Tag: liam kolar

2021 NAB League team preview: Northern Knights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 AFL Draft Fallout: Bolters and Sliders

THE DUST has settled on another AFL Draft after the rookie intake was completed this morning; leaving keen watchers, fans, and analysts to pick up the pieces and make something of what was a rollercoaster event which seemed to drag on for an eternity. Like any other intake, the 2020 version was littered with sliders and bolters, so we take a look at some of the names which perhaps ended up with surprising numbers left next to them by night’s end.

Full draft profiles on each prospect mentioned below can be found in our AFL Draft Guide.

THE BOLTERS:

While already pegged as a top five selection, Will Phillips somewhat bolted into North Melbourne’s considerations at pick three, throwing as spanner in the works among the top 10. But arguably the biggest first round bolters were selected right after that mark, with Adelaide pouncing on Luke Pedlar at pick 11. The explosive midfielder has battled injuries over the last two seasons but showed great quality on-field when given the opportunity, proving a key cog for Glenelg and Prince Alfred College, the latter of which he captained.

GWS snapped up a couple of Victorians they were keen on in Conor Stone (pick 15) and Ryan Angwin (18), with Collingwood also said to be in the market for Stone. The Oakleigh Chargers product is a medium forward with great goal sense who can also run off the wing with elite running capacity. Angwin, who has drawn comparisons to Xavier Duursma is a different type of wingman with plenty of raw potential. He has filled out nicely and attacks the ball with vigour despite his light frame, while also boasting nice athletic traits.

Geelong traded up twice to snap up Max Holmes at pick 20, who proved one of the biggest late bolters among round one. Holmes’ running capacity appealed to many clubs around the mark, with the Cats pouncing before the likes of Melbourne and St Kilda. At pick 24, Collingwood snuck in a Blake Coleman bid, which was threatened even earlier before trading out for Adelaide to select Brayden Cook, who came from nowhere to be considered a massive first round chance this year. Rounding out the early surprises, Matt Allison was snapped up by St Kilda at number 26, with some other clubs lurking for a dynamic tall around that mark.

The second round was headlined by a few neat risers, including Seamus Mitchell at pick 29 to Hawthorn. He is a pacy small forward with good x-factor, similar to West Australian Tyler Brockman who landed at the Hawks in the following round. Collingwood secured a need in Liam McMahon, who could develop into the long-term key forward option fans have been crying out for. Shannon Neale was off the board at 33, shipped off to Geelong as a prospect who could follow a path similar to Mark Blicavs. Richmond pulled a cheeky bid on Essendon NGA Josh Eyre before taking Samson Ryan from nowhere at pick 40, a developing ruck who is a couple of years on from his top-aged peers.

Looking at the Rookie Draft, Jack Saunders was one of the big surprises as Hawthorn snapped him up with the fourth selection. The South Australian is a hard outside runner who provides long-term cover in that role for the Hawks, who are bringing in some good youth. Isaac Chugg was another choice to attract some attention as Collingwood pounced on the athletic Tasmanian. He looms as a developable half-back or wingman with raw pace.

THE SLIDERS:

A couple of slight sliders emerged early, with the dominoes falling after North Melbourne opted to snare Phillips with pick three. Elijah Hollands, who was widely predicted to be taken there, fell to Gold Coast at number seven and was the Suns’ sole National Draft selection. Tanner Bruhn was one pegged for top 10 status but ended up just escaping that range. It hardly took long for GWS to snap up the classy midfielder at pick 12, before the Giants opted to secure a couple of sliders almost immediately after.

Oliver Henry was another linked with one of Essendon’s three top 10 picks, but the dynamic swingman slid to Collingwood’s pick 17. He looms as a terrific replacement for Jaidyn Stephenson in the Pies’ forwardline. Collingwood NGA Reef McInnes was one who would have tempted clubs in the 8-12 range, but the Magpies were able to maximise their hand after he dropped late into the first round. At pick 23, he was a quickly matched bid for Collingwood, who will likely give him some early exposure around the ground before being thrust into midfield.

Outside of the early proceedings, Jack Carroll proved one of the steals of the draft as Carlton took little time in taking him off the board with pick 41. The classy West Australian was said to have first round suitors, but adds some terrific late value for the Blues as a balanced kind of midfielder who uses the ball excellently and has promising athleticism. Similarly, Eddie Ford was a steal for North Melbourne all the way down at pick 56. He is one who cut his teeth as a high-flying medium forward but has eye on long-term midfield development and brings good variety to the Roos’ overall draft haul. Fremantle would also be laughing with its two NGA products in Brandon Walker and Joel Western only attracting bids in the 50s. Both looked a class above at Colts level this year and have some seriously impressive athletic attributes across the board.

Inside midfielder Zane Trew was a surprise slider into the rookie draft but was given his chance by local side, West Coast, while Jack Ginnivan found his way to Collingwood as yet another shrewd Victorian pick for the Pies. Plenty of talls missed out altogether, with key forwards Kaine Baldwin and Jackson Callow among the most unlucky, while Zavier Maher and Liam Kolar were a couple of potential bolters who did not find a suitor.

Featured Image: Collingwood’s Victorian 2020 AFL Draft haul | Credit: Collingwood FC

Overlooked – The prospects hoping for a Rookie Draft lifeline

AS was predicted come the end of the 2020 AFL Draft, there are plenty of hard luck stories to go with all the feel-good aspects of such an event. But plenty more opportunities lie ahead for overlooked prospects to scrape into the elite grade and make their dreams a reality. Fresh off a National Draft which lasted an eternity, we take a look at the top young talents who were stiff to miss out on finding a home last night, but will be hoping for a lifeline in today’s Rookie intake. Note: We have not included Next-Generation Academy or Northern Academy prospects who could be selected outside the traditional format.

