Tag: 2021 afl draft

Head-to-head: 2021 NAB League Round 2 – Tyler Sonsie vs. Nick Daicos

THE 2021 NAB League season rolls on into Round 2 on the weekend, with six games split evenly across Saturday and Sunday. Headlining the matchups is an all-Metro double-header at Preston City Oval on Saturday afternoon, which will be capped by an exciting clash between the Eastern Ranges and Oakleigh Chargers.

In a brand new series, we delve into the most eye-catching head-to-head matchups set to take place during the next round of action, starting with an absolute blockbuster. Having earned co-captaincy in the Draft Central Round 1 Team of the Week, top five prospects Tyler Sonsie (Eastern) and Nick Daicos (Oakleigh) are poised to lock horns this week in a mouthwatering midfield battle. Both are also AFL Academy members.

Neither player really requires an introduction, but below are the key points which aim to compare and contrast these two elite talents.

JOURNEY SO FAR:

Sonsie already boasts a terrific resume and should be well-known to keen NAB League watchers. The Eastern prospect proved his credentials by taking out Vic Metro’s MVP award at the 2019 Under 16 National Championships, before later earning his Ranges Under 18 debut. He would go on to play six games as a wingman/forward, averaging 11 disposals and a goal every other game while also featuring in the Ranges’ grand final loss to Oakleigh.

Daicos is another name who is already well-hyped, but has seen a touch less top-level exposure through the Victorian talent pathways. His name speaks for itself – the son of Peter and brother of Josh – so Collingwood fans are understandably excited to see their latest father-son prospect. He more than held his own in the APS Football competition alongside the likes of Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson, and was set to join the Chargers’ program last year. Instead, we had to wait until last week for his maiden NAB League outing (it was worth the wait).

PRESEASON: 

Both players had interrupted preseasons but were quite obviously raring to go in Round 1. Sonsie had some back issues at the end of 2020 which carried on into early-2021, but he shook them off to get back up to speed. Daicos went through minor ankle surgery last September and spent some time getting his confidence back in the lead up to his NAB League debut. He did not participate in the preseason testing event, but ran out in a Collingwood VFL practice match and impressed. That form carried on into Round 1.

POSITION:

Both players will predominantly run through midfield this season and proved as much last week. There are some slight differences in their secondary positions, though. While Sonsie is more of a midfielder who rests forward, Daicos is a midfielder who also rolls off half-back and looks to open up play from there. Despite that, we did see Daicos spend a good amount of time up forward in Round 1 after he copped an early leg knock. Both players took full toll during their time inside attacking 50 last week, with Sonsie classily converting two late goals on his non-preferred side and Daicos slotting three majors from a half-dozen attempts.

SIZE AND STYLE:

These two should measure up quite well against each other, with both between 180-185cm and shaping up relatively similarly weight-wise. In terms of style, they bring some real class to the game each time the ball is in their hands and use it brilliantly by hand and foot. They are both so smooth in possession and while they are not overtly strong, can extract and come away from congestion beautifully. Daicos’ half-back work and Round 1 showing point towards having a greater defensive acumen, whereas Sonsie is perhaps a touch more forward-thinking, more often. Like two heavyweights slugging it out in the ring, this bout should be a great watch for the neutral – if you’re not too big a fan of defence.

IMPROVEMENT AREAS:

While breaking the game open is something Daicos can clearly do, one of his goals this year is to do that even more. His bursting clearance at the first centre bounce last week, and work rate to win the ball in dangerous areas points towards that being a factor going forward. He is a team driven player too, so will look to bring his teammates into the game.

As alluded to above, Sonsie is working on his defensive transition and endurance base. While his attacking acumen is so effective, applying that tackling pressure and becoming more relevant going the other way is the next step in Sonsie’s development. He has no trouble finding the ball and slides away from congestion with ease, but will be more inclined to rip away contested ball as he puts on more size.

ROUND 1:

Stats:

Daicos – 28 disposals (20 kicks), 8 marks, 7 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 3 rebound 50s, 3.2
Sonsie – 34 disposals (20 kicks), 6 marks, 2 tackles, 6 inside 50s, 2 rebound 50s, 2.1

Scout Notes:

Daicos – “In his NAB League debut, Daicos showed the hype was justified with a best on ground performance against perhaps the team to beat this year in Sandringham. Daicos was superb in the midfield, winning the ball at will and showing great skill and speed when in possession.

Daicos started the game perfectly with the game’s first clearance and showed his forward craft, kicking a well-struck set shot from 45 metres out. His second goal came from a set shot from 50 metres in the third quarter, and his third and final goal came in the last quarter with a terrific crumbing effort where he hit the ball at speed and kicked the goal quicker than a hiccup.

With an early corky, Daicos had to spend a bit of time at deep forward in the second half but he still looked so damaging whenever he went near the ball. Daicos finished the game with 28 disposals, eight marks, seven tackles and kicked 3.2 in a best on ground performance.” – Ed Pascoe

Sonsie – “Sonsie reminded everyone why he is considered one of the top five prospects in the 2021 draft with a dominant display in the midfield, showing his trademark attacking nature and class in a strong four-quarter performance. Sonsie was a clearance specialist in the first quarter, winning plenty of the ball in-close and dishing off cleanly by hand. It wasn’t his usual style of winning the ball and attacking by foot, but he was effective nonetheless.

Sonsie had a few running shots on goal in the first half and didn’t quite nail them as he usually would, biting off a bit more than he could chew with some opposite foot kicks, but he would address those issues in the last quarter. Sonsie is usually flawless in his kick execution on both sides and it all finally clicked in the last quarter as he kicked two sensational goals on his non-preferred.

The first was a classy rove and snap from a stoppage and the second came after he won a centre clearance and then followed that very clearance up with a running shot at goal from 40-metres out. Sonsie put on a show, finishing the gamer with 34 disposals, six inside 50s and two goals.” – Ed Pascoe

FINAL WORD:

This battle looms as a much-watch for draft followers, with two potential top five picks set lock horns while they look to be in scary form. The match itself should also be a ripping contest, with Eastern coming off a win and Oakleigh keen to rectify its Round 1 loss to Sandringham. Should Daicos be fully over the knock he sustained last week, he will likely get a massive run through midfield once again, right alongside the irresistible class of Sonsie.

2021 WAFL Colts MOTR: Round 1 – South Fremantle vs. West Perth

THE 2021 WAFL Colts competition got underway on the weekend, with the four fixtures providing some fairly competitive action. It took little time for much of the West Australian Under 19 talent pool to shake off the cobwebs in Round 1, and fans were treated to high-scoring games with end-to-end forays and even a bit of spirit.

Our featured match of the round, played between South Fremantle and West Perth, exemplified everything good about the opening weekend of football. In a contest littered with momentum shifts and fast-paced transitional play, the Bulldogs came out on top by 14 points 15.11 (101) to 13.9 (87) in warm conditions at Fremantle Oval on Saturday morning.

We take you through some of the top performers from either side in our Scouting Notes. Please note, they are the opinion of the individual scout.

SCOUTING NOTES

SOUTH FREMANTLE vs. WEST PERTH

By: Michael Alvaro

South Fremantle:

#9 Julian Hultan

Hultan was a sensation in the attacking half for South Fremantle, finishing with half-a-dozen goals and proving a handful for opposition defenders. While not an overly tall player at 182cm, Hultan defied his listing to play like a key forward at times with the way he commanded space and worked strongly in the air. He opened his account with an opportunistic goal from nothing in the first term and added another in the second, but was sighted contributing more work up the ground before the main break. Afterwards, his forward craft came to the fore inside 50 with some really crafty goals. His composure and willingness to compete at ground level proved the theme for two third term goals, while contested marking became his MO in the fourth with another two majors. Overall, it was a memorable day for the 18-year-old.

#18 Aaron Drage

A key part of the Bulldogs’ strong midfield rotation, Drage won his fair share of ball on the inside early and did not mind getting nice and physical with the opposition. He looked to send the ball forward quickly from congestion with some hurried kicks away at stoppages, but also remained strong under tackling pressure to dish out by hand. As the game wore on, Drage also worked up to either end of the ground and was competitive in his efforts to ensure South could hold on for victory.

#20 Caleb Stephens

Stephens was South’s leading ball winner on the day with 22 disposals and provided some real drive from midfield with a game-high seven inside 50 entries. He looked to set the tone by wheeling and going quickly, while also working to string together some nice handball chains as South broke forward. Stephens almost troubled the scorers in the third term but pulled a snap wide, though his long kick to Lochlan Bloomer ended in a goal assist during the same stanza. He also ran hard back to defence in the fourth quarter after South was beaten in the middle, providing a clutch intercept at the death.

#21 Angus Fraser

Another of the Bulldogs to play a key hand in midfield, Fraser provided a handy point of difference with his willingness to stay on the move once in possession at the contest. He was not as overtly dominant as a pure ball winner, but did some nice things with ball in hand and most importantly, impacted the scoreboard. Fraser’s first major came from a crafty and clean finish at a forward 50 stoppage, showcasing his quick thinking. His second was a set shot conversion on the end of a 50-metre penalty, having initially cut across to turn the ball over inside attacking 50.

#37 Jesse Motlop

The Fremantle Next Generation Academy (NGA) member and son of Daniel was lively in South’s win, rotating through midfield from up forward. He bookended his game inside the attacking 50 and constantly looked to create forward of centre, showing great confidence to take on opponents and baulk his way into open spaces. He first hit the scoreboard with some quick work over the back in term two, putting boot to ball with composure to snap through a classy goal. His second major was the highlight of the day through, as Motlop initiated a give-and-go hemmed in on the boundary, before cutting inside and snapping home once again. He is still a raw type who looks more comfortable up forward, but has rare instincts and constantly backs himself to make something happen.

Others:

Lochlan Bloomer was another South Freo forward to shine, taking his chances well for three goals on the back of some lively work inside 50. Liam Brandis and Ira Jetta were others to provide some spark in the front half, while Lachlan Turley played a key role down back and Toby Dodds‘ work on the rebound was terrific. Another Fremantle NGA prospect, Riley Colborne also showed promise on the wing.


