Tag: 2021 nab league

Stat Leaders: 2021 NAB League – Round 3

THE 2021 NAB League season rolled on into its third round over the weekend, with six fixtures split evenly across Saturday and Sunday. There were a number of outstanding individual performances among the Round 3 action, as serious draft contenders and prospects on the rise topped a range of key categories. We take a look at this week’s stat leaders.

It was no surprise to see Oakleigh Chargers standout Nick Daicos enjoy another blinder, but the Collingwood father-son talent keeps on reaching new heights. Daicos racked up a season-high 40 disposals as his side thumped the Western Jets by 46 points on Sunday, with his 27 kicks and 11 inside 50s also registering as highs for the round. It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny him of number one status in the draft pool, with South Australian Jason Horne his lone genuine competitor at this early stage.

In the same game, a bunch of Jets were kept busy by the Chargers’ dominance. Top-age talent Cody Raak continued his brilliant early-season form with 10 rebound 50s, which should see him earn a VFL berth in short time. Co-captains Billy Cootee (11 marks) and Nash Reynolds (10 tackles) led from the front in Western’s loss, staking their own claims as players to watch going forward.

Northern skipper Joel Trudgeon was one of the many Knights to have a day out against Gippsland, with his efforts seeing him top the handball and goal charts. He shared both those honours with teammates, as Josh Ward also racked up 19 handballs and Ned Long was the other Knight to kick three majors, along with Greater Western Victoria’s Ben Kellett.

Elsewhere, another 19th-year prospect in Will Bravo laid 10 tackles to be level with Western’s Reynolds in that category, while Eastern Ranges tall Jack Diedrich was dominant in the hitout department with 32 against Tasmania, putting him ahead of a very strong list of rucks this week.

Find the full list of Round 3’s stat leaders below.


ROUND 3 STAT LEADERS

Disposals:
Nick Daicos (Oakleigh Chargers) – 40

Kicks:
Nick Daicos (Oakleigh Chargers) – 27

Handballs:
Josh Ward (Northern Knights) – 19
Joel Trudgeon (Northern Knights) – 19

Marks:
Billy Cootee (Western Jets) – 11

Tackles:
Will Bravo (Dandenong Stingrays) – 10
Nash Reynolds (Western Jets) – 10

Inside 50s:
Nick Daicos (Oakleigh Chargers) – 11

Rebound 50s:
Cody Raak (Western Jets) – 10

Hitouts:
Jack Diedrich (Eastern Ranges) – 32

Goals:
Ben Kellett (GWV Rebels) – 3
Ned Long (Northern Knights) – 3
Joel Trudgeon (Northern Knights) – 3

Scouting Notes: 2021 NAB League Boys – Round 3

VICTORIA’S hottest AFL Draft prospects returned for Round 3 of the 2021 NAB League season on the weekend, with plenty of top end talent scattered across the six fixtures. Our scouts were on hand to take note and run you through the top performers from each game, in their opinion-based Scouting Notes. Check out some of the top performers from the 12 talent regions in action.

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. EASTERN RANGES

By: Hamish Spence

TASMANIA:

#1 Baynen Lowe

Lowe provided a spark whenever he was near the ball, with the 17-year-old splitting his time up forward and in the midfield. He’s a point of difference in the middle with his bursts of speed around stoppages and he looks dangerous anytime he’s inside 50. His leading patterns and strong forward craft saw him take six marks and kick 2.2, while also gathering 20 disposals. He looms as one of Tasmania’s more exciting prospects heading into this year’s draft.

#3 Oliver Davis

Tasmania’s main conduit around the contest, Davis played his usual role as a powerful inside midfielder. He started strongly in the first half, to the point that Eastern started accounting for him more around stoppages in the second half. He starred in the clearances and contested game, finishing with 23 disposals, four tackles, three inside 50s and three rebound 50s. After unluckily going undrafted last year, Davis has strung two impressive performances together to kick off the season.

#4 Samuel Foley

Foley anchored a stout performance from Tasmania’s back six, who restricted the Ranges to just one goal in the first half. He wasn’t afraid to play aggressively and go for the ball, while still being accountable to his direct opponent at centre half-back. In a nice turnaround from last week, he also won several key one-on-one contests, after giving way to Jackson Cardillo against Calder in Round 2. Foley and Tyler McGinniss (his fellow key defender) read the ball well, creating a contest and bringing the ball to ground if they couldn’t mark it. He finished with 18 disposals, six marks, and seven inside 50s in an impressive defensive performance.

#5 Oliver Sanders

Sanders was the most prolific midfielder on Saturday, finishing with an equal game-high 29 disposals, five marks and four inside 50s. He possesses a natural ball-winning ability and knows how to create space around stoppages, often helping the Devils with their attacks going forward. He had a nice moment in the third quarter when he went back with the flight and took a strong mark on the right-hand wing.

#6 Sam Banks

The Devils’ captain led from the front, starring in a best on ground performance off half-back. Banks got the ball rolling with the first goal of the game and was a constant force all match, finishing with 29 disposals, seven marks, four inside 50s and four rebound 50s. His ball movement out of the backline often set Tasmania up and he remained level-headed when the team was put under pressure in the second half. Unfortunately, he suffered a suspected broken wrist in the final quarter, which could keep him out for several weeks.

#21 Jacob Young

Young was the most dangerous key forward on Saturday because of the way he presented and marked the ball. He has a safe pair of mitts when he hits full flight and he looked likely all game. He started strongly in the first quarter and didn’t let up, flying for every contest and crashing packs throughout the match. He kicked 2.1, while gathering 11 disposals and clunking six marks. After the Devils’ tall forward set-up struggled to fire last week, the way Young, Noah Holmes and Will Splann worked together and gave each other space was encouraging to see.

EASTERN:

#1 Tyler Sonsie

Sonsie shone through in what was a tough day for most of his teammates, leaving as Eastern’s best player. He was good all game, but had a noticeable impact in the third quarter when there was a hint of a Ranges comeback. He was a threat around stoppages and provided the x-factor that his side needed by kicking two of their four goals for the term, including a neat checkside on the run. He also had 21 disposals in a performance that reinforced his status as one of the top prospects heading into this year’s draft.

#5 Jake Soligo

While he didn’t gather the footy as much as some other players, it was Soligo’s unrelenting pressure and competitiveness that made him stand out. After the Ranges were left shellshocked by the Devils’ dominance in the first term, he was one of the players who immediately lifted his standards, exactly what you’d expect from your co-captain. Eastern was ambushed and tackled 19 times in the first quarter, but it went on to win the tackle count, with Soligo contributing a game-high eight of them. He also had 16 disposals and five inside 50s, and his ball use was often effective despite most of his possessions being contested.

#9 Mitchell Sruk

Sruk was put under constant pressure due to Tasmania’s repeat inside 50 entries, but the half-back flanker didn’t lower his colours and stood up consistently. He led his team in disposals with 22 and the game in rebound 50s with nine. He got plenty of touches because the ball lived at his end of the ground for large portions of the game, but it was his clean decision-making and the way he intercepted the Devils’ attacks that made him one of Eastern’s better players.

#21 Corey Preston

Preston was key to getting his side going in the third quarter, with the Ranges’ coaching staff utilising him in a unique way. He would start at the top of forward 50 during every centre bounce, before running onto the back of the contest and playing as a midfielder from then on. His blistering speed meant this added a new element to Eastern’s game at centre clearances and his work at the contest around the ground was strong. This meant he didn’t spend as much time up forward as in previous weeks though. He finished with 18 disposals, five tackles, four inside 50s and two behinds, with his impact in the second half lifting the team around him.

#29 Harrison Keeling

Keeling had a workman’s like game, running all over the ground and covering an enormous amount of territory. He played his role as a wingman, being an outlet on the outside and supporting his teammates. His hard work saw him rack up 20 disposals, five tackles, four inside 50s and kick one goal. He continued the form that has seen him among the Ranges’ best to start the year.

#30 Jack Diedrich

Diedrich was easily the best ruckman on the ground, finishing with a game-high 32 hit outs (the next best was 10 from Noah Holmes). His dominance didn’t translate at times during the match, with Tasmania winning the midfield battle in the first half. But when Eastern started to get on top in the third term, there was no way to stem his influence. He didn’t make the biggest impact around the ground with just eight disposals, but he still had some key moments. He put himself in the right spots to compete in marking contests and there were a couple of times where he kept a cool head when he was involved in general chains of play.

GIPPSLAND POWER vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS

By: Peter Williams

GIPPSLAND:

#4 Nathan Noblett

Had a solid game across the board, but was particularly noticeable late in the game, taking a number of strong intercept marks. Showing good hands and an ability to get to the right spots, he tried hard in the defensive 50. One of the better ones in the air in defence.

#5 Chance Doultree

Won plenty of the ball in close, Doultree was able to amass more touches than anyone else on his team. He worked hard to push around the ground against the momentum and even kicked a goal in the last minute to bring the margin back to under 12 goals.

#6 Mitchell Moschetti

Arguably the most noticeable Power player across the four quarters, Moschetti just kept having a crack and then took it upon himself to hit the scoreboard. His work rate in particular, spreading from the contest and winning in space was strong, and he kicked his first goal off the outside of the boot running into goal in the second term. His second major came early in the fourth, and he working hard right to the final siren as one of the prime midfield movers.

#23 Jai Serong

After a quieter first term, Serong began building into the game, and used his size around the ground to spread and take some important marks. He was used in transition from the back half to the forward 50, and whilst it was a tough day for the Power, he generally used it well and was able to have more of an impact as the game went on.

NORTHERN:

#2 Ned Long

A really exciting talent because of his size and versatility. He kicked three goals for the game, with his first a clever snap, then handed off another chance to a free teammate to set him up. He kicked his second major in the goalsquare with a quick boot to ball, then took a good mark and spun well in the fourth term to kick his third. In between his bursts of goals, Long went into the middle and found plenty of the football, using his bigger body to advantage and having an influence around the stoppages.

