AFTER a month-long hiatus, the NAB League returns on Saturday morning as five Northern Academies are welcomed to the fold. The Queensland academies – Brisbane and Gold Coast – will face Northern Knights and Dandenong Stingrays respectively in a Preston double-header, while the NSW academies – GWS and Sydney – take on Geelong Falcons and Gippsland Power in Werribee.
Elsewhere, a Craigieburn triple-header on Sunday sees the Tasmania Devils lock horns with the Northern Territory Thunder Academy on neutral turf. Hosts, Calder Cannons open that grand day of action against Bendigo Pioneers, as the Eastern Ranges and GWV Rebels close out the nine-game round.
Opportunity awaits for bottom-aged prospects too, who were essentially held back during the first three rounds this year to provide ample opportunity for top-age talent to shine. All bar one Victorian talent region will field 17-year-olds in Round 4, along with Tasmania and the Academies, with the Under 17 Championship squads being finalised nationwide.
THE YOUNG GUNS – U17s
Round 5’s standalone opener at Trevor Barker Oval sees Sandringham take on Western, with both sides introducing at least one Under 17 prospect apiece. The Dragons have named lively forward Harry Sheezel, who is dangerous around goals and has impressed in each trial or carnival outing thus far. Ben Hempel is another young Dragon named in the side. Cameron Kizan looms as a new Jets’ under-age representative, set to rotate from the bench after lining up on a wing in the Victorian Under 17 trial games for Metro.
Geelong and Gippsland welcome the NSW academies, with the Power due to unveil a host of up-and-comers against Sydney. Zane Duursma is a name which catches the eye, but the brother of Port’s Xavier is a fantastic talent in his own right. A rare 2005-birth in this mix, he will run out against players three years his elder, but looks to cut the difference with his skills and poise in tight spots. The Power have also named promising half-back Jonti Schuback, while Cooper Vickery and tall Harvey Howe will start on the pine.
Geelong looks poised to start a trio of its Under 17 prospects against the Giants Academy, in important positions too. 195cm bigman Olivier Northam is the Falcons’ starting ruck, while midfielder-forward Jhye Clark is poised to enter via the centre bounce mix. Ted Clohesy is another to watch in the Falcons’ forward half.
Saturday’s other double-header sees Northern look to unleash versatile 194cm prospect Dane Harvey, as he is named on the bench while goalsneak Jason McCormick earns a spot in the forwardline along with even more fresh faces. The Knights take on Brisbane, who have also named a 17-year-old in Bailey Tome, in midfield.
Likewise, Dandenong has a few of its own Under 17 inclusions for its clash with Gold Coast. Henry Hustwaite and Ned Moodie are set to start on the bench, as Jess McManus takes up a starting spot at centre half-back. The Suns will also bring in some under-agers, with Jared Eckersley another starting down the spine, while Marlin Corbett will rotate off the pine.
While some of Oakleigh’s talented bottom-agers will have to wait a little longer to crack the Chargers’ stacked lineup, 200cm ruck-forward Will Elliott gets his chance. Murray will also have at least one Under 17 in its squad on Saturday, with Joshua Tweedale, a 198cm ruck from Wangaratta included in the squad.
Looking across the team sheets for Sunday’s triple-header, and Eastern has a bunch of youngsters ready to impact. Small midfielder Harry Flynn is one to watch in the guts, while Lewis Hayes has also shown plenty of promise as a tall defender. Also among the group of fresh Ranges faces are Kai Windsor, Lachlan Reidy, and Hayden Smith.
GWV will field its share of Under 17s as well, with Felix Fogarty and Aaron Cadman named on the bench. Both loom as forward options, with Fogarty the taller of the two at 197cm.
In Bendigo’s bout with Calder, Jason Gillbee will come in as a rare 17th-year player with games already under his belt, as Ben Cameron also lines up for the Pios. Calder will unleash the very promising midfield pairing of Caleb Burquest and Paul Pascu, who should both get a look-in for the final Metro squad.
An exciting talent to watch out of the Northern Territory Academy is Beau Tedcastle, a livewire small forward with senior experience under his belt in the Top End. The Thunder face Tasmania, who have given ample opportunity to some under-agers already. Among them, 2005-birth Ryley Sanders has been named with Lachlan Cowan, as at least four others look like cracking the Devils’ side this week.
THE RETURNEES – U19s
While the next generation rolls through, some familiar names will also line up once more for their respective regions. Plenty of eyes will be on Murray and Carlton VFL midfielder Zavier Maher as he comes in fresh off a terrific senior outing for his local club. Young Guns showcase representatives Cameron McLeod and Patrick Parnell will also suit up for the Bushies, against an Oakleigh side with strong top-age talent. Among the Chargers’ brigade is Sam Tucker, who comes in for his first game this year, while Ned Moyle and Youseph Dib are at the top end of those returning from VFL duties – both with Collingwood.
Sandringham ruck Felix Flockart, a 2001-birth, will also get a run for the Dragons as he stakes his claim for mid-season draft selection, with the likes of Charlie McKay and Luke Cleary again set to turn out for the ridiculously strong talent region. Cody Raak is another mid-season candidate to watch in that game, lining up for Western in his usual centre half-back post.
