Tag: sam durham

Analysis | The importance of fitness testing in modern football recruiting

THERE has been plenty of debate when talking about potential AFL prospects pertaining to the differences between judging ‘athletes’ against ‘pure footballers’. There is an argument that fitness testing should be taken with a grain of salt and that the eye test is most important, but when it comes to players being drafted – especially in the first round – prospects are often at the pointy end in at least one fitness test.

For anyone still unfamiliar with the main fitness tests conducted during preseason and at the AFL Draft Combine, they are as follows:

  • Agility Test
  • 20m Sprint
  • Standing and Running Vertical Leap
  • Yo-Yo Test
  • 2km Time Trial

Last year’s number one pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan excelled in the 20m sprint and vertical leap tests, with his on-field speed off the mark and jump at the ball highlighting just why he excelled at those tests. The combine, if anything, gives reassurance that those traits are indeed elite and will help try and separate talents like Ugle-Hagan from any other key forwards in that year’s crop. Athleticism is very important in modern football, with players quicker and bigger than what most talented youngsters are used to at the development levels. One club which has seemingly identified this in modern times is the fast-rising Essendon Football Club.

Since 2014, Essendon seems to have had a clear strategy with the types of players they have looked at with their high picks. Below is a list of the Bombers’ top 40 selections since 2014 and which tests those players excelled at. In a lot of cases, they were top 10 in those tests at the end-of-year combine.

2014:

Pick 17 – Jayden Laverde
(Didn’t test but athleticism was a highlight of his game)

Pick 20 – Kyle Langford
Agility

2015:

Pick 5 – Darcy Parish
Average in most tests

Pick 6 – Aaron Francis
(Didn’t test but like Laverde, athleticism was a highlight in games)

Pick 29 – Alex Morgan (Since delisted)
20m Sprint, Vertical Leap, Agility

Pick 30 – Mason Redman
3km time trial

2016:

Pick 1 – Andrew McGrath
Vertical Leap, Agility

Pick 20 – Jordan Ridley
20m Sprint

2017:

Nil

2018:

Pick 38 – Irving Mosquito
Vertical Leap

2019:

Pick 30 – Harrison Jones
Vertical Leap, Yo-Yo, 20m Sprint

Pick 38 – Nick Bryan
Vertical Leap, 20m Sprint

2020:

Pick 8 – Nik Cox
20m Sprint, 2km TT

Pick 9 – Archie Perkins
20m Sprint, Vertical Leap

Pick 10 – Zach Reid
Vertical Leap

Pick 39 – Josh Eyre
20m Sprint, Vertical Leap

There is one big outlier here and that’s one of this year’s Brownlow contenders in Darcy Parish, who was only average in test results during his draft year. This could be seen as the biggest clue as to why athletic testing shouldn’t be so important, but it can also be argued that one of the main reasons for Parish’s form is due to improving his running capacity to an elite level.

Even their most recent mid-season selection, Sam Durham tested well for vertical leap and endurance, so its no surprise at least in Essendon’s case that athletic traits are a huge influence in whether the player gets taken. The current favourite for the Rising Star, Nik Cox has taken the competition by storm with his mix of athleticism and height, with that height another factor in the early Essendon selections. It was a matter of time before Cox got his nomination for the Rising Star award and in retrospect, we should have all seen his selection by Essendon coming considering all the traits he possesses are key indicators in the Bombers’ recent draft strategy.

Using this history, we can even try to narrow down the possible field of players that Essendon will look at with its first round pick in 2021. A trio of Sandringham Dragons instantly come to mind with Campbell Chesser, Josh Sinn and Finn Callaghan. All three players tested well for the 20m sprint and vertical leap during preseason, highlighting their power and athleticism. With all measuring at over 185cm, they even fill a midfield need for the Bombers. They have another prospect right under their noses in Josh Goater who made his Essendon VFL debut not long ago and is an athletic beast. His speed and leap tests were all elite and at 190cm, he would be another Essendon style selection.

The modern footballer is taller, faster and can run all day, and it is getting harder and harder for pure footballers to make it at the top level. If young, pure footballers can start to develop athleticism in their game, even if it’s an elite endurance base, that’s at least a start in the right direction.

Height used to be a detractor for clubs but now with the likes of Caleb Daniel, Kysaiah Pickett, Brent Daniels and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, that is no longer the same obstacle for potential draftees as it used to be – though you also need to have that speed and class. If you are small and have the athletic traits and determination to make it as an AFL player, then you will be on the right track. If you are tall and have those traits, your chances of making an AFL list are even higher.

Fitness testing is an important tool, not just for clubs and recruiters, but also for up and coming players – especially those at the very early level. I’m hopeful coaches of junior football are able to set up some of these tests to help young players find their best traits, enhance them and embrace them. Understandably, it takes time, money and effort on their part and not every junior club or parent has that available. Programs such as Rookie Me, the official fitness testing partner of the AFL, allow junior athletes to experience professional environments at an early age, proving another handy head-start for budding footballers.