#3 Josh Ward

Had the ball on a string throughout the match, and whilst he was one of hte few Knights that did not end up hitting the scoreboard, he kept plugging away in close and getting the ball out. A consistent four-quarter performer, Ward did his fair share of defensive acts, and drove the ball forward to end up with the most touches on the field with 33.

#7 Ewan Macpherson

It was an even team performance, but Macpherson might have been the best on the lot. Kicked a couple of goals including a couple of tricky long-range set shots from around 45m out with the blustery wind, then would go into the midfield and create an option. He racked the ball up and did not take a backwards step, laying tackle after tackle and putting his body on the line. He was consistent throughout the four quarters and moved well in the forward half, to utilise his run in transition, and his hardness at the contest.

#9 Darcy Wilmot

Was a rock in defence early, intercepting anything that came his way and opting to switch and try and create more run from the back 50 to the forward 50. As the Knights began to control forward half possession, he did not have a great deal to do, but still pushed up and aided where possible. Used the ball well by foot and was composed under pressure, and was one of the best on in the opening term when the game was alive.

#19 Joel Trudgeon

Another standout performer from the Knights, Trudgeon was hard to stop inside 50, slotting three goals from 29 disposals in a remarkable performance. He missed an early set shot after a great mark, then dropped a rare chance, before seemingly having sticky hands throughout the game. He marked on the line to grab a cheapie one metre out, but worked hard with a couple more great goals, including one from the pocket after a great run. Strong hands and good work rate inside 50, also pushing up the ground to be a leading target.

#22 Jack Rossimel

Showed some promising signs throughout the match, able to kick a couple of goals, though the second was from the goalsquare following a 50m penalty for a late push in the marking contest. His first major was a snap around his body in the second term, ad then a set shot drifted to the right midway through the third. He presented well, and whilst he did not win as much of it as others, took some strong marks and led hard at the footy inside 50.

#26 Dom Akuei

As eye-catching as they get when it comes to athleticism, Akuei has a ridiculous leap, but also has remarkable footy IQ both in the air and at ground level. Time and time again he would leap up and palm off to a midfielder as part of a set play, but when he battled against a couple of opponents on the ground, quickly tapped it out to the extra number on his team rather than take possession. He won a free kick and sidestepped his opponent to gain a few extra metres and kick forward, and was relied upon to be a link in the chain and provide an option around the ground as he did.

#28 Joel Fitzgerald

Another player who just found the ball at will, Fitzgerald worked hard for his touches and finished with the second most on the ground with 30. He would accumulate them and quickly give off or look to get it forward, but also worked defensively when needed to help out the defence. Just a solid four-quarter performance across the board.

#33 Mackenzie Hogg

Could well have been best-on had it not been for an injury early in the third term. His eight disposals, three marks and 2.2 might not look like much, but factoring in that it was effectively from a half of footy, really showed what he could do. The majority of it was also in the second term where he kicked well off his left running in with the breeze to put one through, then nailed his set shot from a tighter angle after marking close to goal. He had another couple of early snaps in the third term for two behinds, then by the third minute was helped off.

#39 Emilio Rinaudo

Showed some great toe around the ground and ended up getting on the end of a couple of goals. His athleticism – which helped him quick a goal thanks to a quick-thinking sidestep in the second term – was a standout of his on the day. He ran down an opponent with his pace in the fourth term, whilst his hard running was rewarded early prior to the previously mentioned goal with a clever snap from the pocket after picking it up cleanly in challenging conditions.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

By: Michael Alvaro

SANDRINGHAM:

#4 Josh Sinn

It was somewhat of a hit-and-miss kind of day for Sinn, who found a good amount of ball but took a few attempts to settle and use it as well as he can. Having been utilised on the inside earlier than expected, Sinn again showed his value there after being granted starting status at the first centre bounce. His size and explosive traits proved a handful around the contest, but it was in situations where Sinn broke on the outer which were arguably more eye-catching. He pumped forward 10 inside 50s and while plenty of his early attempts were turned over or scuffed, Sinn was able to gain confidence by hitting his targets at a greater rate thereafter. Having copped a knock to his calf in the final term, he was put on ice ahead of the AFL Academy game this week.

#11 Jack Peris

This was far and away Peris’ best competitive outing in Sandringham colours, with the St Kilda NGA prospect showcasing his rare athletic traits and causing headaches with his forward movement from the wing. He notched 17 disposals and looked to take the game on with each, backing his speed to burn opponents and showing flashy agility to weave out of sticky situations. Peris is still quite light, so was caught on a few occasions, but was able to produce a game more indicative of his potential this time out. He capped his day with crafty goals in the first and final quarters.

#17 Finn Callaghan

Callaghan is a prospect who built a decent reputation during preseason, but has more than delivered on that early promise three rounds into the NAB League season. The flying wingman was recently added to the AFL Academy squad and richly deserves it on the back of Saturday’s effort, in which he showcased all his best traits. Callaghan was a relentless force on the outer, proving difficult to stop with his size, speed and agility on the move. He constantly looked to break lines with aggression, putting Sandringham on the front foot and driving his side forward superbly. He kicked cleanly and made good decisions, including in the fourth term when he baulked the man on the mark at half-forward before unleashing a terrific long goal from 50 metres out. Watch his rise.

#18 Darby Hipwell

The Sandringham co-captain is one who has actively recognised and worked on his deficiencies to produce some really solid form early this season. He racked up the equal-most disposals on Saturday with 27, working hard to not only win his usual possessions on the inside, but to also make his mark in all areas of the ground. Hipwell led with intent, using good strength at the contest and proving difficult to beat at ground level – as is expected of the 19th-year prospect. He brought a greater accumulation factor this time around and was able to penetrate both arcs too, making for a well-rounded midfield game. He could be one to now move in to the VFL system given his top-age status.

#42 Luke Cleary

One who showed enough potential to earn a National Combine invite last year, Cleary has built up a good head of steam in 2021 having been overlooked at the draft table. Stationed in his familiar defensive post, the 189cm prospect had his most prolific outing to date on the stat sheet with 21 disposals, eight marks and four rebound 50s. His numbers were indicative of his game, able to read the play and set in perfect position to intercept – whether that be aerially or at ground level. From there, Cleary used the ball typically well with shrewd decisions in tight spots, showing his cool head in a crisis. He’s just a reliable figure back there and knows his role well.

#70 Jacob Edwards

Edwards has been touted for mid-season draft selection and it is not hard to see why, with the agile big man again impressive for the Dragons in a big win. He started up forward where his marking has been a real feature, before rotating into the ruck and further showcasing his leap. Edwards’ mobility and work around the ground is also noticeable, though he cuts a raw figure and has some work to do before becoming a physical, contested marking force at senior level. The fast-rising tall again found the goals with two majors at the same end, snagged in the second and fourth quarters. As far as 200cm players go, his consistent output has been outstanding.

DANDENONG:

#6 Connor Macdonald

Having set the scene alight last week with an absolute blinder, Macdonald was arguably Dandenong’s most productive player once more. He was the sole Stingray to tick over 20 touches, finishing with 25 to go with six marks and three tackles. His work rate and accumulative factor again came to the fore, as the 184cm talent penetrated either arc and was able to find the ball in all areas of the ground. He was up against it given Sandringham’s midfield strength, but was a near-permanent fixture there for Dandenong and showed nice speed away from the contest. Macdonald capped his day with a goal, thanks to being awarded a 50-metre penalty just outside his side’s attacking arc.

#10 Clayton Gay

All 15 of Gay’s disposals on Saturday were kicks, which you could have guess given the attack-minded style he adopted. Starting out on the wing before being trialled on the inside, Gay was able to launch the Stingrays forward with his penetrative boot and did so in style on many occasions. His punchy action made for eye-catching spear kicks into the corridor, which were indicative of Dandenong’s intent with ball in hand. As the pressure gauge lifted, those kicks would more often be sent long down the line, but still carried good meterage. Gay has proven his versatility and natural footballing skills, which could set him up for some VFL action in 2021 seeing as he is a top-ager.

#14 Will Bravo

Bravo was a real driver of the ball for Dandenong with his speed and intensity through midfield. That intensity could be observed in both an attacking and defensive sense, as he looked to run with ball in hand and burst away from congestion, while also working back to apply a game-high 10 tackles. Dandenong may not have had the size of some of Sandringham’s midfielders, but Bravo was once who looked to bridge the difference with hard work and some good presence around the ball. Having started on the inside, the top-ager was moved to a variety of roles as the Stingrays shuffled the magnets throughout.

#22 Mac Andrew

The 200cm ruck continues to show great potential and was duly added to the AFL Academy squad. His raw ability and versatility as a tall are exciting, with Andrew spending a good amount of time up forward and contributing strong work around the ground. He finished with four marks for the day but showcased some really nice traits in that area, able to utilise his reach to easily beat smaller opponents while also marking strongly in contested situations. The Melbourne NGA prospect also converted a goal in the second term and may make Demons’ list managers sweat with his top 25 potential, especially in such a strong draft for midfielders.

#46 Justin Davies

Again playing an unheralded role against some dangerous forwards, Davies stood up well and was able to bring forward some of his own best traits on Saturday. He is a pretty good mover for his size and competes well aerially, meaning he can cover all sorts of key forwards. Davies was also able to swing forward and show some nous there, booting a goal in the final term and again looking promising with his work in the air.

WESTERN JETS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

By: Eli Duxson

WESTERN:

#26 Cody Raak

Raak was the General for the Jets defence having a say in most contests and rebounds inside defensive 50. The still weather allowed him to display his aerial prowess where he made good decisions to either mark or spoil the ball, being very effective at both. He read the flight of the ball terrifically, as well as the play where he opted to zone off from his opponent and intercept mark. After one particular intercept he earnt himself a free kick for holding the ball, highlighting his defensive ability both in the air and on the ground. Offensively, he kicked much more than he handballed, but that was partly because his teammates often looked for him to clear play. He was trusted with most of the kick outs and was efficient with his field kicking all game. Raak finished the game with 33 disposals (25 kicks), seven marks, and 10 rebound 50’s.

