Tag: campbell chesser

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.

2021 Draft Central NAB League Boys Team of the Week: Round 1

THREE metropolitan sides and one country team are well represented in our Draft Central NAB League Boys Team of the Week for NAB League Boys in Round 1, recording three players apiece. The huge Easter Monday clash between Sandringham Dragons and Oakleigh Chargers resulted in both sides recording a trio of representatives, as did Northern Knights and Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels thanks to their wins over the weekend. Of the eight other teams in action, five had two players apiece, with Geelong Falcons and Murray Bushrangers having one player each, whilst Gippsland Power missed out this week, though did have an emergency.

The Dragons and Chargers had a great battle on Monday, with Nick Daicos a standout despite the loss for the Chargers and named co-captain of the team for being voted in as our NAB League Boys Player of the Week for Round 1. He joins teammates Scott Beilby and ruck Ned Moyle in the team for the opening round. The Dragons supply both wings for the team with Finn Callaghan and Campbell Chesser in the side, whilst Lachlan Riley also made the team on the bench.

GWV Rebels were healthily represented as well with defender Josh Gibcus, midfielder Marcus Herbert and forward Sam Butler all making the starting side for Round 1. The final team with three players in the side this round were the Northern Knights, as Joel Fitzgerald (back pocket), Ned Long (onball) and Darcy Wilmot (interchange) all made the team. At the other end of the scale, Geelong Falcons’ Flynn Young and Murray Bushrangers’ Charlie Byrne were their respective team’s sole representatives.

The other sides who featured all had two players in the 24-player squad, starting with the standalone match’s best player Cody Raak at centre half-back, alongside Paul Curtis on the bench for the Western Jets. Rounding out the midfielder was the team’s co-captain and top ball-winner over the weekend in Tyler Sonsie in the centre, named in the team with forward Corey Preston. The other metropolitan team to feature two players was Calder Cannons, with Sam Clohesy and Josh Goater both making the squad.

Looking at the remaining country teams with two players apiece, the Bendigo Pioneers have Xavier Mitchell and Sam Conforti inside the 24 players, while Dandenong Stingrays are represented by Connor Macdonald and Josiah Kyle in the team. The three hypothetical emergencies were Gippsland Power’s Tom Crole, Calder Cannons’ Zac Taylor and Sandringham Dragons’ Logan Young for this round. Among the other players considered this week, Northern Knights’ Josh Ward, Dandenong Stingrays’ Judson Clarke, Murray Bushrangers’ Josh Rachele, Oakleigh Chargers’ Lachlan Rankin and Geelong Falcons’ Toby Conway.

DRAFT CENTRAL NAB LEAGUE BOYS TEAM OF THE WEEK: ROUND 1

B: Joel Fitzgerald (NK) – Josh Gibcus (GWV) – Scott Beilby (OC)
HB: Charlie Byrne (MB) – Cody Raak (WJ) – Sam Clohesy (CC)
C: Finn Callaghan (SD) – Tyler Sonsie (ER) (c) – Campbell Chesser (SD)
HF: Marcus Herbert (GWV) – Flynn Young (GF) – Connor Macdonald (DS)
F: Sam Butler (GWV) – Xavier Mitchell (BP) – Corey Preston (ER)
R: Ned Moyle (OC) – Nick Daicos (OC) (c) – Ned Long (NK)
INT:  Sam Conforti (BP) – Paul Curtis (WJ) – Josh Goater (CC) – Josiah Kyle (DS) – Lachlan Riley (SD) – Darcy Wilmot (NK)

EMG: Tom Crole (GP) – Zac Taylor (CC) – Logan Young (SD)

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: Sandringham Dragons

POWERHOUSE NAB League region, Sandringham Dragons produced a handful of AFL draftees in 2020, but looks set to build on that strong crop through its formidable 2021 squad. The Dragons have essentially retained their full 19th-year list, only adding to some of the nation’s most exciting 18th-year talents at their disposal.

There are three AFL Academy members in the Sandringham squad, along with a ridiculous amount of depth and some previously unheralded names who will look to rise onto the draft radar. The Dragons could well end up producing a trio of top 10 selections as those academy prospects – Josh Sinn, Campbell Chesser, and Blake Howes – have all already built on their strong reputations in preseason.

Sinn, who recently began his studies at Monash University, is a line-breaking half-back with elite decision making and execution by foot. A versatile type, expect to also see him roll up to a wing and even get on the inside as he continues to learn his best position. He will co-captain the side with top-ager Darby Hipwell, a strong inside midfielder who will also ply his trade for the Sandringham Zebras VFL team.

During a preseason intraclub scrap, Sinn lined up against Chesser on the wing and the two were arguably the best players afield for either team. Chesser is a similar type, able to play off half-back or through midfield with a strong athletic profile and plenty of explosiveness. His running capacity and balance between contested and uncontested ball winning is outstanding.

Howes, the third AFL Academy talent, impressed in that same intraclub match and has massive upside as an athletic forward with sticky hands and elite speed. He will likely share the forwardline with Lachlan Benton, another dangerous type, while St Kilda Next Generation Academy (NGA) and Scotch College prospect Angus McLennan proves his aerial worth at half-back. The defender has terrific footy IQ and reads the play well from behind the ball.