West Perth:

#3 Zac Fleiner

Difficult to miss under his brightly-coloured helmet, Fleiner also has an eye-catching style of play. The run-and-gun defender loves to break the lines out of defence and strung together a number of passages with multiple running bounces. He is a kick-first kind of talent and often sent forward short, darting passes, but can refine some of his work at full tilt. His first term goal was one of the moments of the day, as Fleiner finished from long range on his favoured left foot having taken a couple of bounces and good meterage. While lightly built, another pleasing aspect of Fleiner’s play was his intensity and courage to work back defensively; flying for intercept marks and doing some dirtywork at ground level.

#4 Luke Reilly

Reilly was one who worked well into the game and began to show his best traits once he built up a full head of steam. His first good bit of play came in the second term, with a spearing pass to assist Jack De Marte’s goal. The nippy midfielder looked smooth on the ball and often looked to dart into open space before delivering forward passes by foot. He set the tone for West Perth’s ball movement with a relentless willingness to move it on quickly, constantly looking to move with intent. Reilly seemed to lift in the final term and kicked a goal on the run having taken the advantage from a free kick.

#8 Lochlan Paton

Paton is a player with a lot of class and while he was not overly prolific with 15 disposals, his high level was evident in nearly every possession. He started a little shakily with a poor kick across defensive 50, but redeemed himself with some nice moments in the first quarter. A couple of important defensive efforts led to goals for West Perth in term two; with the first being a smother as South Fremantle looked to break out of defence, and the second a terrific holding the ball tackle which had the same effect. Paton seemed to have more time on the ball than most others and showed off with some nice spins to break out of congestion cleanly. If he can begin to accumulate better and string together such moments more consistently, he could quickly rise in 2021.

#24 Jack De Marte

Leading all comers on the day with 23 disposals (20 kicks), De Marte was one of the more busy players out there. He built into the contest well and began to take hold after quarter time, propping nicely in congestion to get an open kick away and even sneaking forward to snare a goal in term two. His kicking became neater as the game wore on and he was one of the key West Perth players to lift when the game was on the line late. One particularly clutch play saw him lay a tackle and then deliver inside 50 for a Saverio Marafioti goal.

#28 Zarne Robis

Robis was clearly West Perth’s premier forward on the day and finished with four goals in a highly promising display. He took a bit of luck to get going, but exemplified the Falcons’ ability to be efficient inside 50 with two snap goals in the first term. Later, he would showcase his smooth set shot routine to complete the four-goal haul and catch the eye of many onlookers. At 191cm, the 19-year-old is not exactly key position size, but rather dynamic and versatile in the role he plays up forward.

Others:

Cooper Blackburn showed plenty of dash coming out of defence for the Falcons, while Saverio Marafioti‘s raw talent came to the fore up forward with bull-like attack and real penetration in his play. Kane Bevan‘s transition to a key forward role yielded one goal, as Liam McWha and Riley Sprigg battled well in the ruck. Harrison Baxter was also handy in the front half and Jordan Berry had his moments.

Image Credit: AFLNT Media

Scouting Notes: 2021 NAB League – Round 1

AFTER last week’s standalone season-opener, the first full NAB League round of 2021 was run and done across an enthralling five-day stretch. Victoria’s hottest AFL Draft prospects were scattered throughout all six fixtures as they begin their quest for elite level recognition, with some talents blowing out the cobwebs in quick time and proving their top 10 credentials. Our scouts were on hand to run you through the top performers from each game, in their opinion-based Scouting Notes.

GWV REBELS vs. GEELONG FALCONS

By: Peter Williams

GWV REBELS:

#1 Sam Butler

Played a clever small forward’s game inside 50, timing his runs and attack on the ball well. He used the ball well by foot, hitting up Jye Lockett early in the match as an example. He showed off his quick bursts around the goals with a nice running goal mopping up after a minor lapse of cleanliness between Lockett and Josh Rentsch. In the third term, he slickly stole the ball off Indy Parish and ran forward, then kicked an opportunistic goal 16 minutes in when everyone else thought there was a mark to Toby Conway, and Butler slammed home a major from point blank range. He capped off his performance with a hard run into goal 20m out off the back of great defensive work from his teammates.

#2 Ben Hobbs

Cracked in time and time again and provided the inside body the Rebels needed, showing a high work rate early in the match to win plenty of the ball. He was not as prolific in the second half in terms of his impact, but he still had clean hands and used quick disposals around the coal face to get it out and forward for his side. He had a set shot in the opening term from 60m which easily made the distance, but went to the left. Never gave in across the match and was a fierce competitor in the win.

#3 Charlie Molan

Spread well around the ground and had plenty of the football himself, particularly through the middle two terms. He looked to switch up play and be the distributor from defence or in the midfield to open the game up for his teammates. He had a good second term which included a great clearance and thumping ball forward from the stoppage, then would push back into defence such as in the third term, where his desperation saw him rush the ball across the line and get a free kick for his trouble. Has the silky spin moves to get out of trouble in his arsenal as well, and was clean by hand.

#5 Josh Rentsch

The tall forward was busy early, crashing into opponents and packs to try and win the ball. He clumsily hit an opponent front-on and earned a report, then had an unlucky bounce not long after when it went on a right angle as he tried to run into an open goal and collect it on the way. He kicked his first goal 10m out on a tight angle to nail the set shot, then kicked his second in the final term with a strong grab and a set shot on a tight angle. He had a couple of other chances, including a missed handball in the second term to Lockett, a mark that was deemed a push in the back in the second term, and then a set shot from 35m out that missed to the right. Overall he looked a presence inside 50 though.

#6 Marcus Herbert

Made his mark early in he match in a half-forward stoppage when he won the ball against three Falcons, spun out of trouble and kicked inside 50. He put up the don’t argue in the second term to handball clean to a teammate and was busy in the back half throughout the quarter. He worked hard across the ground to win the ball in all thirds, and then intercepted the ball at half-forward, did not break stride and nailed the running goal from 35m out. Darted in and out of traffic cleanly and was one of the better Rebels players on the night.

#8 Josh Gibcus

One of, if not the Rebels’ best on the day, Gibcus was outstanding in defence with his intercept marking and positioning. Time and time again he would mop up in the back 50, taking clean one-grab marks and then when at ground level, showed composure with ball-in-hand. He has a lovely long kick and makes the right decisions, and aside from a couple of kicks that were rushed, generally used it well. In the opening term, Gibcus had a nice sidestep under pressure and chopped the arms to get free and going forward. He was instrumental in ensuring the Rebels did not concede more goals through the middle of the game.

#10 Blake Scott

Stepped up to be one of the better Rebels with some really eye-catching highlights in the middle two teams. He used his pace to run down the wing and break the lines, then pickpocketed an opposition dangerous kick in board, only to miss the set shot. He made no mistake by crumbing a Rentsch attempted mark to snap and goal, with another snap on goal missing to the left. In the third term, Scott took a nice mark and nailed the set shot from 35m out, then won a free kick on the wing for being bumped high front on later in the term, and backed himself with a kick inboard to a two-on-one which worked out.

GEELONG:

#4 Gennaro Bove

Might not have gone his way in the first half with the Rebels in control, but Bove never stopped running and working hard throughout the game. He had a quick snap in the third term which was rushed but still on target, though an unlucky bounce went up instead of forward and was mopped up by the Rebels defence. Thanks to great tackling pressure on Hobbs, Bove won a free kick and received a 50m penalty where he converted the set shot from the goalsquare. He kicked his second midway through the final term by finding space and kicking the set shot from 30m out.

#7 Flynn Young

Was a really busy forward inside 50, kicking three goals from five scoring shots and realistically having chances to go home with a big bag in the opening round. He kicked a set shot goal 25m out in the opening term to put his team within a point, then nailed another set shot in the second term. Keeping his average at a goal a quarter, Young kicked his third from a set shot late in the premiership quarter, with an earlier miss in the third term hitting the post three quarters high.

#12 Noah Gribble

Coming back from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, Gribble wasted no time in asserting himself on the contest. The hard runner in his 19-year-old season worked hard around the ground to rack up the ball with ease. He worked hard out of defence and along the wing to drive the ball forward and remain in the contest. His second and third efforts were good and spread well around the ground. He showed off is agility by sidestepping some opponents at half-back in the final term to create separation from opponents and get out of trouble.

#27 Charlie Brauer

A high-impact-per-disposal player, Brauer only finished with the 11 touches, three marks and two rebounds, but caught the eye on a number of occasions. He was clean and composed coming out of the back 50, and generally made the right decisions by hand or foot. He might not have amassed the amount of ball as some of his teammates, but as he showed, he has the ability to move the ball well in transition.

#34 Indy Parish

Won his fair share of the ball and showed clean hands, but was often tightly guarded at stoppages. He showed quick hands when in possession through midfield, and read the ball well off the fall, also taking a good mark early in the third term and then quickly dishing off to a teammate on the run to keep it moving. Worked throughout the match to be a solid contributor without being outstanding.

#60 Toby Conway

The bigman had his way in the ruck by using his height and strength to position himself well at stoppages and win the lionshare of the hitouts. He was clever around the stoppages on his way to 30-odd hitouts, but it was his ground level work that also stood out. He tracked it at ground level and would provide second and third efforts for his midfielders and had a crack throughout the four quarters to be a reliable player around the ground.

CALDER CANNONS vs. EASTERN RANGES

By: Ed Pascoe

CALDER CANNONS:

#4 Sam Clohesy

It was back-to-back strong games for Clohesy who has been one of the more impressive players coming back through the new 19s competition, but as a December birth he still has plenty of growth as a player. Clohesy started the game in his preferred half-back position, offering plenty of rebound and using his voice to offer direction and make his own presence known to teammates for the quick receive. As Calder needed to make some changes to get back into the game, Clohesy was moved forward to good effect and was quickly making his presence felt with some nice marks and quick ball movement, but he also hit the scoreboard with a nice set shot. He didn’t add to his goal tally but he looked dangerous and got to show his versatility, ending the game with 24 disposals, 10 marks, seven rebound 50s and a goal.

