Tag: nab league

Tenacious Snow takes the long road to her footballing goal

THE PATH less travelled by is a phrase often attached to the journey of budding AFL Women’s draftees. Well, how does Perth, to Singapore, to America, to Melbourne sound?

That’s the journey Northern Knights prospect Ashleigh Snow has embarked on throughout her young life, with an AFLW club potentially the next destination. The diminutive defender-turned-midfielder learned to play football through a school program during her seven years in Singapore, and says she “always wanted to play” having watched her brother and dad do the same.

“I went to an Aussie school, so they had a little program where I learned to play,” Snow said. “My brother and dad played so I just always wanted to play. I played there for two years and then came back to Melbourne and that’s where I joined my first girl’s team at West Preston.”

Snow entered the Northern Knights through its development program, before turning out six times throughout the region’s undefeated premiership season in 2019, and thrice more in 2020. Though injury kept her out of last year’s Grand Final team, Snow came back strongly as a top-ager.

Her form was enough to warrant a National Combine invite, something which Snow says was “unexpected” following the cancellation of this year’s NAB League season.

“In the year that Knights won the NAB League premiership, I missed out because of my injury which was a bit hard,” she said. “I went back this year and only got to play the three games, but I feel like I came back pretty (strongly) and got to show what I could do in those games.”

“I started playing midfield which was a bit different because I played (in the) backline for the last two years before that. I feel like I seemed pretty determined and was always going hard for the ball. In one of the games I even got a goal against Calder, which is a bit different for me, always being down back.”

“The draft, being invited to the combine, and having the interviews was actually really unexpected for me. I just thought ‘the season’s over and that’s it’. “But luckily enough I have a little gym in my garage so I’ve been doing circuits every day to keep my fitness up. So hopefully if I do get drafted I’ll be in alright shape for preseason.”

Lauded for her tenacity and toughness at the ball despite her size, Snow’s importance to the team has long been known to those who can see past the conveyer belt of stars Northern has produced of late. She comes from good pedigree as well, with her father, David a former WAFL footballer and 1996 Simpson Medal winner. The ‘daughter-of’ says her dad has long been one of her greatest motivators, along with outgoing Knights coach Marcus Abney-Hastings.

“My dad has a massive footy background and I just have to say, he’s the one person who’s non-stop motivating me,” she said. (He is) always asking me to go for runs, do workouts with him, and wanting to go for kicks. “When I don’t want to do any of that he’ll keep pushing me and he knows that in the long run I’ll be thankful that he made me do it.”

“Marcus has been the coach for the whole three years I’ve been (at Northern). I really like him and feel like he’s been the most supportive…  obviously all the coaches as Knights like Marcus and Nat Grindal, they’ve been a massive help. “They’ve always made me keep belief in myself and given me the confidence that I sort of struggle to have.”

The Knights’ affiliation with Carlton’s AFLW side saw Snow choose the Blues as her favourite women’s side, though her upbringing in Perth meant she grew up a West Coast Eagles fan. Heading into the draft, Snow says she will be watching alongside her family and boyfriend at home amid Melbourne’s lockdown, hoping to hear her name called out.

“My parents and friends (have) always supported me in life. My boyfriend I think is my number one fan, he’s proudest out of everyone,” she said.

The 2020 AFL Women’s Draft will be held virtually at 7pm AEDT on October 6.

Draft Central Power Rankings: October 2020

COMBINES, All-Star showcases, and state league finals have brought new life to the 2020 AFL Draft scene, as budding prospects around the nation look to prove their worth ahead of that one day in (likely) early-December. Victorian talents remain in the unknown, but feature aplenty in our list which has undergone a series of minor shuffles. In Draft Central’s latest Power Rankings, the form guide has shot out to 30 names; compared to 25 in our September analysis, and 20 in both August and July.

Among the fresh faces, a South Australian bolter enters the top 25, while two Fremantle Next-Generation Academy (NGA) prospects make their way onto the board alongside a highly-touted Sydney Swans Academy gun. All that, and more in our October Power Rankings update.

Note, the list is ordered purely on our opinion and each players’ ability, not taking into account any AFL clubs’ lists or needs.

#1 Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Country | Key Position Forward
4/04/2002 | 194cm | 84kg

Western Bulldogs fans may not entirely enjoy seeing Next Generation Academy (NGA) product, Ugle-Hagan perched atop the tree given the hefty price that comes with it, but should be buoyed by their club having first dibs on such a remarkable talent. The 194cm key position forward has been compared to champion goalkicker Lance Franklin for his athleticism and left-foot kick, but he plays a little differently. Ugle-Hagan’s pace off the lead and sticky hands overhead set him apart, while elite scores in each of the preseason testing events make him an irresistible prospect alone. He is the consensus number one choice at this point, having delivered on the hype as he moved to the Oakleigh region via a scholarship with Scotch College.

September Ranking: #1

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and APS Football.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#2 Elijah Hollands
Murray Bushrangers/Vic County | Forward/Midfielder
25/04/2002 | 188cm | 80kg

Hollands’ placing in these rankings will inevitably prove one of the hardest to call throughout the year, given he is set to sit out the entire 2020 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). At this point though, he has done more than enough to warrant top five status at the least, and finds a place in second spot once again. While his knack for producing game-defining periods has most significantly been achieved forward of centre, Hollands has the size and skill to warrant his goal of earning more midfield minutes. With clean hands, athleticism, and a booming boot which often finds the goals, Hollands is all you could ever want from a high-ceiling prospect. Not playing shouldn’t hurt his value too much, but it would have been nice to see him get an uninterrupted crack at NAB League level having finished his schooling at Caulfield Grammar.

September Ranking: #2

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League, and recovery from long-term knee injury.

>> Feature
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#3 Logan McDonald
Perth/Western Australia | Key Position Forward
4/04/2002 | 196cm | 86kg

A dominant key position forward with terrific endurance is McDonald, who adds to the strong tall and West Australian representation on this list. The high-marking spearhead ran out for his state thrice during last year’s Under 18 National Championships, averaging a goal per game and impressing with his ability to clunk marks leading up the ground. He has terrific hands on the lead and usually has no trouble finding the big sticks, while his high-level endurance confirms his status as a true, modern-day centre half-forward. Having grown and filled out to a more conventional key position size, McDonald has showcased his game-winning ability from forward of centre in 2020 – something which earned him All-Australian honours as an Under 16s player.

September Ranking: #3

Last Month: McDonald showed off his endurance at last week’s West Australian combine, scoring third in the 2km time trial. On-field, the key forward capped off his season by helping Perth qualify for the WAFL League finals for the first time in over 20 years, but was kept goalless in the Demons’ week one loss. He booted one major the week before, and managed three against Swan Districts before Denver Grainger-Barras was switched onto him.

>> Draft Watch
>> Player Focus | Player Focus

#4 Denver Grainger-Barras
Swan Districts/Western Australia | Key Position Defender
14/04/2002 | 194cm | 78kg

Another tall amongst the top five, and a versatile one at that. While he is definitely most comfortable and renowned as a key position defender, the Swan Districts hopeful’s versatility lies in the varying roles he play inside defensive 50. Credit to his athleticism and slender frame, he is able to keep up with medium types at ground level, while also showing form as a lockdown type on the opposition’s best big forward, or as an intercept marking outlet. Grainger-Barras is a cool head in possession too, boasting a sound kick for his size and composure beyond his years. That same level-headedness and footballing IQ makes him a sound reader of the play from the back, and the leading option in his position.

September Ranking: #4

Last Month: Grainger-Barras was another to showcase his high-level athleticism at the West Australian combine; scoring third in the running vertical jump (left), fifth in the 20-metre sprint, and second in the agility test. After a terrific outing against Logan McDonald’s Perth, the prolific defender rounded out his season with just six disposals and two marks as Swan Districts failed to make finals.

>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup
>> Player Focus | Player Focus

#5 Will Phillips
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro | Balanced Midfielder
22/05/2002 | 179cm | 78kg

We all marvelled at how well Oakleigh graduates Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson have adapted to life in the AFL, and Phillips could be the next Charger in line to do just that having leant on the pair during his bottom-aged campaign. Like Rowell, Phillips is a sub-180cm prospect who consistently finds plenty of the ball and possesses great leadership qualities. He is a well-balanced midfielder too, having plied his trade at times on the outside for Oakleigh en route to premiership glory. Phillips seems to thrive on the inside though, with his hardness and ability to weave through traffic making him an invaluable stoppage asset. The Caulfield Grammar student was set to juggle APS football and NAB League duties in 2020, while standing as a clear leadership candidate for Vic Metro come national carnival time – all before the pandemic hit.

September Ranking: #5

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and APS Football.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch

#6 Riley Thilthorpe
West Adelaide/South Australia | Ruck/Key Position Forward
7/07/2002 | 201cm | 100kg

In a welcome change from last year’s crop, key position prospects will be in abundance at the top end. Thilthorpe is one of them, an athletic ruck/forward who possesses enormous running capacity and can dominate the airways. In his ruck duties, the 201cm West Adelaide product plays more like a fourth midfielder, able to follow up at ground level and cover the ground like a small. He has been utilised in a more forward-oriented role for the Bloods at SANFL League level though, with his goalkicking attributes and diverse skillset already making him a handful for senior players with more mature bodies. Ask any of the South Australian Under 18s who they have most been looking forward to playing alongside in 2020, and Thilthorpe is among them. Jot the name down, he should be among those you are most looking forward to watching, too.

September Ranking: #6

Last Month: The West Adelaide bigman has battled through injury trouble over the last month, unable to get back on the park at SANFL League level despite being named. A niggling groin injury also kept him from testing at the South Australian combine.

>> Feature
>> Draft Watch
>> Player Focus

#7 Braeden Campbell
Sydney Swans Academy/Allies | Balanced Midfielder/Forward
4/02/2002 | 181cm | 72kg

While he has again been squeezed out to number seven, Campbell is a player who could potentially sit among the top five come season’s end. Uncertainty lingers over how much exposure NSW/ACT athletes will be able to gain in 2020 given the NEAFL and NAB League scrappings, but one must only watch last year’s Under 17 Futures All-Star showcase to be reminded of Campbell’s talent. He was best-afield in that game, with electrifying speed, hardness at the ball, and a booming left-foot kick catching the eye of all who bore witness. The Swans Academy product is also apt in the short range as well, and has the invaluable ability to impact games in multiple positions. Whether it be on the inside, outside, or forward of centre, Campbell is a match-winner and should cost the Swans a pretty penny in terms of draft points.

September Ranking: #7

Last Month: The exciting Swans Academy prospect booted a goal in each of his three AFL Sydney Premier Division outings for Pennant Hills in September. The Demons won two of those games, but lost most recently in their lone finals dig against St George. The NSW/ACT combine on October 25 will be Campbell’s next point of call.

>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup
>> Player Focus

#8 Tanner Bruhn
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country | Inside Midfielder
27/05/2002 | 182cm | 73kg

Class with a capital ‘C’ is what Bruhn has been described as, despite his limited on-field opportunities of late. The Geelong Falcons midfielder burst onto the scene as Vic Country’s Under 16 MVP in 2018, but injuries have cruelled him since; having initially required knee surgery after a 2019 preseason incident, and undergone a follow-up procedure that would have had him in doubt to feature early this year. He still managed to add two NAB League outings to his resume towards the end of last season, showcasing his terrific stoppage craft with clean hands and wonderful movement around the ball. Should he eventually enjoy an extended run and put his best form on display, Bruhn could well push to be the premier midfielder of this year’s bunch.

September Ranking: #8

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and APS Football.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch

#9 Lachlan Jones
WWT Eagles/South Australia | General Defender
9/04/2002 | 186cm | 89kg

Yet another NGA prospect, Jones is tied to Port Adelaide and features quite highly on this list. His big frame has seen him adjust well to the rigours of SANFL League football, running out against mature bodies in nearly all of the Eagles’ fixtures thus far. As a general defender, Jones possesses obvious hardness at the ball and can compete both aerially and at ground level, remaining relevant going both ways too. His skills are also a big asset, able to spear passes to high percentage options while also breaking games open with his long-range efforts. Jones may well be one to push further up the list as he progresses in 2020, with some solid traits which point to a quick transition into the next level.

September Ranking: #10

Last Month: Jones is another to have missed some football over the past month, but thankfully not much. An ankle injury kept him from testing at the recent South Australian combine, and also saw him miss Round 14 in the SANFL. After some hit-and-miss form, the big-bodied defender returned in week one of the finals with 19 disposals and 11 rebound 50s as his Eagles went down to North Adelaide.

>> Draft Watch
>> Player Focus Round 3 | Round 8

#10 Nathan O’Driscoll 
Perth/Western Australia | Midfielder/Defender
17/05/2002 | 187cm | 78kg

One of Western Australia’s leading prospects is O’Driscoll, a hard-at-it inside midfielder who can also double as a damaging half-back or wingman. The 187cm Perth Demons product was a standout at Colts level last year, while also breaking through for three outings in the Black Ducks’ Under 18 National Championships campaign as a bottom-ager. Having learnt off the likes of former Perth teammate and Brisbane draftee, Deven Robertson, O’Driscoll is primed to become a permanent midfield fixture having already proven his ball winning capabilities. His penetrating boot and speed-endurance mix make him a prospect with many desirable traits, not to mention his older sister, Emma is already plying her trade at AFLW level for Fremantle.

September Ranking: #11

Last Month: O’Driscoll finished off his top-age campaign as a regular fixture in Perth’s League midfield. While a disposal average of 11 over his last three games does not jump off the page, O’Driscoll looked composed on the ball and was able to impact defensively as well. He runs all day, and proved as much my finishing second in WA’s 2km time trial. He also came runner-up in the 20-metre sprint, while taking out the agility test. He boasts an impressive speed-endurance mix through midfield.

>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup
>> Player Focus

#11 Nikolas Cox
Northern Knights/Vic Metro | Key Position Defender/Utility
15/01/2002 | 199cm | 82kg

A 199cm player who can run, kick on both sides, and play just about anywhere? It sounds too good to be true, but that is exactly what Cox brings to the table as his region’s most outstanding draft candidate. Cox cut his teeth as a tall wingman and key position swingman in 2019, juggling his time between school football, 10 NAB League outings, and a berth in the Under 18 Vic Metro squad as a bottom-ager. In 2020, the Northern Knights co-captain was set to develop as a centre-half back, with his athleticism and versatility in the role lending to the fact he has an enormous ceiling. He was also set to be a prime candidate to lead Vic Metro this year, lauded for his professionalism and the example he sets via training standards.

September Ranking: #9

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and AGSV Football.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#12 Alex Davies
Gold Coast SUNS/Allies | Inside Midfielder
18/03/2002 | 192cm | 85kg

A second Northern Academy prospect and the first Queenslander on this list, Davies is one of the more highly touted big-bodied midfielders of his cohort. Standing at 192cm and filling out to 85kg, the SUNS Academy hopeful boasts the ideal size to not only dominate his junior competitors, but more importantly make an immediate impact at the next level. He has been his state’s prime ball winner for some time and thrives on racking up high contested numbers, but has also displayed terrific poise in traffic and adds releasing handballs to his thumping kicks away from the stoppages. He ran out for four of Gold Coast’s NAB League outings as a bottom-ager, and looked set to prove lynchpin among the Allies squad in 2020.

September Ranking: #12

Last Month: Davies has been inactive due to an elbow injury sustained in August, missing out on Broadbeach’s run to the QAFL Seniors Grand Final.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#13 Reef McInnes
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro | Inside Midfielder
12/12/2002 | 192cm | 84kg

Sitting outside the top 10 due to others’ rises is another inside midfielder and a second NGA product from both the Scotch College and Oakleigh Chargers systems. Attached to Collingwood, McInnes is set to be yet another in the production line of academy and father-son prospects made available to the Magpies, and looms as a first round candidate. While he was pushed out to the forward line in Oakleigh’s stacked premiership side, McInnes is a bull on the inside who can dominate at stoppages. He is hardly the typical slow, strength-dependant type either, able to lean on his agility and awareness to effectively extract from midfield. The versatility he was made to learn as a bottom-ager adds another string to his bow, with goals a valuable part of his game in 2019.

September Ranking: #13

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and APS Football.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#14 Zach Reid
Gippsland Power/Vic Country | Key Position Defender/Utility
2/03/2002 | 202cm | 82kg

A versatile tall who could push for top 10 status, Reid returned a consistent output during his bottom-age season as a key member of Gippsland’s spine. He was tried up either end and through the ruck across 15 NAB League outings, but looked most comfortable down back and should find a home there once again in 2020. At 202cm, Reid is filling out nicely and can utilise that added strength to compete better one-on-one against big key forwards. He is a terrific judge of the ball in flight and positions intelligently, not just relying on his height to compete aerially. Reid is also both a sound handler and user of the ball for his size, providing a cool head in rebounding transitions.

September Ranking: #15

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and Gippsland Football League.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch

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

The news of Baldwin’s second ACL tear in as many years – albeit partial this time – was shattering. It means the promising 193cm forward will miss out on yet another season of football after earning All Australian honours at Under 16s level in 2018, and a crack at the SANFL Reserves grade as a bottom-ager. In our eyes, he remains a first round prospect on talent alone, and looked poised to really crack on in 2020 after his initial recovery. He was a handy preseason testing performer, with good returns in the vertical jumps and yo-yo test conveying Baldwin’s ability to crash packs and clunk big contested marks, while also harnessing that aerial dominance in his work up the ground.

September Ranking: #14

Last Month: Inactive due to recovery from long-term knee injury. Earned a National Combine invite for September 30 but did not participate.

>> Feature
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#16 Heath Chapman
West Perth/Western Australia | Key Position Defender
31/01/2002 | 192cm | 81kg

A player who has risen into top 20 calculations, Chapman is a key position defender with many points of difference. Having cut his teeth in the role during his bottom-age year, the 193cm prospect has been able to roll off as a third tall down back for West Perth in 2020, utilising his shrewd reading of the play and athleticism to provide dominant intercept marking prowess. His ability to open up the play in transition with long, rebounding kicks is Chapman’s other key strength, making him a versatile defensive outlet who finds plenty of the ball. Given his size and athletic attributes, that third tall prototype seems his most likely avenue to the elite level, though he is just as capable competing as a more traditional key position player.

September Ranking: #16

Last Month: Chapman earned a League call-up in Round 8, but saw his senior stint prove one-and-done after 11 disposals against Claremont. He made a terrific return to the Colts level with 24 disposals and eight marks against eventual premier Subiaco, before managing 16 disposals and six marks amid tough conditions as the Falcons went down to East Fremantle in a preliminary final. He was an impressive performer at the combine too, faring well in the 2km time trial.

>> Draft Watch

#17 Oliver Henry
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country | Medium Utility
29/07/2002 | 187cm | 77kg

A brother-of who could eventually feature at the top end of this year’s rankings is Henry, the younger sibling of Geelong Cats defender, Jack. The Geelong Falcons product has top 10 potential, able to play up either end of the ground and pull down big marks. While he looks most comfortable up forward as a high-flying third tall type, Henry is just as capable down back where his aerial prowess translates to intercept value. At 187cm, he plays above his size through sheer athleticism and reading of the play, with the potential to also move up onto a wing. If Victorian prospects had been allowed back onto the park in 2020, Henry would likely have been one to rise quite steeply given his enormous upside and versatility.

September Ranking: #17

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League, local, and school football.

>> Feature
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#18 Archie Perkins
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro | Forward/Midfielder
26/03/2002 | 186cm | 77kg

Perkins has all the makings of a special talent. Having caught the eye as a forward and outside midfielder in 2019, the Sandringham Dragons standout was poised to spend more time on the inside as a top-ager, with just the right size and some incredible athletic attributes to aid his transition. Perkins boasts a monster vertical leap, covers 20 metres in less than three seconds, and is brilliantly agile, making for an ideal athletic base. His finishing touch is an area he can refine, but the 186cm prospect is no stranger to finding the goals and can be a real game changer when required. Damage or impact is a key trait which is often hard to measure, but Perkins ranks highly in that department.

September Ranking: #20

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and APS Football.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#19 Caleb Poulter
WWT Eagles/South Australia | Midfielder/Forward
12/10/2002 | 192cm | 79kg

One of this year’s brightest bolters, Poulter has rocketed up draft boards after an eye-catching start to his top-age season. The big-bodied midfielder brings a serious presence through midfield, able to win plenty of the ball himself while also hunting the opposition with tackling pressure. Add to his midfield craft the ability to take big marks overhead, hit the scoreboard with his penetrating left boot, and utilise his terrific athletic base, and you have a prospect who can wreak absolute havoc at his best. With some senior football also under his belt in 2020, Poulter has stood up and been noticed quickly. It has been a steep rise since his Under 16 carnival in South Australian colours last year.

September Ranking: #23

Last Month: Poulter’s stocks have risen not only on the back of a Reserves call-up and some solid form, but also due to his outstanding combine results. The tall midfielder came fourth in South Australia’s 20-metre sprint, second in the running vertical jump (right), and fifth in the 2km time trial. On-field, he managed four Reserves outings before returning to the Under 18s with a bang, booting two goals from 18 disposals. He also managed 20 touches in the Eagles’ finals win over South Adelaide, most recently. Poulter has spent a bit of time on a wing, and boasts great versatility in the sense that he can also roam forward or impact on the inside.

>> Feature
>> Draft Watch

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

Trew is one of many top-end prospects who have had to battle injury throughout their bottom-age seasons, but he looks primed to bounce back well in 2020. Hailing from the talent-stacked Swan Districts program, Trew is a classy inside midfielder who can rack up plenty of ball in style, backed by his 40-disposal effort in last year’s WAFL Colts competition. While he was limited to just three outings and missed Under 18 selection for WA, the 186cm prospect should not be forgotten in first round discussions. Trew is a handball-happy extractor, able to flick out releasing touches to his runners, but he is just as effective by foot with clean skills at short range and penetration when required. Should be a lock for the WA engine room this season with representative games ahead.

September Ranking: #19

Last Month: Despite Swan Districts’ inability to make finals, Trew finished his WAFL Colts campaign on a high. The inside midfielder was seemingly teased with a senior call-up, but instead racked up 22 and 32 disposals in his final two Colts appearances. He also laid a combined 19 tackles in those games, and took part in the West Australian draft combine. Trew achieved a much more consistent run this season, despite some slight injury troubles.

>> Draft Watch
>> Draft Diary 1 | 2
>> Marquee Matchup

#21 Tom Powell
Sturt/South Australia | Midfielder
2/03/2002 | 183cm | 74kg

There are few more consistent ball winners than Powell, who has put an interrupted bottom-age season behind him to emerge as arguably Sturt’s most promising draft prospect. The Double Blues standout simply finds the ball at will, able to get his side going on the front foot from midfield with clever positioning, movement, and extraction. He may be a touch handball happy, but is an elite exponent of that tool and is beginning to mix in his kicking to have an even greater impact on games. At his best, Powell is nothing short of dominant, though goals and a greater run-and-carry game would make him a complete midfielder – think Lachie Neale‘s development.

September Ranking: #18

Last Month: Calf tightness restricted Powell in light of the recent South Australian combine, and he seemed to carry the same niggle into his latest game. The midfielder returned a rare performance of under 20 disposals in Sturt’s semi final loss to Norwood, but averaged 31.7 disposals and 8.3 clearances across his other three September appearances. It will take something big to keep him down for a second week, as he looks to help the Double Blues qualify for an Under 18s Grand Final.

>> Feature (April) | (September)
>> Draft Watch

#22 Finlay Macrae
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro | Balanced Midfielder
13/03/2002 | 184cm | 75kg

You may recognise the name and yes, Finlay is the half-brother of Western Bulldogs midfielder, Jack. They are quite clearly cut from the same cloth, with the younger Macrae possessing a similar ball winning appetite and class on the ball to his established older sibling. The 184cm Charger also boasts a terrific balance in his traits, able to impact the play moving forward with sound decision making and precise execution via foot, on top of his obvious exploits in extraction. While he is not overly quick, Macrae’s evasiveness comes through agility and awareness, which would have been on full show as he prepared to feature prominently for Oakleigh, Xavier College, and Vic Metro in 2020.

September Ranking: #21

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and APS Football.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch

#23 Jack Carroll
East Fremantle/Western Australia | Midfielder/Defender
20/12/2002 | 187cm | 76kg

A fresh face to last month’s expanded list, Carroll has plenty of first round suitors. Coming into his top-age season, Carroll was pegged as a classy outside midfielder or half-back who moved well and used the ball efficiently by foot. But after nearly a full season of WAFL Colts football through midfield, the 187cm prospect has also shown his worth inside the engine room. Carroll measures up at a good height and while he may be a touch light around the contest, he uses his high-level agility and poise to weave through traffic before effectively disposing of the ball. A versatile talent with good upside, Carroll is destined to rise even further.

September Ranking: #22

Last Month: Carroll’s season ended after he suffered a broken wrist in Round 8 of the WAFL Colts, having run out the game against Subiaco to collect 18 disposals. He still managed to test at the West Australian combine, achieving second place in the standing vertical jump, and fifth in the running jumps off either foot. He faces a race against time to play in the upcoming All-Star fixtures.

>> Draft Watch

#24 Brayden Cook
South Adelaide/South Australia | Wing/Forward
18/07/2002 | 189cm | 82kg

Search for the 2020 AFL Draft bolter, and Cook’s name is likely the one you’ll find top of any list. The South Adelaide prospects has come from the clouds to not only put himself within draft contention, but right up into top 25 calculations. Plying his trade either up on a wing or inside forward 50, Cook is a game-winner who is capable of kicking bags of goals and taking eye-catching marks. His size allows him to not just rely on his vertical leap, but also out-work his opponents one-on-one, with his terrific goal sense often helping finish the job. Having put his name on the map, the wingman/forward can now look forward to featuring among his state’s All-Star showcase.