Saints fans will likely also have their eye on fellow NGA product Jack Peris, the son of Olympic champion Nova Peris. He hails from a national athletics background and along with his famous mother, has been mentored by the likes of Ben Long as he grew up alongside a host of famous footballing families in the Northern Territory. Relatively new to the Dragons’ program, Peris will look to provide run-and-carry and tackling pressure along the wing.

In terms of other 18th-year prospects to watch, the Dragons will likely be book-ended by Dante Visentini and Caleb Lewis, while there are strong wraps on the likes of Lachlan Brooks and Finn Callaghan in midfield. Luke Nankervis is another to watch, with the forward already garnering some attention ahead of season proper.

Looking at the 19th-year returnees, 2020 National Draft Combine invitees Luke Cleary (defender), Max Heath (ruck), and Lachlan Carrigan (half-back/wing) are all listed, with the latter currently spending some time on the sidelines. Heath should have some solid competition for his ruck spot, with Jacob Edwards emerging as a top talent of late. Both players provide a physical presence and strong follow-up work at the contest.

In midfield, Claremont junior Logan Young has made the move from Western Australia and already looks at home in Sandringham’s engine room. The big-bodied 19-year-old is the son of player agent, Colin Young. He will likely play plenty of minutes on the inside along with Charlie McKay, a Carlton father-son prospect who competes fiercely and has been touted as one to watch by his teammates.

There are also some over-agers eligible for the squad, with 2001-births Felix Flockart and Jesse Castan set to be available should Sandringham VFL duties not come knocking. The former is a raw ruckman who flourished during the 2019 APS Football season, while the latter is a strong, but athletic tall defender with good upside.

Sandringham’s first assignment in the new NAB League season comes against Oakleigh Chargers, the Dragons’ closest rival and the competition’s reigning premiers. That game bounces down at 2:00pm at RSEA Park on Monday April 5, bringing a massive number of high-level draftable talent to the one place. It looms as a must-watch.

Image Credit: Quinn Rooney/AFL Photos

2021 AFL Academy Squad announced

21 elite top-age prospects have been named in the 2021 AFL Academy squad, as the AFL reverts back to a condensed nationwide program. Previously, the intake entailed as many as 150 talents from around the nation being nurtured in their state hubs, but with cost cutting at the hands of COVID-19 the traditional model will be reinstated.

The squad, coached by former Collingwood defender Tarkyn Lockyer, is set to play a game against a Victorian state league side and participate in camps during the year. Players are still set to be added to the list with a number of spots left vacant, as the AFL and club recruiters collaborate to finalise the intake.

Among the standouts, current pick one frontrunner Jason Horne joins the likes of Collingwood father-son hopeful Nick Daicos in the squad. Horne has already gained senior SANFL experience with South Adelaide and has a wide range of weapons, including his speed, ball winning ability, and aerial prowess. Daicos, the son of Peter, has all the skill his pedigree would suggest and enters the elite pathway with a great reputation in the APS competition under his belt.

Victorians dominate the squad with 10 selections, with a far less compromised top-end highlighting the lucky dip that is the AFL Draft. Aside from Daicos, Jase Burgoyne (Port Adelaide, father-son), Austin Harris (Gold Coast, Academy), and Ned Stevens (Gold Coast, Darwin zone) are the only other selections with ties to clubs. In another shift from this year’s cohort, it looks set to be a talent pool consisting largely of midfielders at the top end.

>> A look ahead: 21 in 2021
>> 2021 AFL Women’s Academy

2021 AFL ACADEMY:

Braden Andrews (Vic Metro/Oakleigh Chargers)
Sam Banks (Tasmania/Clarence)
Rhett Bazzo (Western Australia/Swan Districts)
Jase Burgoyne (South Australia/Woodville West Torrens)
Campbell Chesser (Vic Country/Sandringham Dragons)
Nick Daicos (Vic Metro/Oakleigh Chargers)
Josh Fahey (NSW/ACT/GWS Academy)
Cooper Hamilton (Vic Country/Bendigo Pioneers)
Austin Harris (Queensland/Gold Coast Academy)
Ben Hobbs (Vic Country/GWV Rebels)
Jason Horne (South Australia/South Adelaide)
Blake Howes (Vic Metro/Sandringham Dragons)
Matthew Johnson (Western Australia/Subiaco)
Cooper Murley (South Australia/Norwood)
Josh Rachele (Vic Country/Murray Bushrangers)
Matthew Roberts (South Australia/South Adelaide)
Josh Sinn (Vic Metro/Sandringham Dragons)
Tyler Sonsie (Vic Metro/Eastern Ranges)
Ned Stevens (Northern Territory/Waratah/Gold Coast Academy)
Jacob Van Rooyen (Western Australia/Claremont)
Jack Williams (Western Australia/East Fremantle)

Featured Image: Joshua Rachele looms as a top prospect in 2021 | Credit: Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos

A look ahead: The 21 top prospects for 2021

WHILE we are only a day removed from the 2020 AFL National Draft, Draft Central is already looking forward to the next crop of elite level hopefuls. This year’s AFL Draft Guide featured 21 of the best top-age prospects eligible to be drafted in 2021, providing pocket profiles and an insight into what to expect from a upcoming bumper crop. Clubs have already been jostling for position among next year’s order, as plenty of players do the same at the top end with their on-field efforts. We have already identified an early frontrunner, with a familiar father-son name not far off and plenty of variety in terms of representatives from each state and territory.

