Category: Bendigo Pioneers

High stakes training: Vic prospects take the field ahead of draft day

VICTORIAN AFL Draft prospects hit the track one last time before draft day, strutting their stuff at Highgate Reserve in a one-off training session on Wednesday. The meet served as a final chance for recruiters to survey the talent available in this year’s pool, just a week out from draft day on December 9.

Players who earned Draft Combine invites in September were split into two major groups, initially separating those from country and metropolitan regions, before being divided even further into small drill groups of five to seven participants. Among those on display were potential number one picks Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Elijah Hollands, the latter of which participated in a running program amid his recovery from a preseason ACL tear.

Draft Central analyst Ed Pascoe was on hand in Craigieburn to recap all the action and give an insight into how things panned out.

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RECAP:

By: Ed Pascoe

A sense of irony came over me walking into Highgate Reserve, the same ground I last got to watch a lot of these young players back on March 15, right before Covid derailed the Victorian football season. It was a Northern Knights vs. Oakleigh Chargers trial game on that day and the ground was bustling with keen onlookers, many the same faces I would see today and it was great to see the development of some of these players. One of the big matchups in March was Nikolas Cox vs. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan which looked to be a clash we would see if the National Championships went ahead. Fast forward a few months and both players have bulked up, looking as sharp as ever in the lead up to the most important time of their lives.

To start the day it was the Vic Metro based players who were split into four training groups with the following participants:

Group A

Ewan Macpherson
Reef McInnes
Bailey Laurie
Archie Perkins
Will Phillips
Conor Stone

Group B

Cody Brand
Nikolas Cox
Josh Eyre
Liam Kolar
Ollie Lord

Group C

Jake Bowey
Josh Clarke
Connor Downie
Max Holmes
Finlay Macrae
Corey Preston

Group D

Matthew Allison
Lachlan Carrigan
Luke Cleary
Eddie Ford
Liam McMahon
Fraser Rosman

Injured Group

Max Heath
Campbell Edwardes

Vic Country players would later take the field and were split into three main groups:

Group A

Cameron Fleeton
Zach Reid
Josh Treacy
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
Henry Walsh

Group B

Ryan Angwin
Will Bravo
Jack Ginnivan
Charlie Lazzaro
Zavier Maher
Blake Reid
Harry Sharp

Group C

Dominic Bedendo
Sam Berry
Tanner Bruhn
Clayton Gay
Oliver Henry
Seamus Mitchell
Nick Stevens

Injured Group (Laps)

Elijah Hollands
Charlie Ham
Noah Gribble

There were four main drills conducted after a warm-up; with ground balls, marking, kicking, and handballing the respective focus areas. The ground ball drill involved taking half volleys, running towards the loose ball coming from behind them, taking on the bump bag and finally working in pairs to pick the ball up cleanly under pressure from a teammate.

The marking drill was changed slightly as the day went on but the main focuses were receiving a high ball before getting called to a certain colour cone to run to, turn, and then meet at the drop zone of the ball. Contested marking was the final focus, with two players coming from either the back or front to contest a mark. This drill was certainly the most competitive and one of the drills players had the most fun in, with plenty wanting just ‘one more go’.

The kicking and handballing drills were fairly standard with a three-man weave, and a short to long stationary handball among the handball drills. The kicking drills consisted of kicking to a stationary target often 45 degrees to another player, and finally a drill which involved kicking to a leading player which really separated the better kickers on the day – especially in the notoriously windy conditions at Highgate Reserve.

Overall, it was a great day for the players to get a run while bonding with some former teammates and potentially future teammates. It was also a nice little refresher for scouts and recruiters as well, who got to see how some of these players have progressed both in their football and in their body. It is hard to gauge who would be considered the ‘standouts’ from this training session but most players put in the effort required and it was also good to see some really get involved with coaches and looking for advice in certain drills, showing their commitment to getting the best out of themselves.

In Contention | Outsider AFL Draft prospects to consider: Vic Country

COME the end of a year like no other, there is likely to be a greater amount of hard luck stories and near misses than ever before, especially after the recent cuts to AFL list sizes. But for all that doom and gloom, the 2020 AFL Draft intake is also poised to provide some of the best stories of positivity as elite level hopefuls rise from the adversity this year has put forward.

In Draft Central’s newest series, we take a look at some of the draft prospects who remain in contention to fulfil their draft dreams despite missing out on invites to their respective states’ draft combines. These combine lists are often the best indicators of clubs’ interest in players, with at least four nominations required for those who were not selected in the two national Under -17 showcase games last year. Outsider talent from the Vic Country regions are next to go under the microscope, and there are plenty around the mark despite missing a full year of football.

Below are pocket profiles of some players to watch, which will also feature in our upcoming annual AFL Draft Guide.

>> 2020 AFL Draft Pool
>> AFL Draft Whispers: 2020 Edition
>> Power Rankings: November Update

BENDIGO PIONEERS:

Sam Conforti | Midfielder/Small Forward
15/03/2002 | 174cm/72kg

The diminutive mover quickly established himself as a mainstay in Bendigo’s lineup last year, going on to average 17.3 disposals across 16 games. He played mostly on the wing but was looking to develop as a hard-running, creative small forward.