Below are pocket profiles of 11 players who may remain in the mix, with full profiles available in our AFL Draft Guide.

Kaine Baldwin
Glenelg/South Australia | Key Forward
30/05/2002 | 193cm | 90kg

Baldwin was one of the more understandable sliders among this year’s pool given the fact that he has missed two full seasons of football with consecutive ACL tears. But the South Australian forward has previously shown signs of top 20 talent with dominant contested marking and great presence in the forward half. His capacity to get up the ground and impose himself on the contest is another key trait, which clubs looking for a developmental key forward may look fondly upon.

What he offers: Contested marking
The knock: Durability and mobility after consecutive ACL tears

Jackson Callow
Tasmania Devils/Allies | Key Forward
11/06/2002 | 194cm | 101kg

The Tasmanian was linked with a few clubs in need of key position depth across the draft, but was ultimately passed on at each stage of a brutally shallow intake. He could provide massive value for one of those clubs in a rookie spot; with his senior experience, readymade body, aggression, and natural ability all appealing traits. Callow is another strong contested marker and while he is known as a goalkicker, was also swung down back at times this year to further test his versatility.

What he offers: Contested marking
The knock: Mobility

Oliver Davis
Tasmania Devils/Allies | Inside Midfielder
18/07/2002 | 182cm | 75kg

Another Tasmanian in the mix given no prospects were taken from the Apple Isle, you know exactly what to expect from Davis each week. He is a reliable inside midfielder who has no trouble finding the ball and thrives in contested situations. Having taken out this year’s TSL Rising Star award while turning out for Clarence, Davis has proven his credentials over the course of a full senior season and could be a solid choice for midfield depth.

What he offers: Consistency
The knock: Hurt factor

Zac Dumesny
South Adelaide/South Australia | Medium Utility
26/04/2002 | 187cm | 80kg

One of the most highly touted prospects on this list for some time, Dumesny was pegged as one of his state’s premier draft chances coming into the year. Injury interrupted what was a promising start to his campaign at SANFL League level, but the utility came back strongly towards the end of the Under 18s season. His clean skills, reading of the play aerially, and versatility all make for desirable attributes which he was able to showcase consistently across different levels.

What he offers: Versatility
The knock: Athleticism

Jack Ginnivan
Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country | Forward/Midfielder
19/12/2002 | 183cm | 77kg

A real character out of the Bendigo Pioneers, Ginnivan is a talent rated highly by many. His chances in the National Draft were inevitably hampered by being robbed of a top-age season, though the hard-running midfielder/forward showed plenty of promise as a bottom-ager. He could still find a home with clubs always on the look out for smaller types who are creative and can use the ball effectively in the front half.

What he offers: Forward run
The knock: Midfield development

Max Heath
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro | Ruck/Key Forward
24/10/2002 | 203cm | 94kg

A ruckman who came from the clouds to land on the draft radar, but one which clubs were not brave enough to snap up within the National Draft. Heath was a massive improver during preseason, proving a force in trial games both in the ruck and up forward. He was pegged as the first choice Vic Metro ruck and even touted as a top 30 talent by some, so should be a great option for clubs after a developable tall.

What he offers: Competitiveness
The knock: Lack of exposure over a full season

Liam Kolar
Northern Knights/Vic Metro | Tall Forward/Utility
23/04/2002 | 195cm | 82kg

Another bolter in the mix, Kolar’s raw athleticism and speed-endurance mix had him pegged for big things at this year’s draft. Adelaide was said to be the major club of interest, so he may be snapped up quickly among the rookie intake given the Crows boast pick one and are impartial to a Knights talent. He debuted late in last year’s NAB League season and showed off some nice versatility, but really shone during this preseason to put himself in contention.

What he offers: Athleticism
The knock: Rawness

Kalin Lane
Claremont/Western Australia | Ruck
5/12/2001 | 204cm | 96kg

Lane was a surprise inclusion in this year’s WA state academy after managing just one WAFL Colts outing as a top-ager in 2019, but fully repaid the faith with a terrific season for Claremont. He has filled out nicely and is perhaps a touch further along that others on this list given he is a 19-year-old, with his ruck craft and steep rate of improvement key to his overall chances. At 204cm, he has the potential to be an imposing ruck force with his coverage of the ground and follow-up efforts.

What he offers: Ruck craft, upside
The knock: Football development

Zavier Maher
Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country | Inside Midfielder
5/05/2002 | 184cm | 83kg

One who was said to have attracted interest within the top 25, Maher slid all the way out of that range and now into rookie contention. He has some in-vogue traits as a midfielder, with his explosive turn of speed used to break quickly from congestion once he gains a clean handle on the ball. His athletic base is strong but disposal on the move is one of the areas he is working on.

What he offers: Explosiveness
The knock: Kicking at pace

Zane Trew
Swan Districts/Western Australia | Inside Midfielder
26/04/2002 | 185cm | 80kg

Trew was among our own top 30 ranks for much of the year, but copped a fair whack from WA state academy coach Peter Sumich in the lead up to the draft and has slid way past his value. He is a clean extractor and terrific exponent of the handball who finds plenty of it, but has had his troubles with injury and thus, consistency over a full season throughout his journey. Would be a bargain for his natural ability alone.

What he offers: Clean extraction
The knock: Durability

Henry Walsh
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country | Ruck
27/06/2002 | 203cm | 87kg

Often billed with the ‘brother of Sam‘ tag, Walsh is a much different prospect to his elder sibling. The raw 203cm ruck is competitive at ground level but is working on his running and sustained impact around the ground to better suit the modern game. He has good potential and obviously comes from handy pedigree, so may warrant a shot.

What he offers: Competitiveness
The knock: Mobility

Featured Image: Tasmanian Jackson Callow will be hoping for an AFL Draft lifeline | Credit: Solstice Digital

From the clouds: This year’s biggest AFL Draft bolters

EACH year a great deal of AFL Draft intrigue surrounds the prospects who seemingly come from the clouds to land on clubs’ radars. Labelled the bolters, these players are the ones who enjoy steep rises as top-agers to trade obscurity for potential stardom. Last year we saw Will Day, Mitch Georgiades, and Sam Philp taken in round one, Sam Sturt was famously snapped up with Pick 17 the year before, Gold Coast pulled a surprise with Wil Powell in 2017 and well, you get the gist.

In taking a look at the potential bolters in this year’s crop, we are not just talking about players like Logan McDonald or Archie Perkins, who have risen from first round projection to possible top five status. Instead, we will take you through the names from around the nation who have come from greater obscurity to enter the draft frame at differing points. Some will feature at the top end, others might just scrape in at the back, but they all share the common story of coming from a long way back to gain recognition from AFL club recruiters.

Full profiles for all the players mentioned below can be found in our AFL Draft Guide, which is free to download.

THE BOLTERS

STATE BY STATE

South Australia:

South Australia not only lays claim to arguably the biggest bolter of the lot this year, but potentially the biggest overall list of players who suit the category. Headlining the crop is of course South Adelaide wingman/forward Brayden Cook, who went from battling for gametime as a bottom-ager to earning a Reserves call-up early in 2020 and averaging two goals per game in the Under 18s. His nous close to goal and overhead marking ability proved to be game-winning traits for the Panthers this year, propelling Cook into first round contention.

Likely joining him in the top 25 are gun midfielders Tom Powell and Caleb Poulter, who were two of the most consistent ball winners in this year’s SANFL Under 18s. Powell is one of the finest exponents of the handball to come through the junior ranks and proved impossible to ignore on pure numbers in 2020. He was highly rated internally but hardly got the opportunity to show his wares in 2019, suffering multiple injury setbacks and having hip surgery in his bottom-age campaign. Poulter is somewhat of a late bloomer who has enormous upside and great presence on the field as a tall midfielder. His range of weapons include a raking left peg, clean hands, and the ability to play inside, out, and up forward.

Other top-agers in the extended conversation include Luke Pedlar, Malachy Carruthers, Phoenix Spicer, and Xavier Robins. All four earned national draft combine invites after promising seasons, with Pedlar one who has also recently garnered first round interest. The tough and explosive midfielder was a leader among the Glenelg and Prince Alfred College squads this year, before injury cut his campaign short. Defenders Carruthers and Robins both impressed during the school football season before returning to SANFL competitions, while Spicer caught the eye with his dash and x-factor playing on a wing for South Adelaide.

Last but not least are the mature-agers. Mitch Duval and Tom Highmore both earned draft combine invites and were the only prospects over 19 years of age to do so this year. Both read the play beautifully across half-back, mark well, and provide value on the rebound. Premiership Eagles James Rowe and Jacob Wehr will also attract interest. Rowe is a small forward with excellent smarts and natural ability, while Wehr is a rebounding defender with class who was struggling for Reserves games not too long ago.

Victoria:

Despite not getting the chance to put in a full top-age season, there are a bunch of Victorians that have put their hands up for draft bolter status with impressive preseason showings and testing performances. Hulking Sandringham Dragons ruck Max Heath is near the top of the pile after returning dominant trial games. He took on some stern advice after his bottom-age year and came back a different player, throwing his weight around as an aggressive tall who can impose himself on the contest.

Northern Knights product Liam Kolar is in a similar boat after his preseason efforts, making for a steep rise having come from a soccer and athletics background. The raw tall debuted late last year for the Knights but seemed to have hit new heights in 2020 with his speed-endurance mix and rate of development impressing onlookers all the way back in March. Matt Allison and Fraser Rosman are other dynamic talls with great athleticism and upside who have entered the conversation.

Sandringham not only lays claim to Heath in the bolter category, but has also seen the likes of Luke Cleary, Max Holmes, and Lachlan Carrigan burst onto the scene. All three come in at over 189cm and can play in multiple roles. Holmes is the son of Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Lee Naylor, while Carrigan’s genetics have seen him benefit from a massive growth spurt which has coincided with his overall footballing development as a wingman.

One who has come from arguably the furthest back is Corey Preston, who earned a draft combine invite this year despite not having yet made his NAB League debut. The 180cm Eastern Ranges graduate is a midfielder/forward with nice athletic traits. Speaking of, Oakleigh’s Conor Stone has really cemented himself among the top-end group of late. He booted five goals on his NAB League debut last year and was part of the Chargers’ premiership side.

Among the ranks in country regions, Geelong’s stacked top-age cohort includes the likes of Blake Reid and Charlie Ham. Reid did some impressive things last year as the Falcons struggled to string results together, while Ham is a late bloomer much like elder brother, Brayden of Essendon. Both players earned combine invites and performed well, just like new 2km time trial record holder Harry Sharp. The former steeplechaser was primed for a big year after showing nice glimpses as a hard working wingman/small forward for Greater Western Victoria.

Western Australia:

Much like the South Australian crop, those from the West have benefitted greatly from being able to prove their worth on-field in a compromised year. Even before then, 204cm Claremont ruck Kalin Lane loomed as a massive bolter in 2020 after being included in the West Australian academy hub. It came after just one bottom-age appearance and he repaid the faith with an outstanding top-age campaign at Colts level.