#5 Zac Taylor

The pick of Calder’s players, the 180cm Taylor worked tirelessly through midfield in all four quarters. Having played mostly forward last week, Taylor showed that crafty nature through the midfield at stoppages, but it was his ability to receive on the outside and push into defence that also stood out and showed he isn’t just a player wanting to look flashy. Taylor’s skills and composure were great on the outside and he won his fair share of clearances on the inside as well, using his clean hands and agility to escape congestion and although it was surprising to see him only finish with the 22 disposals and seven marks as he looked to pop up everywhere, his impact was still high for those 22 touches.

#25 Josh Goater

The incredibly talented Goater started the game in fine fashion, winning the opening clearance of the game. Despite not winning a heap of the ball in that first quarter, he kicked a very nice goal on the run to highlight his impact per possession, which would be a theme for the day for Goater. He was moved to the outside as the game went on and was able to showcase his nice evasion and ability to gain meterage with a nice bit of play in the last quarter; receiving at half-back and then going for a run, taking a few bounces and hitting up teammate Sam Paea on the lead at half-forward. Although he only finished with the 16 disposals and five inside 50s, his impact and dazzling plays couldn’t help but catch the eye.

EASTERN RANGES:

#1 Tyler Sonsie

Sonsie reminded everyone why he is considered one of the top five prospects in the 2021 draft with a dominant display in the midfield, showing his trademark attacking nature and class in a strong four-quarter performance. Sonsie was a clearance specialist in the first quarter, winning plenty of the ball in-close and dishing off cleanly by hand. It wasn’t his usual style of winning the ball and attacking by foot, but he was effective nonetheless. Sonsie had a few running shots on goal in the first half and didn’t quite nail them as he usually would, biting off a bit more than he could chew with some opposite foot kicks, but he would address those issues in the last quarter. Sonsie is usually flawless in his kick execution on both sides and it all finally clicked in the last quarter as he kicked two sensational goals on his non-preferred. The first was a classy rove and snap from a stoppage and the second came after he won a centre clearance and then followed that very clearance up with a running shot at goal from 40-metres out. Sonsie put on a show, finishing the gamer with 34 disposals, six inside 50s and two goals.

#5 Jake Soligo

The impressive Eastern Ranges co-captain led from the front in their engine room and despite not having a huge day on the stat sheet, he certainly played his role in that midfield and helped set up a lot of scoring opportunities. Soligo started the game well, showing clean hands at stoppages and often releasing his runners by hand. He had some chances to hit the scoreboard himself but after missing a running shot at goal in the second quarter, he would later nail a good set shot goal from a mark in the third term. Soligo finished the game with 14 disposals, four inside 50s and kicked 1.2 in a solid outing for the small midfield prospect.

#21 Corey Preston

Preston was one of the unlucky players to miss getting drafted last year after getting a combine invite, but he will certainly have scouts thinking twice about passing him during the mid-season intake after an exciting display up forward. The crafty 181cm left-footer was causing headaches early on, winning plenty of the ball up forward with his first goal coming tight on the boundary from a strong mark, before coolly slotting the snap goal. His second goal was just as impressive, burning off his opponent with speed and then slotting a nice running goal from long range. His next two goals would come in the next quarter, all using his forward smarts with nice crumbing goals. It wasn’t just his crafty work at ground level, as he showed in the second quarter with a really strong contested mark at centre half-forward. Preston would have a quieter second half but he finished the game with an impressive 18 disposals, five marks, and kicked 4.2.

#31 Tyreece Leiu

The big bodied 194cm midfielder-forward spent his time between midfield and the forwardline, proving a good target in attack and around the ground with his height and size. Leiu didn’t kick any goals and really should have converted his early shot in the first quarter from 20 metres straight in front, but he did show his good marking ability by marking strongly against another big-bodied player in Josh Misiti. Although being a handy midfielder at stoppages with his size, his ability to win the ball at half-forward and hit up targets inside 50 was very good – especially in the second half. Leiu had a lot of unselfish plays and while he set up a lot of scoring chains, he couldn’t quite convert another shot at goal late and finished the game with 18 disposals, five marks, six inside 50s and 0.2.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS vs. WESTERN JETS

By: Ed Pascoe

NORTHERN KNIGHTS:

#2 Ned Long

The 192cm midfielder set the tone early with good attack on the ball and good spread around the ground, showing he is more than just that pure big-bodied inside midfielder. Long won plenty of the ball in the first quarter and showed a lot of smarts with ball in hand, drawing in opponents to release better handballs to his teammates. Long was also able to hit the scoreboard, with his first major coming from a strong contested mark and set shot. His marking around the ground was a real highlight, using his big frame to his advantage. His next two goals came in the last quarter and were seemingly match-winning goals both on the run, with the last coming from a quick play-on and long-range bomb. In a best on ground performance, Long finished with 26 disposals, nine marks, seven inside 50s and three goals to mark a near-perfect start to his NAB League campaign.

#3 Josh Ward

The Knights ball magnet didn’t have his usual prolific game but a solid outing nonetheless through the midfield, with his ability inside and outside the contest a real feature of his game. The 181cm midfielder looked classy with his ball use by hand and foot, favouring his left foot, and he hit some nice targets going inside 50. His clean hands at stoppages to go with some nice tackles also really complimented his inside-outside combination. He isn’t the quickest player but he didn’t do a lot wrong with his 22 disposals, getting maximum value out of them and he has shown since Under 16s level that he can win a lot of the ball, so he will prove an important cog in the Northern Knights midfield this year.

#9 Darcy Wilmot

Wilmot certainly wasn’t the most prolific player out there but he certainly had the best moments of the game, which will be touched on, but to describe the 182cm defender’s game in a snapshot, he played the fast rebounder role and offered plenty of drive. His first sensational bit of play came in the second quarter; starting on the wing, he attacked the loose ball to gather and handpass to a teammate, before then working hard to receive again and show his dash to kick a spectacular goal hard on the boundary from 50 metres out – an effort worthy of goal of the year. As flashy as he looked, he was able to intercept really well overhead and was always quick to play on. Another great moment deep in the last quarter saw him take a bounce and stream from half-back, running flat-out through the middle of the ground and although he probably should have been done for running too far it, was such an eye-catching moment. Wilmot finished the game with 15 disposals and five rebound 50s and is only just draft eligible having been born on December 31, so he has even more room for growth as the year goes on. He is certainly a player to keep an eye on.

#22 Jack Rossimel

Although the 193cm key forward didn’t hit the scoreboard, he was certainly influential in his team’s result, providing a great target from centre half-forward with his constant leading at the ball carrier. Rossimel’s greatest strength wasn’t just his ability to lead up and give his teammates a target, it was also his incredible dexterity at ground level – able to gather any ball below his knees at speed and handpass to a teammate perfectly. His skillset lends well to perhaps playing as a midfielder at some point or even as a wingman. He had one shot at goal that didn’t make the distance but expect the goals to come this year to reward his efforts. Rossimel finished the game with 16 disposals and six marks.

#28 Joel Fitzgerald

An emerging leader for Northern Knights, Fitzgerald played his role in defence to perfection, not only defending really well but also offering plenty of rebound from the back half. Although Fitzgerald wasn’t flashy he did the one-percenters well with some timely spoils and one-on-one defending. He showed his rebound ability early with a nice intercept mark then quickly kicking down the line to teammate Rossimel, before receiving back and gaining plenty of meterage. Fitzgerald was a good four-quarter performer but he really stood up in the last quarter when the heat was on. He had some great defensive moments while also taking some strong intercept marks which were a staple of his game all day. The 186cm defender finished the game with 32 disposals, 12 marks and seven rebound 50s and couldn’t have done much more offensively or defensively in a well-rounded performance.

WESTERN JETS:

#26 Cody Raak

It wasn’t a prolific game for Raak compared to last week, but he still showed his great composure and ability to rebound from defence. Raak started the game well with a nice mark deep in defence, followed by a lovely gather and handball to show his class above his head and at ground level. His confidence to quickly hit the switch kick and do it perfectly was a nice sight. He almost got a chance to kick a goal as well, receiving a handball at 50-metres and just missing the running long-range shot at goal in the second quarter. He also showed good intensity during the same term in defence with a good second effort. Raak finished the game with 18 disposals and five rebound 50s in a strong performance down back.

#32 Paul Curtis

“Expect the goals to come if he keeps getting himself in dangerous situations” – that was our quote for Curtis after his game last week and not only did he hit the scoreboard this time out, but he almost did it in a big way. Curtis set the tone early, showing that he would be a handful by taking a nice slips catch mark. Despite missing the set shot, he would add another behind with a snap at goal on his non-preferred side, showing good speed as well. Curtis would finally kick a goal in the second quarter coming from a high free kick. His pressure was outstanding in this quarter and really helped spark his side. Curtis would kick a further two goals in the last quarter, with one from a lovely crumbed snap and the other from a 50-metre penalty. Curtis finished the game with eight disposals, kicking 3.2 as he continues to prove to be one of the standout small forwards in the NAB League.

#33 Billy Cootee

The Jets’ captain led from the front, showing great attacking intent through the midfield with his impact. Though that was not exactly shown on the stat sheet, Cootee provided plenty of drive from the midfield, with his burst from stoppages and long kicking a big driving force especially in the first half. Cootee finished the game with 15 disposals and six tackles, but he certainly made all those touches count and was a key reason as to why the Jets kept within striking distance of the dangerous Knights outfit.

#50 Paul Tsapatolis

Geelong-listed rookie, Tsapatolis seems to be getting better with every game, as the 201cm ruckman was a real presence against the Knights. A strong contested mark in the first quarter set the tone for his game as he proved to be a hard player to stop both in ruck contests and around the ground with his big body and marking ability. He didn’t hit the scoreboard, missing a set shot in the last quarter, but he had some good numbers for the game with 15 disposals, six marks and 22 hit-outs – improving from his eight-disposal game last week.

