GRAND Final week in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) brings along with it another edition of our scouting notes, focusing on the top draft-relevant performers from around the competition this weekend. In this instalment, we widen our scope to cover the prospects running around across all three grades, with a particular focus on State Academy based talent, National Combine invitees, and others who may push for selection along the line.
Please consider that each set of notes showcase the opinions of our scouts individually, and there are only so many players we can keep an eye on each week.
WWT Eagles vs. North Adelaide
By: Tom Wyman
#9 Rhyan Mansell (League)
The young defender again played an integral role down back for the premiers. The Tasmanian combined well with Lachlan Jones and veteran Patrick Giuffreda in the back half, finishing with three rebounds. Mansell used the ball with precision and orchestrated a number of successful attacks. He showcased his sound vision, composure, and decision making and positioned himself well to take a number of intercept marks. Mansell finished the game with 19 disposals, eight marks and five tackles.
#16 James Rowe (League)
As has been the case all season, the excitement machine looked threatening whenever he was near the footy. He demanded attention all day and capitalised on his opportunities, as all good small forwards do. North’s Mitch Clisby was given the big job on Rowe and kept him quiet early on as the Roosters started strongly. However, when the Eagles were well on top, he nailed a goal in the dying minutes of the first half. The son of former-Crow Stephen, Rowe kicked a fantastic goal from 40 metres out after his Eagles teammates forced a turnover in the third term. Whenever he wasn’t lurking around the forward line, Rowe was getting under the skin of his Roosters opponents. He used the ball to terrific effect in general play and finished the day with 15 disposals and four inside 50s to go with his two goals. After a dominant season, Rowe is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook for a spot at the elite level.
#28 Jacob Wehr (League)
The 22-year-old from Balaklava in South Australia’s mid-north was excellent for the Eagles. Wehr was able to get the ball in some time and space, allowing him to cut up North’s defence with his pin-point foot skills. The wingman worked hard both ways between the arcs and continuously provided an outlet for Woodville-West Torrens. He finished the contest with 19 disposals, six marks, five tackles, two inside 50s and three rebound 50s. Wehr has been a revelation for the Eagles this season and is one of several mature-aged prospects who could attract some AFL attention over the coming months.
#34 Lachlan Jones (League)
The bull-like defender produced another sensational performance on the big stage and once again showed class beyond his years. As he has shown time and time again throughout the year, Jones refused to be beaten one-on-one. He was deployed as the loose defender for much of the day and read the play exceptionally well. He positioned himself like a seasoned veteran, taking a number of important intercept marks. He showed great composure and poise both with and without the ball, using it efficiently by hand and foot. He produced a number of terrific defensive actions which didn’t show up on the stats sheet, but will have impressed coach Jade Sheedy. Jones finished with 18 disposals, five marks, four tackles and three rebound 50s. A premiership medal is a fitting way to end a wonderful season for Jones, who appears likely to be a first round selection come draft night.
#51 Lachlan McNeil (League)
In a game where all the Eagles youngsters contributed well, McNeil was the best of the bunch. He provided relentless run along the wing and used the ball as well as anyone. McNeil’s high work rate allowed him to take a host of marks on the outer side. He used the ball well and his teammates clearly looked for him to hit a target going inside 50. But the clear highlight of his game was a terrific running goal in the second quarter, which featured two bounces and a beautiful finish. He concluded the match with 23 disposals, nine marks, two tackles, three clearances and six inside 50s. The Clare product missed out on being drafted as an 18-year-old last year, but after a great performance on Grand Final day and a consistent season at senior level with the Eagles, McNeil could find himself a home at AFL level at the second time of asking.
#37 Karl Finlay (League)
It was a difficult day for the Roosters, who struggled to get anything going after quarter time as Finlay and his fellow backmen had their backs against the wall all day. However Finlay was one of North’s best, particularly in the air. He spent some time on dangerous Eagle forward Jack Hayes and also rolled onto Jake Von Bertouch at times. Given the duo’s ability to clunk big contested marks, Finlay held his own. He was thrown up forward by coach Jacob Surjan for a brief stint when the Eagles were in full control and took one of his three contested marks. Finlay tackled hard at ground level and also provided some rebound. He finished with 13 disposals, three marks, five tackles and two inside 50s.