21 in 2021

The top contender:

Jason Horne (South Adelaide/South Australia)
21/06/2003 | 182cm/75kg
Inside Midfielder/Forward

Horne is the current frontrunner among next year’s crop after returning a sensational season of football. Having already established himself among South Adelaide’s Under 18 setup, he quickly came to dominate this year’s proceedings and earned a call-up to the senior side. He adapted well to the speed of the game playing mostly as a forward, soaring for high marks and backing his speed across the ground. The 2019 SA Under 16 MVP has very few weaknesses, but plenty of weapons at his disposal.

Braden Andrews (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
21/02/2003 | 189cm/83kg
Midfielder/Utility

Somewhat a jack of all trades, Andrews plugged gaps on each line for Vic Metro at last year’s Under 16 championships; showing clean hands, a cool head, and match-winning abilities. Rates highly for upside.

Samuel Banks (Clarence/Tasmania)
2/04/2003 | 186cm/72kg
Midfielder/Half-Back

Arguably Tasmania’s leading 2021 prospect, Banks was the Under 16 Division 2 MVP last year and has already turned out for the Tasmania Devils Under 18 side. The balanced midfielder/half-back has also played senior football for Clarence, showing plenty of class while disposing by foot.

Rhett Bazzo (Swan Districts/Western Australia)
17/10/2003 | 194cm/74kg
Tall Defender

One of Western Australia’s top talents heading into 2021, Bazzo is a versatile defender renowned for his intercept marking ability. He could well blaze a trail similar to that of fellow Swan Districts product, Denver Grainger-Barras having established himself among the Colts side and in the PSA competition this year.

Cooper Beecken (Glenelg/South Australia)
24/02/2003 | 188cm/72kg
Defender

A tall and rangy defender, Beecken staked his claim as a potential high-end prospect for 2021 with a promising showing in this year’s Under 18 All-Stars game. It capped off a solid season overall for the 17-year-old, who holds similarities to Will Day with his stature, marking and kicking abilities.

Lachlan Brooks (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
1/02/2003 | 179cm/75kg
Inside Midfielder

Brooks earned Under 16 All Australian honours after an outstanding carnival for Vic Metro where he showcased great grit and ball winning ability at the contest. He was looking to make his way into Sandringham’s side as a small defender this year, while also playing midfield for Brighton Grammar.

Campbell Chesser (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Country)
27/04/2003 | 185cm/79kg
Half-Back/Wing

Hailing from Murray’s region, Chesser boards at Melbourne Grammar and is set to represent Sandringham during his NAB League stints. He is a rebounding half-back who can also provide dash off the wing, boasting great speed and a wicked boot on the outer.

Nick Daicos (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
01/03/2003 | 183cm/72kg
Balanced Midfielder

He has only just entered the Oakleigh Chargers system, but Daicos is already well-known not only for his exploits with Carey Grammar in the APS competition, but also for his ties to Collingwood as a father-son prospect. He has terrific skills and ironically supports Carlton. Already a top five chance.

Arlo Draper (South Adelaide/South Australia)
30/01/2003 | 185cm/71kg
Midfielder/Forward

A smooth-moving type with plenty of upside, Draper returned a fantastic bottom-age season with South Adelaide to prove on of South Australia’s brightest 2021 candidates. He wins a good amount of contested ball while also providing marking and goal threats up forward.

Joshua Fahey (Gold Coast Academy/NSW/ACT)
11/11/2003 | 186cm/76kg
Half-Back/Outside Midfielder

While formerly tied to the GWS Academy, Fahey represented that of the Gold Coast Suns this year and showed fine form. He is a damaging rebound defender who gains plenty of meterage with his daring dash and raking left boot.

Ben Hobbs (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
15/09/2003 | 182cm/76kg
Inside Midfielder

There are few others who show quite the appetite Hobbs does for the contest, and soggy conditions at last year’s Under 16 championships saw him thrive. Having since made his NAB League debut, Hobbs continues to pump the ball forward and tackle hard at the coalface.

Matthew Johnson (Subiaco/Western Australia)
16/03/2003 | 192cm/80kg
Inside Midfielder

Subiaco Colts premiership player, Johnson developed well in 2020 to become one of his state’s leading midfielders. He has a terrific balance of aggression and class, able to win his own ball and carve ways around his opponents on the exit. Has great upside as a raw, tall ball winner.

Alex Lukic (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
7/01/2003 | 195cm/86kg
Key Forward

Lukic is an athletic tall forward who fares particularly well close to goal. After leading the Under 16 Division 1 goalkicking with nine majors, he made his NAB League debut in a stacked Oakleigh side and showed plenty of promise. Has good speed and can compete at ground level.

Charlie Molan (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
23/01/2003 | 186cm/78kg
Midfielder/Utility

A hard-working midfielder who can play a role on each line, Molan brings a true team-first attitude. He made his NAB League debut last year and has some good upside given his size and versatility. One who you can rely on to compete.

Cooper Murley (Norwood/South Australia)
20/06/2003 | 177cm/66kg
Small Midfielder/Forward

Part of Norwood’s Under 18 premiership side, Murley already looks a class above the grade. His speed out of congestion, repeat forward running, and excellent skills made for scintillating viewing in 2020, making him a prime prospect for next year. Still has some filling out to do.