#33 Billy Cootee

The Jets skipper was valiant all game putting in big efforts deep into the game when the result was beyond doubt. He showed a good mix of inside and outside efforts utilising his speed as he was clean in tight through hands but managed to find space often and be a target. He took 11 marks for the game and displayed a penetrating kick when he was found. A set shot for goal made the distance quite comfortably off just a few momentum-gaining steps as the man on the mark was on the 50-metre arc. Cootee finished with 24 disposals and five inside 50’s.

#35 Liam Conway

The big-bodied midfielder was strong from the outset showing composure and cleanliness in congestion. He had a knack of getting first hands on the ball at stoppages when it was in his vicinity either through relentless bustling or good use of his body. However, his eagerness did result in five conceded free kicks. His first few steps are powerful and allows him to build momentum quickly so he can get into space to dispose of the ball, or break through tackles. Once the ball was cleared, he covered the ground well to find possession or zone off defensively. Conway managed 26 disposals and five tackles for the game.

#50 Paul Tsapatolis

Tsapatolis had a tough battle with Chargers ruckman Ned Moyle where he narrowly lost the hit out count but managed to make an impact forward kicking two goals. He was clean below his knees for his size but often got flustered and rushed with possession. He at times got caught out with his defensive positioning and running but showed good endurance to get to most stoppages as the Jets primary ruckman. He had 10 disposals and 15 hit outs to go with his 2 goals.

OAKLEIGH:

#1 Youseph Dib

The speedy small was seen all over the ground at times but spent most of the game playing half-back and around the middle of the ground. He was utilised in an Adelaide Crows Charlie Cameron-type role streaming off half-back into the centre bounce and actually gaining possession and breaking the line on one occasion. His acceleration and strides were impressively quick which he used to apply immense pressure, laying six tackles for the game. He was reliable with his disposal and when he did miss a handball, his follow up work allowed him to win possession again or help a teammate. He took a terrific intercept mark in the third quarter and was stringent defensively. Dib finished with 20 disposals and six inside 50’s in his best game this season.

#3 Nick Daicos

A class above and clearly the best-on-ground again as he amassed 40 disposals to go with two goals, nine marks, and 11 inside 50’s. He could not stay away from the ball it seemed as he patrolled the middle of the ground and snuck forward to rest. His first goal came from a free quick and his second out the back in the goal square, although he did manage a further four shots that would miss. Two of them were in the final term where he had options to pass, but instead had a shot from 50 metres and another tight against the boundary. Both minor blemishes in a game where the result was out of question and the sting was out of the game though. He looked like he had so much time when he had possession and very few of his 40 disposals would have been ineffective. His set up at stoppages varied and was clearly making to the hit zones, but he then worked hard to spread from stoppages, sometimes at the detriment of his defensive running. He also did a good job of directing teammates and being constructive in structural set ups. Will be interesting to see whether he remains at NAB League level and boosts his draft stock or opts to develop in the VFL.

#8 Fraser Elliot

Backed up a good performance in Round three where he had 18 disposals and 11 tackles, but his defensive ability was not required as much in their comfortable win. Rotating through the middle and forward, the big-bodied midfielder was strong in tight and showed good hip and core strength to remain upright through contact. Often the extractor, he handballed more than he kicked and was clean and level under pressure. Although his tackle count was low, his defensive work rate highlighted his endurance as he often made his way to defensive 50 stoppages or linked up in rebounding forays. Elliot also managed a goal to go with his 19 disposals.

#14 Sam Darcy

The lumbering defender found himself in the ruck where he was serviceable, but his intercept marking and kicking efficiency in defence put him as probably the second best-on behind Daicos. Darcy finished the game with nine marks and most of them would have been interceptions or contested grabs. He read the flight of the ball much better than his opponent and was clean in his one-grab overhead marks. His kicking long and short was consistent and he even showed confidence in his opposite boot late in the game. He had 21 disposals (16 kicks) to go with his nine marks as well as seven hit outs.

#27 Karl Worner

Playing predominantly off half-back and between the arcs either on ball or on the wing, Worner also enjoyed his best game of the season. He found space often enough to accumulate possession with his 10 marks, one notably going back with the flight to mark courageously. He looked calm with ball in hand with a great mark and hit up inside 50 in the first quarter a feature. 22 disposals was his final tally with 13 kicks and nine handballs indicative of his inside/outside mix.

#64 Ned Moyle

The Oakleigh ruckman had his toughest matchup to date in Tsapatolis but managed a minor victory. It was a relatively even ruck contest all game, but he edged out his opponent by three hit outs with better positioning often a factor. Rucks a bit like Oscar McInerney in the sense he is not overtly athletically gifted with his leaping ability like a Nic Naitanui, but he times his jump well and is mobile and fit enough to cover good territory. He often outworked Tsapatolis in that regard as he was able to push back defensively and get in the way of Western’s forward movement. He worked hard the other way too as he pushed forward at times when Darcy gave him a break. Moyle managed a goal early in the second term with a nice mark and set shot. He looked comfortable with ball in hand and found the ball 11 times to go with his 18 hit outs.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GEELONG FALCONS

By: Michael Alvaro

BENDIGO:

#1 Sam Conforti

The 19th-year prospect was as productive as any Pioneer on Sunday, ending as their most prolific ball winner with 23 touches. Rotating through the engine room from attacking 50, Conforti was his busy self at ground level and attended a high amount of stoppages. He exited traffic on a few occasions with good agility, using his nous to find a way forward or dish out quickly to bring others into the game. His best moment of the day came in the second term, as he showed great composure to baulk an opponent before letting fly from 50 metres for a terrific long goal.

#4 Jack Hickman

The nippy midfielder-forward again swapped his time between both positions and popped up with some eye-catching work away from the contest. His turn of speed made for some really nice exits from congestion, able to nip away from would-be tacklers and wheel onto his favoured side. A clever kind of player, Hickman won a holding-the-ball free kick in term two after pinning his opponent’s arm, and later hit some nice targets going forward. In the same period of play, he ran onto a loose ball over the top and slotted home his lone goal of the game.

#5 Cooper Hamilton

Part of the AFL Academy squad set to take on Geelong VFL on Saturday, Hamilton got through his final NAB League test unscathed and continues to produce good moments. Playing mostly through midfield, he started well with a bustling clearance and showed his trademark strength at the contest, even under tackling pressure. He found the goals in the second term after stealing an errand Geelong handball and converting in a flash from close range. Hamilton would then kick a steadier in the fourth quarter, finishing with composure from a swift handball receive. Though not overly prolific, 16 disposals and two goals made for a solid contribution.

#11 Cobi Maxted

Maxted has put together a promising couple of weeks, this time performing as a valuable swingman for the Pioneers. Having impressed as somewhat of a marking defender last time out, he continued said form early in this outing before shifting forward and duly hitting the scoreboard. His first major came in the third term, as he latched onto a nice chain of Bendigo handballs to snap home well, while his second goal was a set shot conversion in the following quarter. Overall, Maxted was able to again show some nice traits and get busy in key areas of the ground.

#13 Jack Evans

One who found plenty of the ball in the first half, the Pioneers leader proved a reliable figure across half-back during said period. He often looked to go by foot on the rebound, with 16 kicks and six rebound 50s coming among his total 19 disposals. Evans was able to gain good meterage from the back half, reading the play well to move into the correct areas to either mop up or receive on the outer once Bendigo had forced the turnover. While he faded out of the contest a touch, Evans helped absorb early pressure before Bendigo gained a greater hold on proceedings.

GEELONG:

#12 Noah Gribble

One of the hardest workers in the competition, it is hard to believe Gribble did not come away with more disposals, but 24 still proved a great return. The wingman was employed in his usual post, running hard both ways to accumulate possessions and help generate some forward momentum on the outer for Geelong. He constantly tried to make things happen and was competitive both in the air and at ground level, but looked to fare much better in open spaces where he could cover ground and deliver with more assuredness. Gribble’s hard running earned him a goal in the third term, as he snuck forward to mark uncontested before converting the set shot.

#16 Charlie Ham

Having earned a National Combine invite last year, Ham’s performance on Sunday was perhaps most indicative of what recruiters saw in him back then. The defender did a lot of work to sweep up across Geelong’s back 50 and also distributed from the kick-ins, seeing him finish as the highest ball winner afield with 29 disposals (20 kicks) and six rebound 50s. A beautifully timed overhead mark in the first term set the tone for Ham’s game, as he would go on to take some similarly graceful grabs coming from the side or rear of packs, really utilising his athleticism. He bottled the confidence gained from those acts to provide some dash, but tended to show a little too much of his kicks to the opposition at times, putting pressure on the receiver. Still, there are plenty of positive traits to work with for Ham.

#25 Josh Sorgiovanni

Sorgiovanni was a solid worker for Geelong through midfield, able to provide some much-needed drive through the corridor. He would often win or receive the first possession out of congestion, before looking to run his measure and pump the Falcons forward. He produced a clutch moment after the half time siren, dropping well to earn a high free kick before slotting home a set shot goal to get his side back to within a goal at the main break. As expected, his teammates got around him and he enjoyed some more good patches thereafter.

#28 Mitch Knevitt

The day’s most prolific midfield ball winner, Knevitt amassed 27 disposals and did some solid work on the inside upon his return to the lineup. Hard to miss with his flowing hair, the 18-year-old accumulated well throughout the game and was often able to put first hands on the ball at stoppages. He had a couple of nice moments outside the contest too, streaming forward well on one occasion and also backing back to clunk a courageous mark on the stretch in front of Falcons bigman, Toby Conway. It is easy to see why Knevitt was so highly touted by his teammates in preseason.