Aaron Gundry | Ruck
17/02/2001 | 200cm/84kg

A player who could have benefitted greatly from another year in the NAB League system, Gundry is a mobile ruckman who has also enjoyed stints up forward. The 19-year-old’s clean hands and upside are his strengths, but he has some filling out to do.

Jack Tillig | Half-Back
07/03/2002 | 186cm/84kg

Tillig could have been one to surprise this year with a full NAB League season, set to return to the Pioneers after representing GWV while boarding at St Patrick’s Ballarat for school. He is a solid rebounder who also intercepts well at half-back.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS:

Henry Berenger | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/86kg

One who contributed a solid bottom-age campaign consisting of 15 games, Berenger showed he was capable of playing a key defensive role. His athletic profile does not jump off the page, but the 18-year-old is a readymade and versatile rebounder.

Blake Kuipers | Key Defender/Ruck
25/07/2001 | 197cm/82kg

A former high-level volleyballer, Kuipers is a player with plenty of upside who featured at last year’s Under 18 National Championships. He is quite raw, but very athletic and can fill key position posts at either end or in the ruck. Was poised for a big 2020.

Deakyn Smith | Outside Midfielder/Forward
22/08/2002 | 179cm/68kg

Part of Melbourne’s Next Generation Academy, Smith is a lightly-framed outside midfielder who can also rotate forward. He has good speed and plenty of raw talent, but is working on adding polish and consistency to his overall game.

Bayleigh Welsh | Midfielder/Forward
19/01/2002 | 180cm/82kg

Dandenong players and staff alike rate Welsh as a talent who was poised to make a real impact in 2020. He averaged a tick under 12 disposals across 14 NAB League games last year and was set for a more permanent midfield role.

GEELONG FALCONS:

Gennaro Bove | Midfielder/Small Forward
14/01/2002 | 177cm/78kg

One of two Geelong Falcons co-captains for 2020, Bove is a clean and agile small midfielder who can also get his hands dirty on the defensive end. His size and smarts bode well for development as a small forward in future.

Darcy Chrigwin | Inside Midfielder
25/07/2001 | 191cm/89kg

Another player who was poised to shift back to his native region in 2020, Chirgwin was also unlucky not to be picked up last year. The 19-year-old has grown to 89kg and would be a readymade choice as far as inside midfielders go.

Jay Dahlhaus | Small Forward
21/05/2001 | 172cm/71kg

Currently plying his trade with Southern Districts in the NTFL, Dahlhaus is an exciting small forward who brings terrific creative energy and defensive pressure to the forward half. Injury curtailed his top-age season last year and he was set to impact as a 19-year-old in 2020.

GIPPSLAND POWER:

Jai Newcombe | Inside Midfielder
02/08/2001 | 184cm/85kg

Was poised to stake his claim as one of 2020’s feel-good stories, having finally made the cut at Gippsland after being overlooked in multiple preseasons. He is an inside bull who proved hard to tackle at this year’s trials and the Power were certainly high on his potential as an over-ager.

GWV REBELS:

Isaac Wareham | Outside Midfielder
24/12/2001 | 186cm/77kg

Another who was unlucky to be overlooked last year, Wareham looked set to put injuries behind him and build on a top-age season which saw him represent Vic Country. He has plenty of development left as a December birth and makes things happen with ball in hand, playing into his overall upside.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS:

Ethan Baxter | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/82kg

A Richmond Next Generation Academy member, Baxter was an Under 16 All Australian in 2018 and had some development left to make in 2020. He is a strong key defender who can hold his own in the back 50, especially in one-on-one and aerial contests.

Kade Chalcraft | Outside Midfielder
28/03/2002 | 182cm/79kg

Chalcraft was touted for some more time on the inside this year having already showed his worth as a creative outlet on the outer. He is an evasive small-medium type who played 16 games as a bottom-ager.

Sam Durham | Balanced Midfielder
09/07/2001 | 185cm/77kg

One of last year’s state combine invitees, Durham missed out on being drafted as a top-ager but garnered interest with his speedy adjustment to the code as a multi-sport athlete. He moves well and has good skills, but would be working on his game sense and consistency.

Strahan takes inspiration from ‘The Bont’

A TALENTED state representative in basketball, Bendigo Pioneers’ Annabel Strahan has a goal of following in the footsteps of the footballer she loves to watch the most – Marcus Bontempelli. Despite being a Blues’ fan, Strahan said she can draw similarities in their journeys and hopes that she can emulate his efforts in the AFL Women’s.

“He also played a bit of basketball when he was younger and I think I see that through similarities in the way that he plays the way that I’ve transitioned too,” Strahan said. “I love how he’s one of the best users of the ball on both sides and I think that makes him really unpredictable and really versatile wherever he plays. “I hope to do that as I get more into my footy journey.”

“In terms of the girls, I think as a local person to use would be Kerryn Harrington who played for Spirit when I played (basketball) at Bendigo,” she said. “I think being able to watch her transition from basketball to footy and how she’s just been so good in both of those has been a good inspiration and good idol to use to see that you can transition and play both sports.”