Isiah Winder also hit great heights this year and was a standout combine tester come season’s end. He earned plenty of plaudits for his breakout performance in last year’s WAFL Colts Grand Final and has since transitioned from a small forward role to impact through midfield and even earn a League debut with Peel Thunder. Along with Lane, he is a developmental option with plenty of desirable traits for his role.

Among the smokies to have come on strongly are Tyler Brockman and Jaiden Hunter. Brockman is an exciting small forward/midfielder with great speed and goal sense, while Hunter is a tall usually accustomed to key defensive duties, but made to take on Perth’s primary ruck role at 194cm. His athleticism and mobility are outstanding. Claremont pair Jack Avery and Logan Young also enjoyed stellar campaigns in 2020, with Avery a promising intercept defender, and Young a reliable midfield ball winner.

Featured Image: South Adelaide bolter Brayden Cook gets a kick away | Credit: Nick Hook/SANFL

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

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

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

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

>> Download our FREE AFL Draft Guide

RECAP:

By: Ed Pascoe

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

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

Group A

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

Group B

Cody Brand
Nikolas Cox
Josh Eyre
Liam Kolar
Ollie Lord

Group C

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

Group D

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

Injured Group

Max Heath
Campbell Edwardes

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

Group A

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

Group B

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

Group C

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

Injured Group (Laps)

Elijah Hollands
Charlie Ham
Noah Gribble

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

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

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

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

Top 10s: 2020 National Draft Combine – 2km time trial

AFL DRAFT combines have wrapped up around the nation, giving an insight into how each elite level hopeful stacks up athletically. For most prospects, it was a chance to showcase just how much they had improved since preseason, especially after a full season of football – albeit compromised. For the Victorians in action, they finally got to show their wares after a substantial amount of time away from the field, with a number of them registering results indicative of remarkably hard work in the meantime.

Having already looked at the 20-metre sprint times, agility test results, and vertical jumping tests, we finally shift our focus to the 2km time trial. This test is used to measure a player’s endurance, taking over from the yo-yo test conducted during preseason. The 2km distance is also a good barometer of athletes’ speed-endurance mix, providing a snippet of how they may fare in more manageable stints rather than a full 10-15km distance they may run in-game. Typically, times of under six minutes and 30 seconds are considered high-level.

>> SCROLL for the full top 10 times

For the second year running, the time trial record was broken by a Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels product. Former steeplechaser Harry Sharp soundly beat Jay Rantall‘s 2019 effort of 5:50 over the 2km, notching a blistering time of 5:28 to standalone as the clear nationwide leader. A draft bolter of sorts, Sharp is a zippy outside midfielder/forward with plenty of upside. 194cm Sandringham Dragons forward Fraser Rosman is another in the same boat, and went close to Rantall’s record himself with an effort of 5:52, the only other time of under six minutes.

Northern Knights talls Liam Kolar and Nikolas Cox ran side-by-side to finish a second apart just over the six-minute mark, while Gippsland Power midfield pair Sam Berry and Ryan Angwin continued the two-by-two trend, albeit at different combines. Three players were tied for 10th spot at 6:23, including top 15 chance Archie Perkins. Fellow first round candidate Heath Chapman came in ninth just ahead of that three-man group, and impressive effort considering his status as a key position defender. He and Nathan O’Driscoll were the only non-Victorians to register top 10 times, and were the best runners out of Western Australia.

Obviously it is quite difficult to compare the 2km efforts with that of preseason yo-yo tests, which also serve to measure an athlete’s endurance. However, O’Driscoll again ranked equal-10th in the nationwide results for said test, notching a score of 21.8. Berry was also a standout during preseason, with his score of 21.7 good enough for equal-fourth among his Victorian peers. Both are tireless midfielders who translate this data to their on-field efforts, boding well for a swift adjustment to the rigours of AFL football.

Top 10 2km time trial results:

1. Harry Sharp (GWV Rebels) – 5 minutes, 28 seconds*
2. Fraser Rosman (Sandringham Dragons) – 5:52
3. Liam Kolar (Northern Knights) – 6:02
4. Nikolas Cox (Northern Knights) – 6:03
5. Sam Berry (Gippsland Power) – 6:10
6. Ryan Angwin (Gippsland Power) – 6:11
=7. Matthew Allison (Calder Cannons) – 6:17
=7. Finlay Macrae (Oakleigh Chargers) – 6:17
9. Heath Chapman (West Perth) – 6:20
=10. 3x players (Nathan O’Driscoll, Archie Perkins, Will Bravo) – 6:23

* – denotes all-time combine record.

>> Power Rankings: November Update

Other Draft Combine results:
Jumps
20m Sprint
Agility

Preseason testing:
Jumps
20m Sprint
Agility test
Yo-yo test

Featured Image: Players run the 2km time trial at the Regional Victoria Draft Combine | Credit: Robert Cianflone/AFL Photos

Top 10s: National Draft Combine testing – 20m sprint

AFL DRAFT combines have wrapped up around the nation, giving an insight into how each elite level hopeful stacks up athletically. For most prospects, it was a chance to showcase just how much they had improved since preseason, especially after a full season of football – albeit compromised. For the Victorians in action, they finally got to show their wares after a substantial amount of time away from the field, with a number of them registering results indicative of remarkably hard work in the meantime.

The 20-metre sprint is the test used to measure an athlete’s burst of speed, and often yields some of the most looked-at data from such testing events. Looking at the combined results from each state and region, the overall top 10 features six players who measure up at over 190cm, showcasing just how exciting some of these budding draftees are as prototypical, modern day athletes.

>> SCROLL to see the top 10 results

Six players who registered top 10 times are also already aligned to AFL clubs, headlined by Western Bulldogs Next Generation Academy (NGA) member and consensus number one prospect, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. Another NGA product, Reef McInnes (Collingwood) took full toll with a tailwind to notch a nation-wide fastest time of 2.78 seconds, remarkable considering his 193cm/86kg frame and the fact he is an inside midfielder. Standout Swans Academy member Braeden Campbell equalled Ugle-Hagan’s effort as both managed the equal-10th best time.

There also looms some real bolters in the pack, with the likes of Liam Kolar, Max Holmes, and Fraser Rosman all notching elite times of 2.90 seconds or better. Kolar and Rosman are athletic tall forwards who are quite raw but can compete aerially, while wingman Holmes is a national hurdles champion and the son of Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Lee Naylor. Essendon NGA hopeful Joshua Eyre was another surprise packet, dominating across the board and ranking eighth in this particular test.

Godfrey OkerenyangIsiah Winder, and Aiden Fyfe joined Campbell as the only non-Victorians to earn top 10 status, with West Australian Winder also the smallest player among them at 180cm. He is fresh off a season which saw him earn a senior berth at Peel Thunder, proving a classy user through midfield. Keen watchers may remember Okerenyang from the 2018 AFL Grand Final sprint, which he took out, while Fyfe is a wingman out of Gold Coast’s Academy.

Incredibly, none of the top 10 runners featured on the same list during preseason, though Campbell was among the best NSW/ACT sprinters at that time.

Top 10 times:

1. Reef McInnes (Oakleigh/Vic Metro) – 2.78 seconds
2. Max Holmes (Sandringham/Vic Metro) – 2.80
3. Godfrey Okerenyang (GWS Academy/Allies) – 2.86
4. Liam Kolar (Northern/Vic Metro) – 2.87
5. Isiah Winder (Peel Thunder/Western Australia) – 2.873
=6. Zavier Maher (Murray/Vic Country) – 2.89
=6. Seamus Mitchell (Bendigo/Vic Country) – 2.88
8. Joshua Eyre (Calder/Vic Metro) – 2.89
9. Aiden Fyfe (Gold Coast Academy/Allies) – 2.898
=10. Braeden Campbell (Sydney Academy/Allies) – 2.90
=10. Fraser Rosman (Sandringham/Vic Metro) – 2.90
=10. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Oakleigh/Vic Country) – 2.90

Stay tuned for top 10 results from each of the remaining tests.

>> Power Rankings: November Update

Preseason testing:
Jumps
20m Sprint
Agility
Yo-yo

Featured Image: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan runs the 20-metre sprint | Credit: AFL Photos

2020 AFL Draft Positional Analysis: Small and Medium Utilities

UTILITIES; the jacks of all trades, the players who can thrive up either end of the ground, or adapt to whichever role the team requires. One thing that remains consistent among this lot is versatility, and while not all of them currently have the opportunity to show their worth on the field, exposed form and long preseasons for most allow for a window into how the current stocks stack up.

In ramping up our 2020 AFL Draft analysis, Draft Central continues its line-by-line positional breakdowns, moving on to the best small and medium utilities. The following list features pocket profiles of top-age (2002-born) prospects who are part of their respective AFL Academy hubs, while also touching on some names who missed out last year, or may feature on another list.

Without further ado, get to know some of the premier utilities who are eligible to be drafted in 2020.

Note: The list is ordered alphabetically, not by any form of ranking.

Tahj Abberley
Brisbane Lions Academy/Allies
180cm | 70kg

One of the leading Lions Academy prospects, Abberley provides a perfect starting point for this list. While the diminutive Queenslander will most likely look to use his sharp foot skills and decision making off half-back this year, he has previously thrived on both sides of midfield and through the forward rotation. While most small midfielders with good pace and agility tend to find their way into that goalsneak or pressure forward role, Abberley’s points of difference on the ball allow him to be utilised just about anywhere. Having been a constant in the Queensland junior representative setup and played all five NAB League games for the Lions last year, Abberley was set for a big top-age campaign prior to the interruptions.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch

Clayton Gay
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country
183cm | 77kg

Gay was a mainstay in Dandenong’s side as a bottom-ager in 2019, running out for 17 games and showing glimpses of his talent. He is another who may find a home down back in 2020, but has shown his nous up the other end already with his 13 NAB League goals last year. His reading of the play is sound, and Gay is able to break open games in small spurts. Though he can still work on his consistency and athletic base, Gay remains one of his region’s most exciting prospects who already has good runs on the board. His natural talent is enough to suggest he has plenty to offer.

>> Feature

Zac Dumesny
South Adelaide/South Australia
187cm | 79kg

One of the many South Australian Under 18s to be plying their trade at SANFL League level already is Dumesny, and he has transitioned rather seamlessly to senior football. The South Adelaide product is a good size at 187cm, able to provide that intercept quality with his vertical leap across the backline, while also utilising his clean hands and skills up on a wing. Dumesny has been working on being a touch more physical at the contest, but is all-class on the ball and will be pushing into top 25 considerations if his form persists.

>> Q&A

Oliver Henry
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country
187cm | 77kg 

The younger brother of Geelong Cats defender, Jack, Henry is an eye-catching prospect who brings terrific aerial prowess to either end of the field. Despite standing at just under the 190cm range, Henry has been utilised in a second or third tall role at times for the Falcons, with his athleticism and sticky hands allowing him to reel in fantastic marks. He averaged over a goal per his 15 NAB League games last year to prove his forward threat, but also fared well down back with his clean rebounding skills and intercepting ability. Having also been used up on a wing in his Australian Under 17 outing, Henry is a true all-rounder.