#60 Toby Conway

The subject of our Player Focus this week, the AFL Academy inclusion continued his good start to the season as Geelong’s primary ruck. He was simply too big and strong at most contests, able to use his reach or work into prime position to direct helpful hitouts down to his midfielders. Instead of rotating heavily as he did last week, Conway was also able to showcase his improving forward craft as he rested forward, kicking a goal in the second quarter. He also set up behind the ball to provide an outlet or lock it into Geelong’s front half, another aspect he is improving on.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS vs. GWV REBELS

By: Ed Pascoe

MURRAY:

#2 Charlie Byrne

Likely to feature in the Essendon VFL going forward Byrne has added another strong to his bow as the rebound defender of previous years has made a strong transition into the midfield for Murray this year. Although not his most prolific game he made his disposals count with some strong clearances using his stronger frame to his advantage with some nice bursts and long kicking inside 50 with his trusty long left boot. Also drifting forward he managed to kick a lovely snap goal on the run in the first quarter and almost did the same later in the game with a long goal from 50m but unfortunately a teammate gave away a free kick to take away what would have been a lovely goal. Byrne finished the game with 15 disposals, 4 inside 50s and kicked 1.1 and has set himself up well for a likely debut for Essendon VFL this year.

#3 Toby Murray

Murray started the game in hot form and proved a handful in the first quarter kicking two goals and although he wouldn’t add to his tally he would still go on to have a good game. Murray would kicks his first goal from a nice tackle which was rewarded inside 50 and the 2nd goal was kicked from a nice a lead up mark in the pocket, he would slot both goals with the set shot and looked steady with his approach. The 198cm Murray would also go into the ruck on occasion winning some nice hit outs and following up his work well with some good tackles and great dexterity and clean hands at ground level. Murray finished the game with 11 disposals, 14 hit outs and 2 goals as he puts together a strong start to the season.

#5 Patrick Parnell

The speedy mid-season draft prospect has put together a strong start to the NAB League season and he was again one of Murrays best providing great rebound at half back and was a solid 4 quarter performer. Although a smaller and skinnier defender he did well to take some nice intercept marks and even a contested mark against the highly touted forward Kai Lohmann in the first quarter, Parnell impressed with his quick ball movement and desperate defending showing a good mix down back and its no surprise to see him taking kickouts with his speed and kicking. Along with some nice spoils and 1% plays Parnell finished the game with 24 disposals, 5 marks and 6 rebound 50s.

#9 Kade Chalcraft

The tough inside midfielder adept at winning clearances did so with ease against the Rebels with his strong frame and appetite for the contest really impressing. A no thrills midfielder he won the hard ball and tackled hard all day and didn’t let up in his attack on the contest and with ball in hand sending the ball inside 50 multiple times and always wanting to keep the ball moving. Chalcraft finished the game with 25 disposals, 5 inside 50s and 6 tackles with the mid-season draft prospect continuing to impress.

#10 Daniel Turner

A wall in defence for Murray Bushrangers Turner took plenty of intercept marks throughout the game and despite his 191cm frame he played above his height. Turner has been one of Murrays most consistent players proving to be a big obstacle for the opposition with his courage to sit in the hole or infront of key forwards to stay strong and take big intercept marks. Turner finished the game with 18 disposals and 8 marks with plenty of those being intercepts as the mid-season draft prospect stakes his claim as one of the better defenders in the NAB League.

#13 Tom Brown

After a quiet first round Brown has started to find his feet playing half back for Murray Bushrangers with the super athletic prospect put in a strong performance. Brown is a great athlete and used his athletic traits to his advantage offering plenty of drive from alf back with his endurance and speed across the ground and his leap was handy in taking plenty of good intercept marks including a strong contested mark in the last quarter. Getting better every week the break isnt timely for Brown but should take great confidence out of his recent form, with 22 disposals, 6 mark and 5 rebound 50s it was a great return for Brown.

GWV:

#1 Sam Butler

Usually a crafty forward and starting in that role Butler helped turn the game with his addition to the Rebels midfield in the 2nd half using his speed and class at stoppages to help gets his side over the line. Butler was quiet forward in the first half but had some great forward pressure and he would bring that enthusiasm into the midfield winning some good clearances and he had some strong tackles aswell, his pace and strength over the ball was influential in combating the stronger but slower Murray midfield and with 20 disposals, 5 marks and 4 tackles it was a strong game from Butler despite not kicking a major.

#3 Charlie Molan

Although not prolific it would have been his efforts without the ball that impressed his teammates and coaches the most with Molan playing an outstanding defensive game. The smooth moving defender set the seen for his game with a desperate goal saving tackle in the 2nd quarter and would follow that effort up in the last quarter with a desperate chase down tackle that should have been rewarded and then followed up again with a crunching tackle but gave away the free kick which was dissipating for Molan who showed great determination and really should have been rewarded. Molan started back but was moved to the wing in the 2nd half using his desperate defence all over the ground finishing with 13 disposals and 4 marks.

#8 Josh Gibcus

It’s been an outstanding season so far for the athletic key defender Gibcus who has proved why he has been called up to represent the AFL Academy in their game against Geelong VFL with another fantastic performance down back taking intercept marks with ease.Just about every one of his 9 marks for the day where intercepts, a lot of them took the eye but non more-so than a contested intercept mark in the 3rd quarter and although he turned the ball over after the mark was no less impressive showing of his great leap and timing to mark overhead. Gibcus was just as adept at ground level shaping great composure and agility on multiple occasions deep in defence able to sell a bit of candy which is impressive for a 195cm prospect. Gibcus finished the game with 17 disposals, 9 marks and 5 rebound 50s to further enhance his draft stocks.

#10 Blake Scott

The bulldogs NGA prospect has started the year in fine form and the speedy forward again caused havoc for opposition defenders with an exciting display. Despite a quiet start to the game Scott just got better as the game went on and really hit his straps in the second half as he seemed to be everywhere inside 50 popping up to hit the scoreboard but he wouldn’t kick a goal until the last quarter with a nice set shot goal from the pocket. Scott also did well to set up a goal using his trademark dash to escape his opponents and handball of to a teammate over the top running into open goal, Scott finished the game with 20 disposals, 5 marks, 6 inside 50s and kicked 1.3 in another strong game.

#14 Jamieson Ballantyne

Improving with every game the elusive wingman made that position his own proving pretty of run and creativity using his eye catching agility to get around opponents with ease and dispose of the ball well. Ballantyne did well to push back into defence to help his teammates highlighted with a good spoil going back with the flight showing he had a good defensive side to his attacking style of play with the ball. An elusive and composed player on the wing Ballantyne finished the game with 22 disposals, 8 marks and 6 inside 50s playing the wing role very well.

#16 Kai Lohmann

The exciting forward put together his most complete performance so far this year showing of his athleticism and skills consistently over the 4 quarters highlighting his impressive speed and leap. His best bit of play came in the 2nd quarter with an awesome run from half back starting inside defensive 50 where he took on multiple players while also taking multiple bounces aswell to finally kick inside 50 in a great show of athleticism and what he is capable of. The last quarter highlighted all of his best traits with a leap from the back of the pack and some nice plays deep in the forwardline in one instance going back with the flight and creating a contest and then quickly put on forward pressure. Lohmann finished the game with 19 disposals, 5 marks and 6 tackles and although he didn’t kick any goals himself with 3 behinds he helped set up he helped create so many opportunities

2021 NAB League: Round 3 outlook – ‘Rays on the rise

AFTER a couple of all-country clashes, Dandenong Stingrays sit 1-1 heading into the third full round of NAB League action. Although they did not get the four points last time out, a bunch of budding AFL Draft prospects proved one thing – that the ‘Rays may well be on the rise in that capacity.

The typically strong talent region saw only one player selected in the most recent draft intake, as Deakyn Smith landed at Melbourne through the pre-season supplemental selection period. That was after a handful of Dandenong products made it to the elite level in 2019, but it seems at this early stage that the Stingrays may have another few prospects set to make a name for themselves this year.

Round 2 Player of the Week, Connor Macdonald returned a dream performance in the Stingrays’ loss to Greater Western Victoria (GWV); amassing 33 disposals, 10 marks, 10 inside 50s, and laying 12 tackles. A monster effort. It saw the 184cm midfielder rise up draft boards, especially having backed up a strong Round 1 showing.

His speed away from congestion is complemented well by a desire to work hard, as Macdonald could be seen accumulating possessions in all areas of the ground and lifting when his side needed it. Having played on a wing and up forward, Macdonald also has the ability to kick goals and really hurt the opposition with his balanced game.

There are a raft of other names to keep an eye on as they raise their stocks throughout this year’s campaign. Miller Bergman is a versatile type with eye-catching traits. He started at half-back in Round 2 before moving forward to boot three final-term goals, showcasing impressive aerial ability and some real class on the ball at both ends.

James Cahill, the brother of Essendon’s Ned, is another coming through the ranks. The crafty forward shares many traits with his elder sibling, able to play slightly above his size and hit up hard at the ball to mark. He also boasts the obvious ground level craft with clean hands, great smarts, and a real nose for goal. Watch for his rise.

Joining him up forward are livewires Judson Clarke and Josiah Kyle. The former does not need much room or many touches to make an impact inside 50, and the same can be said for the latter. Kyle is also a St Kilda Next Generation Academy prospect, while the speedy Kobi George, Ryan Koo Kwet Kim, and Mac Andrew qualify for Melbourne.

Andrew has raised eyebrows of late as a raw ruck talent with genuine top 25 potential. His athleticism makes for exciting work at each contest, and he also has a good knack for taking marks around the ground – whether it be while dropping back in support or in his time resting forward. At the contest, he also follows up well and while his decision making can do with refining at times, he does well when performing the fundamentals.

Another tall of note is Justin Davies, difficult to miss with his red hair. He showed as an Under 16 prospect that he is capable of playing as a forward, but looks to have swung up the other end of late and played a key role against GWV as he shut down the dangerous Josh Rentsch.