As Strahan eluded to, she has had quite the journey, beginning in basketball until a couple of years ago where she took the chance on playing footy with the Pioneers.

“I moved to Bendigo two years ago which is when my footy journey started,” Strahan said. “I had been playing basketball. “Did that through the Vic Country program, played up for Bendigo. “Then I wasn’t kind of enjoying things so I wanted to try out footy and see if I would enjoy it and I absolutely loved it. “Loved it from the moment I played local footy. “Then I got invited to Pios the year after and just kind of kept going I guess.”

The attraction to football came from the increased team environment, with 18 players on the field compared to five on the basketball court. Similarly, Strahan said football was good at gradually bringing you into the system and getting the fundamentals right without demanding too much once you got to the elite junior level.

“I think the thing with basketball and the whole program where it was really intense really early on,” she said. “I felt like it was really professional from a young age and it kind of felt like I had nothing left to give for it and wasn’t really enjoying how it wasn’t really a team sport anymore and more focused on sole players. “But footy I found is much more focused on that team mentality and you’ve got to use everyone on the team, there’s not just one star team. “I like how it’s more valuing for each player on the team.”

Predominantly a midfielder in her short career, Strahan had a role change at the start of this year, moving to half-back where she thrived and said she would love to have a go at more positions around the field.

“I really enjoyed that and I think that I’d love to enjoy playing in more positions and obviously haven’t played enough to play most positions, but I think coming off the backline I really enjoyed that and I think being able to shift through multiple positions is really a good aspect for the game and for my versatility,” she said. “I think for the moment I’d say I’m enjoying the backline a lot but I’m open to being switched about wherever.”

Strahan said her clean hands and groundballs were among her best attributes on the footy field, crediting basketball with her skill. She also said she was looking to gain greater strength, adding 10kg since last season in a bid to become more of a “tackling threat”.

“I think I’ve transitioned really well and stands out in my game,” Strahan said. “With that I think my footwork which you spend so much time working on around packs, I’m really good at getting out of that. “I think the biggest attributes that I’m proud of are my decision making and my composure around the footy with the ball which I think comes from playing point guard and those decision making roles with basketball.

“I think that’s (strength) definitely something I want to improve on is just be stronger around the ball and a bit more of a tackling threat,” she said. “Also with my height, being more intercept marking, I’m more of a threat in the air by taking some good marks.”

While the Pioneers midfielder might have grown up playing basketball, her love to football has always been there, as a member of a “rabid” footy following family.

“Yeah my dad and my brother and that side of my family has grown up with rabid followers of footy, all Carlton supporters through and through,” Strahan said. “I used to go to the footy all the time when I was younger, and I still love it now. I think it was always something that I followed, but obviously since I’ve started playing I’ve got a bit more into following it. “It’s definitely been a big part of me growing up.”

Strahan’s favourite memory was winning a flag on her birthday last year with Golden Square which was all the more memorable having lost to their opponents the year before. In terms of her NAB League career, her debut game against Murray Bushrangers was one of her favourites and personal best games she played.

Unfortunately for the top-ager, her season came to an abrupt end just as she was hoping to get going, which made it tough for her to believe the AFL Women’s was still a possibility. She said the announcement the season had been postponed and eventually called off was not a shock, but still a disappointment.

“I think at that stage we were all kind of expecting it I guess,” she said. “Everything was being cancelled but it was still up in the air and we were like ‘hopefully we’ll be able to come back and play’ so that was still in the back of our minds, we’ve just got to keep going on and training. “As it got further and further along it was kind of inevitable that it was going to get cancelled but I think the main thing was just being upset because I hadn’t played much footy so I thought ‘god no, it’s only three games not enough for me to get through with that’ but I guess footy just shows that people are always watching and so I think the biggest thing is just staying focused on that.”

“There’s lots of things to distract you from it but the easiest thing for me was just talking to my other teammates and just focusing on that if it does come back how we will get ready for that.”

Strahan said during the off-season she had tried to continue bulking up on her strength and conditioning by bringing some gym equipment home from her local gym to help with her goals. As for her skills, she said her mum would often head down to the local oval with her, but conceded that it was probably not the standard of teammate she was used to.

“In terms of footy, things were a bit more difficult,” Strahan said. “I had to go down to the local oval with my mum who doesn’t know how to play footy very well so I was getting kicks that were going everywhere but it really worked on my conditioning in a way that I hadn’t done before so that was quite an experience for me. “It’s just been like going down with my family and doing running on your own which is a bit harder than with the team. Just trying to stay focused and driven.”

Strahan thanked all those who had helped her along the way from her coach at Golden Square to her strength and conditioning coach and all her friends and family who had been so supportive of her journey.

“I think looking at those people you realise how important they are along the journey and how you couldn’t have got there without them,” Strahan said. “I think that footy’s just great in giving you all those people to rely on, but also to help you and push you to be the best player you can be.”

Now Strahan is edging towards achieving her goal after receiving an AFL Women’s Draft Combine invitation earlier in the month, something that she was a little surprised about considering her lack of on-field time.

