but his movement and agility is a positive for someone of his height. Also a player who is raw with potential, it will be interesting to see how and where he develops.
#31 Jase Burgoyne
Starting in the midfield, Burgoyne again managed to find plenty of it, finishing with 21 disposals and a goal. His speed allowed him to accumulate the ball, although it must be said that he still does move it forward as he opts to kick more than handball. He spent some time down back but when he moves into the middle, he tends to float and drift unnoticed by defenders. This allowed him to sneak forward and boot a goal. His second half saw him get more uncontested ball which is where he is most damaging. He has shown glimpses of inside prowess but with his slight frame, he is not someone who breaks packs open but rather extracts it. In saying that, he has proven to be a great outside option with his tidy ball use. The final quarter saw him give away a silly free kick when playing in defence. Whether it was the warm weather or his otherwise, he seemed to lack intensity and his checking was loose in the closing stages.
The Eagles stayed in it for the three quarters, but it was perhaps Sturt’s depth that had them undone in the end. The leading ball winner was Brock Thomson who had 31 disposals, but as the designated kickout taker, 22 Sturt behinds contributed to that a decent amount. Liam Ueding showed effort to the very end as he still provided contests late. His defending was valiant and with some work on his kicking technique, he could become a very handy player. Jay Watson managed 22 disposals and a goal, while Max Litster had 17 disposals and two goals, one of them being the very first of the game.
Featured Image: Sturt’s Tom Powell gets a kick away | Credit: Hannah Howard/SANFL