Of course, it would be remiss not to mention a couple of 19th-year prospects who have also lived up to their billings. Will Bravo returned with aplomb last week on the wing and through midfield, making use of his experience with the Hawthorn AFL side during preseason. Utility Clayton Gay has also started strongly, a terrific natural footballer.

Having shown vast development on each line, this emerging Dandenong side will face one of the toughest NAB League tests in Round 3, against Sandringham Dragons. The two sides meet on Saturday afternoon at Trevor Barker Oval, with the 2-0 Dragons boasting a heap of high-end draft prospects.

Tune in to the contest via the NAB League app, where our very own Draft Editor Michael Alvaro, and analyst Declan Reeve will be providing commentary. With so much talent set to take the field, it looms as one of the games of the round.

Scouting Notes: 2021 NAB League Boys – Round 2

AFTER the cobwebs were dusted off in Round 1 last week, Victoria’s hottest AFL Draft prospects were scattered throughout all six fixtures which included a triple-header at Queen Elizabeth Oval, and a double-header at Preston City Oval for Round 2. Our scouts were on hand to run you through the top performers from each game, in their opinion-based Scouting Notes.

>> RECAP: NAB League Round 2 snapshot

NORTHERN KNIGHTS vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

By: Declan Reeve

Sandringham Dragons:

#4 Josh Sinn

Just super classy even in the poor conditions, with his speed and agility big weapons for his style of play, where his confidence to take on opponents resulted in some solid drive around the ground. Looked good in his midfield stints, as well with his game sense leading to some really strong runs around the stoppages. His disposal was at its usual high standard, although he sometimes asked too much of his teammates with kicks placed just too far out of their leading range or leaping ability, although this happened less later in the game when he had gotten a better feel for the conditions.

#6 Blake Howes

Showed glimpses of his high athletic base throughout, with his bursts of speed when put into the midfield super impressive, even if they did not result in clearances or disposals for him. Drawing the opposition midfielders to him helped Sandy get it going forward. He also applied some excellent pressure and tackles through the midfield which were vital in keeping Northern from entering their 50. Took some opportunistic marks inside forward 50 that were either passed off or kicked out on the full, which really was not reward enough for the effort and skill he had shown throughout. 

#7 Campbell Chesser

Had a good day despite the scrappy conditions. Stationed mostly as a wing, he had a lot of action on his side of the ground, where he was able to show his willingness and ability to win his own ball and get out of the contest cleanly. It was really impressive to see that even with less than favourable conditions he was not afraid to take risks with his disposal, even having the confidence to attempt bounces throughout the game. When he was the offside wing, he made smart leads into dangerous spots, with one leading to him getting a goal in the third quarter. Dropped off a little bit the longer the game went on, after sustaining a heavy knock on the inside of his knee.

#13 Luca Macnab

Put himself under a lot of high balls that entered the defensive 50 and held on to a couple pretty well. The courage to sit under those kicks and create a contest was a big point of difference for the Dragons. Used it daringly out of defence, often kicking a bullet like kick into a central area, like the top of the defensive 50, to give Sandringham a really wide range of options in transition.

#17 Finn Callaghan

Has a nice bit of speed to go well with his ability to hold space, making him particularly dangerous in transition. To go with this, he does not mind taking a bounce and taking on opponents to get a good 50 to 60 metres gained for a few of his touches, really nailing that link up player role on the wing, and playing a vital role in same strong Sandringham counter attacks. Whilst this allows him to enjoy a lot of time without pressure, on the occasion he does find himself in a pack, he works around really well or draws in the opponent to give a teammate running past the ball and space. Going forward his kicking was well suited to the conditions, placing it lightly in front of teammates to move into.

#18 Darby Hipwell

The conditions suited his style very well as a hard-at-it inside midfielder. What was most impressive was his marking around the ground, on the chest and over head, where his courage meant he often beat bigger opponents. He placed and weighted his kicks well, finding teammates that did not have an opponent and placing it in front of them.

#42 Luke Cleary

Got himself involved in a lot of play within the Sandringham defence, seemingly among everything down there in one way or another. His ball use was consistently reliable, helping move the ball laterally to give Sandringham some time to push forward without pressure. Competed well in aerial contests, and the times he was caught behind his opponent he would always manage to get the fist in without giving away a free kick, keeping his opponents accountable and relatively unrewarded. During the latter stages of the game he got involved in a bit more up the ground, coming to meet the ball more often.

#70 Jacob Edwards

Had some extra attention on him after an outstanding Round 1 performance, and did not disappoint any recruiters watching, playing a really complete game as a ruck that rested forward. What was impressive to see was how he never counted himself out of it, taking some really impressive grabs in the wet, some contested, but also following up at ground level on the rare occasion he did not quite hold a mark. Continued to show good signs in ruck contests as well, albeit against much shorter opposition without the strength he has.

Northern Knights:

#2 Ned Long

Appearing to play as Northern’s main target, Long was good as a marking option around the ground in slow play situations, but had a hard time of it when attempting to mark whilst at pace. Used the ball well when he had it, with well-weighted kicks down the line a common sight coming from him. When running through the midfield, being a bigger body he hunted relentlessly, running through opponents to win the ball and then hand off or kick long. 

#3 Josh Ward

Tackled hard through the midfield and was a presence throughout the day as a stronger contested midfielder, with his ball winning being strong and the pressure he applied rushing Sandringham into hack kicks forward. Was clean in the second half when he had it, adding an element of composure for Northern coming out of stoppages, where he would go against the trend of blazing away and bombing long forward, instead opting for some shorter or lateral options to allow Northern to control the tempo. Had some moments where his quickness to switch from an inside hunter to outside receiver were really vital for Northern, with one particular instance in the fourth quarter leading to a really dangerous inside 50 that was unlucky not to result in a goal.

#7 Ewan Macpherson

Used his strength and size to beat opponents around stoppages and even throw his weight about in foot races to knock opponents off balance and collect. Not only able to impact as a stronger body in the centre, he found himself up either end at times as well, with his work up forward, not a regular position for him, was solid, with his marking proficiency on display with a really strong contested mark leading to a good kick to a teammate. He had really clean ball use throughout the game as well, with those shorter inside kicks being his preferred type.

#9 Darcy Wilmot

Not afraid to take on the play and come to meet a loose ball out of the Northern defence, taking on opponents with his speed and evasiveness being highlighted. Even if he did occasionally run himself into trouble, he was more likely to be able to get boot to ball and get it long than to concede a free kick. Clean below his knees as well, with the sight of him picking up a ball with one clean grab even when it was pelting down with rain being a common occurrence. 

TASMANIA DEVILS vs. CALDER CANNONS

By: Hamish Spence

Tasmania Devils:

#3 Oliver Davis

The Matthew Richardson Medallist from last year (the rising star award for the TSL’s best young player) played at the standard he has set over the last 12 months. He is a prototypical inside midfielder, who knows how to win the ball at the coalface and make an impact in the middle. This was on full display on Saturday, with Davies standing out around stoppages with his clearance work and the way he burst through packs. After being overlooked in his draft year, the 19-year-old made a good start to his NAB League campaign, finishing with 28 disposals, seven tackles and six inside 50s.

#5 Oliver Sanders

Sanders was one of Tasmania’s primary movers through the midfield, finishing the game as the leading disposal getter with 29 disposals, five tackles and 10 inside 50s. While his touches did not always possess the biggest impact, his ability to just accumulate the ball was crucial to the Devils’ chances. His natural ball-winning ability and competitiveness around the contest suggests that he should be one of the teams’ most important players going forward.

#6 Sam Banks

The Devils’ captain and a member of the AFL Academy squad, Banks was prolific off half-back. Despite being rested last week in the TSL, he showed no signs of rust with his clean skills and decision making. He could potentially move up the ground a bit more at times to impact the contest further, but he is such an asset for Tasmania down back, setting up the side with his kick-outs and rebounds coming out off the backline. He led from the front in defeat, finishing with 28 disposals, five marks, four tackles and 10 rebound 50s.

#7 Will Splann

Splann was the pick of Tasmania’s defenders, playing with heart and continually standing up whenever Calder went forward. While the team arguably came in with an oversized backline given the conditions, he flew for every contest and crashed packs. He had a couple of big moments at the start of the third quarter, he took a big relieving contested mark down the line and then intercepted the ball two times in a row a couple of minutes later. He ultimately finished with 14 disposals, five marks, two tackles and two rebound 50s, but the stats do not show some of his once percenters or defensive efforts at crucial times during the game. He was swung forward in the last to give the Devils’ another option up forward, but he did not hit the scoreboard.

#12 Jye Menzie

Menzie looked like the deadliest player on the ground at times, but his inaccuracy prevented his game from going to another level. He presented strongly on leads and looked dangerous whenever he had the ball in his hands or was around goal. He did not convert all of his opportunities with three behinds (which was a theme for both sides throughout the day), but showed his resolve by kicking the goal that brought Tasmania within a kick late in the final quarter. He also pressed up the ground to get involved in the contest, finishing with 19 disposals, eight marks and four inside 50s, to go along with his goal. Saturday’s effort, combined with his form for North Hobart last season, shows that Menzie should be a handful for any opposing backmen in the future.

#29 Dominic White

White played a typical wingman’s game, working hard to cover the whole ground and providing an option for his teammates on the outside. He was often an outlet or part of the chain of play whenever Tasmania exited its backline, finishing with 26 disposals and seven marks for the game. He won a crucial one-on-one ball at the top defensive 50 late in the game, which ended up leading to the Devils’ only goal of the last quarter.

Calder Cannons:

#1 Harrison Andronaco

Saturday’s contest against Tasmania was probably one of Andronaco’s most impactful games to date. While the top-ager usually plays primarily as a small forward, he showed his ability to roll through the midfield and play further up the ground, finishing with 23 disposals, four marks and four inside 50s. The main element of his game that stood out was his inside work, winning several key contests in the middle. He still looked like a threat whenever he was around goal, though he only had the one behind to show for it.