“Yeah I think, not to sound like I’m not confident in myself, but only having not even finished my full season last season and I didn’t get to do the nationals, I just thought that I didn’t have enough of a resume for footy so to get that call-up was pretty crazy for me,” Strahan said. “I didn’t really think it was in my options but it just happened and things kept on happening which was pretty wicked.”

Now she knows exactly how far she wants to take her football with that chance of making the elite level in her sights.

“I think the whole thing for me is how much I’ve enjoyed footy and just looking ahead, you want to get drafted because you want to keep playing the sport that you absolutely love and that goes into you want to progress as a player and if I get to go into the AFLW, you get to play with the best players and you get to progress your footy that way and get to play with the best players there,” Strahan said. “So I think it would just be that building myself into the best player I can be and learning from all those star players who are in the AFLW.”

As for what it would mean to get drafted, Strahan said it would be “absolutely crazy”.

“I feel like every week in the past month has just been crazy and exploding for me,” Strahan said. “But I think it would just be very rewarding coming from basketball where things weren’t amazing, but footy I’ve just found has been so enjoyable and everyone has been so supportive, it’s just such a good environment.

“I think it would be really rewarding and also really exciting in terms of getting something to look forward to and really work hard on because the opportunity would just be amazing.”

Finning goes back to go forward

A CHANCE move into defence in the first game of the 2020 season for a quarter resulted in Bendigo Pioneers’ Jemma Finning locking down a vital spot in the back six and playing some of the best form of her NAB League career. A talented midfielder over the past couple of seasons, Finning looked a natural in defence despite having no experience there before.

“I actually had no clue throughout preseason, I just had in my head I was going to play a bit more of an offensive midfielder in the forward line pushing down,” Finning said. “I had no clue I was going to play defence at all this season.”

Until the first game of the season I played one quarter midfield and we had a pretty big interchange, my coach asked me if I would like to have a bit of a role in the backline and I played the rest of the game in the backline and I really enjoyed I felt like there was a lot more to my position because my whole life of footy I’ve played a lot more defensive. “When I was in the forward line I played a lot more defensive. “It was a good gig and it really taught me some things about myself in footy so I guess now I’m a bit more of a defender/midfielder.”

Her move and subsequent success there was something of an opportunistic moment considering it was unplanned, but it worked out for the best and Finning enjoyed some great form prior to the season being called off.

“Yeah, before that I’d never really played in defence,” Finning said. “I’ve always been in the forward line or midfield. “I’d never trained there in defence or played there. “I might have played there in a bit of local footy for a bit of fun, not in competitive NAB League I never played defence or anything. “I thought I was a forward liner but I play a lot more defence now.”

Finning’s journey to the Pioneers started back in high school when, like many, a chance encounter saw her introduced to the sport.

“When I was in Year 7 a few of my friends were playing for the Castlemaine Under 18s girls,” Finning said. “They actually got invited to train for Pioneers, but I was like ‘oh what’s Pioneers?’, but she said I couldn’t play because I wasn’t playing local footy. “So my friends invite me to go to training to see what it’s like to play and stuff.” I went to the under 18s girls Castlemaine football training one night and I actually really enjoyed the training itself so I played a couple of games and I just wanted to keep playing because it was super enjoyable, especially with your friends and it was super fun so I decided to play.”

Her career progressed from there, but not without a setback as the team folded and Finning headed to her next closest team in Kangaroo Flat. There, she played a season and trained with the Pioneers though was unable to play a game due to her age. Instead, she went down to Melbourne to tryout with the School Sports Victoria (SSV) team.

“People are telling me I should give it a go, should be a good experience and see how I go,” Finning said. “Just to get some experience under my belt so I went to tryout for that and I ended up making the team which I was pretty surprised about as I actually hadn’t played much footy at all. “I didn’t have much experience.”

Making the team allowed her to travel to Maroochydore and then to Perth within a couple of years, the latter of which she made the All-Australian team kicking six goals in two games as a forward. Now eligible to play for the Pioneers as an Under 16s player, Finning impressed enough to squeeze into the Vic Country side which faced off at GMHBA Stadium. Unfortunately her experience was marred by a concussion in the first half of the game, but the Pioneers talent said she enjoyed the lead-up and gameday all the same.

“Yeah, it was really good,” she said. “The training was real intensive, working on plays and how we move the ball forward. “The gameday at Geelong was awesome, going into the club rooms they were about five times bigger than any club rooms I’d been in before and we all kind of got our own locker whereas the boys would have had theirs. “It was really good running out on the oval, bigger space and bigger oval to play on, a bit bigger of a crowd. “It was a lot more intensity and faster pace and it was just a really good experience to play on that type of oval.”

Injury struck in her bottom-age year and she was unable to play many games, but she had a strong middle-age season with eight matches, before playing all three this year in her top-age season. Right up until the global pandemic put a halt to the season. Nonetheless, Finning has been working on her strength over the break as a way of improving that aspect of her game. After all, she has a number of strengths that make her an impressive defender/midfielder.