Joshua Rachele (Murray Bushranger/Vic Country)
11/04/2003 | 179cm/77kg
Small Midfielder/Forward

Rachele rightly took out the Division 1 and Vic Country MVP awards at last year’s Under 16 carnival, putting him firmly in the pick one race. He went on to average two goals per his four NAB League games, bringing plenty of x-factor up forward and spark through midfield.

Lewis Rayson (Glenelg/South Australia)
14/01/2003 | 181cm/64kg
Half-Back

A small defender who impacts in a big way, Rayson provides plenty of drive from half-back. His ability to read the play and break forward quickly in transition is a real asset, capped off by damaging use by foot.

Matthew Roberts (South Adelaide/South Australia)
31/07/2003 | 183cm/76kg
Midfielder/Forward

Roberts is a standout wherever he plays and dominated both the school football and SANFL Under 18 scenes at times in 2020. He is capable of racking up huge numbers through sheer work-rate and competitiveness, while also posing a scoring threat when resting up forward.

Josh Sinn (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
28/01/03 | 186cm/72kg
Half-Back/Midfielder

Was captain of Vic Metro’s carnival-winning Under 16 side in 2019 and adapted well between multiple roles. Originally employed as a half-back for his run and damaging use by foot, Sinn also thrived in midfield and somewhat of a wildcard. Has plenty of desirable traits and potential.

Tyler Sonsie (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
27/01/2003 | 181cm/74kg
Midfielder/Forward

Another who has plenty of runs on the board already, Sonsie is silky smooth on the ball through midfield and dangerous around goal. He made his NAB League debut for minor premiers, Eastern Ranges after winning Vic Metro’s Under 16 MVP award.

Jacob Van Rooyen (Claremont/Western Australia)
16/04/2003 | 194cm/88kg
Key Forward

A dominant key forward with terrific aerial presence, Van Rooyen is one of the leading prospects in his position for 2021. He booted 19 goals in 10 WAFL Colts games this season, finding the big sticks at least once in each outing.

In the mix:

In such a promising crop, there are plenty of names who could have easily squeezed into the initial list. From a Victorian perspective, the likes of Lachlan Rankin and Youseph Dib are two exciting talents from the Oakleigh Chargers who featured strongly in the Metro Under 16 squad. Dib is tied to Collingwood as an NGA and plies his trade both inside, on the wing, or up forward, while Rankin is a classy user off half-back. Blake Howes was another standout on the Metro end and has great upside as a high-marking, athletic forward.

South Australians have benefitted greatly from a full state league season, albeit improvised. Morgan Ferres is a tall forward with terrific athleticism and the ability to dominate at centre half-forward. Nasiah Wanganeen and Jase Burgoyne were others to show plenty in the SANFL Under 18s this year, with the latter the son of Peter Burgoyne and thus tied to Port Adelaide as a father-son. Isaiah Dudley, the cousin of Kysaiah Pickett also has links to a club already in Adelaide. He is small, but has plenty of talent and should not be forgotten after an injury-riddled year.

West Australian prospects also benefitted from a season of football, with the likes of Lochlan Paton and Judd McVee both getting some Under 18 midfield minutes. Paton is a solid mover who can roam forward, while McVee is an explosive stoppage player who can also move on the outer. Joshua Browne is another name right up there after his efforts for East Fremantle in 2020, with Max Chipper another to keep in mind as a clean outside user.

Featured Image: Jason Horne is our top pick for 2021 | Credit: Deb Curtis/SANFL

Q&A: Campbell Chesser (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Country)

AS the postponement of all seasons commenced over the last few weeks, we head back to the pre-season where we sat down with a number of athletes across the country. In a special Question and Answer (Q&A) feature, Draft Central‘s Michael Alvaro chatted with Sandringham Dragons’ Campbell Chesser at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day hosted by Rookie Me.

The Lavington junior hails from Murray’s region, but features among the Sandringham program given he has boarded at Melbourne Grammar since the start of Year 9. A very capable sprinter in the athletics realm, Chesser captured attention with his speed from half-back, the wing, and through midfield in last year’s Under 16 National Championships. Having earned All Australian honours there, he made his NAB League debut in Round 17 and played in the Dragons’ two finals appearances.

>> CATCH UP ON OUR FEATURES

Q&A:


MA: Campbell, how’s the day been so far?

CC: “It’s been good, I’m down here testing with the (Murray) Bushrangers at the moment. But the event’s running pretty smoothly, we’re not waiting around for too long and the results have been pretty good so far.”

 

Which are some of the tests you feel you can thrive in, and ones you might be improving on?

“I think the agility, the one I just did is probably one that I’ve got to improve a little bit on. I think speed’s definitely a strength in my game so being able to exploit that – I tested pretty well in the 20m sprint which was good.”

 

You were able to showcase that speed last year for the Vic Country Under 16s, it must have been a great week up in Queensland?

“It was good, we started down in Geelong against Metro and fell short there. It was a good game, the boys competed really well. Then we went up to Queensland and it was a great carnival, a good week with the boys away. We didn’t get the result we wanted against WA but then finally got the win in the last game at the GABBA which was good.”

 

How has the transition from the Murray region, to boarding at school in Melbourne and coming into Sandringham been?

“I’m loving it. I moved down at the start of Year 9 and it’s been really good to find a balance for footy, or sport in general and studies as well. It’s been good, the culture down there is awesome in the APS system, I’m loving it.”

 

Who are some of the boys you’re looking forward to running out alongside across your multiple teams this year?