September Ranking: NR

Last Month: Cook enhanced his draft stocks with some handy combine results; coming fifth in the 20-metre sprint, fourth in the standing vertical jump, and fifth again in the running vertical jump (right). Most recently, he was kept goalless as South Adelaide bowed out of the Under 18s finals race, though Cook has proven his worth with a bag of five goals this month, and two majors in every other effort.

>> Draft Watch

#25 Joel Jeffrey
NT Thunder/Allies | Utility
12/03/2002 | 192cm | 80kg

The sole representative from the Northern Territory in our top 25, Jeffrey is arguably the region’s most promising draft prospect this year. Having grown to 192cm, Jeffrey is a true swingman who can dominate aerially up either end. His reading of the ball in flight is exceptional, and his sticky hands do the rest of the work as he pulls down big marks. The son of NT legend Russell Jeffrey, Joel comes from good pedigree and is terrifically athletic for his size; boasting speed to burn, a sizeable leap, and clean hands at ground level. Having gained senior football experience with Wanderers in the NTFL, Jeffrey was set to move to Queensland this year given his ties to the Gold Coast SUNS via their access to the Darwin zone. The move was ultimately put on hold due to the current pandemic, but Jeffrey looks likely to end up in the Sunshine State come season’s end.

September Ranking: #25

Last Month: The NT native took part in the recent Queensland combine, while also starring in the NT All-Stars game with three goals. He was utilised as a lead-up forward in that outing, the position he is said to prefer, although he is arguably just as good as an interceptor down back.

>> Draft Watch

#26 Brandon Walker
East Fremantle/Western Australia | Half-Back
17/10/2002 | 183cm | 75kg

Introducing one of the smoothest movers of the potential 2020 AFL draft cohort, who is tied to Fremantle’s NGA. Dockers fans will be desperate to downplay Walker’s potential, with elite speed, agility, and vertical leaps combined with clean skills to make up the East Fremantle prospect’s game. He looks a damaging outlet off half-back with his line-breaking ability and precision via foot, while also providing solid defensive cover credit to eye-catching aerial feats and reading of the play. Walker can also move through midfield, adding another string to his bow as he develops. His twin brother, Chris joins him at East Fremantle and in the Dockers Academy.

September Ranking: #24

Last Month: A sore foot post WAFL Colts finals football kept Walker from performing at the WA combine, though he has shown some handy form on-field. The defender averaged 18 disposals over his last four games, and managed 15 in East Fremantle’s preliminary final loss to Subiaco. He has been named at centre half-back most weeks, but loves to break the lines and deliver forward. He’ll be a half-back at the next level.

>> Draft Watch

#27 Bailey Laurie
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro | Forward/Midfielder
24/03/2002 | 178cm | 76kg

Another member of Oakleigh’s talent-rich 2019 premiership side, Laurie also features highly in our estimations. The small forward/midfielder is a livewire, and can take games away from the opposition quickly as a high-impact player. His forward running and wonderful agility make for some highlight-reel snippets, consisting of line-breaking bursts and baulks which make his opponents look silly. The Caulfield Grammar student is a great character and a teammate who others love to play alongside, adding a different element to his on-field prowess.

September Ranking: NR

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League and APS Football.

>> Feature
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#28 Eddie Ford
Western Jets/Vic Metro | Medium Forward/Midfielder
21/06/2002 | 186cm | 80kg

If you’re after one of the best Under 18s highlight packages among this year’s crop, then look no further than Western’s Ford. The Jets’ leading prospect is capable of taking high marks, booting long goals, and bursting forward to break the lines with his explosive athleticism and speed. Having cut his teeth as a medium forward, the 186cm Victorian has recently requested tape of Fremantle skipper Nat Fyfe as he looks to sharpen his midfield craft. He certainly has the size and athletic profile to make the transition, and would have done so with some time on the park as a top-ager. You may remember his Under 17 Futures All-Stars performance from last year, which is what he can produce at his best. Consistency will be key.

September Ranking: NR

Last Month: Inactive due to lack of NAB League.

>> Q&A
>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#29 Errol Gulden
Sydney Swans Academy/Allies | Small Forward/Midfielder
18/07/2002 | 172cm | 68kg

Seemingly joined at the hip with fellow Swans Academy gun Braeden Campbell throughout their journey to the bigtime, Gulden has long been a highly-touted prospect. The small utility broke through to claim the Division 2 MVP award at the 2018 Under 16 National Championships, racking up mountains of the ball and kicking bags of goals. Since, he has carried such form into his outings with the Swans Academy, while also playing senior footy in the AFL Sydney Premier Division, and representing the Allies Under 18s last year. The crafty mover is small, but holds his own and is as naturally talent a prospect as there is this year.

September Ranking: NR

Last Month: Gulden’s month began brightly with two goals, and second-best afield honours as his AFL Sydney Premier Division side beat the Inner West Magpies. He returned against the North Shore Bombers but was held goalless, with a Grand Final appearance against Sydney University and the NSW/ACT combine his next points of call.

>> Draft Watch
>> Marquee Matchup

#30 Joel Western
Claremont/Western Australia | Small Midfielder/Forward
12/10/2002 | 172cm | 68kg

Fremantle’s NGA talent program has proven one of the more successful producers of AFL-level players since its inception, and Western is one of a few highly touted prospects set to take the next step in 2020. The Claremont captain took his side to a second consecutive WAFL Colts Grand Final after last year’s premiership triumph, overcoming some early injury concerns to run out an outstanding season. The small midfielder is all-class through the engine room, able to zip out of traffic and deliver the ball forward with freakish skill. As will be expected at the elite level, Western is also capable of playing up forward and even across half-back, making him a player with plenty of upside for Dockers fans to look forward to.

September Ranking: NR

Last Month: Claremont’s Colts Grand Final commitments saw Western become unavailable for the WA combine, though it mattered little given his on-field performance. Playing predominantly through midfield, Western raised his stocks with a consistent end to the year, averaging 23 disposals across his last three games. He stands up in big games and can find the goals, making for a couple more handy points of difference.

>> Draft Watch

IN THE MIX:

The recent combines and finals football has brought out the best in a lot of players, who may be flirting with top 30-40 contention. Adelaide NGA hopeful James Borlase was recently best afield for Prince Alfred College in the SA All Schools Cup Grand Final, while Port father-son prospect Taj Schofield lit up the South Australian combine. Zac Dumesny made a solid return from injury in the SANFL Under 18s, as did Luke Edwards in the Reserves. The likes of Corey Durdin and Luke Pedlar remain sidelined, however.

Over in WA, Isiah Winder was another to test well in his state’s combine, while Subiaco’s Lachlan Vanirsen and Claremont’s Jack Avery have shot into draft contention on the back of fantastic finals series. Vanirsen took out the Jack Clarke Medal and was also named best afield in the WAFL Colts Grand Final, which the Lions won.

Brodie Lake‘s impressive All-Stars outing and combine results will have Gold Coast fans smiling, as the NT native falls under their Darwin zoning. Brisbane Academy members Blake Coleman and Saxon Crozier recently helped Morningside upset Broadbeach in the QAFL Seniors Grand Final, while Tasmanian Jackson Callow was in a rich vein of form before being injured.

Victorians Connor Downie, Jake Bowey, Max Heath, and Cody Brand are among those also around the mark.

Capable Chaplin knows believing is achieving

HER coaches know it, her teammates know it, anyone who has observed her journey through the NAB League pathway knows it, but only now is Maeve Chaplin realising that she truly belongs among the best women’s football has to offer.

The Northern Knights defender has come a long way since starting football at age seven; originally playing alongside boys, then moving to girl’s sides at West Preston Lakeside and the Darebin Falcons, while also advancing through Northern’s elite talent program.

As a middle-ager, Chaplin was part of the Knights’ undefeated premiership team, shining across half-back with her mix of physicality and class on the ball. An injury in Round 3 of her top-age campaign was unideal, though it would matter little in the grand scheme of things as the season would eventually be scrapped amid a global pandemic.

By her own estimation, Chaplin was “travelling pretty well” and was as fit as she had ever been. She was in the midst of a move into the midfield, joining co-captains Ellie McKenzie and Jess Fitzgerald at the centre bounces and waxing well with the probable first-round draft talents.

While the 18-year-old and her teammates may have had plenty more to give in 2020, Chaplin says the break in play has allowed her to work on the mental side of her game.