“The fundamentals are a big part of my game, I guess everyone has to have the fundamentals but kicking, handballing and I think I read the play really well and my rebound 50s are decent in the backline,” Finning said. “I think kicking is one of my biggest parts, kicking and tackling is my biggest part of my game. “Just hitting up the players I need to hit up perfectly and tackling is a massive part of my game because I love it so much.”

Looking up to Brayden Maynard as an inspiration because of the way he plays in defence, Finning said she loves the team camaraderie that football brings, which is unlike any other sport.

“I love the girls that you get to play with,” Finning said. “I love the intensity of the game and being able to tackle and give it a bit more of opportunity with the ball. “I think that’s what I love most about it, being able to tackle and with a big group of girls the training is good.”

The SSV All-Australian team is one of Finning’s greatest accolades, though she also has a couple of best and fairests at Kangaroo Flat as one of the younger players in the team, as well as a premiership to her name there. Now the season is done and dusted, it is all about waiting and seeing what the future might hold, starting with the AFL Women’s Draft net week.

“It would mean a lot (to get drafted) seeing as it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time and definitely wanted to work towards and work towards playing with a whole new group of girls would be awesome,” Finning said. “I’ve kept it pretty local most of my footy life, meeting new people would definitely mean a lot to get drafted for sure.”

Picture: Bendigo Advertiser

Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: South Fremantle vs. Bendigo Pioneers

OUR next All-Star Team battle is one between a South Australian club and Victorian region, in South Fremantle and the Bendigo Pioneers. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were Peter Matera (South Fremantle) and Dustin Martin (Bendigo Pioneers).

TEAMS:

These clubs are seeded 10th (South Fremantle) and 23rd (Bendigo Pioneers) respectively, and makes up the penultimate clash in the second half of our draw. The winner will qualify for the Round of 16 stage.

STRENGTHS:

South Fremantle is a team which is strong across the board, boasting legendary talent on each line and some serious x-factor. With Matera and Nicky Winmar featuring on the outside, with Tim Kelly streaming through the middle and Jeff Farmer up forward, this Bulldogs team would provide plenty of highlights and attacking flair. That’s not to mention the additions of Andrew Krakouer and Ashley Sampi off the bench. The defensive solidity is there too, with West Coast Eagles premiership players Glen Jakovich and John Worsfold teaming up once again, while Darren Gaspar and James Clement feature on the last line. Competitive as you will get.

The Pioneers side is also well equipped up forward in terms on x-factor, with high fliers Chris Tarrant and Andrew Walker joined by Nathan Brown and Jake Stringer. The other obvious area of strength is Bendigo’s midfield, led by Martin and Joel Selwood. The pair are complimented by Scott Selwood at the centre bounces, with the class of Nick Dal Santo and brawn of Michael Braun on the outer. The engine room depth also extends to the interchange bench, where a couple more Selwood’s are named among others.

WEAKNESSES:

While both are inevitably relatively strong teams, there are a couple of areas which could do with a boost. South Fremantle’s ruck stocks, or lack thereof sees the recently released Cam McCarthy take up that position, despite playing as an undersized key forward for most of his career. The bench depth also leaves a little to be desired in terms of consistency, though we doubt some of the starting stars would even warrant rotation.

Bendigo’s key position depth is also an area of slight weakness, with terrific talent available in at least one of the two posts up either end. Akin to the Bulldogs, Bendigo’s ruck spot is filled by a key position forward in Nathan Thompson, though the midfielders named would hardly need a dominant ruckman to find their own ball. Some added tall options on the bench would also have been handy.

SUMMARY:

We are backing South Fremantle to get up in this one, with just a touch more class around the ground despite Bendigo’s midfield prowess. They should be stingy at one end, and free-flowing up the other.

 

Which All-Star team are you picking?
South Fremantle
Bendigo Pioneers
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All-Star Team of the AFL Draft Era: Which club is the best of the best?

EVERY year, a new crop of AFL Draft talents rise up and make waves at AFL level. Some clubs such as Calder Cannons and Geelong Falcons are referred to as ‘footy factories’. Others are less well known, but nonetheless vital in providing players with their start to the AFL.

Over the past couple of months, Draft Central has gone through all of the NAB League, SANFL and WAFL clubs and tried to determine the best 24-player squad for their respective clubs. The captains and vice-captains were determined by the public through Instagram voting. Now, it is up to the public to decide which All-Star Team is the greatest of the lot. That’s right, the 30 teams from Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia are going head to head in a knockout draw.

Which teams are competing?

NAB League [12]: Bendigo Pioneers, Calder Cannons, Dandenong Stingrays, Eastern Ranges, Geelong Falcons, Gippsland Power, GWV Rebels, Murray Bushrangers, Northern Knights, Oakleigh Chargers, Sandringham Dragons, Western Jets
SANFL [9]: Central District, Glenelg, North Adelaide, Norwood, Port Adelaide, South Adelaide, Sturt, West Adelaide, Woodville-West Torrens
WAFL [9]: Claremont, East Fremantle, East Perth, South Fremantle, Peel Thunder, Perth, Subiaco, Swan Districts, West Perth

How will it work?

Each day at 10am, we will publish the two All-Star Teams of the AFL Draft era, and the public will be able to vote through the article, Facebook and Twitter, with the overall winner moving through to the next round.