“I’ve got Sam Berry, who’s from Gippsland and also a boarder along with Chance Doultree and Harry Sullivan. There’s a few boys from the NAB League system who have come into the APS system so I’ll be playing alongside some good players and good mates, then competing against them also.”

 

Are you keen to lock down a certain role this year?

“I think it depends what team I’m in. For Sandy I’ll probably play across half-back a little bit this year and just try to improve that versatility as much as I can. For school footy hopefully I’ll go inside, play a little bit through the middle and hopefully get forward a little bit as well which would be good.”

 

Are there any goals you’re looking to tick off?

“Yes, hopefully I’ll play in the Australia (Under 17s) vs. New Zealand game coming up in April. Then the ultimate goal for this year is to probably put myself in the best position for the National Championships as a bottom-ager.

“Hopefully I can play in the Futures game at the end of the year too, so it’ll be a long year but I’m looking forward to it. Not too much pressure which is good, (I’ll) just enjoy the year really.”

Squad predictions: 2020 Vic Country Under 18s

THE annual Under 18 National Championships may be the only chance we get to catch a glimpse of the class of 2020 before draft day, with a decision on the recommencement of competition pushed back to at least September. In the meantime, Draft Central takes a look at how each regional squad may line up should the carnival come around, but with a few stipulations in place. Last week we began with our Vic Metro squad predictions and today we take a look at Vic Country’s potential line-up.

GUIDELINES:

  • Top-agers (2002-born) have been prioritised due to the limited season and exposure
  • Of those, AFL Academy Hub members also gain priority for the starting squad
  • Bottom-agers (2003-born) in the hub, and top-agers outside it are named for depth
  • 19-year-old inclusions are limited, having already staked their claims in previous years

A lot may change between now and when the squad will be announced, and it should be noted that injured players will not be picked here. Of course, the sides may vary greatly as players look to shift and develop in different positions, but each member has been selected based on the roles they have previously played. Given only previous form, preseason testing and scratch matches are what we have to go off, bolters are also difficult to gauge at this point.

But without further ado, let’s get stuck into the second squad prediction, with Vic Country’s talent broken down line-by-line. An alternate squad with no limitations will also be provided below.

DEFENCE

FB – Clayton Gay (Dandenong), Zach Reid (Gippsland), Cam Fleeton (Geelong)
HB – Nick Stevens (GWV), Ethan Baxter (Murray), Isaac Wareham (GWV)

There is a good mix of styles and talent among this back six, with some height, power, dash, and clean ball use all to come from these potential representatives. Versatile 202cm tall Zach Reid seems a lock for full back, able to also double as ruck aid.

Leadership candidate Cam Fleeton and Dandenong standout Clayton Gay provide sound reading of the play and aerial presence on the last line, while Greater Western Victoria (GWV) pair Nick Stevens and Isaac Wareham are solid options off half-back. 19-year-old Wareham has already donned the Big V at under 18 level, but may earn another chance given injury curtailed his top-age season.

Ethan Baxter is the final member of the defence, a solidly-built Richmond Next Generation Academy (NGA) product who is a touch undersized (192cm) to play as a pure key defender, but makes up for it with strength. He could be utilised elsewhere, but we see him fulfilling a role down back.

MIDFIELD

C – Ryan Angwin (Gippsland), Tanner Bruhn (Geelong), Jack Ginnivan (Bendigo)
FOL – Henry Walsh (Geelong), Sam Berry (Gippsland), Zavier Maher (Murray)

Zavier Maher may be the tallest of the Vic Country mids here at 184cm, but by no means will the chosen crop lack power or ball winning ability. Maher, Sam Berry, and Tanner Bruhn are all terrific at the centre bounces, with Maher and Berry the powerful types, while Bruhn is all class in congestion.

Berry can run all day, too, much like Bendigo’s Jack Ginnivan on the outside. Ginnivan could also find a spot up forward like fellow wingman, Ryan Angwin, but the pair have really come on of late and should have no trouble in making an impact further afield.

Of course, Henry Walsh will likely be the one to provide first use to his midfield fleet as the primary ruck. The brother of Carlton Rising Star, Sam is quite apt at the centre bounces with his 201cm frame and is constantly working on his ground level work.

FORWARD

HF – Noah Gadsby (Geelong), Oliver Henry (Geelong), Seamus Mitchell (Bendigo)
FF – Dominic Bedendo (Murray), Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Oakleigh), Charlie Lazzaro (Geelong)

This is hardly a forward six blessed with height or overwhelming strength, but that is not to say that it lacks marking power. Much like Baxter in defence, the high-flying Oliver Henry could play above his size as a focal point, though may be better suited to a third tall role. Highly touted Bulldogs NGA prospect Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is unbeatable off the lead at full forward, so is a lock for that spot.

Alongside him may be Dominic Bedendo, a fantastic athletic talent who can compete both in the air and at ground level, while Charlie Lazzaro occupies the other pocket. He is arguably predominantly more a midfielder, but has been adding strings to his bow as a small forward.

On the flanks, his Geelong teammate Noah Gadsby also slots in as a newcomer to the forward line, while raw Bendigo product Seamus Mitchell assumes a role familiar to him on the same line. The largely small make-up of this six is somewhat a product of the guidelines we put in place, as there are a few key position products across each age bracket who could easily add some height and strength to the structure.