“I definitely tried to use (the lockdown period) to my advantage and I really worked on myself mentally,” Chaplin said. “It was a big thing for me because I didn’t really have the time like I do now to just focus on myself. “It was a time for me to understand that I really do want to get far in footy and that I am prepared to play at a professional level. “In order to do that I really wanted to mature in those areas.

“I just wish I did believe in myself… but it’s something that I really want to work on and I have been working on throughout this isolation period. Just knowing mentally that I am good enough and I can get to that next level, it’s just all about pushing myself.”

The friendship of a Knight-turned-Bulldog who has also been part of the Darebin football family, Nell Morris-Dalton has helped Chaplin thrive. Chaplin says she has remained in constant contact with her former teammate throughout the lockdown period.

“A big (mentor) for me has definitely been Nell,” she said. She’s really helped, inspired, and guided me a lot throughout the season because we’ve got the same personality in a way. “I’ve been texting her quite a bit during isolation so she’s a really good friend.

“It’s pretty amazing to play with (the Northern Knights), they’re all so talented. “You really grow off each other and challenge each other, so it helps everyone get better at the end of the day. “Playing with them, you don’t really think about how good they are, they’re just more your friends.”

Maeve Chaplin moves through traffic

Northern’s cohesive team and a family-like atmosphere has certainly played a part in Chaplin’s rise. The aforementioned midfield move was one bought on by coach Marcus Abney-Hastings and talent manager Nat Grindal, allowing Chaplin to bring her defensive nous to a rather potent midfield group.

She says the move was somewhat of a natural progression from the defensive post she owned throughout 2019, though she still harbours hope of returning to half-back in future.

“It was kind of expected,” she said. “Nat and Marcus let me know that they were going to put me up into the midfield and get me a bit more of the ball which was good to have.

“I definitely brought some of my defensive traits into the midfield, using my bodywork, so that was a bonus. “I felt like in doing that, I helped Ellie and Jess play their best footy as well. “It was definitely a good move up the ground, it was fun.

“I would prefer to play on the half-back flank (at AFLW level) but playing in the midfield does come naturally to me just as much as the backline. “But I’ll obviously put my best effort in playing there and it’d be a really good opportunity.”

The versatile prospect, who models her game on Richmond defender Phoebe Monahan, has not only improved herself off-field, but has reaffirmed some of the improvements to be made through contact with AFLW clubs. While “feeding off” their directive, Chaplin has also put the onus back on the recruiters and coaches during their meetings.

“They have given me some things that I need to work on, or they’ve mentioned them and I’ve fed off them a little bit,” she said. “But I’ve been more self-directing, I’ve just told them what I feel like I need to work on and ask them how they’re going to support me and all that kind of stuff.”

“Obviously there’s a few things (to improve on). My aerobic endurance I definitely want to work on, I want to be the fittest that I can be because that was definitely me at the start of the year. “With the right support staff I can definitely get to that level again and even better than that.

“A few other things that I really want to work on are just my mentality, that’s a big thing for me. Just knowing that I am at that level physically to play, and getting myself there mentally as well.”

Outside of football, Chaplin is working through her Year 12 studies and hopes to move into either nursing or paramedicine next year. She sought to thank all the people at the Northern Knights for all the support and life lessons she has received from them, as well as her teammates Fitzgerald, McKenzie, Alyssa Bannan, Ash Snow, and Abigail Bennett.

“They’re all just really good teammates, I really love them.”

AFL Women’s Draft preview: Richmond & St Kilda

THE AFL Women’s Draft is fast approaching and in the lead-up to the draft, we take a look at each of the AFL women’s sides in pairs and see what they might look for, and who might be available with the selections they have. Next up in our series are the two recent expansion sides from Victoria, in Richmond and St Kilda.

Richmond – Victorian Pool

Draft selections: 1, 42 (28), 52 (33)

Off-season summary:

There’s no way around it, Richmond’s maiden AFL Women’s season was a disaster. But the fast-moving nature of the competition means the Tigers can quickly turn it around, and they have started anew (again) by targeting some more mature talent, with help from concessions.

Richmond’s end-of-first-round pick (15) granted by the AFL was used well, transferred to Carlton in exchange for heart-and-soul inaugural Blue, Sarah Hosking. The hardened midfielder adds some much-needed grunt to the engine room alongside long-term midfielder/forward Sarah Dargan, with fellow former-Magpie Sarah D’Arcy and Harriet Cordner (ex-Melbourne) within the experienced age bracket.

Grace Campbell, a pacy raw midfielder was lost to North Melbourne for not much, with 19-year-old Ella Wood a shock retirement to go with that of Laura Bailey and Lauren Tesoriero. Nekaela Butler, Ciara Fitzgerald, and Emma Horne were all delisted too, sealing what was a relatively big turnover in players for the second-year club.

A draft look:

All eyes will be on what the Tigers decide to do with pick one. The two frontrunners are Northern Knights midfielder/forward Ellie McKenzie, and Dandenong Stingrays midfielder Tyanna Smith. McKenzie, a mercurial type who boasts a well-rounded game may edge out her country counterpart at this stage, but both would be fine selections. As expected from such high draft picks, particularly of late, both will be able to immediately impact the Tigers’ side from Round 1 and provide a much-needed spark to the unit. They could also be generational players for all the loyal Tigers fans to adore for years to come.

With their later picks, 28 and 33 in the Victorian pool, the Tigers may look to consolidate their midfield even further, potentially freeing Katie Brennan up to spend more time forward, while taking some pressure off the shoulders of Monique Conti, and the incoming pick one. In a team which lacked goals in 2019, Richmond could also do with some firepower up forward – mostly in the medium/small category.

St Kilda – Victorian Pool

Draft selections: 6 (4), 24 (16), 34 (23), 49 (26), 51 (32)

Off-season summary:

After a strong maiden AFL Women’s season, the Saints have came away with plenty of promise to build on. While the losses of Alison Drennan (Gold Coast) and Jess Sedunary (Adelaide) will be felt along with the retirement of Courteney Munn, St Kilda managed to bring in a couple of solid defenders to bolster the team. Bianca Jakobsson and Jayde van Dyk are those defenders set to make an impact, with the Saints’ draft hand also looking strong. That hand, as discussed below will help them secure father-daughter selection, Alice Burke at not too pretty a penny. Overall, the new Victorian team looks in good shape, boasting a solid core and some exciting members of the next generation.

A draft look:

Given the balance on St Kilda’s side, recruiters and coaching staff can look at taking the best available throughout – particularly with pick six (four). With one of McKenzie or Smith poised to be taken first off the board, the Saints can look at the likes of Alyssa Bannan and Sarah Hartwig as realistic targets. Of course, the Bulldogs may well opt to secure a key forward with pick two, meaning that Smith could even fall to St Kilda pending what Melbourne do with pick three.

The first pair mentioned are both dynamic midfielders with plenty of weapons and game-breaking abilities, while Bannan is an athletic key forward, and Hartwig a defensive marking machine. Of course, St Kilda has also already confirmed the addition of Alice Burke, the daughter of club legend and current Bulldogs coach, Nathan. The tough midfielder will likely cost the Saints one of their later picks. With the others remaining, the strong Dandenong Stingrays ties could also be maintained, given pre-listed players such as Molly McDonald and Isabella Shannon both came from the region.

Sports mad McKenzie hoping to hit the ground running

SINCE bursting onto the scene with bags of goals as a bottom-ager in an impressive Northern Knights side, Ellie McKenzie has been touted as one of the leading AFL Women’s Draft prospects of her year.

Back then, in 2018, her performances were also tied to that of her older brother, Tom who spent a year on North Melbourne’s rookie list. The two would often run out on Preston City Oval within the same afternoon, donning the navy, black, and white in the formerly-branded TAC Cup competition. Their love of footy was moulded by a family “crazy about sport”, and McKenzie says her football has always been her “main passion.”

“I grew up being a pretty sporty kid,” McKenzie said. “My family loves sport so I grew up playing not just footy, but (also) cricket, I did some athletics as well, swimming, and gymnastics – just all over the shop really.

“Footy was always the main passion though. My brother Tom went straight to Auskick when he was about five and I looked up to him, I still do obviously. “I went along to Auskick as well, thought I’d give it a go and fell in love with footy from there.”

The potential number one pick started out in the Fitzroy Junior Football Club’s Under 10 boy’s team at just eight years of age, before moving into a girl’s team at 13, and eventually entering the elite talent pathway through Northern’s region. McKenzie says the experience of playing alongside boys has helped develop an edge in her skills, something which sets her apart to this day – along with a “peak” fitness level.

“I think the main thing that sets me apart is my kicking ability,” she said. “Obviously I’ve been playing for a long time and playing with the boys definitely helps that kind of skill. “I’ve been working really hard on my right foot too, I think that’s something that you don’t see much in AFL Men’s, let alone AFLW being able to kick on both feet. “If I keep improving that, I think that’s something that can get to an elite level as well.

“I think this was the first preseason that I’d been at the Knights where I didn’t have an injury. “I had gone through the whole preseason uninjured, I’d been training really hard, and I think that I’d gotten my fitness to a level that I’d never seen before, it was my peak level.”

While high flies and goals in bunches helped McKenzie gain early traction, she has since developed into quite the midfielder on the back of that fitness base. Clean hands, athleticism, speed, and penetration all also work to make up a well-rounded style, as the 17-year old looks to borrow the best traits from some of the game’s elites.

“I definitely mould my game on a few people,” she said. “Through the forwardline I’d probably say Katie Brennan. She’s just an elite kick, her leading patterns down forward are great, and her marking ability is something I try to emulate myself. “From the men’s I’d say Marcus Bontempelli. Just his ability to burst out of a pack and have such power and strength is something I also aspire to. “And Steele Sidebottom, his kicking ability on both feet is something I look up to and try to achieve myself.

“I like to say that I’m a pretty versatile player, that I can be thrown in almost all positions. “Half-forward has always been a spot where I feel comfortable at, where I can run up the ground and I think obviously the midfield this year I played well in as well. “I guess it’s up to the club that I get picked at.”

Speaking of, McKenzie has nominated the Vic Metro zone as her region of choice for the upcoming draft, allowing her to remain at home. The Hawthorn supporter says she has peaked at the draft order, but “just want(s) to get drafted” and make an immediate impact at the elite level.

“I definitely hope to be picked for the Round 1 game, that’s my aim,” she said. “I don’t think I’m looking to just ease myself in, I really want to hit the ground running and get straight into the team and impact it as well.

“Being able to play alongside people like Gabby Newton, Sarah (Sansonetti), Nell (Morris-Dalton) and Brit (Gutknecht), they’ve all been massive role models for me and I’ve really enjoyed playing alongside them. “I know that I can match the pace of AFLW because I’ve matched it with them, so it’s given me a bit of confidence there, and I guess the success that we’ve had was due to (having) such a strong connection.”

That connection continued into 2020, in a team which McKenzie led alongside good mate, Jess Fitzgerald. After an undefeated premiership season, the Knights co-captain says her side was on track for more finals success, while also putting her outstanding performances down to a mental “reset” after Round 1.

“I was happy with my first three games,” she said. “I think after the (Round 1) Calder Cannons game I had a really high expectation of what I wanted to get out of the game, so I had to kind of reset my mindset. “After that I was really happy with my Geelong Falcons game and my Dandenong game. I thought that I played well for the team and I showcased my skills at the same time. “I was happy with it and I know that the team were happy with the performances overall, obviously getting three out of three wins is something that you really want. “We were definitely on track to be in the Grand Final again this year and maybe even a premiership.”

Much of the Knights’ success has been put down by many, including McKenzie, to a culture of “family”. As much is clearly evident in McKenzie’s glowing reviews of fellow draft hopefuls Fitzgerald and Maeve Chaplin.

“They’re two of my best mates down at the Knights,” she said. “Jess (is) amazing, she’s really funny… but Jess is I think the most hard-working person I’ve ever met. “She’s so determined, she’s always there to pick up her teammates when they’re down, and I know for me she’s always been that positive kind of person on my shoulder, just making sure that I’m in a good headspace.

“Maeve, obviously she’s really charismatic and everyone loves her down at the Knights. “But I think something that a lot of clubs and a lot of people don’t see is that she’s really able to flip the switch and be serious when it comes to a game.”

The pair were among plenty of people McKenzie sought to thank.

“I’d love to thank my family, they’ve always been there for me over the last 10 years I’ve been playing footy,” she said. “They’ve always supported me and not really looked at me as a girl playing footy, but just a person playing footy, an individual.

Nat (Grindal), Marcus (Abney-Hastings) and all the coaches down at the Knights, they’ve been amazing for me and the club. I’m so happy we were able to achieve such success there.

“Everyone at my school has always supported me as well, and all my coaches throughout my junior career have been a massive help.”

The nervous wait until the first name in the 2020 AFL Women’s draft is called out comes to an end on October 6, with McKenzie right among the frontrunners to land at Richmond with pick one.

Knights star Bannan leaves it all out on the field

BUDDING AFL Women’s draftee Alyssa Bannan came into her top-age year looking to “put everything out onto the field with every game.” Little did she, or any of her fellow NAB Leaguers know that their season would be cut short to just three games, but an increase in work-rate, work ethic, and intensity certainly payed off for the Northern Knights key forward.

“I was actually very proud of how I went,” Bannan said. “Knowing that this was my last year as a top-ager and it was my opportunity to get drafted, I went out thinking that I had to play my best game, every single game. “How I felt coming off the field definitely made me think that I did myself proud, did my family proud, and did my friends proud with how I played.”

Nine goals in three outings, including a bag of five in the season-opening Grand Final rematch goes a long way to instilling such pride. It even saw Bannan shift her original end goal of being drafted, to being selected within the first round. But more significantly than simply being a great player on-field, the 18-year-old is determined to prove her worth as a quality person, off it.

“It’s definitely not so much about being a good player on the field, but also being a good person off the field,” she said. “I’ve found that clubs have been very big on not only being a very skilful player, but being kind, being caring, being motivated, and that’s what has been the focus throughout the year.”

Alyssa Bannan gets a kick away during this year’s NAB League season

The break from football has somewhat proven a blessing in disguise. While Bannan admits the early unknown was “difficult”, she says the time off has allowed her to find a greater balance in life.

“At the start it was definitely very difficult not knowing if we were going to be able to finish off our season,” she said. “But I think having this break has allowed me to develop individually on aspects of my game that I wouldn’t normally focus on, such as my mental heath with wellness sessions and being able to (practice) mindfulness. “Although it has been disappointing not being able to finish, I’ve definitely been able to work on those different aspects of my life to balance it out.”

Having played a key part in Northern’s unbeaten NAB League premiership last year, Bannan has risen through the ranks alongside some of the greatest players the competition has seen. Namely, 2019 captain and current Western Bulldogs rising star Gabby Newton has had a major impact on the Knights’ no. 6, helping establish a healthy and competitive environment to improve in.

In line with the standard such players set, Bannan says she also sought to become a leading figure in her side’s setup.

“Having played alongside Gabby Newton and personally getting to know her, her qualities and attitudes as a player have definitely been something that I look up to,” she said. “Her teamwork, her (desire) to do really well and continue to improve are definitely qualities that really strike home to me as ones I want to present.”

“The new role as a top-ager really made me want to lead and present myself as someone who people can look up to and can think ‘She’s a really good player, I want to aspire to be like her.’ That’s been my overall goal throughout, especially this season.”

The Northern Knights celebrate their 2019 NAB League premiership

Bannan, a Carlton supporter also looks up to AFL Women’s trailblazer Tayla Harris. If a player comparison is what you are after, an easy link can be made between the two high-flying forwards.

“Tayla Harris is a big player who I wanted to model my game style on,” Bannan said. “Playing in similar positions, having a similar style of play, she’s definitely been a player that I really look up to and who I would like to emulate when I hopefully get to play AFLW.”

Football has also impacted the youngster in terms of her other potential career options, too. As she completes her Year 12 studies, Bannan has one eye on a vocation in the sporting realm, helping athletes get the best out of their game. It is a theme she says her football career has helped bring out.

“Sport is definitely on the list,” she said. “I’d love to do anything to do with strength and conditioning, high performance, even if it’s performance analysis. “Just improving players and their performance, because that’ll definitely help me see how to improve my performance as well. I think footy’s definitely brought that side out in me.”

With her first round draft dream in tow, Bannan is seeking to hit the ground running once her shot at the big-time is sealed, out to prove not only to herself and clubs, but to fans that she is “on the field for a reason.” The Northern Knights graduate also sought to thank the “long list of people” to have influenced her footballing journey; from her supportive family, to her coaches, teammates, staff, and everyone in between who helped her get to where she is.

Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: East Fremantle vs. Murray Bushrangers

OUR next All-Star Team battle makes for an intriguing semi final clash, set to play out between a West Australian talent factory, and a powerhouse Victorian region in East Fremantle and the Murray Bushrangers respectively. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were West Coast Eagles champion Ben Cousins (East Fremantle) and current Collingwood star, Steele Sidebottom (Murray).