#3 Jackson Cardillo

Cardillo spent more time up forward than in the midfield on Saturday, something which he did to great effect. He was the Cannons’ most likely and dangerous forward with his four scoring shots, though unfortunately only one of them was a goal (though he did give off a goal to Joey Dimasi). He won several one-on-one contests against his direct opponent, hauling in some strong contested marks. Playing at half-forward, he still impacted the game further up the ground with his 15 disposals, four marks and three inside 50s. Adding and improving on his forward craft should hopefully hold Cardillo in good stead going forward, after not getting drafted last year.

#6 Flynn Lakey

A tough nut around stoppages, Lakey’s fiery red hair matched the heat he brought all day. He was Calder’s most prolific player, gathering a team-high 25 disposals, while forcing his way through contests to make sure he got his hands on the ball first. He seemed to thrive in the wet conditions when the heavens opened up in the second quarter, taking his already impressive performance to another level. He put in a full four-quarter effort, finishing with six tackles, five marks and six inside 50s, in addition to his 25 disposals.

#21 Riley Mason

Mason was the Cannons’ main mover out of the backline, enjoying an influential performance off half-back. He read the ball well, using his tall and lanky frame to intercept and cut off the Devils’ attacks several times. He gathered plenty of touches, finishing with 17 disposals, five marks and six rebound 50s. His level-headedness with ball in hand ultimately helped Calder get over the line by one point.

#25 Josh Goater

Goater continued his strong start to the year with another good game against the Devils. He stood up around stoppages, as his tall frame was suited to the congested nature of the match. He was probably the best player on the ground in the first quarter; he was a point of difference in the midfield, weaved through stoppages and kicked a booming goal from outside 50. While the rest of his day did not match his performance in the first term, he still finished with 20 disposals, five inside 50s and three tackles.

#41 Liam Podhajski

Despite the conditions being adverse for a big man at times, it did not stop Podhajski from having a day out. He was strong in the ruck contest; he won a massive 40 hit outs and some of his taps put the ball on a platter for his on-ballers. But it was the work he put in around the ground and his follow up efforts that arguably made him best on. He was like an extra midfielder at times and also filled a hole up forward. It was a complete ruckman’s game, finishing with 21 disposals, six tackles, four inside 50s, three rebound 50s and one goal, to go along with his 40 hitouts.

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS vs. EASTERN RANGES

By: Declan Reeve

Oakleigh Chargers:

#1 Youseph Dib

The crafty small was vital in Oakleigh’s break away on the scoreboard in the second half, where he was thrown into the midfield and used his agility and speed to break away from the contest with ball in hand. He just has a remarkable ability to get himself out of tricky situations, with a strength of his being his handballing, able to hit difficult targets and then run to support or get the ball back. He pulled off some good kicks as well, although there were a couple of awkward ones where the ball came off flat and wobbly, which is an area he could look to sure up.

#3 Nick Daicos

Following up from his thrilling NAB League debut against Sandringham Dragons, Daicos put in another best on ground performance in a dominant display through the midfield and forward line. His footy IQ is at an obviously high level, this was highlighted with dominance around stoppages, able to win it at will, even head-to-head with top prospect Tyler Sonsie he had the advantage, able to read the ruck tap exceptionally well. His skills were also clean in some unfavourable conditions, hitting some really good kicks into dangerous spots, able to show his composure by hitting them under pressure as well.

#13 Dylan Thomas

Had a really good day playing a hybrid role up forward, sometimes acting as the main target but also able to play as a crumber at the feet of bigger teammates, with that versatility in his approach leading to a massive four-goal haul. He was unselfish in his approach despite the big haul, giving off some good opportunities, and regularly lowering the eyes going forward.

#14 Sam Darcy

One of the tallest, and one of the lightest players on-field, for a 200 centimetre odd player Darcy moved remarkably well around the contests, backing his speed a few times to take on smaller opponents in foot races. Looked good in the back half, taking some commanding grabs and using the ball well by foot, also filling in as a relieving ruck and using smart body positioning to get the advantage and control the taps.

#18 Jed Rule

Positions well behind the play, getting into positions where he can intercept mark and then use his speed and kicking efficiency to move the ball back forward through dangerous areas in transition. I was also impressed by his ability to close in on opponents and force them to dispose of the ball backwards, giving time for Oakleigh to set up behind him or for a pressed up forward to win a free kick.

#36 Scott Beilby

Similar game to Rule which served as a difficult combination for Eastern to get past, just positioned well behind the play and took some good intercept marks in the defensive 50, controlling the tempo f the game from those marks well to get Oakleigh out in good positions. Offered a lot with his run from behind as well, able to kick with momentum to get the ball deep for Oakleigh.

Eastern Ranges:

#1 Tyler Sonsie

The kid is classy, and seemed to win just about all of the clearances that Eastern did, where he could then break free with his speed and dart a kick to a leading forward. His follow up work to support team mates he handballed was impressive as well, he would just work hard to get there and support, often getting the ball back to utilise his elite kicking even under pressure. He just had a game full of highlight type moments, pulling off some ridiculous kicks, or finding ways out of really difficult situations. Came into the game more as it went on, slowly making the midfield his own in the second half.

#5 Jake Soligo

Relentless attack on the ball, whether it be loose or in an opponent’s hand. After the first half he started positioning himself on Nick Daicos around stoppages and nullified his impact well at times, and whilst he was not the beneficiary of this work directly, it got Eastern a lot more opportunities to win those clearances, with the likes of Sonsie stepping up during that period in the midfield. Found himself playing as a bit of a sweeper like player, a kick behind stoppages, afterwards, where he positioned himself well to always make a contest.

#16 Aiden Begg

Gave up a bit of height in the ruck contests but still competed well, possibly even winning the bout against two really solid opponents. Has a really nice leap and ruck craft that make him a genuine chance no matter whereabouts he is positioned heading into the contest. Good around the ground as well following up strongly, using it well and setting up behind play and taking some good grabs in that role, suggesting he could play as a key defender at the next level.

#21 Corey Preston

Did not quite reach the lofty heights he set in his Round 1 game, but still had some really nice moments throughout the game, with his goal, that was preceded by a shrug off of an opponent, a highlight for his day. He spent some time in the midfield where he looked dangerous at times, with his speed being a big weapon around the ground, and his agility being at a good level where he regularly stepped around opponents with ease.

#31 Tyreece Lieu

As a taller midfielder he attracted a lot of attention around the stoppages, but he took that attention in his stride, able to run through and still win his clearances or be in spots where those winning clearances could get the ball to him easily. Had a difficult day up forward with the Chargers defence being really strong aerially, but he still found ways to create contests and win the ball at ground level, handing off to teammates to take shots at goal.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GIPPSLAND POWER

By: Ed Pascoe

Bendigo Pioneers:

#4 Jack Hickman

After a solid game against Murray Bushrangers last week, the nippy midfielder did so again this week with a great outing, winning some important touches and using his elite speed and endurance across the ground. A handy goal kicker in one of Essendon’s intraclub hitout, Hickman has taken that belief into the NAB League as the speedy 19-year-old kicked a nice long set shot goal from 50 metres in the second quarter, and almost kicked a sensational goal on the run with a banana, swiftly evading his opponents in the third quarter. Hickman provided a lot of good ground coverage, using his endurance to run hard defensively as well as offensively. Despite his small stature, he has some traits clubs will like. Hickman finished the game with 17 disposals, four tackles and kicked 1.1.

#5 Cooper Hamilton

Despite a slow start Hamilton worked his way into the he game, showing some eye-catching movements – especially in the last quarter. Although not a prolific first half, he had some nice movements with good aggression, and used his stronger body to shrug tackles and hand off releasing handballs to teammates. The second half was more prolific once he was moved into the midfield and even given some time forward, which he made the most of with a nice snap goal in the third quarter, he showed plenty of skill on the wing with a nice weighted kick to his teammate’s advantage and his skills in general were solid all day. Hamilton isn’t fancy with his tough tackling and ability to bring teammates into the game, but he is effective when he does get his hands on the ball as he finished with 12 disposals, seven tackles and one goal.

#8 Hugh Hamilton

The tough inside midfielder was a clearance king, using his strong body and his ability to hit those clearances at pace. He was in the action forward of centre early on, kicking a nice snap goal on the run and later missing a set shot. He has certainly showed an ability to get forward and impact which he would do again in the third quarter with perhaps the goal of the day, coming from a great dribble attempt on the boundary under pressure. Hamilton was as tough as they come in the middle and despite not being the greatest athlete, has certainly proven to be one of the more damaging midfielders so far in the NAB League with his ability to win clearances at will and also go forward to hit the scoreboard. Hamilton finished the game with a team-high 22 disposals along with eight inside 50s and kicking 2.2.

#10 Bode Stevens

The crafty midfielder/forward certainly has a bag of tricks and likes using them, with his nice movement in traffic and strong leap seen plenty during the game. Stevens had some nice movements through the midfield but it was his work around goals that impressed, kicking a nice goal in open play during the second quarter and an even better goal in the third, threading the needle. The athletic traits to go with his ability to potentially play multiple roles at the next level make Stevens an interesting prospect. He finished with 17 disposals, four tackles and two goals.

#24 Caleb Ernst

A great focal point for Bendigo going forward, Ernst was arguably the best key forward on the ground, leading up well and looking equally adept at ground level with some great gathers and handballs to smalls running past. Ernst was lively early and presented strongly as a marking option, but a strong tackle that created a goal also showed his hard work at ground level. He continued to be a great target for the first half and would finally get reward for effort with a mark close to goal, which he would then convert with a simple set shot. After winning selection for the Essendon VFL squad, Bendigo might not have Ernst up forward all year but the more games he can spend with Bendigo, the more likely they will keep their winning streak going. Ernst finished the game with 16 disposals, seven marks and one goal.