GIPPSLAND POWER vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

By: Declan Reeve

GIPPSLAND POWER:

#4 Nathan Noblett

Positioned well in the backline for Gippsland down deep. Often under siege down there, Noblett held himself well, especially in marking contests where he’d be able to out-position opponents to get the mark, then look to switch the ball across the defensive 50 to get the Power started again. Had a few kicks under pressure that didn’t quite come off, but it didn’t slow him down as he continued to take the game on through the day.

#5 Chance Doultree

Played a bit of a mixed role throughout the day, stationed mostly in the backline but he had no issues pushing up and almost playing as an extra midfielder to give Gippsland another body around the contest. Marked well for the game, with his positioning outside of forward 50 being smart and giving himself the best chance to put the ball straight back in. When he was up forward he won a few two-on-ones to create scoring shots, a big reason for Power’s improved scoreboard showing in the third quarter.

#9 Will Papley

Really aggressive towards the ball and opposition ball carrier, making him a menace in close around the midfield, and a high pressure player in the forward 50, where he almost guaranteed a successful tackle when he latches on. His ball use was good as well, knowing when to take the opportunity to kick for goal, but also lowering his eyes and hitting up teammates as well.

#23 Jai Serong

Splitting his time between the midfield and backline, Serong’s biggest strength was his positioning in either role. In the midfield he got to the right spots, where his cleanliness at ground level gave him the upper hand in the contest and led to him feeding it out to teammates under less pressure. In the backline, he was able to impact contests by coming off his own opponent to throw in a spoil or hold off an opponent for his teammates.

#38 Thomas Crole

Presented well up forward all day, making hard and aggressive leads to dangerous spots inside forward 50, with his first four or five steps really hard for Dandenong defenders to keep up with. He kicked a few goals for the day where there wasn’t a whole heap of ball up forward for Power, with his conversion really good from set shots and on the run.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS:

#2 Josiah Kyle

The St Kilda NGA prospect has some very nice traits around the ground that make him a high-impact player whenever he’s around the contest. There were just times where he’d evade two or three opponents and then deliver a handball out to a teammate, or a damaging kick forward to a leading teammate, highlighting his vision and composure in traffic. Being a smaller forward he was naturally good at ground level, but his presence aerially was also impressive, getting on shoulders when he could but also out-bodying opponents through smart positioning in one-on-ones when he was a deeper target. He was dangerous when he went into the midfield as well, with his pace a real asset around stoppages and on the outside, where he’d get himself into space and deliver damaging kicks forward.

#3 Miller Bergman

Provided meaningful run off of the half-back flank throughout the day, coming out to meet the ball when it went over the top of contests or dropped short of his defensive 50. Moved into the forward half for the last quarter, where he was a particularly strong link-up option in transition, working hard up the ground to be a switch option out of defence and beating opponents with his speed when moving with the ball forward, where his long and often penetrating kick was a weapon for the Stingrays.

#6 Connor Macdonald

Was probably the standout midfielder for the day, with his burst of speed and read of the ball off of the rucks’ hands a real strength, leading to a lot of quick entries forward for the Stingrays from centre bounces in particular. He highlighted his versatility by playing as not only an inside ball winner, but an outside receiver as well, where he showed solid ball use and again showcased his speed to move the ball well. Also had his stints up forward where he crumbed well off the talls and used his hands well to give to teammates, or had a shot on goal himself, finishing the day with two majors.

#7 Judson Clarke

Formed a dynamic duo of sorts with Macdonald around the midfield, with one going in to win the ball and the other holding on the outside, both playing either role with the flick of a switch, it was almost like they were reading each others’ minds. Clarke was efficient when moving the ball forward, hitting up teammates with bullet-like kicks, making him particularly damaging when the Stingrays were in transition.

#22 Mac Andrew

Another NGA prospect for Melbourne, he showed some really good signs as a forward that rotated through the ruck, where he displayed a good understanding of the role, timing his leaps and placing his taps well to the advantage of teammates around the ground, leading to Dandenong’s scoreboard pressure. He also positioned well in marking contests, being in spots just outside the forward 50 that he’d create a contest for Dandenong to get it back in.

#23 Jai Neal

Made the most of his opportunities in the forwardline, making really well-positioned leads and marking strongly on the chest when his teammates chose to reward his efforts. He was also opportunistic around the forward 50 arc, looking to attack any spilt balls out of contests and get them going forward.

#27 Kobi George

The Melbourne NGA prospect worked out of the backline, trusted with the kick-ins where he’d deliver to the advantage of teammates. He was a delight to watch when working through traffic, with Gippsland players just unable to get a hold of him. He could run through a pack and come out the other side without losing balance. His speed and precision with his handballing was top class, often getting a good amount of distance behind it to a teammate out on their own, allowing the Dandenong transition to continue quickly going forward. Had a few kicks on the run that didn’t quite come off as well as he’d like, but still managed penetration in them. 

#42 James Cahill

Fit in well on the wing for the Stingrays, making himself an option for switch kicks out of the backline as often as he could, and having the confidence to tuck the ball under his arm and go for a run before kicking long forward. He worked hard to help teammates under pressure, often getting a handball out the back, giving it off and then running to receive it back as well. That hard work was on display all day.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS vs. BENDIGO PIONEERS

By: Declan Reeve

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS:

#2 Charlie Byrne

Byrne showed a high level of leadership during the game, very clearly directing teammates whether he had the ball or not. He was courageous at the footy no matter where he was lining up, putting his body on the line to win it out the middle or coming to meet it out of defence. His confidence and composure in pursuit of and with the ball was a highlight for Murray.

#3 Toby Murray

Lined up at full forward for the game, Murray led well for his teammates further up the ground, pushing high up onto the wings when the ball was in Murray’s defensive 50 to become a solid link-up player in transition. He’s not overly physical in marking contests, but uses his body well to just nudge opponents out of the way or push them under the ball. He used the ball well, with his kicking to hit up teammates inside 50 a highlight. Was the relieving ruck for Murray and competed well, able to time his jumps really well to win quite a few hit-outs, without getting much strong direction on them. 

#4 Josh Rachele

A very good user of the footy around the ground, getting penetration behind his kick that was unmatched by anyone else, so when he was moving it centrally as he so often looked to do it was generally a jump start for a Murray attack. Whilst he had a run-with player when in the midfield, he managed well in pulling his opponent out and then beating them on the outside with his burst of speed. For his size, he presented a surprisingly strong aerial presence and proved very clean above his head, even at full speed, which led to him being used and taking some impressive marks around the ground, even against bigger opponents.

#13 Tom Brown

Competed well in marking contests especially, just a really safe set of hands with a well-timed leap which adds an element of reliability for Murray wherever he’s stationed on ground, only dropping a mark when heavy contact was made. Was a bit of ‘Mr. Fix It’, filling in down back in the second quarter when there were a lot of entries, where his tendency to drift in front of contests became a big reason the Bushies didn’t concede more, and his ball use helped get Murray started for a counter.

#24 Cameron McLeod

Has really good speed and running capacity as a tall forward, working his opponents up the ground to be an option high up on the wing, and if he went unused his work-rate running back into the forward 50 was very impressive. Mixed with that speed, it was evident he was a difficult match up for Bendigo. His follow up work at ground level is equally impressive, beating much smaller players regularly.

#29 Noah Bradshaw

Looked most impressive during his stints in the midfield, where he had a knack for moving through congestion without much trouble, and then delivering either a well placed kick to a leading teammate or a clean handball to someone running past on the outside. Was really strong overhead as well, taking some impressive marks when stationed in the forward line. The son of former Brisbane Lions goalkicker, Daniel

BENDIGO PIONEERS:

#1 Sam Conforti

Split his time between the forwardline and midfield, where his ball winning ability and tendency to look for short inside 45 options with his kicking going forward shone. It opened up the game for Bendigo, especially out of stoppages where he could find a way out of congestion to hit up a leading target, or the hot zone up forward. Was also smart with his leading, making some shorter leads to open up the ground, and again utilise that inside 45 kick option.

#2 Harvey Gallagher

Just did a bit of everything throughout the day as a forward and midfielder, doing well to hold his space on the outside of the contest, then use the ball well by foot going forward. His positioning and leading patterns made him a strong marking option going forward as well, just getting into smart spots where he was the clear best option and often alone.

#5 Cooper Hamilton

Played a bit of everywhere, starting as a defender and then getting more midfield time as the game went on, then drifting up forward when the opportunity presented. Was really good with his pressure application throughout the day, never allowing an easy opposition disposal to get away. With the ball himself, he looked at his best when he was involved in the contested stuff, especially with his quick hands out to teammates to keep the ball moving. 

#8 Hugh Hamilton

Used the ball well through the midfield, often winning it on the inside, getting through congestion and then delivering a well weighted kick to a leading forward. The few times his kicks were rushed because of pressure, they were still well placed to the advantage of his forward teammates. He tackled hard around the contest as well, with the Pioneers noticeably stronger with him on the inside.

#9 Aidan Hare

Got better as the game went on, stationed as a midfielder for the majority of the contest. His brute force and hard work around stoppages led to quite a few clearances, whether for him or his teammates. As the game went on it became more evident he was fitter than most on ground, becoming a focal player for Bendigo; taking marks and becoming a regular ball winner around the ground as well. Rested up forward occasionally and akin to his midfield game as the match went on, he became more and more involved, presenting well as a target up forward and even taking a nice mark in particular during the fourth quarter straight from a centre clearance.

#10 Bode Stevens

Lining up for the Pioneers in the engine room, Stevens showed true ability to impact all around the ground. With his inside work particularly strong in the midfield, his ability to get hands out quickly to an oncoming teammate was vital to Bendigo’s forward 50 entry game. He also presented well in the forwardline when he was around there, getting himself a goal just by being free in a more central spot of the 50 than a teammate with the ball.

#13 Jack Evans

Looked good when he was given the freedom to move around the ground and help out everywhere. There were times where he pushed down into the defensive 50 to help out down there, and his composure under pressure to find a free teammate was impressive, with his ability to find shorter options and weight the quick kick well really good as Bendigo worked it out carefully.