Given there are 30 teams, two sides who we have picked out as the top two seeds – East Fremantle and Geelong Falcons – will have the bye in the opening round, with the other 28 teams seeded appropriately similar to the All-Star Player voting (3rd against 28th, 4th against 27th etc.).

Who is up first?

The first All-Star Team battle is between a couple of metropolitan sides who we have seeded 16th and 17th in the draw. They both have some absolute elite stars, but Calder Cannons and Western Jets will begin the voting on Monday. They will be followed by the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels and Eastern Ranges on Tuesday, before a cross-state clash sees third seed Port Adelaide Magpies tackle Peel Thunder.

Classic Contests: Late Pioneers charge falls short against the Stingrays

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in our series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at another clash between the NAB League rivals to complete our full series, and today’s battle is between the Bendigo Pioneers and Dandenong Stingrays. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2013, when the sides met in Round 7 of the formerly named TAC Cup competition.

2013 TAC Cup, Round 7
Saturday May 18, 1:00pm
Epsom Huntly Reserve

BENDIGO PIONEERS 3.1 | 3.3 | 6.5 | 9.5 (59)
DANDENONG STINGRAYS 6.4 | 8.8 | 10.12 | 10.16 (76)

GOALS:

Bendigo: J. Helman 3, B. Poyser, D. Darby, F. Payne, J. Maher, I. Miller, H. Conway
Dandenong: 
B. Hartung 3, M. Rennie 2, J. Lonie 2, C. McCartney 2, B. Egan

BEST:

Bendigo: J. Helman, F. Payne, J. Chisari, L. Barrett, D. Jones, I. Miller
Dandenong: 
K. Gray, J. Pickess, Z. Jones, M. Rennie, B. Hartung, J. Bastinac

Draftees in action:

Bendigo: Jaden McGrath, Billy Evans
Dandenong: Billy Hartung, Zak Jones, James Harmes, Jack Lonie

There haven’t been many close games between the Bendigo Pioneers and Dandenong Stingrays over the last decade, with the closest battle decided by a margin of 17 points in 2013. As has often been the case, Dandenong got up on that day, led by a trio of top-aged future AFL draftees, who helped fend off a late surge from the Pioneers.

The two regions came into their Round 7 TAC Cup clash with opposite records; as the Pioneers had just snapped a three-game losing streak to sit 11th at 2-4, while the Stingrays were riding a four-game unbeaten run having started the season at 0-2. Their now 4-2 record had them poised nicely in fourth.

Somewhat true to form, it was the Stingrays who shot out to an early lead, notching 10 scoring shots in the opening term to soar 21 points ahead. That margin was extended to a formidable 45 points in the following period as they managed to keep the Pioneers goalless across 25 minutes, but that’s where the buck stopped.

While the deficit was ultimately unassailable, Bendigo outscored its opponent in the final two terms to greatly reduce the final margin, booting three majors in each period and keeping Dandenong goalless in the last. The Pioneers’ accuracy (9.5) was still not enough to combat Dandenong’s weight of scoring chances (10.16), as they suffered a fifth loss for the season.

Kyle Gray was named best afield for the winners, credit to his 14 disposals and nine marks at 100 per cent efficiency. Billy Hartung was exceptional with 33 disposals and three goals, supported well by fellow draftee Zak Jones (17 disposals, seven marks). A bottom-aged Jack Lonie also found the big stick with two majors, while James Harmes collected 20 touches.

For Bendigo, Joel Helman‘s three goals saw him recognised as the best in a losing effort, while Fergus Payne (14 disposals, one goal) and Isaiah Miller (30 disposals, one goal) were others in the top six to have hit the scoreboard. Jacob Chisari (29 disposals, 10 tackles) was also lively around the ball, as future draftees Jaden McGrath and Billy Evans were kept to 18 touches between them.

Dandenong would go on to have a strong season, qualifying for the grand final after finishing the regular season in third at 10-7. While they went down in the decider, the Stingrays managed to knock off Bendigo once again during the home-and-away allotment, by a much more comfortable 70 points at home in Round 13. That was one of 14 losses for the Pioneers in 2013, as they finished 11th having gone down in their last eight outings.

Classic Contests: Begley and Stephenson combine for nine, but Pioneers clinch shootout

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in our series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at another clash between the NAB League rivals to complete our full series, and today’s battle is between the Bendigo Pioneers and Eastern Ranges. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2016, when the two sides met in Kyabram for what was a high-scoring affair.

2016 TAC Cup, Round 6
Saturday May 7, 1:00pm
Kyabram Recreational Reserve

BENDIGO PIONEERS 2.7 | 7.7 | 16.8 | 19.11 (125)
EASTERN RANGES 1.1 | 8.7 | 9.11 | 15.14 (104)

GOALS:

Bendigo: J. Neaves 4, K. Kirby 3, B. Whitford 3, A. Schumacher 2, J. Atley 2, C. Jones, J. Rosengren, M. Booth, N. Twigg, D. Henderson.
Eastern:
J. Begley 5, J. Stephenson 4, S. Hayes 2, J. Lynch, T. Jacotine, P. Wallis, N. Mullenger-McHugh.