INTERCHANGE

INT – Sam Conforti (Bendigo), Will Bravo (Dandenong), Bayleigh Welsh (Dandenong), Blake Kuipers (Dandenong)

Filling out the side are some versatile options, with most of these prospects able to be utilised in many roles. Sam Conforti skippered the Under 16 Country side, and could well slot in as a small forward or wingman in this lineup. Dandenong’s Will Bravo is an exciting player who should also get a run up forward, providing a touch of speed and evasion while also being able to contribute in midfield.

Two more Stingrays cap off the side, with Bayleigh Welsh a midfielder the Dandenong program is high on, while athletic over-age swingman Blake Kuipers could be one to again sneak into the team as key position or ruck depth.

TOP-AGE DEPTH

Given this may be the only chance for draft-eligible top-agers to shine in front of recruiters in 2020, there will be plenty who come onto the radar of AFL clubs. Elijah Hollands and Noah Gribble are two who would have featured in the team, but unfortunately miss out due to long-term knee injuries.

Academy prospect Josh Treacy is a key forward who could well fit into the squad having gained experience for Country at Under 17 level, with fellow tall options Mason Hawkins and Keith Robinson of Gippsland others who can fill that forward/ruck role.

In terms of smalls, classy Geelong co-captain Gennaro Bove may be in the mix, while nippy GWV forward Harry Sharp has also caught the eye alongside another Falcon, Blake Reid. Other options from the Geelong region include Charlie Brauer – another outstanding athlete – and Kyle Skene.

Speaking of athletes, Bendigo is high on elite runner Jack Hickman and could also see the likes of ex-Rebel Jack Tillig or Finn Ellis-Castle push into contention. Dandenong has a couple of products around the mark too, with Deakyn Smith and Jai Neal both likely to be considered.

THE BOTTOM-AGERS

Last year’s Under 16 side may not have produced pure results-based success, but there are a few fantastic prospects who should push into contention. Leading the pack is last year’s carnival MVP Josh Rachele, a damaging midfielder/forward who is incredibly skilled.

Ben Hobbs was his partner-in-crime through midfield and should also get a crack as one of many high-end GWV up-and-comers. Those include Charlie Molan, Josh Rentsch, and Josh Gibcus, with the former two already boasting NAB League experience.

Fleet-footed Sandringham prospect Campbell Chesser was another to impress enough to break into the NAB League, while fellow Under 16 All Australians Toby Conway and Cooper Hamilton are also within the Academy bubble.

Given the focus will even more strictly be placed on draft eligible players, the likes of Ben Green, Connor Macdonald, Tom Brown, Justin Davies and so on will likely have to wait until next year to break into the Under-18 representative side.

There are a number of others outside of the current representative and academy bubbles who could also break through in their own top-age seasons, but it simply remains to be seen.

19-YEAR-OLDS

Possibly the most unlucky over-ager to miss out on our squads is Geelong’s Darcy Chirgwin, who was set to return to his original region after representing Sandringham in his draft year. After injury heavily interrupted his 2019 campaign, he should come into consideration once again.

Geelong teammate Jay Dahlhaus also suffered a long-term injury last year but should be back for more, while Murray prospect Sam Durham has shown a good rate of improvement as a latecomer to the code. Jai Newcombe is somewhat of a bolter having only now made the final cut at Gippsland, and could provide that inside presence with Chirgwin given he is yet to capture centre stage.

The two 19-year-olds we chose for both squads, Kuipers and Wareham, come into the category of players with great upside. Kuipers’ height and athleticism make him a handy option to fill gaps up either end or in the ruck, and his phenomenal testing performance puts him in good stead. Wareham is a solid athlete who will more so be looking for consistency after his top-age campaign last year.

With these additional top, bottom, and over-age prospects in mind, below is our potential best Vic Country squad without any provisions.

FB – Clayton Gay, Zach Reid, Cameron Fleeton
HB – Nick Stevens, Blake Kuipers, Ethan Baxter
C – Ryan Angwin, Tanner Bruhn, Jack Ginnivan
HF – Noah Gadsby, Oliver Henry, Seamus Mitchell
FF – Charlie Lazzaro, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Josh Rachele
FOL – Henry Walsh, Sam Berry, Zavier Maher
INT
– Will Bravo, Dominic Bedendo, Ben Hobbs, Isaac Wareham

Q&A: Charlie Byrne (Murray Bushrangers/Allies)

AS the postponement of all seasons commenced over the last few weeks, we head back to the pre-season where we sat down with a number of athletes across the country. In a special Question and Answer (Q&A) feature, Draft Central‘s Michael Alvaro chatted with Murray Bushrangers’ Charlie Byrne at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day hosted by Rookie Me.

A forward-moving half-back, Byrne impressed in his 16 NAB League outings across 2019 with his ability to generate run and penetrate either arc from defence. The 184cm prospect was also previously been developed through the GWS Academy system, and he has gone on to represent New South Wales at both Under 16 and 17 level.

Having been named in the Allies squad last year despite not getting on the park, Byrne has become a leader among the group and will look to further his game in a half-back/midfield role this season – should it get underway.

Q&A:

MA: Charlie, how’s the day been so far?

CB: “It’s been good. “Eventful for some of the boys, me not particularly. “But it’s been a good day, looking at all the other boys and seeing what they’re capable of.

“Other than that it’s all a bunch of fun, but I think we’re all pushing each other so the day’s been really good. “Couldn’t ask for any better, especially being inside so I don’t have to deal with wind (or) rain.”

