TOP five AFL Draft prospect Tyler Sonsie became one of the few 18-year-old NAB Leaguers to break through for a Victorian Football League (VFL) berth on Saturday, debuting for the Box Hill Hawks in their 37-point loss to Werribee. The Eastern Ranges talent is a silky midfielder with clean skills and an eye for goal, traits which have put him in good stead during his three NAB League outings so far in 2021. He also turned out for the AFL Academy last month and while he was quieter than usual, was afforded full-time midfield minutes.
Sonsie has long been on the draft radar, bursting onto the scene in 2019 to take out Vic Metro’s Under 16 MVP award, before becoming a member of Eastern’s minor premiership winning side which contested the NAB League grand final. With the elite Victorian Under 19 competition in the midst of a month-long hiatus, Sonsie and Box Hill took the opportunity to test his worth at senior level. It is fair to say he took it with aplomb.
Sonsie is the prospect under our VFL Player Focus microscope this week; we run you through his game quarter-by-quarter, and bring you the key stats out of his Round 4 showing.
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro/Box Hill Hawks
DOB: January 27, 2003
2021 averages*: 25.3 disposals | 15.6 kicks | 9.6 handballs | 3.0 marks | 1.3 tackles | 4.3 inside 50s | 1.6 rebound 50s | 1.3 goals (4)
* – from three NAB League games.
2021 VFL, Round 4
Box Hill Hawks 8.5 (53) def. by Werribee 13.12 (90)
Stats: 24 disposals | 15 kicks | 9 handballs | 1 mark | 5 tackles | 5 inside 50s | 4 rebound 50s | 2 goals
Easing into his first taste of state league football, Sonsie rotated into the game and was first sighted at just over five minutes into the first term. His opening act was a lock-up tackle to hold the ball in a force a stoppage, having followed the play well from off the bench. Off that ball up, the 18-year-old received on the periphery of the contest and booted a clearance forward which fell to space and was turned over. Sonsie looked up for the contest in these early stages, winning a holding the ball free kick for good blanket pressure near the boundary line, and kicking long down the line.
Before long, we got to see how Sonsie would fare at stoppage situations. Stationed on the attacking side of a forward wing throw-in, he reacted first as the rucks both fresh-aired their hits to swoop on the ground ball and flick out to a teammate, who then kicked long inside 50. Sonsie tended to sag off at stoppages and was rarely manned with touch, allowing him to follow the flow of play and look to be an attacking threat in those situations. It meant he afforded time and space to opponents who gained first or second possession, but seemed to have been given that license to roam free and play his own game first.
While he was pushed off the ball at times and rushed a little under pressure, Sonsie showed some of his trademark silk when baulking an opponent at half-back, before his left-foot kick to the wing was unlucky to be picked off. Having rotated forward, he had the last say in term one having presented inside 50 for a nice mark on the lead, as Box Hill broke quickly. With a cool head, the debutant went back and slotted his first senior goal with a post-siren set shot from about 45 metres. He finished the term with four kicks and one handball, including that major score, his lone mark for the game, and a stoppage clearance. His repeat early pressure acts were also solid.
Starting at the opening centre bounce, it was evident the Box Hill coaching staff and midfield group rated Sonsie’s talents highly, as he was the go-to option on multiple occasions. For the most part, he set up in an anchor position behind the ruck and was not always manned. Even when an opponent shifted to his side of the stoppage, they would seldom engage in a wrestle as either player tended to allow each other to make their own ball-winning movements.
Sonsie made a few uncharacteristic skill errors in this term, perhaps feeling the pinch of Werribee’s superiority at that stage. If not the direct tap option, Sonsie again lurked on the outer and looked to receive from congestion, where he would normally send a damaging disposal forward. It meant that while he was not always defensively accountable, he remained active and looked to have a positive say at each contest.
While he moved to good positions and again showed nice composure to shift through traffic on one instance, Sonsie just lacked the finishing touch to find a teammate up ahead. To be fair, he had a severe lack of options at times, so those quick kicks forward were snapped up easily by the well-structured Werribee defenders. The tendency to react to heat with rushed disposals proved the main source of his inefficiency, which is not usually how he plays at Under 18s level. There, he uses his turn of speed and class to exit traffic with poise. In a sign of his smarts, Sonsie looked to correct that by coming away by hand and was much better in this sense after half time.
In a term where he essentially played permanently through midfield, Sonsie registered four kicks and two handballs, with a couple of those disposals counting as clearances and inside 50s. It brought his tally up to 11 disposals at the main break, split with eight kicks to three handballs. Having dipped his feet in senior football, it was time for Sonsie to dive in.
Akin to the first term, Sonsie started the third from the pine but came on after about five minutes and resumed his follower role. In what was arguably his best period of play for the game, the youngster attended plenty of centre bounces and began to really look lively as Box Hill broke back into the contest. His first possession saw him play for a high free kick on the move at half-forward, but he was forced to pop a left-foot kick to the hot spot when the umpire saw through his trick.
Sonsie began to get the ball in those dangerous areas though, able to send it inside 50 and get some run going in the process. The final 10 minutes of the term is when he came to life, starting with his highlight of the day. Sonsie latched onto a handball as he streamed through the corridor, before steadying nicely and effortlessly booting a goal from 50 metres to give Box Hill a big lift. At that point, the Hawks had kicked three-straight majors and were drawing to within striking distance. Scoreboard impact; tick.
Still relatively free at the stoppages, Sonsie showcased his high footy IQ by continuing to read the flow of play nicely – both in an attacking and defensive sense. At one stoppage, he would time his run perfectly to receive or latch onto a tap, before coming off his line hard to tackle at the next contest. His clean hands were also evident, making one-grab plays and on one occasion, hitting a ball at pace on defensive wing to gather off the deck and flick out a quick handball all in one motion.
Sonsie ended another quarter of midfield play with consistent figures once more; four kicks and two handballs. His goal served as a potentially key moment in the match and will certainly end up in his highlight reel, but there were a few more isolated efforts which stuck in the memory and highlighted the 18-year-old’s elite-level potential.
Following on from the confidence gained in term three, Sonsie produced another terrific quarter of play and looked much more settled. He remained quite casual in his work on the spread, but got to good positions again and showed the right intensity when called upon. His usual composure at stoppages began to unveil, with his cleanliness a real feature as he chained together some nice passages by hand and allowed teammates to clear in space with releasing passes.
Speaking of confidence, Sonsie even showed a bit of cheek after dragging an opponent over the boundary line with a great tackle, earning a free kick for his trouble. On the other hand, he could not quite stick a tackle inside defensive 50 and was made to pay as Werribee slotted a goal, which was essentially the dagger in Box Hill’s hopes of a comeback. His efforts were still an improvement on previous work, with his offensive work in possession becoming a highlight and making up for any misses going the other way.
He capped off his day with another three kicks and four handballs, making for his most prolific quarter stats-wise. His production throughout the game was consistent though, staying around the same mark throughout and becoming more influential with his disposals as time wore on. Overall, a top effort in his first game.
It was great to see one of this year’s true top five talents be afforded the license to play his own game and showcase his strengths, even as he climbs the grades with points on the line. While his work in defensive transition remains an area of improvement, Sonsie was still able to show why he is one of the more damaging midfielders available with his class on the ball and knack for kicking goals. He took some time to find his feet and adjust to the speed of the game, but brought a hunger and came away with some terrific moments. His numbers were very good too, particularly in a losing side on debut, with this state league stint potentially being a long one if such form continues.
Image Credit: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos