Tag: feature

Rogers looks towards Gulden source of inspiration

THE Sydney Swans Academy has been a raging success for the New South Wales-based club, producing the likes of Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills, and most recently Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell. It means the next generation of Swans stars never have to look far for inspiration, with the visual of their elders’ journeys serving as a clear pathway to the top.

For current Academy member Felix Rogers, that pathway has taken on a varied route but still holds some influence from closer to home. The small midfielder-forward is crafty with ball in hand and has little trouble finding it, much like one of the Swans’ most recent Academy graduates.

“I’d say someone who I’ve really moulded my game on pretty recently is Errol Gulden,” Rogers said. “He was only a year ahead of me in the academy. I played and trained with him and was always underneath him in that role as the link forward or midfielder. “My biggest strengths would be my kicking and that kicking leading to goals… this year I played on-ball and drifted forward again, I think another strength which showed was my ability to find the footy pretty well.

“(Tackling) is a part of my game I can improve. “Definitely because I’m shorter than the average AFL player, that’s always looked upon as a bit of a weakness but I guess it’s not the size of the dog in the fight.”

Born in London, Rogers moved to Australia with his family at age four, only picking up the native football code when he was about 10. After missing the cut in his first crack at entering the Swans Academy, the 18-year-old has been there ever since and yielded some terrific honours en route to Allies squad selection this season.

“I only really started playing AFL when I was about 10 and really, really got into it,” Rogers said. “I was playing (European) football up until then, obviously coming from England. “Outside of the Swans Academy, I’ve gone through my local club which is Willoughby Wildcats, then into (AFL Sydney) Premier League with the North Shore Bombers.

“(NSW-ACT) Rams was great fun for Under 16s. We were up on the Gold Coast and had a pretty good team. I played pretty decent in that carnival but ended up doing my shoulder at the end of it, in the last game against Tasmania. Ever since then I’ve had to get that right and I was lucky enough to have it ready and okay this year. “That lead me into a couple of good NAB League games for the Swans and lead into Allies selection which was my goal all year round. I was super ecstatic to make the squad. It’s just unfortunate that’s looking more and more unlikely to go ahead.”

While currently in lockdown and pondering the “what ifs” of season 2021, Rogers still managed to produce some blistering form when allowed on the park. He got a taste for senior football with four games in Sydney’s Premier Division and turned out in a VFL scratch match, while also averaging 28.3 disposals, 6.7 inside 50s and booting four goals across three NAB League outings.

“I think I’ve probably had one of my better years to date,” he said. “For me, this year’s kind of been a bit of a ‘wonder if?’. “Had the Swans had five more games where I kept up the numbers I had, could I be in a lot better position to try and get myself drafted? “Had the Swans not finished up so early and COVID not interrupted, would I have gotten games for the Allies?

“This was my first year of senior footy. It was good fun, it’s a good group and it’s really interesting to play with bigger bodies. “It’s not as fleet-footed as NAB League games and what-not but it’s an interesting dynamic.”

Having been immersed in the Sydney pathway program for many years now, Rogers is an avid Swans supporter and says landing at his home club would be his “first choice”, but is happy to land just about anywhere at the end of this “crazy” year.

The budding draft prospect is also completing his Year 12 studies online with sights studying business and law alongside football next year. As for his escapes from “repetitive” lockdown living, Rogers has gotten into golf. A stint on the Gold Coast also helped him focus on football and get out of the current bubble.

“I’m big time into my golf, that’s my hobby outside of AFL,” he said. “It’s a bit hard with all the time it takes up but I find that a good release from footy and from school. “Day to day is very repetitive. I’ve still got online classes so I try and do a bit of exercise in and around them – go to the little home gym we have here and go for a kick or go for a run. It’s hard to try and keep that routine but it’s definitely valuable, especially with the small chance of Allies games still going ahead.

“I was in the Gold Coast about a month ago. “I lived up there and was training with the Suns Academy for a bit and played a VFL game. “That was a good experience and that was a bit of an escape from COVID lockdown which was lovely and meant I could focus on my footy a bit more as well.”

With such a series of experiences comes some important mentors too, from those who have nurtured Rogers through the Swans Academy, to others who have come in and guided him more recently.

Jared Crouch, Chris Smith, and Nick Davis at the Academy have been phenomenal,” he said. “They help us in every facet of the game. I think another key mentor for me only really came this year and that was Lloyd Perris. He used to be in the academy system and played with Isaac Heeney. He’s now our North Shore Bombers coach, he knows all about the system and has been very good with me and trying to help forge a path.”

While overlooked for the initial National Combine intake, Rogers caught the eye this year and if there is anything his journey through the Swans’ pathway has shown, it’s that he can overcome early obstacles to produce great things.

Anderson rides the wave of a long footballing journey

THERE are few junior footballers who have experienced a journey quite like that of Angus Anderson. The Sydney Swans Academy captain hails from Sawtell, a coastal town in northern New South Wales, but has ticked off a plethora of other destinations en route to earning a National Draft Combine invite this month.

The six-hour drive to Sydney initially made it difficult for the 18-year-old to regularly participate with the Swans Academy, but he put his name in lights this year after spending a preseason with the Southport Sharks VFL side, and earning a spot on their supplementary list.

“I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be the skipper for the Swans Academy,” Anderson said. “It’s a great honour really, especially since I’m not down there every weekend, so it just shows that the coaching staff and the team have had faith in me.”

Anderson travelled three hours up to the Gold Coast to train with Southport, ticking off a third state on his list of destinations. The second was Victoria, where he lived with his aunty and uncle while linking with the Eastern Ranges’ Under 16 NAB League program. In Melbourne, he also spent a term at Box Hill Secondary College and is currently completing his Year 12 studies back home in lockdown.

With a diverse range of experiences, Anderson has also been able to lean on a bunch of highly renowned coaches and staff. Among them are former AFL players, along with current and former NAB League coaches; including Jared Crouch and Chris Smith (Swans Academy), Leigh Clarke (Box Hill Secondary), Sean Toohey (Eastern Ranges), and Jarrod Field (Southport).

Also on that list of mentors is Anderson’s Victorian father, who coached him locally “all the way through” to senior level at the Sawtell-Toormina Saints, making him “a big influence” over his footballing career.

From enjoying the surf in the “laid back” town of Sawtell to “maturing as a person” while living with his aunty and uncle in Melbourne, Anderson has learned plenty over the last few years and gained a ravenous work-ethic. That trait translates to his football, where the big-bodied midfielder showcases a great appetite for contested ball.

“I feel like my contested ball is my strength,” Anderson said. “I’m a big-bodied mid who can win the ball and I’m slowly developing my outside game. “I can run out games well for a big-bodied mid, I like the physical aspect of AFL so I can tackle, and my hands around the ball and my ability to use both sides (are strengths).”

While leading the Swans Academy in a three-game NAB League stint this year, Anderson averaged 24 disposals, 3.5 tackles and a goal per game, as one of his side’s standout performers. Having already gotten a taste of senior football, he went on to represent the Swans at VFL level, and earned selection in the Under 19 Allies squad. Still, there is plenty the youngster is working on.

“I have heaps of areas I’m focusing on,” he said. “I feel like since I’m a bigger-bodied mid, I’ll be paired up with a couple of smaller mids occasionally. I’ve been working on my pack marking and I get to drift down forward I’ve been working on my goalkicking as well.”

Swans star Luke Parker is a player Anderson looks to mould his game on, while also noting the likes of Christian Petracca, Dustin Martin, Patrick Cripps, and Marcus Bontempelli as some of his favourite players. As one of just five NSW-ACT natives to earn a combine invite thus far, he is one step closer to joining them in the big leagues.

“Especially if I look back at myself at the beginning of the year, these achievements have been so big and I’ve been so proud of myself that I’ve made it this far,” he said. “It’s a huge honour to be a part of the initial 90 for the combine. “From a little kid coming from northern New South Wales, a little coastal town. “Barely anyone has been this far so it’s a huge honour.”

For now, Anderson is enjoying some of the extra down time he gets to relax in between school, going out for a surf every day and itching to get back on the park should the opportunity await.

He sought to thank all of his mentors and coaches along the way, Southport and the Sydney Swans for the opportunities they presented, and AFL North Coast for their support over the years.

“Competitive” Voss looks for consistency

WATCH Patrick Voss once, and you will know exactly what he is about. The hard-at-it Oakleigh Chargers utility brings a physical, no nonsense kind of style to the field, sighting “competitiveness” as one of his strengths. With powerful fend-offs, bruising tackles and strong overhead marking, the 18-year-old has certainly lived up to that call in 2021.

The Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants Academy member, who hails from Wagga Wagga, said during preseason that he was looking forward to getting a run in midfield this year. Having started up forward for Oakleigh before transitioning down back and enjoying spurts in the engine room, Voss has seen a bit of everything.

“I’ve improved on my fitness and that side of things,” Voss said. “I’m more a key forward but also through Giants and maybe Oakleigh I’m looking to play a bit in the midfield. I’ve been working on that side of the game so I’m looking forward to it.”

Along with the shift in roles, the versatile 192cm talent has been able to string together a good run of games at NAB League level despite the many disruptions. Voss turned out six times for the Chargers and once for the Giants Academy, linking with a few old mates in May. Some of the “consistency” he found lead to selection in the Under 19 Allies squad.

“A bit like the other boys, I want to play some consistent footy,” he said. “That’s with the Giants and I’m in Melbourne so hopefully I can play some consistent footy up there and get a few games with the Allies.

“I’m definitely looking forward to playing with Lachie Rankin, Alex Lukic, all the boys. Then with the Giants, probably my best mate Josh Fahey, I haven’t played with him for a while so it should be good.”

Patrick Voss representing the U16 NSW/ACT Rams in 2019

Developing a sense of consistency can be difficult at the best of times – especially in the current climate of uncertainty, or when you’re representing multiple teams. Voss has been tied to his local side, the Giants Academy, Oakleigh Chargers, Wesley College, and the NSW/ACT Rams and Allies at representative level over the years.

Still, he has managed to develop his game at the high level those sides compete at, with some more improvements to come.

“I’m pretty competitive and big-bodied so that works to my advantage a bit,” Voss said. “There’s lots of things I can improve on. Probably using both sides of my body and using clean hands, stuff like that.”

The season is quickly wrapping up and while hope of completing an improvised NAB League finals series or National Championships remains in the balance, Voss impressed enough to earn a National Combine invite. He is one of five talents out of the NSW/ACT pool to receive such honours, along with 85 other players around the nation.

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

Academy skipper Frost runs hot in 2021

PART of the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) GIANTS Academy since he was 12, Sam Frost‘s journey to top-age status hasn’t always been smooth. They 18-year-old, who is also a talented cricketer, has battled injury along the way and worked hard to go from being a “fringe” player to eventually skippering the academy in 2021.

“I was always one who was on the fringe,” Frost said. “I wasn’t getting picked for a few teams and whatnot, but I was a cricketer as well so in Under 16s I chose footy over cricket and put all my effort into that. Obviously when you put your focus into one thing it makes it a lot better than when you’re separating your attention. I think it helped me break into the side for sure.

“I’ve had a fair few setbacks too. In 2015 I had two stress fractures in each foot, so I had to wear two moon boots for 13 weeks which wasn’t great. I had a stress fracture in my back, a broken finger, shin splints and a few other growing sort of things. I’ve been a bit unlucky with a few injuries but had a good preseason this year so I’m hoping to have a big season.”

Frost delivered on that hope in an outstanding NAB League stint with the GIANTS, leading them to four wins in as many games. The defender was remarkably consistent, averaging 28.8 disposals, 6.3 marks and 9.0 rebound 50s per outing, before going on to join the GIANTS’ VFL program for a handful of state league appearances.

As the centrepiece of his side’s back six, Frost showcased his weapons at the Under 19 level. Blessed with a booming kick and eye-catching intercept marking prowess, the budding prospect says he likes to play an “attacking” game across half-back, but still has some room to improve.

“I can probably work on my fitness aspects,” he said. “Also defensively, competing every time and not getting beaten. I just want to be really competitive.”

During preseason, Frost talked up GWS’ academy talent and said he was looking forward to “playing some good footy and getting a few wins” en route to his end goal of being drafted. While his earmarked clash against the Oakleigh Chargers did not eventuate, Frost still managed to tick off those goals.

“I’m looking forward to playing with all the boys,” he said. “I’ve got a few close mates in the group like Josh Fahey and Brad Rauter, but they’re all good players with a lot of talent. It’ll be good to play alongside them and I’m looking forward to it.”

Pioneers poised well amid “rollercoaster” season

THE 2021 NAB League season has been “a little bit of a rollercoaster” for the Bendigo Pioneers, according to head coach Danny O’Bree, but the country region is buoyant about the opportunities being afforded to its brightest prospects. Whether it be at local level, in the VFL, or Vic Country squads, the Pios have been well represented this season.

“We’ve been very excited about a lot of opportunities out kids have been getting,” O’Bree said. “We’ve had good representation across all areas and even blooded a lot of young debutants, so we’ve had a look at quite a few players.”

Currently boasting a 6-5 record, Bendigo is the second-ranked country team and has shown some real promise despite battling for consistency. O’Bree says the program is working hard on his group engaged, while a core group of draft-eligible squad members help transfer learnings to their developing bottom-age teammates.

“Generally we’ve been competitive and obviously when the group’s together a lot more is when we’ve been more consistent,” he said. “It’s been when we’ve added a few to that core group where we’ve probably struggled with that consistency. We’re working really hard to engage those people that can’t be with our core group in training and whatever else, so we’re still looking for ways that we can be more consistent.

“Looking at the younger crew, those guys with a bit of x-factor are the ones we’re actually looking to when the whips are cracking. It’s pretty exciting that our 19-year-olds are doing a wonderful job at developing our younger crew and it’s been a bit of a focus for us from the start of the year – what can those older boys do for our younger ones to make them better?

“There’s (Under 19s) like Sam Conforti and Jack Hickman being VFL-listed, they’ve contributed not only at our level but also in the VFL. Then you’ve got the likes of Jack Evans, Cobi Maxted, Ryan O’Keefe, Aiden Hare, Cooper SmithHarvey Gallagher, and Xavier Mitchell, so that’s pretty exciting for those guys.”

“I think we’ve got some really good draftable players. They’ve shown not only great versatility but they’ve got those draftable qualities and also those AFL qualities that they can go on with and contribute significantly to an AFL list.”

Cooper Hamilton in action for Vic Country

While the Bendigo catchment area stretches far and wide as the largest in the competition, the Pioneers have managed to avoid state-based lockdown casualties in their Under 19 group. Instead, there have been a few absentees among those who attend private schools in Melbourne, including twins Cooper and Hugh Hamilton.

In an odd quirk, Hugh returned to action last week while Cooper remained in lockdown having stayed back for a few more days, but will enjoy his first session back with the group on Thursday and is set to be available for selection on Saturday.

Having notched up wins against Murray, Geelong, Gippsland and Northern thus far, the Pioneers take on arguably their toughest test to date this weekend. Top ranked country side, Greater Western Victoria (GWV) awaits in Ballarat, a challenge which O’Bree “can’t wait” to tackle.

“I think they’ve been the number one country team all year, you look through their list and what a sensational list it is,” he said. “We certainly can’t wait to get over there and take on the best. The more times we take on the best, we can learn from them to see what it takes to be the best.

“We can’t wait for the opportunity, we’re really pumped for that chance to see how we come up against them… with the majority of the group available, this is where we want to test ourselves and not only see where we are as a team, but also individually.

“We’ll make some really critical match-ups, they’ve got some potential high draftees so we want to base some of these kids against them to give them an opportunity to be noticed as well.”

The league’s remaining schedule is still a week-by-week operation, but the opportunity to compete against the best may translate to a rare finals appearance this year for Bendigo – reward for effort, and fitting for such an evenly balanced group with emerging talent.

Fahey dashes towards footballing dream

ARGUABLY this year’s leading Northern Academy prospect has turned out for two of them across his footballing journey, but returned home in 2021 as he looks to materialise his AFL dream. That prospect is Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Academy standout Josh Fahey, and Canberra is home to him.

His academy eligibility was up in the air last year as he moved with family up to Queensland, linking up with the Gold Coast Suns’ program and looking likely to enter the open draft this year. But schooling and the allure of a home within the Giants family brought Fahey back to his roots, also confirming his status as a GWS-eligible talent.

The dashing defender put his name in lights in April, turning out for the AFL Academy in a 130-point thrashing at the hands of Geelong VFL. While the result was not ideal, Fahey took out the MCC President’s Medal as best afield for the Under 19 team, collecting 23 disposals as part of a besieged back six.

During preseason, Fahey highlighted the showcase game as a landmark he was most looking forward to reaching this season. With the opportunity to better his own game by playing alongside the best footballers this country has to offer, Fahey shone.

“Being part of the AFL Academy, playing with the best players in the country I think I can learn a lot off them,” Fahey said. “I’m looking forward to playing with most of the Melbourne boys really. Obviously they’ve got that stereotype down there of how good they actually are… just playing with them I think is going to take my game to another level.”

While injury slightly disrupted his campaign early on, Fahey has also turned out for GWS at state league level this season. Across three games, his best outing came against reigning VFL premier Richmond in Round 5, where he notched 24 disposals. He continued his taste of senior football with local side, Queanbeyan in the AFL Canberra competition, making for quite a diverse schedule.

Hailing from the Canberra region and with family ties in other sporting codes, it has not always been footy for Fahey. The 17-year-old marks his Under 15 SSA All Australian selection as a turning point in his chosen career path, which lead him to state Under 16 selection and the aforementioned AFL Academy honours.

“I’ve only played (Australian football) for five years now,” Fahey said. “I grew up with League and Union my whole life because dad coached Rugby Union at a pretty high level… so I’ve been here for five years and don’t regret a thing coming over.”

“Under 15s was the main thing when I made the All Australian team and was only playing at club level every now and then. That’s probably the main thing that got me over the line really.”

Fahey says tackling is the main facet of either rugby code he has managed to transfer to football. Though it is a strength, the 186cm prospect’s speed and penetrative kick are arguably his most eye-catching traits.

“I wouldn’t say (tackling) is my greatest strength but it’s maybe above average compared to others,” he said. “At the end of the day my game comes down to my kicking and I judge how impactful I was on the field that day through my kicking and targets.”

“The main thing I’m working on is taking my aerial game to another level. Being 186cm I think I can really use that to my advantage this year.”

While current and future opportunities are slightly blurred as most of the nation endures lockdown protocols, Fahey’s end goal is clear – get drafted. The run-and-gun defender has shown top 25 potential at his peak, though the Giants will likely hope to keep that under wraps.

Image Credit: AFL Photos

Charged up Power seeing “reward for effort”

2021 has hardly been smooth sailing for most NAB League regions, but a regenerating Gippsland Power program has produced some real growth amid the chaos. After starting their current campaign with a 0-6 record, the Power have won three of their last four games, including the highly-fancied scalps of Oakleigh and Greater Western Victoria.

The reliability of a key top-age core and emergence of a “talent laden” Under 17 group has seen the group improve on a weekly basis. While not a win-loss kind of industry at its core, Power head coach Rhett McLennan says the recent results have served as “reward for effort.”

“It’s really good for our players to start getting some respect against the competition,” McLennan said. “It’s also really exciting for what it means for us going forward given that the majority of the improvement has come from our younger players on our list… hopefully we can carry the momentum and keep getting better each week.”

Having produced double-digit draftees over the last two intakes, Gippsland may be looking at another bumper crop in 2022, with a bunch of bottom-agers already beginning their NAB League initiation. McLennan says the region is “really lucky” to have such talent coming through, including a handful of Under 17 Vic Country representatives to choose from.

“What we’ve got on the whole from those boys has been some speed and class around the footy,” he said. “The second half of this season has given us an opportunity to give them an understanding of some of the roles they’ll be playing next year and getting them some of that really valuable game experience. It’s really a bit of a head start on next season so to speak for those boys.”

Not without challenges, the Power have also been served well by their 18 and 19th year leaders, who have shown great “resilience” to continually lift the standards of their side’s training and gameplay. A trio of top-agers have also gained VFL exposure and added confidence to the group, while McLennan is high on a particularly “consistent” performer.

“[The top-agers] have been excellent in regards to their resilience and their ability to keep the group together,” McLennan said. “As everybody knows it’s been really difficult to try and get continuity in the season, but to have leaders like Mitchell Moschetti, Luis D’Angelo, Max Walton, and Jai Serong consistently turning up and making the quality of our training sessions and our games competitive, and making Gippsland Power a real home for others has been invaluable to our entire list.”

Jai Serong in action for Vic Country

“I’ve really liked the consistency of Moschetti this year. He’s probably been forgotten about after having a really solid nationals Under 16 carnival as a small defender. We’ve given him the extra responsibility as a midfielder this year and we just feel he’s getting better every week.

“Sunday was a perfect example, a game against Ben Hobbs and Sam Butler as two of the premier midfielders in the NAB League. Him and Luis D’Angelo probably ended up winning that battle on the weekend so to go and do that is showing his growth and his potential as a ball winner and someone who can really play roles. His ability to continue to learn and grow his game has been excellent so I think that he deserves an opportunity at the next level of footy if he can get it.

“[Jess McGrath and Chance Doultree] are extremely loyal to the program, they’ve loved their time at VFL and you can see the confidence they get from that experience when coming back and playing NAB League football. We’ve also had Box Hill put in a lot of time to Luis D’Angelo as well which has been excellent for him to come back with those learnings.

“Not only are we trying to impart knowledge on the players as coaches, but some of the boys with VFL experience are really trying to pay it forward to some of the younger players on the list and we’re starting to see that bear fruit now.”

While country regions have headed the NAB League’s latest return, Gippsland remains somewhat of an anomaly with a catchment of players based in the stretch from Officer to Longwarry classified as living within the metro ring and thus, unable to play. Among them are starting team talents.

“We really feel for those guys who are part of our team but can’t play,” McLennan said. “They’ve had two games now where they’ve been ineligible and it looks like a couple more, so whilst the majority of us are okay we really do feel for those boys.

“Chance Doultree unfortunately can’t play, as can’t Will Papley. Caleb van Oostveen who’s been fantastic as a pressure forward since he came in about Round 3 and 4. Paddy Cross, who really started to hit his straps in the last couple of games as a wingman, and Flynn Parker who’s been a tall swingman for us throughout the year. So those five boys have been difficult not to get, and then we’ve had a couple of Vic Country 17s that we’d like to have given a go that we’ve missed.”

The NAB League is set to continue on Saturday with another couple of all-country clashes, though this week will be Gippsland’s turn to sit out. McLennan hopes his side will return to action next week for another hit-out, providing even more exposure and opportunity for his players to prove their worth.

League leading Dragons enjoy new sense of “continuity”

HEAVY rotation and the constant effort to keep connected with such large squad numbers are a couple of factors the Sandringham Dragons are used to facing each NAB League season. But despite the impact of unforeseen lockdowns, representation honours, and school football commitments, head coach Jackson Kornberg says his ladder leading side has enjoyed a sense of “continuity” in 2021.

“I think in any club the main challenge is keeping the group connected with so many different things going on throughout the year and all the lockdowns,” Kornberg said. “With our training the playing group gets a bit sporadic at times in terms of where everyone is, but I think the key thing with all clubs will be the challenge of trying to stay connected. Our group has done that really positively.

“Our leaders have been really good in the sense of keeping the group together and connected. We’ve got a leadership group of seven who are split across 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds, private school and non-private school, which helps to connect different areas of the list.

“Across the board it’s been good to be able to have a lot more continuity with our team. In the past we’ve had mass changes week-on-week depending on availability but this year has been more around form and picking guys on that because being an Under 19 competition, we just don’t have the same number of boys who become unavailable after Round 4.”

The Dragons have fielded players across four different birth years in their Under 19s program this season, but also rely on a strong core of players who have consistently turned out at NAB League level. The plaudits often go towards first round prospects Finn Callaghan, Josh Sinn, Campbell Chesser, and Blake Howes, but Kornberg is bullish on the talent of a few other draft eligible talents on the precipice of higher honours.

Sandringham captain Josh Sinn drives his side forward

“Certainly Lachie Benton is someone who sits outside the Metro squad who probably deserves an opportunity and I believe he should be in the Metro squad off his form,” he said. “He’s someone who played in the 16s championships games two years ago for Vic Metro and I thought he was really solid. Form talks and he’s been playing some really good footy.

Charlie McKay as well. He and Luke Cleary are up there arguably as the two standout 19-year-olds in the competition. Charlie has been one of our more consistent players through the midfield. The aim was to get him a couple of games with Carlton in the VFL… but certainly as one of our vice-captains he’s a player that is the first picked in the team, you trust in and I think his teammates trust him as well.

“He and Lachie are probably the two main ones sitting just outside (Vic Metro selection), and obviously Luke Nankervis who was part of the initial squad. He’s such a new prospect to the pathway and has really skyrocketed in his form at NAB League level.”

