THE annual Under 18 National Championships may be the only chance we get to catch a glimpse of the class of 2020 before draft day, with a decision on the recommencement of competition pushed back to at least September. In the meantime, Draft Central takes a look at how each regional squad may line up should the carnival come around, but with a few stipulations in place.
- Top-agers (2002-born) have been prioritised due to the limited season and exposure
- Of those, AFL Academy Hub members also gain priority for the starting squad
- Bottom-agers (2003-born) in the hub, and top-agers outside it are named for depth
- 19-year-old prospects miss out, having already staked their claims in previous years
A lot may change between now and when the squad will be announced, but all players look likely to be available. Of course, the sides may vary greatly as players look to shift and develop in different positions, but each member has been selected based on the roles they have previously played. Given only previous form, preseason testing and scratch matches are what we have to go off, bolters are also difficult to gauge at this point.
But without further ado, let’s get stuck into the first stipulated squad, with Vic Metro’s talent broken down line-by-line. An alternate squad with no limitations will also be provided below.
FB – Cody Raak (Western), Cody Brand (Calder), Wil Parker (Eastern)
HB – Joshua Clarke (Eastern), Nikolas Cox (Northern), Connor Downie (Eastern)
There’s a real Eastern Ranges flavour to the back six, with regional skipper and Hawthorn NGA prospect Connor Downie a potential leadership candidate. Athletic Northern utility Nikolas Cox is another NAB League captain in line for those honours, and the two are joined across half-back by Josh Clarke.
The forward penetration Clarke and Downie provide makes for an exciting proposition, though Downie may well find his way up onto a wing or into the midfield in the final squad. The third Eastern product of the defence, Wil Parker can also add value on the rebound, but joins Bulldogs NGA candidate Cody Raak as a capable intercept marker inside defensive 50.
Essendon-aligned hopeful Cody Brand looks set to lock down a role at full back, making for a fairly sturdy last line. The combination of aerial threat and attacking ball use among the six bodes well for Metro, and should set the side up nicely.
C – Jake Bowey (Sandringham), Reef McInnes (Oakleigh), Lochlan Jenkins (Oakleigh)
FOL – Max Heath (Sandringham), Will Phillips (Oakleigh), Finlay Macrae (Oakleigh)
If there was an Eastern feel to the defence, then the midfield is all-Oakleigh. Following on with the NGA theme too is Collingwood academy member Reef McInnes, who takes up a spot in the centre with eyes on fulfilling a more midfield-oriented role in 2020.
The familiar faces of Will Phillips and Finlay Macrae look set to join him at the centre bounces, as smaller outlets who can find plenty of the ball. On the outer, we’ve opted for a small combination with the 174cm Jake Bowey on one side, and 177cm Lochlan Jenkins on the opposite.
Should the Metro coaches opt for more grunt through the middle, the likes of Downie and explosive Sandringham product Archie Perkins could add some extra power, though the chosen core should have little trouble finding the ball. Max Heath is the chosen ruck, one of the few pure talls among the ranks at the moment.
HF – Archie Perkins (Sandringham), Liam McMahon (Northern), Bailey Laurie (Oakleigh)
FF – Jackson Cardillo (Calder), Ollie Lord (Sandringham), Eddie Ford (Western)
Akin to last year’s squad, the forwardline is one of the weaker areas of the squad – not for a lack of talent, but due to the lack of a pure small forward. The likes of Perkins, Bailey Laurie, Jackson Cardillo, and Eddie Ford all pack dynamism, speed, and smarts, but fall into the category of midfielder/forwards.
This forward bunch should also have no troubles in competing aerially, with the high-marking prowess of Perkins and Ford aided by vertically apt key position prospects Liam McMahon and Ollie Lord. Though at 193cm and 195cm respectively, the pair falls a touch short of traditional key position height, so may prove less impactful against some of the bulkier defenders one-on-one.