#38 Dyson Hilder (Reserves)
Much like Finlay in the League game, fellow teenaged defender Hilder was similarly strong in the air for the Roosters’ Reserves. He took a couple of strong contested marks and finished the game with seven grabs overall. Hilder, who played a couple of senior games with North Adelaide earlier in the season, provided some clear rebound by foot and was among his side’s best players, despite the loss. He also gave number one ruckman James Craig a break by rotating through the ruck and winning seven hitouts. He finished with 16 disposals and four rebound 50s.
Norwood vs. Sturt
By: Michael Alvaro
With Norwood at full strength and solid top-age operators roaming through the engine room, Murley has been squeezed out a touch in this finals series after an outstanding regular season. Nonetheless, the speedy bottom-ager managed to have an impact with bursts of pace and some crafty plays forward of centre. His instinctive attacking runs allowed him to find space inside 50 from the get-go, sinking one of two first term set shots. His kicks were a touch rushed on the outside under the heat of battle, but most of his running game came in that kind of fashion. He missed a few more chances to hit the scoreboard, albeit from tough positions and distances, with a two-bounce dash through the corridor during the final term ending in a flying shot which just did not have the legs. It was more a game of glimpses for Murley compared to his previous form, but he looms as a first round prospect for next year’s draft.
Nelligan is the kind of player you want on your side during a big game, with his consistency and work rate up there with the best of players. Starting in midfield and rotating forward, the diminutive ball winner ended with a game-high 28 disposals to go with six inside 50s and 1.3 in an inspired display. Not only did Nelligan showcase his clean hands and quick skills at ground level, but he was also able to accumulate around the ground and provide a reliable outlet in all areas. A lot of his clearances were booted over his shoulder, but still gained good meterage in the high-stakes contest. While stationed forward, Nelligan stayed busy and used his smarts to position beautifully upon Norwood’s inside 50 entries. His lone goal came in the first term from a strong mark close to goal, and he put two other chances just wide with another touched before bouncing through the big sticks. After some massive performances for the Redlegs, he remains an outside chance to be drafted as a natural footballer with great smarts.
#5 Ethan Schwerdt
Donning the knee brace once again, Schwerdt was a very handy part of Norwood’s midfield-forward rotation. His first big contribution came inside attacking 50, as he put a quick snap wide, but followed up with a shrewd crumb and dribble goal in the opening term. Schwerdt’s skills were neat in the short range and his little bursts of speed away from congestion proved key in setting Norwood on the front foot. His second goal, which came in the final term, was undoubtedly his highlight of the day. Schwerdt bravely marked between two opponents, moved on immediately to burn both of them, and slotted home a long-range bomb on the run.
#11 Xavier Tranfa
Another of Norwood’s prolific midfielders who also impacted in the front half, Tranfa’s two third term goals truly broke the game open. His first came via a strong mark directly from the centre clearance against a couple of opponents, with the set shot converted emphatically from around the 50-metre arc. Shortly after, he found himself on the end of another forward chain, wheeling on his favoured left side and sinking a powerful shot through the big sticks. That kind of impact was complimented by some strong work at the contest, as Tranfa attacked both the ball and carrier with intent. He was clean at ground level and while not overly quick, he would get his legs pumping or buy enough time to eventually send Norwood into attack. 19 disposals, six tackles, four clearances, and a couple of goals made for a terrific all-round game.
#15 Harlee Chandler
Chandler has proven somewhat of a finals wildcard for Norwood, slotting into the midfield with aplomb and providing great balance at the contest. He began proceedings with a sharp run through the middle and goal assisting pass inside 50, with that kind of run and movement through the corridor a sign of things to come. He was able to fend off opponents and break free, with much of his work as clean as and impactful as anyone else afield. A rush of blood saw Chandler miss his final term attempt on goal after a terrific play to win the ball, but it hardly took away from what was an eye-catching performance from the youngster. He finished with 19 disposals, six tackles, and three clearances.
#27 Nathan Hearing
The 2020 Alan Stewart Medal winner was best afield, Hearing was his usual heroic self through the ruck. Hardly a one-dimensional bigman, the 195cm prospect won a game-high 11 clearances, one more than his 10 hitouts throughout the day. His 21 disposals all-up came in various positions and fashions, but the majority of his work was done at the fall of the ball at stoppages to release his runners at ground level. Hearing’s imposing figure was also sighted down back where he took a couple of relieving marks close to goal, using his reach and timing to stand tall amid forming packs. He may have been beaten vertically at times at the centre bounces, but fared well around the ground and even took balls directly out of the ruck to send the Redlegs forward.
