2021 VFL: Round 1 Draftee Focus – Tigers pair push for early debuts

THE Victorian Football League (VFL) returned over the weekend after a year away, with the revamped structure seeing 22 teams battle it out across 11 fixtures up and down the eastern seaboard, stretching from Friday to Sunday. Senior-listed players who missed AFL selection were able to get some run in their legs through the state league, with a bunch of 2020 draftees among them. We take a look at how prospects from the latest draft class fared in Round 1.

A pair of first year Richmond talents staked their claims for an early call-up in the competition’s season-opener, as the Tigers ran out 40-point victors over St Kilda’s VFL affiliate, Sandringham. Maurice Rioli Jnr was the first to garner some attention for a senior berth, after booting two goals from his 17 disposals in an exciting display. Loping ruck-forward, Samson Ryan was the other, having translated his preseason form to a three-goal haul on Friday afternoon.

For the Zebras, Tom Highmore pushed his case for a recall after being dropped from the Saints’ senior side. The marking defender reeled in seven grabs against Richmond, among his 16 disposals (13 kicks). The Saints’ first selection in last year’s intake, Matthew Allison also got a run for his new side, contributing five touches. Top-up selections Derek Eggmolesse-Smith and Mason Wood were also solid for their respective teams, leaning on their prior AFL experience.

Number one pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan continues his attempt to crack the Western Bulldogs’ forwardline, booting two goals from 11 touches in the reserve grade. Dominic Bedendo found the ball eight times as the Bulldogs beat Gold Coast, whose rookie selections proved the pick of their new crop. Aiden Fyfe (16 disposals, eight marks) and Rhys Nicholls (17 disposals) fit in nicely, as Category B rookie Hewago Paul Oea had it 19 times. Prized coups Alex Davies and Joel Jeffrey also ran out for the Suns in their 67-point loss.

While their statesmen went down to a Victorian opponent, the Brisbane Lions came up trumps against Essendon with a 66-point win on Saturday afternoon. Academy graduate Carter Michael found plenty of the ball with 25 disposals and four marks, while the hard-running Harry Sharp (19 disposals, six marks, four tackles) stakes his claim for another senior crack. Raw tall forward Henry Smith booted a couple of goals, as Blake Coleman and Deividas Uosis also ran out in the maroon, blue and gold. Versatile NGA product Josh Eyre (eight disposals, three marks) was Essendon’s lone 2020 draftee afield.

A state league Sydney derby saw the Swans defeat the Giants by 26 points on the same afternoon, with both sides fielding multiple fresh faces across both levels in 2021. Sydney rookie Malachy Carruthers accumulated 19 disposals (16 kicks) and 10 marks in an impressive first-up effort, while academy graduate Marc Sheather notched 10 touches and kicked a goal.

Prized GWS pick Tanner Bruhn got a good run on the ball to amass 27 disposals in the charcoal and orange, an effort capped by two goals. Fellow Victorian Ryan Angwin showed his potential with 18 touches of the ball, while mature-age selection Jacob Wehr had it 17 times with 12 kicks. Cam Fleeton and Category B bolter Will Shaw also got some run in their legs for GWS.

Collingwood’s bumper draft haul has already made an impact at the top level, but there were also plenty of first year players plying their trade in the twos last week. Most hit the scoreboard too, as Collingwood snuck past Werribee; with Oliver Henry (11 disposals, seven marks, two goals), Caleb Poulter (18 disposals, seven marks, one goal), Reef McInnes, Liam McMahon and Jack Ginnivan (all one goal) making their marks. Tasmania rookie Isaac Chugg was also promising, finishing on 15 disposals and six marks.

Sunday saw a couple of aligned units lock horns at Box Hill City Oval, as the hosts went down to Casey Demons by 51 points. First round Melbourne selection, Jake Bowey made a good start to end with 23 disposals and four marks in red and blue, as Deakyn Smith (20 disposals, seven marks, six tackles) and the dynamic Fraser Rosman (10 disposals, two goals) also showed plenty. The Demons’ side is currently hard to crack, though.

Preseason supplemental selection Lachlan Bramble showed his ability at the level by ticking onto 20 disposals for the Hawks, also getting his hands dirty to lay eight tackles in the loss. Hawthorn NGA product Connor Downie looked in line for an early senior berth – not as concussion sub – but had nothing doing. He notched 10 disposals in this VFL outing.

Geelong thumped North Melbourne to start its season on the ideal note, with repeat-run machine Max Holmes arguably the pick of the draftees with 22 disposals (16 kicks). Nick Stevens clunked eight marks in the hoops and snared a goal, as athletic West Australian tall Shannon Neale managed seven disposals.

For North, Eddie Ford made a promising start with 13 touches and three marks, while the speedy Phoenix Spicer also made an appearance. Elsewhere, Corey Durdin was Carlton’s lone draftee in action as the Blues went down by a point to Southport. He had 10 disposals and kicked a goal, playing the small forward role.

Image Credit: Graham Denholm/Getty Images via AFL Photos

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