Blake Reid and Noah Gadsby are a couple of handy inclusions for Geelong, who have a solid bunch of 19th-year talents. Northern will be happy to see leader Joel Trudgeon in the squad, with Ben De Bolfo and Dominic Akuei listed in defence along with Regan Uwandu, an exciting type who plays his first game for the year after an injury lay-off. Speaking of, Bayleigh Welsh will finally get to run out for Dandenong, named at half-back as former Hawthorn trainee Will Bravo remains in midfield.
Key forward Sam Paea is among a few Calder prospects to come in after gaining experience in the VFL, named alongside Young Guns representative Sam Clohesy. Among the Young Guns group for Bendigo, Caleb Ernst will look to carry on his impressive form up forward, with skipper Jack Evans also set to return after making his VFL debut. The Pioneers have a good few who remain at that level, too.
Tasmania pair Oliver Sanders and Tyler McGinniss will be in the mix for the Devils having made excellent starts to their seasons, enough to be called up to North Melbourne’s VFL team. In the round’s final game, watch for Marcus Herbert and Fraser Marris in GWV’s midfield, while Marc Massarotti and Jake Arundell form a lively tall-small partnership in Eastern’s forward 50.
While there is arguably less top-end talent across each academy this year than we have seen previously, fans of all clubs involved and from the Top End will be keen to see what their representatives produce. Out of the NSW lot, GWS standout Josh Fahey has not been named, but mid-season draft candidate Josh Green will start at centre half-forward. Sam Stening is another dynamic type to watch for the Giants up forward, with crafty small Kai Watts his state’s Under 16 MVP in 2019. Elsewhere, Sam Frost (half-back) and Jack Driscoll (ruck/defence) are among those with recent VFL exposure.
For Sydney, eyes will remain on the likes of Marco Rossmann and Pierce Roseby as they return in Swans colours. Both missed out on being drafted last year, but bring class and strong ball winning ability respectively. The likes of Toby Alker and Jeremy Woodford were solid state representative at Under 16 level, along with smalls Felix Rogers, Jordan Endemann, and Byron Middleton.
On the Queensland side of things, Suns Academy member Austin Harris looms as his state’s best talent. He’ll look to provide some outside run and class against Northern, while Bodhi Uwland is a developing type to watch in defence and through midfield. The Suns’ side will also be spearheaded by Will Bella, the brother of Gold Coast AFLW ruck, Lauren. Jed Foggo is another to watch, while Finn Brown has shown good form in midfield and Thomas Hofert is a known key position quantity.
For the Lions, Lochlan Harrop looms as an important figure at the heart of the starting lineup. James Packer is another among the 2003-born crop, while the likes of Connor Bulley and Shatna Cashen-Harris headline Brisbane’s top-age group. In terms of the NT talent on show, livewires Ronald Fejo and Andy Moniz-Wakefield should catch plenty of eyes, while Tedcastle will be the star small forward. Jaeden Watts is another to look out for, along with Jason Baird and Christos Gikas. A bunch of the NT boys have also gained senior experience in the NTFL, which should put them in good stead here.
Collingwood father-son prospect and potential top pick Nick Daicos will lead Oakleigh out having been managed in recent weeks, robbing him of a VFL debut with the Magpies. He is one of a few 18th-year players to have already graduated, making them available for NAB League selection while the school football seasons roll on. Josh Sinn is another in that category, but he has not quite come up for Sandringham this week. His absence looks to have opened the door for riser Finn Callaghan to be tried on the inside.
The Northern Knights are a side who will lose some key personnel to school football, but dashing half-back Darcy Wilmot remains after making an electric senior debut for Montmorency over the break. Sandringham forward Luke Nankervis is another in that category, with plenty of players getting back to their local roots over the last month.
There are a bunch of 18th-year prospects who also turned out for VFL sides in that time, with Calder’s Josh Goater and Zac Taylor (both Essendon) among them. Potential North Melbourne father-son Jackson Archer was another, as he returns to Northern colours this week. Tyler Sonsie, who turned out for Box Hill, will come back into Eastern’s fold, starting in midfield with Jake Soligo (Richmond) and Tyreece Leiu (North Melbourne).
The decision has been made for many top-agers as they either continue in the VFL competition, get more run in their legs through the NAB League, or part ways to head back to local football. With the mid-season draft fast-approaching, there are many in action this week who will count themselves in with a good chance of making the elite grade. Time will tell.
ROUND 4 FIXTURES
Saturday May 22
Sandringham Dragons vs. Western Jets
11:00am @ Trevor Barker Oval
Geelong Falcons vs. GWS Giants Academy
11:45am @ Avalon Airport Oval
Northern Knights vs. Brisbane Lions Academy
11:45am @ Preston City Oval
Murray Bushrangers vs. Oakleigh Chargers
1:00pm @ Wangaratta Showgrounds
Gippsland Power vs. Sydney Swans Academy
2:15pm @ Avalon Airport Oval
Dandenong Stingrays vs. Gold Coast Suns Academy
2:15pm @ Preston City Oval
Sunday May 23
Calder Cannons vs. Bendigo Pioneers
10:30am @ Highgate Recreation Reserve
Tasmania Devils vs. Northern Territory Academy
1:00pm @ Highgate Recreation Reserve
Eastern Ranges vs. GWV Rebels
3:30pm @ Highgate Recreation Reserve
Image Credit: RF Photography