#23 Xavier Mitchell

Showed some really good athletic traits, with his leap and speed two in particular that caught the eye and led to a few goals for him. He could’ve had a few more had he not passed it off or had free kicks paid as advantage to teammates. Got to all the right spots for his teammates, making a contest of any ball regardless of how high or fast it came in.

#28 Louis Thompson

Didn’t have a whole heap of the footy, but was very eye catching when he did. Lining up mostly at half-forward, he’d drift across and impact aerial contests well, with one particular instance in the first quarter leading to a mark a good five meters in front of the pack, which he converted into a goal. When in the midfield, he was really clean in traffic, getting around opponents easily to then handball to a teammate on the outside. He went on a few good runs where he’d be confident and assured taking on opponents, standing up strongly on the rare occasions he was caught. Looked to be on the wing for the fourth quarter where he became a strong driver for the Pioneers going forward, using his speed and agility well then kicking to teammates. 

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

By: Ed Pascoe

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS:

#4 Josh Sinn

Coming into the season as one of this year’s brightest prospects, the Sandringham co-captain wasn’t given much space to work with by the Oakleigh forwards and he was tasked with the difficult matchup on Lachlan Rankin early, who got the better of him. Sinn tried to get his usual rebound game going but found it tough with Oakleigh’s superb pressure, but he would start to hit his straps more as the game went on. Usually doing his best work at half-back, he was moved through the midfield to provide some spark and even drifted forward to kick an important goal in the last quarter from a mark and set shot. Sinn finished the game with 20 disposals, four rebound 50s and one goal which was a strong return after a shaky start.

#6 Blake Howes

The smooth moving medium forward had plenty of eye-catching moments, showcasing his superb athletic traits; able to be a threat in the air but also show great dexterity and clean hands at ground level. Howes’ kicking under pressure during the game was a real highlight, often getting separation from his opponent before kicking long inside 50 to hit his targets. The talented forward only kicked the one goal but it was certainly a good one, with a nice snap kick on his opposite foot in the second quarter. Howes finished the game with 12 disposals, five marks and a goal, showing he would be a very difficult matchup this year with his combination of height, smarts and athleticism.

#7 Campbell Chesser

Chesser made the wing his own, winning plenty of the ball and really lifting his output and damage in the last quarter when his team needed it most. Chesser wasn’t overly flashy on the outer, just getting the job done with great skill and composure by hand and foot. Rarely flustered, he popped up to give an outlet at the back of stoppages while also working hard around the ground to set up scoring chains. Chesser finished the game with 23 disposals and five inside 50s and was one of Sandringham’s better players for the day in their hard earned win.

#17 Finn Callaghan

A smooth moving wingman with a bit of weight behind him, Callaghan isn’t your typical looking NAB League wingman, but despite his strong looking frame he showed great agility and movement through traffic and looks to be an interesting prospect in 2021. Fleet of foot at ground level, Callaghan also looked comfortable overhead with a nice intercept mark in the second quarter and was comfortable going back to kick on his favoured left boot from 55 metres out. He missed the set shot but certainly showed his cannon-like left boot and would do so around the ground for the rest of the game. Callaghan finished the game with 19 disposals and two behinds.

#52 Luke Nankervis

Although not prolific, Nankervis certainly showed some exciting traits that should see him come into draft consideration as the year goes on, as the lightly built medium forward impressed with his speed and skill. Nankervis looked a threat in the air and at ground level which was a similar trait shared with teammate Blake Howes. Nankervis was very agile at ground level and looked quick in transition, not just with the ball but also when gliding across the ground to receive. Nankervis did well to kick his first goal in the second quarter when he snapped truly with a nice gather after his mark was spoiled. Nankervis only had the 10 disposals but took four marks and kicked 1.1 in a very promising first game at NAB League level.

#66 Charlie McKay

The Carlton father-son prospect impressed last year in the pre-season before Covid impacted his year, but McKay has come back with a point to prove and he certainly went in with an attacking mindset through the Dragons’ engine room. McKay was a bull, putting his head over the ball and putting plenty of pressure on the ball carrier to set the tone for his teammates. Not one to solely operate at ground level, he also showed intent in the air by taking some strong grabs and even pushing into defence at times, and showed some good form behind the ball as well. McKay finished the game with 17 disposals, four tackles and five inside 50s as the big-bodied midfielder made the most of his NAB League debut.

Others:

Promising ruck Jacob Edwards, who has attracted some mid-season draft interest, built on his terrific preseason form with a couple of clutch moments for the Dragons while being solid all game. West Australian recruit Logan Young was reliable in midfield and opportunistic with a couple of goals up forward, as was Eren Soylemez with three majors and great tackling pressure. Lachlan Benton was another lively figure in the attacking half, while Jack Peris showed clean pairs of hands and heels from the wing. In the thick of the midfield action, Lachlan Riley proved a dependable figure and won plenty of ball.

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS:

#1 Youseph Dib

The Collingwood NGA member showed a lot of spark from half-back, providing plenty of creativity and composure to help his side provide meaningful rebound. Usually stationed in the forwardline or through the midfield, Dib made the half-back line his own and was busy very early in the game and despite playing mostly in defence, managed to kick a goal in the first quarter following a 50-metre penalty. As much as Dib has been seen as a very agile and exciting little player, his one-percenters really stood out with some nice tackles and some good smothers. Dib wasn’t prolific but had a solid game with 10 disposals, three tackles and a goal.

#3 Nick Daicos

In his NAB League debut, Daicos showed the hype was justified with a best on ground performance against perhaps the team to beat this year in Sandringham. Daicos was superb in the midfield, winning the ball at will and showing great skill and speed when in possession. Daicos started the game perfectly with the game’s first clearance and showed his forward craft, kicking a well-struck set shot from 45 metres out. His second goal came from a set shot from 50 metres in the third quarter, and his third and final goal came in the last quarter with a terrific crumbing effort where he hit the ball at speed and kicked the goal quicker than a hiccup. With an early corky, Daicos had to spend a bit of time at deep forward in the second half but he still looked so damaging whenever he went near the ball. Daicos finished the game with 28 disposals, eight marks, seven tackles and kicked 3.2 in a best on ground performance.

#17 Braden Andrews

Usually very prolific as a tall inside midfielder, Andrews had a quieter game by his standards yet still showed some great signs with his skills and composure. The AFL Academy member finished with 11 disposals but made most of them count with some nice long kicks and classy work by hand. Expect him to bounce back with a more prolific game in the coming weeks as he adjusts to the rigours and speed of play.

#22 Lachlan Rankin

Usually used as a rebounding half-back or wingman, Rankin was stationed up forward, lining up on gun Sandringham captain Josh Sinn. He certainly made Sinn accountable by lighting up the first quarter, kicking two goals and getting Oakleigh off to the perfect start. Both his goals came from free kicks, with one a simple set shot but another a very nice opposite foot snap hard on the boundary which showcased his skill. His third goal would come in the third quarter with a nice dribble close to goal, and after attempting a huge screamer later that quarter he would unfortunately injure himself – putting a stop to his dominant performance up forward. Although not the tallest or quickest forward, Rankin was clean and classy around the ball and his natural football IQ made the foreign position work. Rankin finished the game with eight disposals and three goals.

#36 Scott Beilby

The St Kilda NGA prospect provided a lot of spark down back for Oakleigh, often taking the kick-outs and always looking to attack with them as well. Although Beilby showed great rebounding ability, he also took some really strong intercept marks to prove he isn’t just a running receiver, or one who uses kick-outs to inflate his figures. Beilby finished the game with 21 disposals and nine rebound 50s to be amongst his teams best players, despite some shaky moments at the death.

Others:

New South Welshman, Patrick Voss was ultra impressive up forward in his maiden outing for Oakleigh, defying his size to apply great pressure at ground level. Alex Lukic doubled well in the ruck and was mobile around the ground, supporting the strong efforts of bigman, Ned Moyle. Lochlan Jenkins and Dylan Thomas were among the Chargers to find plenty of ball, as Jed Rule returned a solid shift and Luke Kelvie had some good moments.

2021 NAB League team preview: Northern Knights

NORTHERN Knights coach Leigh Clarke is encouraging his players to identify their “superpowers” as they prepare to return to competitive action on Friday afternoon. After over 550 days away, the Knights will take on Western Jets at Highgate Recreation Reserve and Clarke says most players have turned the time off into a major positive.

“The boys have presented in the best condition I’ve ever seen in terms of their running capabilities,” Clarke said. “Having a kick or a run with one mate was all they could do there for two or three months, but a high-90s percentage of them took the opportunity and have come back in really good condition.

“Being able to clock off 2km time trials that are pushing draft combine sort of levels, it’s a big, big credit to them to be able to back themselves away from the bright lights of pathway training, doing it in the dark and out on their own, so all credit to them.”

As for the superpower theme, it means the Knights will be a side sure of their greatest strengths.

“We’re talking a lot about superpowers at the moment,” Clarke said. “To understand, be clear and direct, be able to look people in the eyes and say ‘my superpower is x’. Have one and that’s it, there’s no debating, you know what your superpower is and you stand on your own two feet and can put that out in the open.

“We’ve got some time to work on all the stuff that’s at the back of the shop, but right now we want to focus on the things they do really well that we want to display that at the front.”

Allowing players to showcase their draftable qualities will also seep through the Knights’ style of play. Clarke says there is “no Da Vinci code” to how teams will look to move the ball, but that there will be similar styles with unique spins on them throughout the competition.

“We always stick to the fundamentals but the (players) have been able to pick up things pretty quickly in terms of how we want to move the ball,” he said. “We’re all following a similar path, we’ve just got various ways of teaching it. Our boys want to play a really exciting brand of footy that should display their draftable talent, so that’s a great starting point for us to be in.”

The region has also taken the approach of backing “character first” in 2021 as the NAB League top age moves up to 19. While like all regions, there are more 19th-year prospects on the list than usual, Northern is also looking forward to welcoming its Under 17 talent to the level once their carnival is completed.