These clubs are seeded first (East Fremantle) and fourth (Murray) respectively, as the seed gap between each side closes with each passing fixture. The proposed Bushrangers squad outvoted Sturt, the Oakleigh Chargers and Northern Knights, while East Fremantle’s path to this stage came through the Calder Cannons and Sandringham Dragons after a first round bye. The winner will qualify for the Grand Final, set to face either the Port Adelaide Magpies or Geelong Falcons.

>> SCROLL TO VIEW THE FULL TEAMS

TALKING POINTS

THE MIDFIELD BATTLE:

This one should be fairly straightforward, as East Fremantle arguably boasts the strongest starting midfield group in the draw. With Brownlow medalists and AFL premiership players, Cousins and Simon Black joined by current Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps at the centre bounces, it’s hard to see any side beating that kind of balance through the engine room. Cripps provides the inside grunt, while Black is the silk, and Cousins the gut-running accumulator. Fremantle champion Paul Hasleby has even been pushed out to a wing, partnering the late Chris Mainwaring.

That’s not to say that Murray lags in the midfield department, with David Mundy, Clayton Oliver, and Tom Rockliff no slouches by any stretch. Add the running power of Sidebottom and dynamism of Brett Deledio on the outer, and you have a seriously talented group. While we would still take the Sharks’ starting centre bounce trio, what really sets them apart in this matchup is their depth. Not only have Elliot Yeo (half-back) and Andrew Swallow (half-forward) been squeezed out to the flanks, but the likes of Daniel Kerr, Shane Woewodin, Dom Cassisi, and Shaun McManus also remain on the interchange. Murray would be able to rotate Jack Ziebell and Steve Johnson through from the forwardline, but that kind of firepower is near-impossible to match.

You could hardly build a better midfield core if you tried than what East Fremantle lays claim to, so the Sharks clearly get the points in this midfield battle. With a balance of class, grunt, endurance, and depth, it’s everything you could ask for.

THE KEY POSITION STOCKS:

As has been the case with many of Murray’s matchups, its starting key position spine is arguably weaker than the opposition offering, but depth seems to give the Bushies a deal of versatility which cannot be matched. East Fremantle lays claim to Luke McPharlin and Harry Taylor down back, with Paddy Ryder accompanying Josh J. Kennedy up forward, and Aaron Sandilands taking on the ruck duties. Bigman Darren Bennett also features in the forward pocket, potentially able to fill Ryder’s spot once the Port player gives Sandilands a chop-out on the ball. With McPharlin and Taylor also know to swing forward at times, the Sharks have a pretty handy rotation, with Cale Hooker also in the mix.

But Murray’s may well be better through a sheer weight of options. Where East Fremantle may struggle for numbers, the Bushrangers thrive, able to fit a bunch of pieces to its key position puzzle. Ben Reid and Alipate Carlile make up the defensive pairing, while Barry Hall and Jarrad Waite are a solid forward combination. Add Fraser Gehrig and ruckman Steven King to the mix, and the spine is quite good. The difference makers come from the bench though, with Ben McEvoy and Justin Koschitzke both able to plug gaps through the ruck or up either end, while Sam Reid could also prove a handy swingman – much like his brother.

By way of its diversity and superior range of options, Murray takes out the key position battle overall, even if East Fremantle’s starters arguably hold a slight edge.

SUMMARY:

To cut a long story short, we’re backing our first seed to qualify for the Grand Final. As one of the most prolific producers of high-level West Australian talent, East Fremantle simply boasts too much class for many sides to handle. Murray matches up well, and may even get ahead in some areas, but would not be able to match the Sharks where it matters most, in midfield. They’re strong everywhere else too, and will be difficult to top in the decider.

Which All-Star Team are you picking?
East Fremantle Sharks
Murray Bushrangers
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Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: Murray Bushrangers vs. Northern Knights

OUR next All-Star Team battle makes for another intriguing quarter final clash, set to play out between Victorian regions, in the Murray Bushrangers and Northern Knights. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were current Collingwood star, Steele Sidebottom (Murray) and the AFL’s games record holder, Brent Harvey (Northern).

These clubs are seeded fourth (Murray) and fifth (Northern) respectively, as the gap closes to its narrowest margin yet in our overall draw. The proposed Bushrangers squad outvoted Sturt and the Oakleigh Chargers, while Northern’s path to this stage came through Norwood and Swan Districts. The winner will qualify for the semi finals, set to face either East Fremantle or the Sandringham Dragons.

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TALKING POINTS

THE REBOUNDERS:

Both defences are stacked, as one would come to expect at this stage of the draw, with rebounding quality a clear strength across either back six. The Stingrays are well stocked in the running department, as flankers Jack Crisp and Jarrod Harbrow are supported by Joel Smith and Zac Williams on the last line. While Harbrow and Williams possess pure pace to break the lines, Smith and Crisp are reliable users by foot who can create in transition. Add the endurance of Sidebottom and power of Brett Deledio up on either wing, and there threatens to be some serious force behind Murray’s attacking play.

But the Knights are also well stocked, with the Shaw brothers – Rhyce and Heath – both sure to generate some forward momentum out of defensive 50. Fellow former Magpie Ben Johnson has a weaponous left peg, while Chris Johnson provides a good balance to the back six alongside Dylan Grimes, and Nick Vlaustin off the bench. Further afield, the likes of Leigh Montagna, David Zaharakis, and Brent Stanton will run all day between the arcs, with Paul Licuria another who accumulates with ease.

Ultimately, it’s clear both sides have serious run in their legs, particularly in defence. But given Northern’s elite runners further afield allow for a greater balance in the defensive setup, we give the Knights a big tick in that third of the ground.

THE KEY POSITION STOCKS:

Northern’s spine has an ominous look about it, propped up by four formidable key position starters. Collingwood fans would get a good hit of nostalgia seeing Simon Prestigiacomo and Anthony Rocca line up at opposite ends, accompanied by Michael Hurley and Lance Whitnall respectively. In terms of starting stocks, particularly in defence, the Knights arguably have Murray covered. Jarrad Waite and Barry Hall stack up well inside forward 50, with Ben Reid and Alipate Carlile up the other end for the Bushrangers.

However, the country region seems to gain an edge in terms of depth, laying claim to some high level bench depth. Ben McEvoy and Justin Koschitzke, who can both rotate through the ruck or at either end of the ground, make for sound back-up, along with Fraser Gehrig hidden in the forward pocket. The ruck duel between Murray’s Steven King and Northern’s Matthew Kreuzer is difficult to split, so it seems Murray has the greater weight of options in the tall department.

THE DEEP MIDFIELDS:

As is the case with almost every side seeded in the top 10, the midfields run deep. Northern’s centre bounce starters jump off the page, with Adam Simpson at the core alongside Trent Cotchin and Marcus Bontempelli. Murray’s selection of David Mundy, Clayton Oliver, and Tom Rockliff is solid in its own right, but doesn’t quite compare to what the Knights have to offer. On the outer, Sidebottom and Deledio ensure Northern’s Montagna and Licuria will be in for a tough day at the office, while the options of Jack Ziebell and Steve Johnson linger up forward. Northern also has options, with Harvey and Josh Caddy among those able to add a spark when required. This is a tough one given Murray’s range of options once again, compared to the weight of elite talent on Northern’s side.

SUMMARY:

As the rankings would suggest, there is hardly anything to split these two sides. Northern was a prolific talent region throughout the 90s and early-2000s, hence why so many of their All-Stars are already household names. Murray has long been a hotbed of talent as far as regional areas go, and it clearly shows in its well-balanced, well-stocked side. In a flip of the coin, and given the areas touched on above, I am taking Northern.

Which All-Star Team are you picking?
Murray Bushrangers
Northern Knights
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Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: Geelong Falcons vs. South Fremantle

OUR next All-Star Team battle makes for another intriguing quarter final clash, set to play out between a powerhouse Victorian region and West Australian club, in the Geelong Falcons and South Fremantle Bulldogs, respectively. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were ‘the little master’ Gary Ablett Jnr (Geelong Falcons) and West Coast great Peter Matera (South Fremantle).

These clubs are seeded second (Geelong Falcons) and 10th (South Fremantle) respectively, meaning the Bulldogs will be made to pull off another upset in order to advance. Our proposed Falcons squad outvoted the Greater Western Victoria Rebels after a first-round bye, while South’s path to this stage came through Claremont and the Bendigo Pioneers. The winner will qualify for the semi finals, set to face the Port Adelaide Magpies/Dandenong Stingrays.