>> Feature
>> Marquee Matchup

Joel Jeffrey
NT Thunder/Allies
189cm | 74kg

Arguably the Northern Territory’s best draft prospect for 2020 is Jeffrey, who looks destined to end up at the Gold Coast SUNS given their new concessions. The son of NT great, Russell, Jeffrey was poised to make the move over to Queensland this season before the global pandemic intervened. The high-flying prospect already has senior experience having turned out for Wanderers in the NTFL, booting 29 goals in 13 games. His ability to find the goals from ground level balls or on the end of big marks makes him a player fans will come to watch, but he is just as effective in defence.

Will Schreiber
Glenelg/South Australia
190cm | 82kg

Schreiber has made a solid start to the SANFL season at Under 18 level, running out for Glenelg across the first four rounds. While he has been continually trialled as a big-bodied midfielder and can get his hands on the ball at centre bounces, Schreiber arguably looks most comfortable down back where he can utilise his marking ability and calm distribution by foot. Like many talented hopefuls scattered across the Tigers’ Under 18 side, Schreiber has proven versatile and has been a key part of their 4-0 start to the 2020 campaign.

Marc Sheather
Sydney Swans Academy/Allies
185cm | 84kg

Like just about every player on this list, Sheather has been utilised in a range of roles, swinging up either end of the ground and doing so to good effect. He first caught the eye at Under 16 level with his strong marking power deep forward for NSW/ACT, but has since looked terrific as a medium defender for the Rams and Swans Academy. He is a prospect who plays above his height, credit to a readymade frame and terrific athleticism, but also does the job at ground level with his useful disposal by foot both in general play and from the kick-ins. Sheather may be flying under the radar given the Swans’ notable Academy talent, but is a promising player in his own right.

Joel Western
Claremont/Western Australia
172cm | 68kg

Western kicked off his WAFL Colts campaign in style, returning a best afield performance with 29 disposals and a goal. Having already experienced premiership success at the level and been a part of the State Under 18 setup, Western is a well-known prospect with stacks of potential. Fremantle will get first dibs on Western through its NGA, and Dockers fans can look forward to seeing his great evasiveness, freakish skills, and speed in a variety of roles going forward. While he has found a home through midfield at Colts level, Western can also play off half-back and push forward well. Players of his size will always have a lingering knock on them, but Western has the elite athleticism and skill to go far.

>> Draft Watch

Positional Analysis: Inside Midfielders | Outside Midfielders | Key Position Defenders | Key Position Forwards

July 2020 Power Rankings

>> CATCH UP ON OUR OTHER SERIES

Squad Predictions:
Allies
South Australia
Vic Country
Vic Metro
Western Australia

Features
AFL Draft Watch

Preseason Testing Analysis:
Jumps
Speed
Agility
Endurance

2020 AFL Draft Positional Analysis: Key Forwards

FOLLOWING a draft class somewhat short on pure key position forward options comes a cohort which has already shown promise in that exact area. Though they may not currently have the opportunity to show their worth on the field, exposed form and long preseasons for most allow for a window into how the current stocks stack up.

In ramping up our 2020 AFL Draft analysis, Draft Central begins its line-by-line positional breakdowns, starting with the big men. The following list features pocket profiles of top-age (2002-born) prospects who are part of their respective AFL Academy hubs, while also touching on some names who missed out last year, or may feature on another list.

Without further ado, get to know some of the premier key forwards who are eligible to be drafted in 2020.

Note: The list is ordered alphabetically, not by any form of ranking.

Kaine Baldwin (Glenelg/South Australia)
193cm | 91kg

A rare case in that he may well find his way into draft contention despite not playing any football for two seasons. Baldwin had cracked the SANFL Reserves level for Glenelg after an outstanding Under 16 national carnival, but unfortunately went down with an untimely ACL injury in 2019. A year of recovery has him ready to go though, and a 20.8 yo-yo test score in preseason suggests he is building back the running ability that sets him apart. Baldwin’s contested marking is also eye-catching, utilising his strong frame to split packs. He comes in lightly below true key position height, so is also working on moving further afield.

>> DRAFT WATCH: Kaine Baldwin


Jackson Callow (Tasmania/Allies)

193cm | 95kg

A traditional, hulking key forward who thrives on the physical aspect of the game. Callow was a standout for Tasmania at Under 16 level, and more recently in the NAB League having booted 24 goals from 14 games for the Devils in 2019. At 95kg, he is well built and hardly beaten one-on-one, but also has the clean hands and speed to mark strongly at full tilt. Callow has garnered heavy opposition attention thus far as Tasmania’s spearhead, but does not hold back on the aggression to shake it off. He can work on sometimes reigning that aspect of his game in, while also sharpening his consistency in front of goal.

>> MARQUEE MATCHUP: Callow vs. Fleeton


Josh Eyre (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

197cm | 85kg

Eyre is an Essendon Next Generation Academy (NGA) member who is still quite raw, but has some terrific attributes. Having endured his share of injuries across the last two seasons, Eyre has grown to a more traditional key position height and is filling out nicely. Those extra centimetres and an added five kilograms since the start of last year point towards Eyre featuring as a centre half-forward in 2020, though he is able to play up either end or even on a wing. An exciting one for Bombers fans, who have some worthy academy talents coming through the ranks.

>> Q&A: Josh Eyre


Ollie Lord (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)

195cm | 83kg

The Sandringham product came on strongly last season, featuring across five games for Sandringham in between his Geelong Grammar commitments, while also running out for Vic Metro’s Under 17 side. Lord is an athletic tall who sits at the precipice of true key position size, with his leap and high marking the most prominent features of his game. Still very much a developing type, the 18-year-old did well to crack into Sandringham’s side last year given its plethora of tall options. Trained at Melbourne during the off-season, and should make up part of Vic Metro’s spine in 2020.