Looking at the Knights’ most outstanding draft eligible talents, Ewan Macpherson is a top-ager with plenty to prove in 2021. The Western Bulldogs father-son prospect missed out on being drafted last year, but spent time with the Bulldogs pushing for a final list spot. The inside midfielder/defender has clean skills and should also feature in the VFL this year.

Tall utility Liam Kolar is another who went close to being picked up as an 18-year-old, but returns to the NAB League to get some more experience under his belt. Having come from a soccer and athletics background, Kolar is a likely type who combines speed and endurance as a key forward or even up on a wing.

He is currently being nursed back to full health though, having rolled an ankle while running out in a Carlton VFL practice match. Carlton NGA talent Regan Uwandu looms as another cog from the starting squad who is being managed back and will likely miss out for Round 1 with a foot injury.

Jackson Bowne is a livewire who will likely catch the eye too, while Ben De Bolfo is an emerging player who is relatively new to the program. The latter has taken up vice-captaincy behind Joel Trudgeon, a fellow 19th-year player who Clarke says is held in high regard by both his coaches and teammates. He is the brother of Carlton AFLW forward, Paige.

Rounding out the leadership trio is Joel Fitzgerald, an exciting 2003-born talent. Among the other 18-year-olds to watch are Josh Ward, Jack Rossimel, and Ben Long, who should feature prominently in the navy, black and white. There are some father-son prospects to keep AFL fans occupied too, with Macpherson, Jackson Archer (son of Glenn), and Mackenzie Hogg (son of Matthew) all rising the ranks.

Northern and Western are up second in Friday’s all-Metro double-header at Craigieburn, which should prove a good tested given the Jets already have a win on the board in 2021. While there may be plenty of cobwebs to be blown out, watch for the Knights’ superpowers to come to the fore this season.

2021 NAB League team preview: Murray Bushrangers

MURRAY Bushrangers are primed for their first NAB League outing since August 2019, when they take on the Bendigo Pioneers for an all-country Easter Sunday clash in Shepparton. Regional talent operations lead, Mick Wilson says the Bushies have worked hard in the face of a raft of competition changes and the condensed offseason, with plenty of prospects developing well ahead of season proper.

“We’ve had obviously a different preseason but we really think that the players have adapted really well,” Wilson said. “We ideally by now would have had a lot more touch points with the players, but that’s absolutely understandable given the new Covid world. We’re really excited about the fact that we’re going into a game of footy.

“The last time we saw a lot of these kids was over a year ago and it’s amazing how much development there is from 16 to 17, from 17 to 18, and for some of the players from 18 to 19. It’s been really pleasing, we’ve seen some players come up and exceed our expectations with regards to where we thought they were at.”

The lifting of the competition’s top age has seen differing reactions from each region with regards to the age profile of their squads. 19-year-old talents will be prioritised for the first three rounds, with opportunities to present for 18th-year and even under-age prospects to feature thereafter.

Wilson says the Bushrangers have essentially brought back their whole 2020 list in a “reward for effort” having kept with the program throughout a lost season. The move will see around 50 per cent of the initial list split between 18 and 19-year-old players, before Under 17s enter the fray competition-wide.

“Effectively what we did was we brought all of the players who made our final (2020) squad back in for the preseason and we didn’t actually bring any new players in,” he said. “The split is around 50-50 between 18 and 19-year-olds but the program is going to be dramatically different with regards to how we give the players exposure. In the first three games we’ll focus on the top-age players, and after Round 3 we’ll start to transition more of our Under 18 and 17 players into key roles as part of their development.”

Murray boasts one AFL Academy talent in its squad, Caulfield Grammar boarder Josh Rachele. Wilson sees him as a “readymade AFL player” in the mould of GWS star Toby Greene, with his explosive attributes and high footy IQ among the traits which have him currently poised as a top 10 prospect.

“Josh is an extremely explosive player,” Wilson said. “He’s been involved in elite junior soccer academies before, but his football skillset is extremely high. We see him as being a really strong half-forward player that can transition through the midfield and we’re pretty excited to see Josh play as much NAB League footy as he can outside of his commitment to Caulfield Grammar.”

Wilson highlighted a number of other players who have impressed throughout preseason, with a bunch of players having made good of their time away to get fitter and come back in peak condition. A pair of AFL train-on players, who were unlucky not to be drafted, are also in the squad, but will likely feature heavily in the VFL.

Charlie’s Byrne‘s going to be heavily involved with the Essendon VFL program and Zavier Maher is heavily involved in the Carlton VFL program, so we don’t expect to see too much of those boys,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately ‘Zav’ is going to miss the first couple of games because he’s just had some knee surgery to fix a minor meniscal problem. But we’ll hopefully see a couple of games, hopefully Round 4 or 5 from him. Both those players have lots of draftable traits and they can keep improving on the areas they need to.

Tom Brown has been outstanding. When he played in the Vic Country Under 16s, one of the areas he probably needed to work on was his endurance. He came back into the program this year and has developed amazingly in that area. He had a 21-plus yo-yo at the preseason testing combine, he’s much stronger and has developed physically. He’s really impressed everyone with regards to his application to training, he’s going to probably play half-back to start with but can play half-forward or wing. He’s 186cm so he’s grown, he just looks like a real athlete.

“One player that really stands out for us that has developed over Covid is Fletcher Hart. Fletcher’s about 199cm tall, a key forward who kicks the ball really nicely and has a lot of similar traits to Joe Daniher with regards to the way he moves around the ground and has a long, rangy left-foot kick. He’s very competitive in the air and good below his knees… so he’s definitely on the watch list.

Jhett Cooper from Shepparton made our squad last year but he needed a lot of work to do on his endurance and his repeat speed efforts. He’s had a massive Covid period with his training, his work rate has been outstanding and he’s come back as one of our best performers in the yo-yo at the preseason testing combine.”

Brown is one of many names among the squad with ties to an AFL club, as the son of former Geelong player, Paul. He will not be eligible as a father-son for the Cats, but Noah Bradshaw (son of Daniel) will be for Brisbane. He is not quite as tall as his goalkicking father, but has a terrific athletic profile and is a powerful inside midfielder with good physicality.

Jake Cresswell (son of Daryn) is another who will filter through the program, along with Toby Murray (brother of Sam and Nick), Jett Smith (brother of Eli) and Charlie Crisp (cousin of Jack). Richmond fans will have a Next Generation Academy (NGA) talent to get excited about too, with athletic half-back Achaung Agog rising the ranks.

Despite not having completed any formal practice matches during preseason, there is a lot of promise surrounding Murray’s group, which Wilson expects to be “competitive” against Bendigo in Round 1. He sought to thank the parents of players for their continued support across a challenging year, which will shortly be put behind these budding prospects as they make their long-awaited return to the field.

Image Credit: Quinn Rooney/AFL Photos

2021 NAB League team preview: Dandenong Stingrays

DANDENONG Stingrays head coach, Nick Cox says his side has come back in “really good physical condition” after a year away from competitive action, as its NAB League return edges closer. The Stingrays will take on Gippsland Power in Round 1 of the 2021 season, with the two country regions set to lock horns at Morwell Football Ground on Saturday afternoon. They should know each other well, having trained together and enjoyed a scratch match during preseason.

“I got together with (Gippsland coach) Rhett McLennan and we had a bit of a training session, then played a praccy match or four-quarter match-sim,” Cox said. “Expectations are like usual, we’re a little bit unknown in what we’re going to roll out but hopefully like usual our boys will give themselves every opportunity when they play the first three weeks and hopefully start creating some interest from there.

“Obviously the NAB League season has changed a little bit from previous years, but it’s a credit to our boys and I think it’s across the board, that 95 per cent of them have come back in really good physical condition. “That’s also credit to our strength and conditioning coach Ben Benson with the program he put out before they came back into training.

“We’ve come back in obviously not the same amount of time than in past seasons, but the intrinsic motivation by themselves has been fantastic and I can’t commend them enough at this stage with the physical condition. Whether they’re going to be up to speed fundamentally… we’ll wait and see against Gippsland on Saturday, it’ll will be exciting to see what they roll out.”

As the top age jumps up to 19 in the NAB League, Cox says those returning talents know where they stand and will largely rely on the first three weeks of the season to determine where they go next. Apart from nearly doubling the number of 19-year-olds listed, he maintains it will be “same-same” going forward in terms of how the program incorporates 17 and 18-year-old prospects.

In terms of the Stingrays’ style and strengths across the board, a focus on role specifics and giving players extended runs to shine has been evident, with an “exciting” brand of football what Cox and his troops will look to bring to the table in 2021.

“The big thing this year is getting players to understand role specifics and settling them there,” he said. “Not just for one or two games, but giving them an opportunity for a certain amount of weeks and if they can’t play that role, they’re good enough to move on somewhere else.

“Our style will be an exciting one, I reckon we’ll make a few mistakes along the way but the big thing in the NAB League is being able to showcase and execute talent, and most NAB League players are there because of that. We don’t want to take that away, we’re probably five per cent structure and 95 per cent go out and play.”

Looking at the standouts across Dandenong’s squad, skipper Bayleigh Welsh remains among the top-agers looking to impress, while vice-captain Connor Macdonald is one of the region’s most promising 18th-year talents. Cox highlighted a number of names which should pop up throughout the season as key figures in the side, with the potential to feature at VFL level.

“There have been a lot of standouts,” he said. “We talk about moments a fair bit at training and in gamedays and I reckon a lot of our kids have had those moments, and some more than others.

Judson Clarke, coming back from a knee has been outstanding at training, as have Connor Macdonald and Miller Bergman. They’re three top-end 18-year-olds that have done well at training. Will Bravo has come back after three weeks at Hawthorn bigger and better, and Bayleigh Welsh has been outstanding all preseason.

Clayton Gay and Bryce Milford have gone away and done a little bit of preseason at Casey and played a couple of practice matches there, so it’s clearly evident that they’ve come back stronger. There’s always going to be someone that bobs up out of the ground and produces something from nowhere and at the moment, we could have half a dozen kids doing that. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Welsh and Macdonald will lead a five-man leadership group, which is a touch different to what Dandenong has implemented in the past. Clarke and Bergman will also be in that mix, along with Daniel Didomenicantonio to ensure that four of the five players included are of that 2003-born group. Macdonald will lead the side out on Saturday, with Welsh unavailable for selection.