How’ve you gone with the testing, do you feel that you’ve improved?

“Yeah, from last year I reckon I’ve improved. “Obviously I needed to, but testing this year for me I’ve actually really enjoyed. “I think I’ve improved in the majority of the things which I find is a big tick for me. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better, just the 20m sprint I didn’t do as well as I wanted but I did what I needed to.”

“The testing day’s also a learning (experience), you go away from it and know what you have to get better at so for me it’s just a big learning day as well.”

And you’ve had a pretty big pre-season so far?

“Pre-season was better and bigger than the others but we dealt with it pretty well. “I think we got through all the hard conditions, got up to 40 (degrees) and we were still doing what we needed to do.

“But I think this year’s pre-season’s really shown all the boys their characters, and I think it’s gotten the best out of me as well so I loved the pre-season this year, loved getting out there and just doing what I needed to do.”

In your bottom-age year, surely there was no better mentor to have as a half-back than Lachie Ash?

“Yeah he told me what to do and I learned from it. “I’d have to give him credit for me just playing this year knowing what he did and me trying to replicate it. “There’s nothing better than Lachie Ash going pick four and playing off half-back, him giving me tips. “He was obviously ripping into me when I needed it but I loved playing alongside him and learning.”

Who are some of the boys you’re looking forward to playing alongside this year?

“I was quite excited to play with Elijah (Hollands) but it’s unlucky for him, we all were pretty upset about it but that’s just how it goes, you’ve just got to live on. “But I’m pretty keen to play again with Campbell Chesser and Josh Rachele, even Zavier Maher and Harry Beasley coming off half-back. “There’s a lot.”

And with the Allies as well?

“Yeah with the Allies this year and growing up from bottom-age last year to now, I’m seeing myself almost as a leader. “Not to the point where I am a leader but I’m more vocal around the boys and being more vocal gets me to be a better football player as well, just being comfortable.

“So I think the Allies this year has given me a big step up, knowing where I have to be and with those boys pushing me as well. “Unluckily for me I don’t get to play with many of them throughout the season but being around that kind of environment keeps me going and I really love playing with those kinds of players.”

How’s the Academy been for your development over the years?

“Being in the New South Wales development squads, like the GIANTS all the way up to 16s, then going to the Bushies has been quite interesting. “I think (having played) for New South Wales, Victorian and New South Wales footballers are a lot different. The Vics are real big-bodied and structured whereas New-South is like you’re running a bit more.”

“I reckon I learned quick hands and quick skills off New-South and then went to Vic footy and it’s a whole different ball game but learning to cop the hits and get in position I reckon has helped me out tremendously and I just really couldn’t have asked for any better. I reckon it’s given me a huge advantage.”

Are you looking to change position at all this season?

“My heart is set on half-back. “I love playing off half-back, but I really think I’ll strive to play midfield this year. I think as a midfielder you have to be fit and I’ve been pushing to get to that stage where I am fit enough, so I think midfield/half-back will be my position this year.”

Have you set any goals so far?

“I think the main goal for me this year is being happy and not taking anything for granted. “I think boys tend in their draft year to stress out about drafting too much. “I think I really just need to sit here and enjoy it, and just play my football, play how I enjoy, play my brand of football. “If it’s good enough, it’ll get me there. I’m not stressing out, putting all those grey hairs on top of my head.”

NAB League Boys: Round 17 – Clubs put it all on the line in final round

THE big guns are back in action for the final regular season NAB League round, with the safety of third position up for grabs in what is arguably the game of the weekend between Sandringham and Oakleigh. As has become tradition, the six games will be played over two triple-headers, with Saturday’s all-metro games to be played in Werribee, and Sunday’s all-country fixtures in Bendigo.

WESTERN JETS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Saturday August 17, 10:00am
Avalon Airport Oval

Both the Western Jets and Northern Knights will be looking to improve their ladder position heading into Wildcard Round as they open Saturday’s Werribee triple-header. The 8-6 Jets come in a game in front of the Knights but hold an inferior percentage, meaning a loss would see the two teams swap spots. Western’s Round 1 win over their weekend opponents is now the only factor separating the sides after 17 rounds, and the Knights will be keen to get one back over their metropolitan counterparts. They’ll have been chomping at the bit during their fortnight off after going down at home to Bendigo, with Western also coming in off a defeat. The Jets will be boosted by the return of Metro representative Darcy Cassar, who slots straight back into the lineup alongside Metro’s U17 Futures squad member, Lucas Failli. Northern has a couple of handy inclusions too, with Adam Carafa and Ewan Macpherson back after undergoing similar duties to Cassar and Failli, but key overage depth in Sunny Brazier and Oscar Simpson goes the other way among eight changes. Both sides have been difficult to predict in recent games but enjoyed solid mid-season runs, but it remains to be seen which of them will bounce back best from a minor skid. Should be a tight one if their previous meeting is anything to go by.