Charlie McKay in action for the Dragons

An interesting quirk of Sandringham’s squad this year has also been the presence of a couple of recently-listed AFL rucks in Max Heath and Jacob Edwards. Most sides would be in strife having lost their two premier talls at the mid-season draft. Not so the Dragons, who Kornberg says have a “strong philosophy of developing talls” and are again stacked in that department.

“As I said to (talent operations lead) Mark Wheeler after the mid-season draft, if there was ever going to be a year where we lost our two ruckman, this’d be the year,” he said. “We do have a large supply of talls in our team this year. Not necessarily just rucks, but across our key backs and key forwards as well.”

The most recent addition to said supply is 200cm local football coup Angus Grant. Having shown top form outside the Sandringham program, he and 17-year-old Charlie Clarke have been rewarded with entry into the elite talent pathway and promise to continue the squad’s healthy sense of internal competition.

“Charlie’s a 17-year-old who’s been playing some really good footy at Port Melbourne Colts in the seniors,” Kornberg said. “That’s a really strong team and competition, so for a 17-year-old to be performing really well in a senior team we thought it was appropriate to reward him and bring him into the program. He’s played a handful of games.

“Gus really hasn’t been involved in the pathway at all. He’s 200cm, plays at Old Mentonians in the seniors and for school footy, and has been kicking lots of goals throughout the year. Again, it’s good to see guys and for those outside of the program that we certainly take into consideration local form and we are rewarding good local form. We’ve got no qualms whatsoever about bringing them in and rewarding them.”

While the make-up of the final few NAB League rounds before finals is still yet to be confirmed, Metro regions are hoping to return to action soon after their Country counterparts do so on Sunday. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that Sandringham will be a clear flag contender having beaten strong challengers like Oakleigh, Northern, and Greater Western Victoria en route to its 8-1 record.

For Kornberg and his budding draft hopefuls, the allure of finals presents more than just ultimate team glory. As history has shown, it’s a great chance for players on the fringe to stamp their credentials on the big stage.

“The more games you play, the more opportunity players get to expose themselves to recruiters,” he said. “I look back to our 2016/2017 years which we had pretty successful draft years… I’d argue two or three more kids got themselves drafted off the back of those finals series and the team playing well.”

Opportunity awaits Oakleigh at the end of “challenging” year

WHILE Country regions prepare for a return to NAB League action this week, Metro talent programs are holding onto hope they’ll still be able to get on the park before finals. Oakleigh Chargers is one of those regions, the competition’s reigning premier and producer of the last two number one picks – three if you include Charlie Rowbottom‘s selection in the women’s intake last month.

Talent operations lead Jy Bond says he “feels for the kids who’ve missed out on a lot of footy” but is “grateful” that players were able to show their talent at the start of the year, and “optimistic” of the potential for more before season’s end.

“This year’s been a challenging one because it’s been difficult to get continuity in our group,” Bond said. “We’ve had the stop-start nature of the season with lockdowns and what-not, but have done a lot of positive work maintaining connection where possible. It’s also given us opportunities to play pretty much 99 per cent of our list barring a couple of kids with long-term injuries. That’s been a real bonus.

“Obviously Nick Daicos has been pretty handy, Sam Darcy is right up there with him. Then there’s Youseph Dib, Karl Worner, Giorgio Varagiannis, Lochie Jenkins, Paddy Voss and Sam Collins. These are the types of guys that have been able to play the majority of games which has been good.”

While the Chargers’ fleeting premiership defence adds motivation in a team sense, Bond says the chance to play finals serves a greater purpose in terms of opportunity and exposure. Sitting fifth in the Metro pool at 3-6, Oakleigh may need to lean on Wildcard Round entry to the finals, but have a clean injury slate and are “every chance to win some games” at full strength.

“It’s definitely not a win-loss (business) but if you’re a young man or woman in the NAB League and you’re wanting to get to the next level, you’ve got to be competitive,” Bond said. “It helps when you’ve got a full team to pick from, this year we’ve been unable to have a lot of our kids to get some cohesion.

“But the more games you play, the more recruiters can see you and the more exposure you get to potentially get drafted, and that’s the main thing. The more games you play at a high level and under finals pressure, the more chance you are to get more kids drafted which is the aim of the game. That’s my (priority) always.”