Cox was also high on some of the Next Generation Academy (NGA) talent rolling through the Dandenong region, with Josiah Kyle (St Kilda) joining Melbourne NGA prospects Mac Andrew and Kobi George in the final squad.

Having already coached through eight rounds with the girls side, Cox gave a glowing review of how the club as a whole has come together, with some serious momentum being gathered. He also sought to thank Dandenong’s strong coaching core for the vast development the region has overseen this year.

“I’m really happy that the club is really coming together as one,” he said. “The way the girls have played and the style they play, we’ll probably try and emulate it in the boys. They’ve created a winning culture and we’ve got girls in Vic Country so I think the boys will make sure they’re doing the same thing. It’s been exciting so far and having the overlap has been good for the NAB League, it’s been really exciting to see how all that’s worked.

“We’ve got a really close, strong coaching panel and I’d like to acknowledge the amount of work they’ve done… the amount of development we got into (the players) through really good coaching is credit to our region and what we’ve been able to do. It’s credit to our local football leagues as well, so things are going quite well in our region and the NAB League is obviously elite, but there’s a lot of work done by a lot of people who go unrecognised and hopefully we can continue to produce players going forward.”

2021 NAB League team preview: Bendigo Pioneers

BENDIGO Pioneers head coach Danny O’Bree says his troops have worked “incredibly hard” throughout preseason to get back up to speed ahead of their opening NAB League fixture for 2021. The Pios will take on fellow country region, Murray Bushrangers in Round 1 for a standalone Easter Sunday clash at Deakin Reserve, Shepparton.

While the elite talent region has only managed a couple of intraclub hitouts ahead of season proper, O’Bree says the Under 19 squad is in good shape and has shown some positive signs in the way of ball movement, while also keeping a clean slate on the injury front. Look for the Bendigo prospects to help each other show their key strengths this season.

“In regards to game style it’s not that we’re going to do something in particular, we want to really highlight the attribute of the individual,” O’Bree said. “Hopefully we’re super competitive and we want to do the simple things really well, but we still want to get our attributes of each individual to the recruiters and showcase their skill and abilities.

“I think we’re a pretty even team, we’re pretty evenly balanced. I don’t think there’s anyone in particular that stands out way ahead of the pack, which is a positive. “We’re going to go with the fact that we want each team member to assist the other and to assist everyone else, we want to have the mindset that we want to be able to develop others, and it’s not just about the individual, it’s about them being a good team member and helping support their mates.”

With the NAB League top age shifted up to 19, each region has taken on board an added number of 2002-born talent in hopes of granting them the opportunities missed during 2020. The first three rounds of this season will be key for many of those prospects in deciding what lies ahead, and O’Bree says they will get every chance to show their worth.

“Initially we’re going to be giving our 19-year-olds an opportunity,” he said. “Obviously missing 12 months of footy last year, we just want to give them the opportunity first and foremost. Obviously our 18-year-olds, there’s a couple of them that will get an opportunity early, but 19-year-olds will get a real focus for the first three weeks.

“After that we’ll look to potentially move a few of them to VFL, we might keep a few. Then we’re actually quite keen to get our 17-year-olds onto our list as well. We’re looking to put in 10-12 of our 17-year-olds after their carnival and from Round 4 onwards, play a fair few of them.”

At the forefront of Bendigo’s squad is AFL Academy member Cooper Hamilton, who boards at Caulfield Grammar with twin brother and fellow Pioneer Hugh, while top-ager Jack Evans will captain the side ahead of a four-man leadership group. Among the players highlighted by O’Bree, there is a good mix in styles and a couple of father-sons to look out for.

“Cooper Hamilton has been down at Caulfield, we won’t see him a lot in the NAB League this year and obviously he’s going to have some engagements through the (AFL) Academy so that’s quite exciting for him,” he said. “He’s worked incredibly hard, he’s got a great engine and no doubt it’ll give him some more opportunities with his footy the more contests he can get to.

“We’ve got Bode Stevens, the nephew of Anthony. He’s going to be an exciting watch for us, he’s an extremely aggressive, hard-working and tough customer. That probably epitomises what Anthony was all about as well so obviously it runs through the family and we’ll have quite a few people excited about what he comes up with.

Jed Brereton is a developing bigman, close to 200cm. “We’ll be able to see him through the ruck but also up forward. He’s got a good skillset so it’s quite exciting for him. “Ricky Monti is another 18-year-old who is a very exciting player, has a very high footy IQ and is really well skilled. If he keeps developing physically he could also be one that people are talking about.

“We’ve got two father-sons in our 18-year-olds with Louis Thompson (son of Nathan) and Nyawi Moore (son of Nathan Lovett-Murray, also Richmond NGA). Louis is still developing physically and still growing, being a late developer who has a bit of x-factor so he’ll be exciting. Nyawi Moore again is quite exciting when he gets going so it’ll be interesting to see where they end up at the end of the year.”

Stevens will be among that four-man leadership group behind Evans, alongside top-agers Sam Conforti and Cooper Smith, and 18th-year prospect Lincoln White. Having enjoyed some hard-fought close encounters with the Murray Bushrangers in recent years, they will be key to the Pioneers making a strong start to their new campaign on Sunday afternoon.

2021 NAB League team preview: Gippsland Power

GIPPSLAND Power talent pathways coach Rhett McLennan says his Under 19 boys side is back up to speed after over 550 days away from competitive action, ahead of their Round 1 NAB League meeting with Dandenong Stingrays on Saturday afternoon. Having created a spark though strong preseason performances and the girls’ first win for 2021 last week, the Power have some good momentum heading into this weekend’s clash.

“We were really impressed with the way the boys have turned out athletically given there’s been very little structured training,” McLennan said. “For us to test really well in regards to speed, agility and endurance was really pleasing. It shows that our boys athletically have a really good mix this year and if we can translate that to footy ability then we’ll be really exciting.

“We had a couple of boys there watching (the girls’ win) and it was like a grand final for the girls. For them to win their first game in two and a half seasons and still remain positive over that period of time, it’s just really good to be part of it because those girls have taken any little victory they can along the way and continued to improve.”

The Power have already met their weekend adversaries this year, having competed in a preseason scratch match in blustery conditions at Garfield. McLennan says it was difficult to get a proper reading on either side, but has taken some good learnings away from the game. Given the profile of Gippsland’s list, expect some hard work on the inside to be complemented by good speed on the outer in 2021.

“It was very difficult to get a gauge on either sides’ strengths and weaknesses but Dandenong were very impressive in the speed that they used the ball, and also their talls were quite dominant,” he said. “We’ve been looking to try and negate that in some sort of way whilst trying to create some speed ourselves with fast movement of the ball and carrying it with our smalls.

“The Gippsland way has usually been a team that’s hard to play against, so you can expect that physicality again. But also looking at our list style and attributes, we’re looking to actually play with speed that some of our players have got and hopefully some crumbing play up forward where we can have some of our smalls go to work as well.”

There are a couple of familiar names set to light up Gippsland’s list, with Will Papley (brother of Tom) and Jai Serong (brother of Caleb) among the most promising draft eligible prospects at the Power’s disposal. Both are set to play key roles during the upcoming campaign, and McLennan is certainly a good wrap for them.

“Will Papley has got his body right after a long run of hip and groin soreness, so it looks like he’s going to have a really good early start to the season if he can string some early games together, then I think that he gives the mid-season draft a shake. “Jai Serong has been nothing but impressive in 2020 but even more so in 2021. He tested extremely well in regards to his speed and agility, and at 192cm is a perfect mix for versatility given he’s got really good mid craft, goal sense and the flexibility to play tall or small.”

One of the Power’s eight 19th-year players, Luis D’Angelo will captain the team in 2021 having shown outstanding leadership qualities and elite inside skills. He is yet to play in the NAB League, but is one to look for through the midfield and has already impressed at senior level with Box Hill in their practice matches.

The Power will also have an over-ager running around, as 20-year-old Billy Bundle returns to the region. A player with the heralded basketball background, Bundle has played country football and showed plenty of promise. As he overcomes some preseason injury niggles, expect him to roll out for the Power and make an impact.

Speaking of, 2003-birth Jobe Somerville went down with a knee injury during the Power’s preseason hitout, but McLennan says he will just about have a full list to choose from for Round 1 as a few others make their returns shortly. There will be plenty of excitement nonetheless as Gippsland’s season bounces down at 1:00pm at Morwell Recreation Reserve on Saturday.

Image Credit: Graham Denholm/AFL Photos

2021 NAB League team preview: Greater Western Victoria Rebels

GREATER Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels regional talent operations lead, Phil Partington has lauded the hard work of his squad during preseason after an unforeseen year away from competitive action. The country region will start its 2021 NAB League season on Thursday evening against the Geelong Falcons, with an Under 17 clash making it a double-header at CE Brown Reserve.

The Rebels boast an exciting batch of high-end talent which should steer the side towards positive areas not only in terms of win-loss results, but more importantly in the realm of draftee production. While there is plenty of promise surrounding the group, Partington says his troops have sought to “get the best out of themselves” in more than just an individual sense during preseason.

“(Hard work) is one thing that really grows above most things in our program, that the boys want to improve and want to perform as well,” Partington said. “That’s not just for their own individual performance, it’s overall the team performance. Our experienced coaches who have all been involved at AFL level over the last three to five years, to see those coaches, the way they coach them and the boys responding to that has been really pleasing for our program.”

As part of the competition’s restructure, the top age has been lifted to 19 to ensure those who missed out on playing last year have ample opportunity to prove their draft credentials. Despite the shift, Partington says the age profile on GWV’s squad has seen much of its list made up by 18th-year prospects, along with a handful of returning 19th-year players. Those top-agers have also had the opportunity to mingle with VFL squads ahead of season proper.

“With the profile of our squad we’ve gone with many 18-year-olds, we’ve only got five 19-year-old boys in our squad and that was just the make-up of our talent base,” he said. “Marcus Herbert has a VFL contract with Geelong so we’re really pleased with that and he’s been training with them all through the preseason.