>> Q&A: Ollie Lord


Logan McDonald (Perth/Western Australia)

195cm | 85kg

Another standout from the 2018 Under 16 carnival, McDonald has since shown plenty of the same potential having represented the Black Ducks at Under 18 level in 2019 as a bottom-ager. The Perth product has grown to key position size over the past year, and is one of the leading candidates in his role on the back of his ability to cover the ground well, clunk strong marks on the lead, and most importantly, find the goals. Has great endurance for a player of his size, notching a score of 21.3 on the preseason yo-yo test.

>> DRAFT WATCH: Logan McDonald


Liam McMahon (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)

193cm | 80kg

A developing forward who shot into calculations for representative honours, McMahon is perhaps a prospect who finds himself measuring up at an in-between size. While he certainly plays like a key forward with his terrific leap and sticky hands on the lead, McMahon does not have the height or weight of some of the other forwards on this list – perhaps suiting more of a third tall option at the elite level. Still, he averaged almost a goal per game over 15 NAB League outings in 2019 and should be another to feature in Vic Metro’s starting side.

>> FEATURE: Liam McMahon


Riley Thilthorpe (West Adelaide/South Australia)

200cm | 98kg

One of the most exciting draft prospects and a candidate to be taken first off the board is West Adelaide’s Thilthorpe, who mixes his time between the ruck and centre half-forward. The South Australian already has experience at SANFL League level and at 200cm and 98kg, is a readymade key position player. Thilthorpe’s running capacity is elite for a player of his size, with his aerial presence and impact around the ground also desirable assets. He could develop into a modern day ruck who plays like a fourth midfielder, or become a swingman given his high ceiling.

>> GET TO KNOW: West Adelaide U18s


Josh Treacy (Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country)

193cm | 95kg

Another more traditional key forward is Treacy, one of Bendigo’s leading prospects. The well built centre half-forward is not afraid to throw his weight around and is aggressive both in his leading and ground-level presence. While that aggression can sometimes land him in trouble, the 193cm Pioneer has shown there is more to his game. Speaking of, Treacy was spotted at a few centre bounces last year, so may even be poised for a move up the ground given he lacks the height of others in this category.

>> FEATURE: Josh Treacy


Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Country)

194cm | 83kg

Arguably the most talked about draft prospect to this point has been Ugle-Hagan, a candidate to join the exclusive number one pick list, and a Western Bulldogs NGA product. The Warrnambool native formerly represented the Greater Western Victoria region, but has since relocated to Oakleigh’s zone given he boards at Scotch College. Ugle-Hagan is remarkably athletic, testing well across all areas during pre-season and proving just why he is near-unbeatable at full flight. His breakaway speed on the lead and high marking are outstanding, though Ugle-Hagan will be working on his field kicking and consistency in front of goal. Has also played in defence at times, but looks most comfortable up forward.

>> DRAFT WATCH: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan


OTHERS TO CONSIDER

Among the others to consider are a good number of prospects who missed out on being drafted last year as top-agers, and 2020-eligible players who may well find their way onto other lists – position-wise.

Sandringham over-ager Felix Flockart is a mobile 200cm bolter who can play forward or through the ruck, and will be one to watch when/if football returns having impressed during pre-season.

Another in that category is Northern’s Liam Kolar, who has transferred some elite traits from an athletics and soccer background. The 194cm Knight has a high-level mix of speed and endurance, and looks promising with his lead-up work from the forward 50.

The likes of West Australian Shannon Neale, South Australia’s Zac Phillips, Ned Carey, and Henry Smith, and Victorian Jack Diedrich also came into consideration, but should feature on the list of rucks to later be analysed.

Dynamic NT Thunder Academy jet Joel Jeffrey can fulfil the high marking forward role, but is a touch undersized to be considered key position at this stage, while James Borlase and Sam Tucker are tall utilities who may feature more as defenders.

In terms of other 19-year-olds, Kobe Tozer is a likely type whose development has been restricted by injury, while 2019 Allies representative Liam Delahunty may look to stake his claim having crossed to Victoria from the GWS GIANTS Academy.

NAB Leaguers Jamieson Rossiter and Kyle Yorke are others who may get a second look as over-agers, while Charlie Dean is another who was poised to return in between VFL duties – though he may be utilised up the other end.

2020 NAB League Boys team preview: Northern Knights

WHILE the preseason has been been eventful for all NAB League staff and players alike, Northern Knights Talent Manager Rhy Gieschen has had plenty on his plate. After the feel-good story of the draft saw Sam Philp bolt into the first round despite being overlooked for Vic Metro selection, Gieschen had two more 2019 graduates in the mix for late AFL call-ups.

Ryan Sturgess, a hard-working utility who played every game during the national championships, was one of four players vying for Carlton’s final list spot. He missed out to Callum Moore, five years his senior for that supplementary position, but the Knights had one more ace up their sleeve – rather, an Ayce. Adelaide surprised many by taking 19-year-old Ayce Taylor – who was initially cut from a stacked Oakleigh Chargers squad – in the last embers of the preseason supplementary selection period (SPP), especially given they had just drafted two high-end key defenders in November. But to Gieschen, recognition from the elite level to both players was credit to their willingness to leave no stone unturned.

“(Adelaide) got two high quality key defenders, but then showed that they rated his talent pretty highly because they had another opportunity to pick and they took him,” Gieschen told Draft Central. “I think they had spoken to him about staying ready to go and getting into a VFL program, to work really hard and if an opportunity arises you’re in our mind. “So it was great by them to stick with him and give him another chance, his ability to head to North Melbourne (VFL), keep training and stay really fit and ready was great.”