Gippsland Power:

#2 Cooper Alger

Alger was smooth across half-back with the classy left footer offering plenty of good rebound while also doing the defensive things nicely. Alger was tasked with kick-outs and did well, using his long left foot to clear the ball long but also find some targets short with good vision. A classy kick of the ball, he also showed good class by hand with nice vision and a long handball forward under pressure in the second quarter. Alger also had some nice movements defensively with a strong mark near the goal line and some desperate spoils near the line as well. Alger finished the match with a game-high 25 disposals, six marks and eight rebound 50s.

#5 Chance Doultree

A tough customer and hard to miss with the mullet, Doultree was one of his team’s better contributors all across the ground, showing good aptitude for the contest and providing run on the outside as well. Doultree has a great moment in the second quarter, burning off an opponent at half-back and then following up his work to win a free kick inside 50. Although the set shot would fall short, his teammate took the mark anyway. A strong four-quarter performer, Doultree finished the game with 22 disposals, six tackles and four inside 50s.

#17 Luis D’Angelo

A superb game in the midfield for D’Angelo, who is slick and tough at stoppages and proved it again after a strong game last week. D’Angelo was clean at stoppages, rarely wasting a possession and winning clearances at will. Although he could work on his outside game more, his inside game has been honed and it is hard to argue for many better inside players in the NAB League so far this year. D’Angelo finished the game with 21 disposals and six tackles.

#23 Jai Serong

The younger brother of AFL Rising Star Caleb, Jai is a bit different height-wise, looking more like a key position player. He certainly shares some traits with his older brother, with some strong tackling form despite his light frame and clean hands at ground level also rare for a player of Jai’s height. Although not consistent overhead, he would take a nice contested mark in the last quarter which was a strong quarter all-round for Serong, who took some marks around the ground but also did some nice things as a taller midfielder. Serong is an interesting prospect who, with his athleticism, height and light frame, could be anything. Serong finished the game with 19 disposals, six marks and nine tackles.

GWV REBELS vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

By: Michael Alvaro

GWV Rebels:

#1 Sam Butler

Essentially playing exclusively up forward, Butler was ultra-impressive each time the ball entered his area. The brother of St Kilda’s Dan, Sam holds some similar traits but is becoming a very good player in his own right. The GWV prospect was evasive in traffic, attacking the ball at speed and looking to weave his way free across the half-forward line. Though not exactly tall, Butler was also a useful marking target on the lead with impressively strong hands at full tilt, allowing him to grasp bullet-like or wobbly kicks forward with aplomb. He proved very difficult to beat when positioned in front, but marked well over the back in the final term, stretching overhead and then converting an easy set shot.

#3 Charlie Molan

One of the best competitors across the NAB League, Molan proved exactly that with a strong showing in defence. His ability to read the play and get into positions to intercept was terrific, seeing him force turnovers time and time again before delivering well-hit kicks on the rebound. Molan’s second efforts and repeat runs were also noticeable, as he dug in at ground level and laid some really strong tackles inside defensive 50. He would also look to chain together passages with that run, not stopping after his initial act and disposal. Another pleasing part of Molan’s game was his ability to win one-on-one balls against quality opposition, with two outstanding plays in term three. The first was a tussle with Clayton Gay close to goal, and the second was a desperate ground ball split against Judson Clarke further afield. Overall, a solid day from the 18th-year talent.

#5 Josh Rentsch

While blanketed relatively well in the first half after a strong start to the season in Round 1, Rentsch still managed to showcase his talent in small samples. He had a couple of chances to hit the scoreboard in the third term off the back of some good attempts to win the ball, but missed both set shots from different ranges. His strength came to the fore with a contested mark at forward wing, and he used that same physicality to follow up well at ground level. While seemingly unintentional, Rentsch laid another clumsy bump on his opponent having escaped punishment for a similar act last week, so may look to sharpen his work in that area. He looked good in the ruck during the final term, again providing nice bodywork to go with well-placed hitouts.

#6 Marcus Herbert

A smooth midfield mover, Herbert was one of GWV’s mainstays in the engine room and made some eye-catching plays at the stoppages. The top-ager’s agility and ability to break free from congestion in style proved a key feature of his game once again, with nice showings of composure and spacial awareness where others would likely panic. He finished as one of the Rebels’ more prolific ball winners on 21 disposals, and has a promising bag of tricks in that competitive GWV midfield.

#8 Joshua Gibcus

It was no real surprise to see Gibcus added to the AFL Academy squad after a hot start to the season, and the 18th-year defender again put his best traits on show during this outing. His style of play can be observed in his stats, with five marks and seven rebound 50s among his 16 overall disposals. An exciting athlete, Gibcus showcased his unique aerial ability with terrific intercept marking, while also sweeping up with composure at ground level to set GWV on the rebound. His speed also came to the fore in those instances, as well as a few tricks as he sold candy to his opponents to find a greater amount of space on the last line. As Dandenong closed in during the final term, Gibcus lifted to take a couple of clutch intercept marks and was a cool head down back.

#10 Blake Scott

The exciting Western Bulldogs NGA prospect was a lively figure forward of centre for GWV, often using his pace to break the play open and generate good energy inside attacking 50. He built into the game well, with his sole goal coming in the second term. Scott broke into acres of space and eventually latched onto a long kick over the top before slotting his dribbled shot. He has a good nose for goal and with such electric speed and agility, is able to create well with ball in hand.

#16 Kai Lohmann

Clubs will likely have enjoyed the raw athleticism and ability of Lohmann, who caught the eye with acts both aerially and across the ground. Lohmann’s zip off the mark and willingness to hit the ball at speed was complimented well by his clean hands, which resulted in some solid marking play. The GWV talent had a few chances to hit the scoreboard and made good on one during the second term with a lovely set shot. He missed a shot deep in the pocket during term four, but had shown good nous to mark a high ball and was not afraid to fly for audacious specky attempts.

Dandenong Stingrays:

#3 Miller Bergman

A player who really rose in stock this week, Bergman bookended his game brilliantly with work at both ends of the ground. He first came to prominence in the opening quarter, starting down back and showcasing his clean overhead marking ability. He read the play well to intercept, but also became a threat on the rebound with his penetrative and direct kicking. Having swung forward, Bergman again came to life in the final term to cap his game with three classy goals from set shots. He earned each chance by staying active forward of the ball, darting around before making clever leads and marking strongly. While he often gained good separation, Bergman was also clean under opposition pressure. One to keep an eye on.

#6 Connor Macdonald

The Draft Central Player of the Week, Macdonald had an absolutely epic game with 33 disposals, 10 marks, 10 inside 50s, and 12 tackles. He was a consistent figure in midfield throughout the match and seemed to be everywhere at times, working up and back to accumulate in all areas while also getting his hands on contested ball at the stoppages. Macdonald’s speed was on show with nice bursts away from congestion, complimented by the work-rate to either follow up his initial possessions, or work back hard if the ball did not fall Dandenong’s way. His cleanliness both to gather and dispose of the ball efficiently was another superb string to his bow, making for good viewing in such a complete performance. Most importantly, Macdonald lifted in the final quarter when his side was pushing hard to sneak ahead, adding gutsy aerial work and hard transitional running to his play. He has made a top start to the season, and will likely have risen up draft boards after another strong outing.

#10 Clayton Gay

A top-ager who was perhaps unlucky to be overlooked last year, Gay has returned in promising form. He started the day off in style with an awesome one-handed grab deep inside 50, before kicking the game’s first goal from a straightforward set shot. His clean hands were also shown at ground level, with one-touch grabs off the deck and quick reflexes to flick the ball back up to teammates. Gay took another strong overhead mark in the second term but had his set shot come up short, before moving up to the wing after half time and finding a good amount of possessions.

#14 Will Bravo

Another of Dandenong’s 19th-year prospects, Bravo came in for his first game of the season and returned some solid numbers. Mixing his time on the inside and out on the wing, Bravo showed good speed and intent moving forward, while also providing some unheralded work at stoppages. One of his more pleasing plays was one which did not earn him a stat, as he chased hard into defensive 50 to apply pressure on an opponent streaming into goal, but to no avail. Still, it was exemplary of Bravo’s character and work ethic.

#22 Mac Andrew

Melbourne fans may want to tune in and watch Andrew throughout 2021, as the NGA prospect looks to be a very exciting type. While still quite raw, there is no questioning Andrew’s athleticism and aerial nous, which came to the fore with some very handy ruckwork and impressive marking at both ends of the ground. He was clearly the dominant ruck on the day and positioned cleverly behind the ball after his work was done at the contest, which saw him take some clean intercept grabs in defence. Andrew also marked well when playing forward in the fourth quarter, but just lacked the finishing touch in front of goal. His follow-up play was also promising, as he disposed cleanly within his limits and did what was required with ball in hand at the stoppages.

#42 James Cahill

The brother of Essendon’s Ned, Cahill is a player not dissimilar to his elder sibling. The 183cm prospect was super productive in this outing, showing clean hands and outstanding smarts forward of centre. He lead hard up at the ball and was lively when working back towards goal, proving a slippery customer in congestion and one who could improvise in a flash to keep the Stingrays’ momentum moving. He had a direct hand in a couple of goals and booted one himself in the first term with a well finished snap.

#46 Justin Davies

One who played an underrated, but important role for Dandenong was Davies. He matched up on physical GWV forward Josh Rentsch and did a superb job to keep him under wraps for much of the first three terms. Davies competed well aerially and looked to move quite well for his size, with decent disposal to boot. He was freed up a touch in the final quarter as Rentsch moved into the ruck, showing good composure on the last line and a bit of game awareness as he pumped a kick-in long up the middle during the dying stages.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS vs. GEELONG FALCONS

By: Declan Reeve

Murray Bushrangers:

#2 Charlie Byrne

Following up from a really impressive Round 1 showing, Byrne continues to push his case as a possible mid-season draft selection, looking super impressive as a defender and midfielder for the day. His midfield game looked much improved in just the space of a week, finding himself in good spots around stoppages to win first possession and get it long forward, or out by hand. One particular instance of this was in the fourth quarter, where he won it at the rucks feet, and then fired a handball out between two opponents in less than a second, to an outside receiver. He also continued to do what he does well off of half-back, running at the ball and contesting well with anyone there, hitting them hard if they beat him to it.