Within the starting lineup, Cox is also able to swing forward if needed, while Heath may well earn a rest up there in between his ruck duties. In terms of mid-sizers, Macrae and McInnes spent plenty of time forward for Oakleigh in 2019, while Downie is another who can find the goals.
INT – Jack Diedrich (Eastern), Conor Stone (Oakleigh), Luke Cleary (Sandringham), Josh Eyre (Calder)
The interchange bench sees two remaining top-age Academy Hub members named, incidentally also providing good depth down the spine. Eastern’s Jack Diedrich and Calder’s Josh Eyre can play in key position posts, with Diedrich adding ruck depth and Eyre a more dynamic option around the ground.
Conor Stone could fill the traditional medium-forward void given his promising form in Oakleigh’s 2019 premiership side, while Sandringham defender Luke Cleary is one of the few non-Academy choices, though his Under 17 experience and squad balance earns him a look-in.
There are plenty of top-agers who will fancy their chances of cracking into the final squad, but there will always be the unlucky few who don’t. The beauty of having a carnival with multiple games means there is always room for rotation, so plenty of prospects should get their opportunity.
Under 16 representative Darby Hipwell was stiff to miss the Academy cut-off, and provide some great midfield depth. Oakleigh’s Fraser Elliot is a big-bodied mid who could also sneak in, but that midfield is hard to crack.
In terms of smaller options at either end, Lucas Failli could be the small forward Metro is searching for, with the agile 170cm Western product already boasting Under 16 and 17 representative honours.
Northern co-captain Ewan Macpherson skippered the Under 16 Metro side in 2018, and may be another small option. The potential Bulldogs father-son choice would fit in as a defender after his work for the Knights in 2019, though he is set on more midfield minutes in 2020. His Knights teammates Josh Watson, and fellow Under 16 rep Jaden Collins are others who are thereabouts.
Speaking of father-sons, Carlton may want to get a look at Charlie McKay (son of Andy, 244 games), who has impressed during preseason and provides a big body on each line.
Dragons pair Fraser Rosman and Lachlan Carrigan are others who may fly under the radar and into the side, along with raw Calder duo Jack Keeping and Matthew Allison. There are of course two more Academy members – Campbell Edwardes, and Sam Tucker – who could enter the fray, but are unlucky to miss our sides.
Having taken out the 2019 Under 16 National Championships, Metro has the luxury being able to top up its squad with a raft of capable bottom-age talents. MVP Tyler Sonsie is arguably the best of the lot, and could well find his way into the starting 18 on a wing or up forward.
Sonsie’s Eastern teammate Jake Soligo is another who may rise the ranks alongside him, while Vic Metro Under 16 squad member Lachlan Rankin is another handy outside type in the mix.
Sandringham dasher Josh Sinn is another who is capable of settling into the starting side, perhaps at half-back despite his midfield prowess. Potentially filling out the flanks is Nick Daicos, whose selection in the Academy Hub in his first year through the pathways speaking volume of his talent.
Twin talls Dante Visentini and Alex Lukic would provide key position depth up either end under normal circumstances, with Lukic the Under 16 All Australian centre half-forward. Others to gain that honour and Academy selection were Blake Howes, Youseph Dib, Lachlan Brooks, and Braden Andrews, who could all fill roles around the ground.
There are a number of others outside of the current representative and academy bubbles who could also break through in their own top-ager seasons, but it simply remains to be seen.
With these additional top and bottom-age prospects in mind, below is our potential Vic Metro squad, without any provisions.
FB – Cody Raak, Cody Brand, Wil Parker
HB – Joshua Clarke, Nikolas Cox, Josh Sinn
C – Jake Bowey, Connor Downie, Finlay Macrae
HF – Archie Perkins, Liam McMahon, Bailey Laurie
FF – Tyler Sonsie, Ollie Lord, Eddie Ford
FOL – Max Heath, Will Phillips, Reef McInnes
INT – Felix Flockart, Lochlan Jenkins, Conor Stone, Jackson Cardillo
EMG – Luke Cleary, Nick Daicos, Josh Eyre