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TALKING POINTS

THE STINGY DEFENCES:

While there lies plenty more glitz and glamour further afield, a solid starting point is the stingy defences of either side. Geelong’s is one of the best of the lot, boasting premiership skippers Luke Hodge and Nick Maxwell at half-back, while Geelong pair Matthew Scarlett and Tom Stewart take up the key position posts, and Steven Baker takes up the opposite pocket of Will Schofield. If you’re left wanting more, the versatile Lachlan Henderson and Matt McGuire await rotation from the bench, potentially adding a touch more height to deal with monster key forwards. The marking power is evident, as is the pure defensive nous, and leadership in spades. Baker’s addition also adds a much-needed small option, able to lockdown the liveliest of opposition forwards.

We feared there would be no match for the Geelong defence, but alas, South Fremantle’s back six comes in strong. The Bulldogs lay claim to a premiership captain of their own, in outgoing Essendon coach and Eagles champion John Worsfold, who slots in alongside fellow West Coast great Glen Jakovich at half-back. With the ever-reliable Darren Gaspar and James Clement behind them, it would take something special to penetrate South Freo’s last line. Let’s not forget Paul Duffield in the pocket, along with ‘Miracle on Grass’ hero Ash McGrath at half-back, who add a different dimension to the back six.

On paper, these defences are difficult to split. Balance is a key aspect to the equation, slightly favouring South, but versatility looks to clearly be in Geelong’s favour, with the bench depth allowing for a good range of possible lineups. The players themselves, namely Hodge, Maxwell, and Stewart can play a variety of roles down back both below and above their heights, but the key position strength remains. We’re sticking with the Falcons here, just.

THE MIDFIELD BATTLE:

Two contrasting midfields also do battle when these sides line up, with the Geelong side boasting a rich vein of ball winners, while South Fremantle’s prime movers are most significantly based on the outer. Local Cats premiership players Cameron Ling and Jimmy Bartel feature at the heart of Geelong’s engine room alongside Travis Boak, making for a durable trio which balances both sides of the game well. South also lays claim to a tagging centreman in Clinton Jones, who is joined by Fremantle stalwart Peter Bell and current Eagles star, Tim Kelly. In terms of credentials at the centre bounce, Geelong takes the chocolates. That’s without touching on the ruck battle, which looks to also favour Geelong as Matthew Primus opposes Jaymie Graham.

But on the outside is where it gets interesting, with Matera and Nicky Winmar making for one hell of a fine wing pairing. Jordan Lewis and Jack Steven are no slouches, but would have their hands well and truly full with those two for opposition. Steven’s prime running power would serve him well, as would Lewis’ hardness and ball use, but we feel the Bulldogs have their counterparts found out in this area.

Then there is the question of depth, which will also spawn a later talking point. Geelong could well make up three or four centre bounce combinations to rival that of every club, but see many of their midfield options squeezed out to flanks or the bench. While South Fremantle’s proposed engine room is the cream of its crop, Geelong has the like of Patrick Dangerfield, Ablett Jnr, and Shaun Higgins up forward, while Taylor Adams, Ben Cunnington, and Devon Smith remain benched. That kind of depth is scary, and proves another tick for the stacked Falcons side.

THE FORWARD BALANCE:

As alluded to, the weight of Geelong’s midfield depth somewhat hinders its balance on other lines, namely up forward. While the likes of Dangerfield and Ablett Jnr are both no strangers to the forward 50, their work as midfielders is what they are primarily known for. Add Higgins into the mix, and that’s three of the four flanks/pockets filled up by improvised forwards. Luckily, they may not be needed much at ground level with Scott Lucas and Jonathan Brown in the key position posts.

But we feel the balance of South Fremantle’s front six looks much better. Peter Sumich is a terrific spearhead, aided aerially and in strength by Brad Hardie and Allen Jakovich, while true smalls in Phillip Matera and Jeff Farmer are joined by Mark Williams, who made the ‘shotgun’ celebration famous (or, infamous). Add Andrew Krakouer and Ashley Sampi to the mix off the bench, and you have a truly dynamic forward set-up, laden with x-factor and match winners. It gives the Bulldogs a good edge over Geelong, despite its overspill of talent.

SUMMARY:

While South Fremantle lays claim to some important points of difference over the second-ranked Geelong side, it is difficult to look past the Falcons’ weight of elite talent. Geelong’s midfield and defence come up trumps, and there is plenty of firepower up forward despite a lesser structure when compared to South’s. We’re taking the Falcons.

Which All-Star Team do you think would win?
Geelong Falcons
South Fremantle
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Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: East Fremantle vs. Sandringham Dragons

OUR next All-Star Team battle makes for the first quarter final clash, set to play out between a West Australian club and a Victorian region, in East Fremantle and the Sandringham Dragons respectively. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were 2006 West Coast premiership teammates, Ben Cousins (East Fremantle) and Chris Judd (Sandringham).

These clubs are seeded first (East Fremantle) and eighth (Sandringham) respectively, forming an intriguing final eight clash in our draw. Our proposed Sharks squad outvoted the Calder Cannons after a first-round bye, while Sandringham’s path to this stage came through East Perth and Glenelg. The winner will qualify for the semi finals, set to face the Northern Knights/Murray Bushrangers.

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TALKING POINTS

THE MIDFIELD BATTLE:

Where do we even begin with this East Fremantle side? The most obvious strength is its midfield, with a terrific balance among the centre bounce trio of Patrick Cripps, Simon Black, and Cousins. Cripps provides the inside grunt, while Black is the silk, and Cousins the hard-running accumulator. All three are terrific leaders too, but boy do they have support in spades. The trio of Paul Hasleby (wing), Elliot Yeo (half-back), and Andrew Swallow (half-forward), who have all been squeezed out, could well make up the midfield of a second Sharks All-Star side. That is not to mention those on the bench, with Brownlow medalist Shane Woewodin joined by Daniel Kerr as the rotational x-factor, while Dom Cassisi adds to the strong leadership core alongside Fremantle icon Shaun McManus. Perhaps most ominously of all, they will follow under the ruckwork of 211cm giant, Aaron Sandilands.

But if there is any side that can go pound-for-pound with any other midfield stock, it is Sandringham. The Dragons will fancy their chances of matching the Sharks for inside grunt, with Josh P. Kennedy and Luke Ball joined in the middle by Judd, who transitioned into a contested beast later in his career, at Carlton. Add Jobe Watson to the mix, as well as Angus Brayshaw, Tim Taranto, and Jarryd Lyons off the bench. Like East Fremantle, Sandringham also boasts a few elites squeezed out of the prime positions, with Andy McGrath out at half-back and Josh Kelly at half-forward. Meanwhile, Zac Merrett takes up a wing, tasked with matching the run and flair of Chris Mainwaring.

With the question of depth a non-factor at this point, it is difficult to seperate these two midfields. In terms of experience, accolades, and runs on the board, East Fremantle seems to sneak ahead – especially given six of the 11 names listed above for Sandringham are still playing out their careers. Furthermore, the Sharks seem to have an edge in terms of balance, with the run of Cousins, Kerr, and Mainwaring in particular greater than what any Dragon can offer, while the honest ball winners remain. Sandringham’s big asset, its inside power, is arguably matched too, especially with the likes of Hasleby and Yeo destined to rotate through the engine room. Max Gawn makes for a terrific adversary against Sandilands and beats him around the ground, but not in the ruck contest, which is crucial with such class to utilise at ground level.

THE SPINE:

The respective spines also provide a key area of interest, with champions scattered throughout, but one side coming out a clear winner in our eyes. There is not much you could do to improve the Sharks’ key position set-up, with Luke McPharlin and Harry Taylor making for a formidable defensive partnership, while Josh J. Kennedy and Paddy Ryder line up down the other end. Sure, Ryder is more of a ruckman, but the swingman support of Cale Hooker slots in as well should the latter fall to the bench. The versatility of Hooker, McPharlin, and Taylor is also handy, given all three have been known to swing forward from time to time.

Sandringham answers with goals in spades among its two key position forwards, with the career tallies of Tom Hawkins and Jack Gunston outweighing that of their counterparts in Kennedy and Ryder. However, the defensive pairing is perhaps what sets the two sides apart the most. Ted Richards is a fine centre half-back option, and St Kilda stalwart Jason Blake was a terrific servant in his own right, but both come up slightly undersized against East Fremantle’s monster forwards. That is not to say the likes of Tom LangdonBrayden Maynard, and Simon Beaumont could not provide aerial support, but in a pure man-on-man scenario, that factor gives the Sharks the edge in this department.

SUMMARY:

The competition is getting tighter by the round among our All-Star teams, and this is one of the closest calls yet. But given the two areas identified which see East Fremantle come out on top, we are inclined to stick with the Sharks. As the number one seed, they simply boast a greater amount of depth, and match up well against the key strengths of Sandringham here.

Which All-Star Team of the AFL Draft Era are you picking?
East Fremantle
Sandringham Dragons
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