BEST:

Bendigo: A. Schumacher, C. Jones, D. Henderson, B. Blake, J. Sheahan, L. Wallace
Eastern:
J. Begley, J. Stephenson, H. Nolan, N. Mullenger-Mchugh, T. North, J. Lynch

Draftees in action:

Bendigo: Joe Atley, Kayle Kirby, Angus Schumacher, Kane Farrell
Eastern: Josh Begley, Jaidyn Stephenson, Tom North, Sam Hayes, Nathan Mullenger-McHugh

There may have been a host of big names missing when Bendigo and Eastern went head-to-head in the 2016 TAC Cup season, but it didn’t stop the extensive talent afield from putting on a high-scoring showcase. A total of 34 goals were kicked between the Pioneers and Ranges as they met in Kyabram, with 17 individual goalkickers spread between the teams, and two star Ranges combining for more than half of their side’s score.

Eastern made the long road trip without the likes of Jordan Gallucci, Callum Brown, and Dylan Clarke, as well as a host of jets from their bottom-age crop which went on to produce 10 AFL draftees. Bendigo also boasted a terrific under-age core in that period, but would not have access to the likes of Paddy Dow, Lochie O’Brien, and Brent Daniels for this encounter. Nine future AFL players still took the field, split five to four in the Ranges’ favour.

Speaking of favours, a clear scoring end was established throughout the match, and the hosts would have access to it first-up. Eight scoring shots to two told of Bendigo’s immense territorial gains, but a 12-point quarter time lead meant the Pioneers had failed to truly capitalise. The game would be opened up massively after the first break, with Eastern edging ahead by one goal at half time on the back of 7.6 to Bendigo’s 5.0.

The third term is often referred to as the premiership quarter, and it was where the Pioneers made their move. In keeping with their accurate conversion rate in term two, the hosts slammed home 9.1 to stream ahead by 39 points heading into the final break. It proved more than enough to withstand Eastern’s final charge, as the Ranges remained 21 points adrift upon the final siren.

Five goals from that year’s Victorian draft bolter, Josh Begley, and four from Collingwood star Jaidyn Stephenson were not enough to peg back Bendigo’s even spread of scorers, even with bigman Sam Hayes (two goals) getting in on the act. Begley was rightly named best afield for the Ranges, with draftees Nathan Mullenger-McHugh and Tom North also recognised for their efforts.

But they would prove fruitless, as Jonty Neaves (four goals) led Bendigo’s scoring surge, backed by the likes of Kayle Kirby (three goals), and Angus Schumacher (two), who was named the winners’ most valuable player. Cooper Jones and Darby Henderson both collected 26 touches to be named among the best, while Joe Atley found it 24 times and Kane Farrell, 18.

The Pioneers would hardly improve their ladder position by season’s end, missing out on finals as their 4-14 record was only good enough for 11th. Eastern fared much better, but only added three more wins to their tally after Round 6, finishing eighth at 7-10. The Ranges were pipped by Sandringham Dragons in a dramatic elimination final to end their season.

Classic Contests: Dragons break Bendigo hearts despite inaccuracy

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in our series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at another clash between the NAB League rivals to complete our full series, and today’s battle is between the Bendigo Pioneers and Sandringham Dragons. In this edition, we wind back the clock just over a year to when the two sides played out a heart-stopper in Echuca.

2019 NAB League, Round 8
Saturday May 18, 1:00pm
Victoria Park, Echuca

BENDIGO PIONEERS 4.0 | 6.0 | 10.1 | 12.2 (74)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 3.3 | 4.10 | 6.12 | 10.18 (78)

GOALS:

Bendigo: J. Dick-O’Flaherty 3, J. Treacy 3, R. Clarke 2, J. Evans, K. Attwell, J. Schischka, Z. Murley.
Sandringham:
J. Florent 2, E. Soylemez 2, R. Bowman 2, R. Byrnes, T. Spencer, J. Bell, M. Bergman.

BEST:

Bendigo: W. Wallace, J. Treacy, J. Evans, J. Ginnivan, W. Shaw, R. Wilson
Sandringham:
C. Watts, M. Bergman, A. Hanrahan, R. Byrnes, J. Voss, J. Bell

Draftees in action:

Bendigo: Nil.
Sandringham:
Miles Bergman, Ryan Byrnes, Jack Bell

Road trips in the NAB League competition are often long and arduous, but a win can see those types of feelings dissipate in an instant. That was exactly the case for Sandringham as the Dragons travelled to Echuca to take on Bendigo in last year’s competition, looking to make up for a loss to Eastern in their previous outing. The visitors sat fourth at 4-2 after a 3-0 start, and Bendigo had endured a similar run having failed to build on its 2-0 start.

Both sides would be missing key personnel too, with Bendigo particularly impacted by the absence of Brodie Kemp and Thomson Dow, while Sandringham would have to battle without the likes of Finn Maginness, Jack Mahony and Fischer McAsey among others. It meant the Dragons would boast the only three eventual draftees to take the field; Miles Bergman, Ryan Byrnes, and Jack Bell.