As is often the case for Norwood, an even team spread saw many contributors stand up across the day. Mitchell Trepka stood up early from defence, with Billy Haebich providing some dash and Sam Duke proving an important aerial figure on the same line. Daniel Fairbrother, who gained senior experience this year was also part of Norwood’s sturdy defence. Marcus Roberts fared well up forward with a couple of goals while big Finn Heard spearheaded the attack, and Michael Cavallaro provided a classy outlet on the wing.
#9 Malachy Carruthers
Usually one of the more attacking defenders who is capable of impacting through the corridor, Carruthers’ rebounding efforts mostly came from inside own defensive 50. While his long-range kicking was as sound as ever amid the breeze and Norwood’s pressure, Carruthers seldom had reliable targets to kick to as the ball would often eventually find its way back to his area. He was one of Sturt’s only consistently cool heads down back, but was too often forced too far away from positions in which he would normally attack. Carruthers seemed to lift in the third term as the Double Blues’ hopes began to fade, with his intercept marking, urgent running, and weighted kicks all coming to the fore. It would end up being an effort in vein, but the potential draft bolter finished with a very handy 21 disposals, nine marks, and nine rebound 50s as one of Sturt’s best.
#17 Mani Liddy
Arguably Sturt’s most impactful midfielder in the first half, Liddy was particularly prolific at the centre bounces. His core strength and clean hands gave the Double Blues numerous opportunities to attack first, though some grubber kicks out of congestion on Liddy’s end did his side few favours in that sense. His disposal on the move was a touch untidy in those opening stages despite finding the ball at will, apart from his obvious proficiency via hand. Not shy of a bit of niggle, Liddy’s lone goal for the game came in the second term after being crunched inside 50, with his set shot conversion proving sound. He attempted to force some forward momentum in the latter stages, finishing with 18 disposals, seven clearances, and a goal.
#18 Tom Powell
Powell may have seen the most ball for Sturt with 25 disposals and six marks, but had a touch less than his usual impact around the stoppages. His ability to extract and quickly release via hand was still on show, with numerous drawing handballs and well-timed distributive touches showcasing his best assets. It also lent to his high-level vision and decision making, especially amid the contested Grand Final chaos. Powell’s clean hands were also shown as he gathered well below his knees and snapped home a sharp goal in the second term, something he is increasingly bringing to the fore. With a couple of goal assists to cap off his outing, that attacking prowess is something which will be important in shaking that one-dimensional accumulator tag. He lived up to his billing for the most part, but could not quite help Sturt get over the line.
#25 James Borlase
Borlase was in the thick of the action as tensions boiled over in the third term, not afraid to throw his large frame around and get involved in the biff. He was hardly the only one, but got very heated and seemed to be a prime target for Norwood as ill discipline crept into Sturt’s game. Outside of that, Borlase once again proved a class above many of his Under 18 competitors with terrific reading of the play down back and strong intercept marking. His ball use was often sound and allowed Sturt to retain possession, without being overly damaging. He had a purple patch in the second term with a string of aerial marks, while also bringing his kick penetration into play. He was thrown into the centre bounces during the final quarter in hopes of turning the midfield battle with his physicality, but would have little impact there and revert back to his defensive duties in open play. The Crows Academy prospect finished with 22 disposals and eight marks (three contested) as arguably Sturt’s best player afield.
#32 Morgan Ferres
Ferres finished his bottom-age season strongly, providing a much-needed target leading up from the forward half. It proved a tough gig as Sturt struggled to transition the ball, with Ferres forced to search all the way up to defensive wing at times to find the ball. Half of his six marks were contested, and he was also able to make an impact closer to goal with some touches inside 50. Ferres ended the game with 1.1, sinking a set shot in the final term after seeing multiple attempts either go wide, fall short, or end up out of bounds. If he can tidy up that conversion, Ferres may well prove to be a force in next year’s competition.
Will Spain‘s efforts to win the ball and tackle at ground level were noted by his coaches, while fellow bottom-ager Brad Jefferies also gave it his all while rotating forward through midfield. Blake Higgins provided his usual run on the outside, while skipper Ned Walter was valiant in defence. Declan Hortle‘s 33 hitouts in the ruck also proved a big effort against the player judged best afield.
Featured Image: Norwood’s Under 18s celebrate their 2020 SANFL premiership | Credit: Hannah Howard/SANFL