Nick Daicos fires off a handball

With two players, father-son prospects at that, well in contention to continue Oakleigh’s streak of number one picks, the often taken for granted opportunity to simply play may have a massive impact on how the draft plays out. Daicos (Collingwood) and Darcy (Western Bulldogs) are the pair in question, but have only played together thrice as Oakleigh teammates.

“In terms of Sam and Nick, either one could be picked number one depending on the team and arguably they’d be hard to split, they’re two very different players,” Bond said. “They’re both top-end characters, they’re both likeable, they’ve both got a bit of cheek about them but they’re also very hard-working and really good upstanding characters.

“We focus on the talent a lot at Oakleigh but something we place quite highly in our players is their character and whether they’re going to fit into a club and come out as good people which is almost more important that their footballing ability.”

Along with the usual crop of top-end talent in a draft eligible sense, the Chargers’ squad strength is well poised to carry on into next year. 10 Oakleigh products were selected for Under 17 representative duties this year, and most have also turned out already at NAB League level. Bond says the region is “buoyant” on its next batch of potential stars.

“We’ve got a really strong group of 17-year-olds which bodes well for the future,” he said. “If you look at that 17s group we’ve got quite a strong nucleus there for next year which is pleasing… and we’ll top that up with a lot of other kids that are running through the program this year and potentially others who if they’re unlucky not to get drafted this year, they’ll get the opportunity to come back as 19-year-olds.”

With one eye on this year’s draft and the other on the future, Oakleigh has been able to achieve great success over the last decade in the sense of draftee production and premiership glory. At the moment, the opportunity for these prospects to show their worth at the highest possible level is what drives a potential flag tilt.

Versatile Eldridge continues to “find her feet”

WITH only a couple of years of Australian football experience under her belt, North Adelaide utiltiy Jorja Eldridge has had plenty of learning to do in a short space of time. The 19-year-old Whyalla native hails from an ever-fabled basketball background, but committed to football last year and eventually cracked a very strong Roosters side in 2020, as a train-on player.

Eldridge played two SANFL Women’s games last year and added the same amount in 2021, while also earning a spot in South Australia’s Under 19 National Championships squad. Having moved down to Adelaide and taken up a part-time receptionist job at the club, she says she is now starting to “find [her] feet”.

“This season I’ve moved to Adelaide and I trained way more with North Adelaide in pre-season and in-season, so that’s helped me a lot,” Eldridge said.

“At the moment I’m studying exercise and sports science at university and I’m currently working as a casual receptionist at North Adelaide Football Club as well, so that’s taking up most of my time on top of football training.”

Having spent plenty of time around the club, Eldridge has also been able to lean on some key mentors and develop her own craft as a player who can impact across multiple positions. The 173cm prospect said she hadn’t “done too badly” once selected for North in Round 4, and in her three Under 19 carnival outings.

Krissie Steen (North Adelaide coach) told me I just need to keep running, so my sprint efforts are most important to improve on,” she said. “I’ve actually had a new position this season which was being a back-up ruck for North Adelaide, rotating forward and on-ball. With that I feel that I’ve had to develop my skills a lot more, going through the midfield and getting it into the forwardline as well.

“My mentor at North Adelaide has definitely (Steen)… she’s basically been my only coach for football so she has definitely helped me along my journey. Kristi Harvey has definitely taken me under her wing and showed me the ropes. Then obviously at a higher level, the likes of Anne Hatchard (are) really good with younger girls and other players, they’re really inspiring.”

A supporter of the Crows’ AFLW team, Eldridge looks towards Hatchard and Melbourne forward Tayla Harris for inspiration on her own game. While there are still areas for improvement, the talented multi-sport athlete has also been able to transfer some handy traits over from other codes.

“A strength of mine is that I’m able to really use my body well,” Eldridge said. “From a basketball and netball perspective, I’ve had to grow up with the one-on-one body contact and finding the player. I do struggle sometimes with finding my player in defence because I like to zone off and intercept the ball, but then coming to football it’s a bit harder to do that.

“Around the ground stoppages and in the ruck are definitely my strengths (too), and I’ve got pretty good distance on my kick.”

With the AFLW currently holding expansion talks, more and more South Australian prospects like Eldridge are well poised to get the chance to showcase their development at the highest level in years to come.