Jett Bermingham who’s one of our 19-year-olds has also been training with Geelong during the preseason, but he’ll be back with us full-time. “Fraser Marris is training down there, he’s at university down in Geelong so he’s training with Geelong VFL throughout the year as well, so our boys are getting opportunities at the next level but we’ve got at the draftable age, a strong group of Under 18 players this year.

“If boys get that opportunity to play VFL football this year I think it’s going to be fantastic for their development. We always encourage our players to play the highest (level) of football that they are capable of and if that’s VFL, it’s outstanding for the development of those players and their draft prospects too.”

Looking at the 2002-born standouts, AFL Academy member Ben Hobbs is certainly one to watch and is one of the few players in his age group to have already gained NAB League experience. The hard-nosed, hard running inside midfielder was among those Partington identified as impactful figures leading into Round 1.

“We’ve got the likes of Ben Hobbs, the way he has performed as a 16-year-old in our program (was outstanding)… Josh Rentsch got the opportunity to play some NAB League and so did Josh Gibcus (and Charlie Molan) so there’s a few players who have had opportunities to play as 16-year-olds in our program. Then you’ve got the likes of a Sam Butler, who’s worked extremely hard and impressed over the preseason, making massive impacts into games, so I’ve been really pleased with those players.

“The one player that has not so much jumped onto our radar, but developed very nicely in size and shape is Thomas Baulch from the Koroit Football Club. During our preseason phase and match simulations, we’ve been very impressed with the way he played, his running capability and his ability to kick goals. He’s a 194cm wingman or half-back/half-forward, he can play in various positions so we’re excited to see if he can carry on his preseason performance into the season.”

Leadership is yet to be finalised at this point but is in the works, with the delay mainly down to the vast expanses of GWV’s region and time constraints across preseason. Partington says the Rebels have navigated the many challenges facing each region, particularly country ones, and have seen improvement from players each time they are able to come together. All that, with the prize of finally getting back on the park now within reach.

“We’re just looking forward to the start of the NAB League season and giving our boys the opportunity to get back to what they love,” he said. “They’ve watched our girls on a couple of occasions, so the enthusiasm from our girls program has come over to our boys program and I know they’re really keen to get going. We’ll be competitive and that’s all we want for our boys to improve each week.”

’03-BORN GWV PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Thomas Baulch – one to keep an eye on this year, the versatile utility is a good size at 194cm and can play along each line. He impressed during match simulation and has some nice traits to impact off the wing or a flank.

Sam Breuer – a defender who will look to operate off half-back, Breuer was pushed well during the off-season and is still workin gon his speed. In terms of strengths, he can play lockdown roles well and dictate play from behind the ball.

Sam Butler – the brother of Richmond’s Dan, Butler will play a high half-forward role with GWV this season while also rotating through midfield. He brings good speed and tackling pressure to the fore, with his overall work rate impressing during preseason.

Josh Gibcus – an athletic tall prospect who registered top 10 jumps during the NAB League preseason testing, Gibcus has already played at the level. His leap and overhead mark are obvious strengths, but Gibcus is looking to develop his understanding of the game and his kicking skills.

Ben Hobbs – the Rebels’ standout player this year, Hobbs is an AFL Academy member and one of the best inside midfielders nationwide. He has been developing his outside game and skills, with leadership, stoppage extraction, and hard running among his most impressive assets.

Jye Lockett – the nephew of Tony, Lockett spent time back home on the Gold Coast from December through to March with the Suns Academy, which he is tied to. He will likely play a centre half-forward or third tall role, with his goalkicking a trait passed down through the family genes.

Kai Lohmann – one who has been able to lean on an older sibling to help keep fit, Lohmann is a handy player in his own right and hopes to showcase his marking and goal sense up forward this year. He will likely roll up the ground as a high half-forward with midfield minutes also on his agenda.

Charlie Molan – the brother of Richmond AFLW player Sophie, Molan is a half-back with serious penetration on his kicks, as well as speed and a top attitude. Molan is working on those shorter kicks and one-on-one bodywork as he looks to cement a spot down back.

Josh Rentsch – a promising key forward who can also pinch hit in the ruck, Rentsch already has some NAB League experience under his belt. His mix of strength, contested marking and athleticism should come to the fore in 2021.

Scouting Notes: 2021 NAB League – Calder Cannons vs. Western Jets

AFTER 554 days without competitive action, the NAB League returned on Saturday as the Calder Cannons and Western Jets locked horns at Highgate Recreation Reserve. It was the Jets who got up by three points in a thriller, as contested ball reigned supreme with either side shaking off the cobwebs. We take you through the standout players on the day in our first edition of Scouting Notes for 2021.

CALDER CANNONS vs. WESTERN JETS

Calder:

#4 Sam Clohesy

The rebounding defender, back as a 19-year-old (December), started like a house on fire; winning plenty of the ball down back and providing plenty of drive from defence for Calder. Although his numbers started to dwindle as the game went on, he still worked hard to provide meaningful rebound and was always giving an option out of defence and he really gave a lot of meterage with his long kicking. Clohesy finished the game with 20 disposals, seven marks and four rebound 50s to be one of Calder’s best players for the day.

#5 Zac Taylor

Taylor offered some spark early on as a small forward but also showed his wares as a speedy midfielder later in the game. Although he didn’t convert any goals, Taylor offered plenty up forward showing good speed and a willingness to leap at the ball, almost taking some ripper marks. He was moved into the midfield and gave some much needed spark in the middle as well, with his best play coming in the last quarter as he sold not one, but two pieces of candy which really caught the eye and cemented Taylor as one of the most exciting players on the day. Taylor finished with 18 disposals but was stuck on the bench late in the game and could have easily added to that tally.

#25 Josh Goater

Goater cemented himself as a prospect to watch this year and could very well be the highest taken in this year’s draft from this game, with his midfield ability not unlike recent top 10 draftee Archie Perkins. Goater was smooth in the midfield, showing great movement out of traffic and his breakaway speed was hard to stop along with his 190cm frame at stoppages. Although not a massive game in terms of production, which was also impacted by some time on the bench with a calf complaint, he went forward in the last quarter and showcased his impressive leap with a huge attempted mark inside 50. He didn’t stick it but proved he could be a real handful drifting forward this year. Goater finished the game with 22 disposals and four tackles in an eye-catching display.

#29 Josh Misiti

The Essendon father-son prospect got to show what he could do as a midfielder just like his father Joe did for the Bombers all those years ago. In his first full game as a midfielder in the NAB League, Misiti showed some promising signs with his strong 193cm frame important in the second half, winning some timely touches in the middle and showing good vision by hand which was another trait shared by Joe. But unlike his father, Josh was also strong in the air and could be a difficult player to play on when he drifts forward. Misiti finished with a solid 14 disposals and will look to improve his production as he gets more time to learn the midfield caper.

#41 Liam Podhajski

The brother of former NAB League gun Mitch, Liam Podhajski is a fair bit taller than his brother at 202cm and playing in the ruck, but really impressed was his ability to play as an extra midfielder and he showed great skill and agility for a player his size. Podhajski managed to show some signs drifting forward as well, kicking a sensational goal hard on the boundary showing great dexterity for his size. Podhajski finished with 16 disposals and 19 hit outs in a good duel against Geelong-listed ruckman, Paul Tsapatolis.

Western:

#26 Cody Raak

Considered unlucky not to win a spot with the Western Bulldogs as a Next Generation Academy (NGA) member, Raak was sensational in a best on ground performance down back, playing a similar role to Essendon’s Jordan Ridley in taking some great intercept marks and hurting the opposition with his vision and kicking out of defence. Raak led a well drilled backline for Western who proved hard to get through for the day, conceding under 40 points. Raak had a big say on the result as Calder struggled to get the ball past him. A cool head and efficient with the ball, Raak finished the game with 31 disposals, nine marks and 11 rebound 50s as he stakes his claim for an AFL spot in the mid-season draft.

#32 Paul Curtis

The dynamic and exciting small forward didn’t hit the scoreboard but provided plenty of spark up forward for Western Jets. His best work came in the second quarter, throwing himself into everything whether at ground level or leaping for marks, he did what a good small forward should do and got involved wherever he could. The exciting left-footer didn’t have the most prolific game with 10 disposals but he took some nice marks with five in total and expect the goals to come if he keeps getting himself in dangerous situations.

#33 Billy Cootee

The Western Jets captain lead by example with some important touches during the game and although he wasn’t hugely productive, he got a lot out of his disposals and his constant drive from the midfield set the tone for the team. Some courageous bits of play during the game really stood out and he could earn himself some games for Essendon VFL as a 19-year-old this year and his game against Calder would have certainly impressed. Cootee finished the game with 17 disposals, five marks and five, inside 50s.

#35 Liam Conway

Arguably the most dominant midfielder for the game, the 19-year-old Conway was a hard player to stop in the engine room with his strong body and clean hands at stoppages. What also impressed with Conway is that he wasn’t just a one-dimensional hard nosed midfielder, but he also worked hard on the outside to drive the ball forward and he also hit the scoreboard with a nice goal. Conway finished the game with 31 disposals, seven marks and eight inside 50s in an eye-catching performance and proved he could be one of the standout 19-year-old prospects in this year’s draft.

#50 Paul Tsapatolis

The Geelong Cats rookie gets to play NAB League despite being on an AFL list like Ivan Soldo before him, and the 202cm player had a great game in the ruck. Already a strong size, he used his stronger body to advantage winning some good hitouts and partnering well in the ruck with Nathan Dowdy. Tsapatolis finished the game with eight disposals and a game-high 24 hitouts and looks like being a big player in the Western Jets’ midfield brigade this year.

DC MEDAL VOTES:

5 – Cody Raak (Western Jets)
4 – Liam Conway (Western Jets)
3 – Josh Goater (Calder Cannons)
2 – Liam Podhajski (Calder Cannons)
1 – Harrison White (Western Jets)

Image Credit: Cameron Grimes/AFL Photos