The impact of the APS football season seemed to even the two sides up, while also providing a great opportunity to some bottom-age stars to shine. The greatest margin of the match would reach only a little over three goals either way, with Bendigo’s incredible accuracy, and Sandringham’s lack of keeping the contest tight. With 28 scoring shots (10.18) to Bendigo’s 14 (12.2), the Dragons only just snuck over the line by four points.

A Josh Treacy major at 59 seconds into the final term had Bendigo looking good for the win, until Sandringham slowly bridged the gap and was eventually put in front by Riley Bowman with 10 minutes left to play. James Schischka‘s goal with over three minutes remaining gave the hosts some hope of reclaiming the lead, but they would fall just short in the end.

Defenders earned best-afield honours for both sides, with Corey Watts (12 disposals, three marks) and Will Wallace (15 disposals, three marks, six rebound 50s) recognised for their efforts. Treacy’s three goals were important to Bendigo’s cause, as were Riley Wilson‘s team-high 23 disposals. Byrnes unsurprisingly led all comers with 31 touches and a goal, followed by Angus Hanrahan on 26, while Bergman booted 1.5 from his 19 disposals and five marks.

The Dragons would go on to finish fourth come the end of the regular season, and couldn’t quite improve on it during finals as they were bundled out handily by eventual premier, Oakleigh in the preliminary finals. Bendigo ended up in 11th with five wins and 10 losses, before being dumped out in Wildcard Round by Northern.

As should always be the case though, the true success of each region would have been defined by their respective hauls of draftees. Sandringham produced nine players good enough to land on an AFL list in 2019, while Bendigo ended up with four moving on into the elite system.

Classic Contests: Jets hold off late Pioneers charge

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in our series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 18 clashes in the NAB League this year between the Western Jets and Bendigo Pioneers. In this edition we wind back the clock to 2016, when Western was forced to hold off a late Bendigo fightback at Downer Oval.

2016 TAC Cup, Round 7
Sunday May 15, 12:00pm
Downer Oval

WESTERN JETS 1.1 | 4.6 | 11.9 | 11.11 (77)
BENDIGO PIONEERS 2.3 | 3.4 | 4.4 | 9.9 (63)

GOALS:

Western: S. Syme 2, O. Junker 2, B. Graham 2, S. Griffiths, R. Ham, J. Dundon, D. Foley, T. Xerri.
Bendigo:
J. Rosengren 2, B. Whitford 2, J. Exell, J. Atley, C. Jones, B. Blake, J. Thomas.

BEST:

Western: O. Junker, D. Foley, R. Ham, J. Dundon, F. Campisi, J. Cotter
Bendigo:
K. Farrell, Z. Norris, K. Kirby, B. Blake, J. Atley, J. Exell

Draftees in action:

Western: Oscar Junker, Tristan Xerri 
Bendigo:
Joe Atley, Kayle Kirby, Angus Schumacher, Kane Farrell

Both the Western Jets and Bendigo Pioneers may have been languishing down the wrong end of the ladder throughout 2014, but that did not stop them from delivering an entertaining clash in Round 7 of the TAC Cup season. The Jets, who would host the game at Downer Oval, came in carrying a 1-5 record. After trumping Oakleigh in Round 1, they dropped five-consecutive games to sit 10th. Bendigo was poised just above them on the ladder at 2-4, and looked to be on the way up having snapped a three-game losing streak in Round 6 against Eastern.

With the opportunity at hand to pick up points against more level opposition, both sides enjoyed their own runs of momentum. Bendigo edged ahead at the first break, but Western hit back to gain its own eight-point advantage to half time. The scoring was relatively steady with just seven goals on the board between either side, but that would soon be about to change.

Games of two completely contrasting halves are commonplace in football, but what ensued in this clash was a second half consisting of two polar-opposite quarters. The Jets looked to be soaring to an easy victory having slammed home seven goals to Bendigo’s one in the third period, opening up a 47-point buffer. Though the margin seemed unassailable and proved as much in the end, the Pioneers gave the unlikely comeback a good crack in the run home with five goals to nil. Despite the late scare, Western held on to win by 14 points for its second win of the season.

Former North Melbourne midfielder Oscar Junker was named best afield in his side’s win, finishing with 26 disposals, six marks, and two goals to his name. The likes of Daniel Foley (27 disposals) and Judah Dundon (29) also found plenty of the ball. Tristan Xerri, another North Melbourne draftee, kicked a goal and managed 13 hitouts.

The cream rose to the top for Bendigo, with Port Adelaide forward Kane Farrell (25 disposals, eight marks) named the Pioneers’ best. Fellow future draftees Kayle Kirby (14 disposals) and Joe Atley (22, eight tackles) were not far behind, while Jamieson Sheahan and Darby Henderson found a heap of the ball as usual despite the loss.

Western went on to jump Bendigo in the final standings, finishing 10th on the back of a 5-13 record, with Bendigo slumping to 11th at 4-14 for the year. The Round 16 reverse fixture at Queen Elizabeth Oval proved a defining game for the Jets, as they won by 32 points on the road to gain a consolation ladder position.