#3 Toby Murray

Competed really well in the ruck against one of the premier rucks of the competition in Toby Conway, and whilst he may not have won as many hitouts, he definitely won around the ground, able to cover it easier than his opponent, and impact at ground level whilst in the role. When he rested up forward he impressed with his marking above head, taking some nice grabs in contested situations and getting himself on the scoreboard twice, but assisting in a couple of other goals to put in a nice team orientated performance.

#4/#54 Josh Rachele

Played more as a permanent forward rather than splitting his time in the midfield and to great effect, finishing the game with 4 goals, and having a few other opportunities that either fell short or went just wide of the mark, so realistically could’ve had two or three more. Talk about a highlight reel player, his second goal was an impressive effort, in a foot race with his opponent along the boundary, he took 3 bounces and then snapped it straight through the middle, highlighting his class and athleticism in one fantastic play. Not only kicking the goal himself, his position in contests that allowed him to out-mark much bigger opponents, led to him delivering some bullet-like kicks to teammates inside 50, giving Murray scoreboard dominance all game. He suffered some friendly fire in the third quarter which led to a jumper switch for the final quarter.

#13 Tom Brown

Played a much more settled game in the backline than the week prior where he was thrown about. Was again a presence aerially where he flew for a lot of marks even if they did not all stick he had a fair amount of impact in those contests. Provided as a running option as well out of the back half, where he looked assured in taking on opponents and then delivering well forward.

#17 Benjamin Ashley-Cooper

A really solid outing saw him winning plenty of the ball all around the ground, with his workrate being at an exceptional level, able to out work his opponents all day which made it seem like he had it on a string. Was involved in some eye catching team plays from Murray, where he would be involved in the chain with the ball in hand, and then supporting teammates when he gave it off with a shepherd. 

#29 Noah Bradshaw

Showed that he is able to win his own ball in the midfield when he’s in a good position to do so and not competing with teammates to be the first possession winner. He was clean with the ball as well, looking for shorter and safer options to allow Murray to maintain possession rather than bomb it long forward hoping for the best outcome.

#30 Achuang Agog

Was vital for the Bushrangers in the final two terms when Geelong were really determined to get their first goal by bombing it in long to contests. He would stick his arms up and take some commanding grabs above opponents or even in packs, take the ball back and use his full-time more often than not, then look to switch the ball out to a boundary. Had some moments where he got himself into trouble with some daring runs, but that is something that will be ironed out with more experience.

Geelong Falcons:

#3 Euriah Hollard

Got involved a lot in the forward half for Geelong, so naturally seemed to get better as the game went on. Despite being on the shorter side, I was impressed with how Hollard presented aerially, taking marks out in front or leading to be a switch kick option, then using his own skills to get it into the forward line. Applied a lot of pressure as well, forcing a lot of rushed disposals for Murray and causing a few turnovers from his hard work.

#7 Flynn Young

Has a nice bit of zip to him which makes him extremely dangerous on the lead and at ground level, where his tendency to get separation being a big part of his presence up forward, strong mark as well, even at a full paced lead he was sticking them well. Also offered a lot on the pressure side of things, especially with Murrays kick ins, where he’d close down the gap between the mark and the player moving out of the square really quickly. 

#12 Noah Gribble

Really good agility and footy IQ that makes him difficult to close down, as he has got tricks to get out of most scenarios. One particular instance was in the second quarter where he was surrounded by Murray players, drew in two opponents and used that space to spot a teammate with a kick close to the boundary. Good presence as a marking option around the ground to control tempo as well.

#60 Toby Conway

Really dominant in the ruck out bodying opponents without much issue, good with his positioning around the ground being the play taking some easy uncontested grabs, but also sticking a few contested marks as an option down the line for Geelong. Not a stereotypical ruck with his disposal, with the weighting of his kicks impressive, put in good spots for teammates to run into.

Stat Leaders: 2021 NAB League – Round 2

THE 2021 NAB League season rolled on into its second full round over the weekend, with six fixtures split evenly across Saturday and Sunday. There were a number of outstanding individual performances among the Round 2 action, as serious draft contenders and even more fresh faces topped a range of key categories. We take a look at this week’s stat leaders.

Standout Dandenong Stingrays midfielder Connor Macdonald achieved what would effectively be considered Australian football’s version of a quadruple-double; accumulating 33 disposals, 10 marks, 12 tackles, and 10 inside 50s. His efforts were not quite enough to drag the ‘Rays home to four points, but Macdonald earned the Round 2 Draft Central Player of the Week nod and topped all four aforementioned stat charts. His draft stocks are rising.

Joining Macdonald on a round-high 10 inside 50s was Tasmania’s Oliver Sanders, who led all comers as the Devils went down to Calder in their maiden 2021 outing. His teammate, Sam Banks started the season well with a high of 23 kicks and 10 rebound 50s, both of which were matched by Eastern Ranges rebounder Mitchell Sruk. Murray’s Paddy Parnell also ticked into double digits for rebounds.

A couple of top-agers who were unlucky to be overlooked last year also found themselves among the most prolific ball winners. A third Tasmanian, Oliver Davis racked up 16 handballs alongside tough Northern Knights midfielder Ewan Macpherson. In the same game as Davis, fast-developing Calder ruck Liam Podhajski won a monster 40 hitouts, with his form likely to see him tried in the VFL this year.

Rounding out this week’s stat leaders were the goalkickers. Leading Murray talent Josh Rachele took full toll as he spent most of his outing up forward, booting four majors and showing plenty of forward 50 smarts in his side’s win over Geelong. His efforts were matched by promising Oakleigh forward Dylan Thomas, whose crafty left foot did plenty of damage as the Chargers trumped Eastern on Saturday.

Find the full list of Round 2’s stat leaders below.

ROUND 2 STAT LEADERS

Disposals:
Connor Macdonald (Dandenong Stingrays) – 33

Kicks:
Sam Banks (Tasmania Devils) – 23
Mitchell Sruk (Eastern Ranges) – 23

Handballs:
Ewan Macpherson (Northern Knights) – 16
Oliver Davis (Tasmania Devils) – 16

Marks:
Connor Macdonald (Dandenong Stingrays) – 10

Tackles:
Connor Macdonald (Dandenong Stingrays) – 12

Inside 50s:
Connor Macdonald (Dandenong Stingrays) – 10
Oliver Sanders (Tasmania Devils) – 10

Rebound 50s:
Sam Banks (Tasmania Devils) – 10
Paddy Parnell (Murray Bushrangers) – 10
Mitchell Sruk (Eastern Ranges) – 10

Hitouts:
Liam Podhajski (Calder Cannons) – 40

Goals:
Josh Rachele (Murray Bushrangers) – 4
Dylan Thomas (Oakleigh Chargers) – 4

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.

Stat Leaders: 2021 NAB League – Round 1

THE 2021 NAB League season commenced across a five-day stretch from Thursday to Monday, with players blowing out the cobwebs and getting stuck back into competitive action. There were a number of outstanding individual performances across the six fixtures, with top five draft candidates and some fresh faces topping a range of categories. We take a look at this week’s stat leaders.

It was no surprise to see Eastern Ranges jet Tyler Sonsie soar straight to the top of the disposal charts, racking up a round-high 34 touches in his side’s win over the Calder Cannons. A classy midfielder who can roll forward, Sonsie also notched up six inside 50s and booted two goals in his best afield display. The 18-year-old’s performance only solidified his standing as a top five draft candidate this year.

Gippsland prospect Max Walton was not far behind his metro counterpart in the Power’s loss to Dandenong, kept busy in the back half with 32 disposals. A remarkable 30 of them were kicks, making him a clear leader in that category as well as in the rebound 50s count (10).

Both players had teammates feature elsewhere, with Gippsland skipper Luis D’Angelo notching a high of 15 handballs to be equal with Geelong top-ager Archie Hildebrandt, and Thomas Crole booting four goals for Gippy as Corey Preston managed the same feat for Eastern. Preston’s teammate Jake Arundell also recorded the most inside 50s (eight) alongside Calder’s Harrison Andronaco and Dandenong’s James Cahill.

Flying Calder wingman Flynn Gentile has found plenty of the ball in his two games thus far, and that was no different on Friday as he worked hard for 15 marks. Speaking of, Oakleigh’s Julian Gangi got his hands dirty with nine tackles in one of the most high-quality games of Under 19s football ever, against Sandringham. Geelong tall Toby Conway was the round’s other chart-topper, winning a monster 33 hitouts on Thursday evening.

It is worth noting, a trio of Western Jets talents also achieved would-be highs in their standalone season opener against Calder. The players in question were Liam Conway (eight inside 50s), Cody Raak (11 rebound 50s), and Adam Azzopardi (nine tackles).

Find the full list of Round 1’s stat leaders below.

ROUND 1 STAT LEADERS

Disposals:
Tyler Sonsie (Eastern Ranges) – 34

Kicks:
Max Walton (Gippsland Power) – 30

Handballs:
Luis D’Angelo (Gippsland Power) – 15
Archie Hildebrandt (Geelong Falcons) – 15

Marks:
Flynn Gentile (Calder Cannons) – 15

Tackles:
Julian Gangi (Oakleigh Chargers) – 9

Inside 50s:
Harrison Andronaco (Calder Cannons) – 8
Jake Arundell (Eastern Ranges) – 8
James Cahill (Dandenong Stingrays) – 8

Rebound 50s:
Max Walton (Gippsland Power) – 10

Hitouts:
Toby Conway (Geelong Falcons) – 33

Goals:
Thomas Crole (Gippsland Power) – 4
Corey Preston (Eastern Ranges) – 4

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