“Ryan’s shown unbelievable resilience and I guess the ability to just keep going. “Missing out on the draft, then doing the rehab to get his ankle right and then taking his opportunity with Carlton – I think he put his best foot forward there and gave it every chance that he possibly could but just got pipped at the post by probably a more seasoned played who had been on a list. “But certainly left no stone unturned, the good thing is he signed at the Northern Blues and like everyone else he’ll just keep working hard and be ready to go when given an opportunity. “Just to stay under the eyes of the recruiting staff and list managers and the coaches is probably the best thing for him to make sure if a spot pops up, he’s putting his best foot forward.”

“We can’t control the draft, what we can control is the individual development of the player and them buying in to our program and the culture that’s created. “It just shows us, them, (and) everyone in this environment that it is difficult to get drafted and you’ve just got to keep working at it and if it doesn’t happen in your top-age year then you just keep striving and keep playing the game… like what happened with Ayce and Ryan.”

The same resilience shown by Taylor and Sturgess is something Gieschen and his troops are trying to replicate amid present uncertainty created by the COVID-19 outbreak, with the NAB League season postponed until late-May. Having garnered some decent momentum heading into what would have been Round 1, Gieschen says keeping the squad ready will be key to their success, but some stumbling blocks may appear with the group potentially unable to train together.

“We preach the ability for the boys to be really resilient regardless of what cards you’re dealt or what setbacks come your way, just to constantly stay resilient and stay positive about what’s happening,” he said. “I think that’s what sets good players and good athletes apart from the great ones – just their ability to change to different situations and disappointments and setbacks and move forward. “We were lucky enough that we actually had the group in when we got the news so we were able to break it to them in-person and speak about what it means. “To their credit they were really positive and a few of the senior players stood up and spoke about staying ready and staying hungry, being really ready to go so I think they’ve formed some pretty strong bonds and the culture was really positive going into Round 1… the players will be training pretty strongly individually and making sure that when the time comes they’re ready to go straight back into it.”

A well-focused preseason has payed dividends for some of the team’s prime movers, with the Knights’ two Vic Metro Hub prospects – Nikolas Cox and Liam McMahon – and potential Western Bulldogs father-son Ewan Macpherson returning positive athletic testing results. Cox and Macpherson particularly impressed Gieschen with their 2km time trial results, setting the tone for a team which boasts some strong runners.

“One thing that we really will pride ourselves on this year is our running ability,” Gieschen said. “All the fitness test indicators identify the fact that our core group are really, really strong runners – our 2km times were exceptional.”

“Nik Cox is really professional in the way he goes about things, he’s obviously a really exciting talent – 199cm and he just ran a 6.05 on his 2km time trial which puts him in the absolute elite category of anyone who’s ever come through these programs with his endurance,” he said. “He kicks the ball really well on both feet and makes good decisions, we’ll likely play him centre half-back and we’re really keen to see how he continues to develop because he’s certainly got a lot of weapons at his disposal.

“Ewan’s had a really strong preseason. “He’s taken his 2km time from seven minutes last year down to 6.30 which was a huge effort from him and testament to how hard he worked over the break.”

While the three mentioned are all “different” prospects, McMahon is one who Gieschen was keen to get a gauge on, with the key forward able to generate plenty of excitement but looking to find greater consistency.

“Again he’s an exciting athlete, he’s 193cm but one of his strengths is his agility and his ability to move and get up the ground and he marks the ball at its highest point,” he said. “He has some really good tools in his game with his marking and he’s got beautiful disposal, kicks the ball well and he makes good decisions in the forward half.”

Along with a talented crop of top-agers comes a strong core of bottom-agers who will look to impress, while a shake-up in the Knights’ approach to 19-year-old listings also looks set to pay off as they juggle VFL and NAB League duties.

“We’re pretty positive about our bottom-age group, we think they’ve really come on and I think there’s some players there that’ll be pretty good performance-wise throughout the year,” Gieschen said. “Ned Long, Josh Ward, Darcy Wilmot, Pat Dozzi, Joel Fitzgerald, James Nadalin are all working well with us. “We want to make sure that we’re investing really heavily in the top-agers, but we think there’s a pretty good core group of bottom-agers coming through as well that will catch the eye throughout the year.”

“We’ve set all our (19-year-olds) up at their VFL programs full-time. “Ryan Gardner, Lachie Potter, and Jack Boyd have all trained full-time at the Northern Blues, so whilst we’ve put them on our list as 19-year-olds, we thought it was really important for them to get an new experience and train at a VFL club with seasoned, senior-bodied footballers.”

“We’ve taken Liam Delahunty from GWS, he’s returning from a dislocated knee so he’s doing all of his rehab at North Melbourne VFL. “Lachie Gawel we’ve only acquired recently from Eastern Ranges, but he’s been training with the Northern Blues full-time as well, and Nathan Howard‘s coming back from his surgery. “So we think it’s really important for them to keep challenging themselves and stay engaged in the VFL program and then if they’re missing out on a game at VFL level, they’ve got the option of coming to showcase their talent in the NAB League program.”

Another less-heralded name to keep an eye on will be Liam Kolar, who Gieschen says the Knights “rate the talents of” having transitioned from a multi-sport background. Kolar is one of many across an even spread of prospects who is poised to accelerate his development.

“He’s a unique athlete, he’s 194-195cm and ran his 2km (time trial) in 6.09 – he’s come from an athletics/soccer background,” Gieschen said. “But he’s already shown his ability to transition into footy, played a really strong practice game against the Western Jets and then backed it up with two goals on the weekend against the (Oakleigh) Chargers – one sort of showcased all of his attributes, took two or three bounces, took the defender on and kicked the goal from 50 – so he has all the athletic attributes that all the recruiters like and we just want to see him improve his football.”

A practice match win over Oakleigh and leadership group announcement have the group in good spirits despite the waiting game each club is currently undertaking, with the Knights raring to go once given the all-clear to return to the field.