CALDER CANNONS vs. EASTERN RANGES
Saturday August 17, 12:30pm
Avalon Airport Oval

The chance to finish clear on top looms for Eastern Ranges when they clash with the Calder, with the Cannons still able to go level on points with third. The Ranges have shown few weaknesses across their 14 games thus far, losing just three of them and boasting a percentage 14 per cent clear of their next best rival. Despite keeping on track in terms of clinching the minor premiership, Eastern has encountered a couple of scares in recent weeks to go with a loss to Oakleigh, scraping over the line by a collective margin of nine points against Murray and Dandenong. They’ll have to bring their best against Calder, who just keep finding a way to win on their streak of four victories. They have sured up their side for the task too, with a trio of Under 16s making way for PEGS representatives Harrison Jones, Harrison Minton-Connell, and Campbell Edwardes. Eastern’s answer to that is just as promising, with Jamieson Rossiter, Lachie Stapleton, and Connor Downie among six inclusions at the selection table. There should be no excuses from either side as they once again hit full strength, looking to cap off their seasons strongly heading into the business end. Expect Eastern’s consistency and all-round strength to shine through, but don’t be surprised to see Calder run very closely.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday August 17, 3:00pm
Avalon Airport Oval

The game of the round pits Sandringham against Oakleigh, with both sides looking to claim third spot and earn a week off heading into finals. As if the stakes weren’t high enough, a raft of big names are back after the close of the school football season as both sides have made at least 10 changes each. Seven Vic Metro guns are set to return for the Dragons, with the likes of Louis Butler, Fischer McAsey, Finn Maginness, Hugo Ralphsmith, and Charlie Dean adding so much class to each of Sandringham’s lines. Under 16 Vic Country co-captain Campbell Chesser is set to debut as 23rd man, with U17 Futures representative Archie Perkins also slotting in. If you thought those names were impressive, Oakleigh have done their best to show the Dragons up with Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson returning alongside skippers Dylan Williams and Trent Bianco, bottom-age guns Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Will Phillips and Finlay Macrae, and exciting ruckman Nick Bryan. 16-year-old Youseph Dib will also feature for his debut, and there would hardly be a better home-and-away game to do it in. With the sides so evenly matched and big names popping up across the field, this should be the highest quality NAB League game since… well, since their Round 3 encounter. The ledger is even at 1-1 after Oakleigh got one back on the Dragons in Round 12, so the grudge match should be a cracker.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GIPPSLAND POWER
Sunday August 18, 10:00am
Queen Elizabeth Oval

Gippsland Power will be looking to lock away second spot when it opens Sunday’s all-country triple-header against Bendigo at Queen Elizabeth Oval. The fixture is a repeat of the Round 3 clash between the two sides, when Gippsland handed the Pioneers their first loss of the season by 24 points. Since then, the two sides have embarked on very different paths; with Gippsland proving to be the standout country side as they sit second with a 10-4 record, while the loss sparked a six-game losing streak for the now 5-9 Pioneers. The Power side, littered with an impressive eight Vic Country representatives, looks superior on paper as the two teams near full strength, highlighted by the need to only make two changes coming into this game. Meanwhile, Bendigo is set to make at least four, with Vic Country midfield ace Thomson Dow a welcome addition to the engine room yearning for a bit of grunt. That area is one the Power will hope to get on top in, as well as up forward as the likes of representative talls Josh Smith and Charlie Comben look to match up on smaller opponents. Count the Pioneers out at your own peril, but expect Gippsland to click into full gear when required.

GEELONG FALCONS vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS
Sunday August 18, 12:30pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval

Two sides with all but confirmed ladder positions in Geelong and Dandenong are set to do battle to close out their regular seasons, looking to end on a high note. While the Falcons are locked into last place, the Stingrays could move up or down one spot from eighth on the back of this weekend’s results. After an undefeated first eight rounds, the reigning premiers find themselves in a far less desirable situation on the back of their mid-late season slump – losing their next seven games. While a fixture against the bottom side which boasts just two wins may seem like a good opportunity to snap that run, a draw in the previous meeting between the two sides will not fill them with much confidence. Needless to say, that game will have the opposite effect on the much-improved Geelong side which has made some handy inclusions. Bottom-age gun Tanner Bruhn heads them, slotting straight back into the lineup after a long-term injury layoff alongside the likes of Gennaro Bove, Noah Gadsby and Charlie Lazzaro. That added midfield depth bodes very well for the Falcons considering Henry Walsh‘s form in the ruck, and given Dandenong’s Hayden Young is spending more time in the midfield. Dandenong’s changes see Cody Weightman and Lachie Williams inject some pace into the lineup, with 16-year-old Connor Macdonald another who could well excite forward of centre. With the Falcons buoyed by a win last time out, they should prove tricky opposition for Dandenong, who themselves will look to break through for a similar victory.

GWV REBELS vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Sunday August 18, 3:00pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval

Two bottom-half teams are set to scrap it out to end the regular season, with the GWV Rebels and Murray Bushrangers taking on the honours in Bendigo. The Bushrangers have shown marked improvement in recent weeks after an indifferent start to the season, culminating in a 72-point thrashing of Western Jets last time out as they near full strength. The Rebels have shown similar signs of progression too, picking up three wins in their last four outings after a six-game losing run. Ladder position is a little less relevant in this clash as both sides can only move up or down one spot, with Murray a chance to slot into eight if things go their way, and GWV’s only way up to tenth also dependant on other results. Both sides have sought to add some bottom-age class to their lineups, with GWV adding Nick Stevens and Jack Tillig to the 23, while Murray has brought in Tillig’s Vic Country Under 17 teammate Zavier Maher, with over-ager Ben Kelly another solid option for the key position stakes. While Murray has been a touch more inconsistent, you can often bet on the Rebels being competitive and up for the fight, so this could be a tight one if they bring that intensity.