Image Credit: Graham Denholm/AFL Photos

REVIEW | 2021 AFL mid-season draft: Club-by-club

THE 2021 AFL mid-season draft saw 22 of a possible 27 players enter the elite level, with previously overlooked talent, mature-agers, and genuine bolters all among those who earned their chance on Wednesday evening. The half-hour virtual event saw picks come in thick and fast, with a few surprises along the way and plenty of feel-good stories. We take a look at each pick and what they may offer to their new clubs.

>> All the picks – round-by-round

Adelaide:

4. Patrick Parnell (Murray Bushrangers)
Small Defender | 4/03/2002 | 176cm | 67kg

Crows fans seemed a little agitated by the selection of another small, running defender, though their club’s policy was to target the best available talent and Parnell was exactly that in their eyes. The zippy Murray Bushrangers top-ager is an aggressive forward runner and uses the ball sharply on both feet. He is still quite light-on but has already gotten a taste of senior footy at VFL and local level, while also turning out in this year’s Victorian Young Guns showcase.

Brisbane:

14. Kalin Lane (Claremont)
Ruck | 5/12/01 | 204cm | 95kg

One of the many rucks taken in this draft, Lane is right at the top end of that list when it comes to rate of development. He shot into contention last year and was part the Claremont side which qualified for the WAFL Colts grand final, before continuing his rise in the Reserves this season and even earning a League berth. Averaging 14 disposals and 29 hitouts per game, Lane has improved his impact around the ground and uses his imposing frame to good effect, while boasting the obvious ruck craft trait. He may be considered a long-term option, but bolsters Brisbane’s tall stocks.

Carlton:

6. Alex Mirkov (Carlton VFL)
Ruck | 17/11/99 | 210cm | 104kg

Mirkov is a prospect who has come from the clouds to land on an AFL list, plucked out of the Blues’ VFL program after just two appearances. The 210cm former volleyballer received a special exemption to be eligible for this draft having not nominated in 2020, and was on the radar of a number of clubs in search of both long-term and immediate ruck depth. Carlton pounced at pick six, and will be happy to fill out their stocks after the loss of Matthew Kreuzer last year, with a raw type who could mould into something special.

20. Jordan Boyd (Footscray VFL)
Small Utility | 22/9/98 | 182cm | 81kg

Carlton is slowly turning its own VFL side into a feeder program, and dipped into the stocks of another club which has done so with great success in the Western Bulldogs. Boyd was their man with the second of a possible three picks, suiting the Blues’ need for some genuine and readymade small depth. The 22-year-old has mostly been pegged as a forward, but could be the small defender or wingman Carlton is in desperate need of to fill out its starting 18. His speed and bullet-like foot skills will likely catch the eye of Blues fans, and their forwards.

25. Pass

Collingwood:

3. Ash Johnson (Sturt)
Forward | 6/10/97 | 193cm | 85kg

Another Halls Creek native with good footballing pedigree, Johnson’s unconventional leap to the bigtime has been as drastic as his vertical feats on-field. The mature-ager should help bolster Collingwood’s struggling forwardline, bringing some excitement with his ability to fly for high marks and kick bags of goals. The Pies were made to act with pick three to land their man, with other clubs circling for the Sturt product.

18. Aiden Begg (Eastern Ranges)
Key Forward/Ruck | 8/10/02 | 197cm | 87kg

Collingwood fans were another somewhat agitated group after this selection, given Begg is currently injured and will play no part in the 2021 season. But rest assured, the Eastern Ranges ruck-forward looms as a promising key position option for the Magpies who lack a pure spearhead that can also give Brodie Grundy a chop-out in the ruck. He competes well and is a handy marking option, but also has the potential to swing back too. In a nostalgic link for Pies fans, he was coached by premiership forward Travis Cloke in the NAB League.

Essendon:

9. Sam Durham (Richmond VFL)
Midfielder | 9/7/01 | 185cm | 75kg

A pick made on upside and right under the noses of Richmond, Durham has some nice traits as a developing midfielder. He may not be thrown into the senior mix right away, but has a good inside-outside balance and offers versatility with his selection. The Murray Bushrangers product has improved steadily since first being overlooked in 2019, utilised on flanks or either side of midfield. He will be a nice point of difference in the Bombers’ midfield mix.

22. Pass

Fremantle:

Nil.

Geelong:

Nil.

Gold Coast:

5. Ned Moyle (Oakleigh Chargers)
Ruck | 15/2/02 | 204cm | 100kg

While the SUNS were prepared to jump on others if Moyle were to be snapped up earlier, they nabbed their man at pick five and got an immediate boost to their ruck stocks. The Oakleigh Chargers bigman has come on leaps and bounds in 2021, earning a VFL berth with Collingwood and holding his own against AFL-listed rucks, before transferring his learnings back to the NAB League in a dominant final outing. He is a competitive type and will throw his frame around, which bodes well for an early senior gig given Gold Coast’s ruck crisis.

19. Pass

Greater Western Sydney:

8. James Peatling (GWS VFL)
Utility | 21/8/00 | 182cm | 80kg

A product of the GIANTS’ Academy, Peatling has been made to wait his turn but finally gets a senior look-in. The 20-year-old has developed in a range of positions; initially offering some drive off half-back and the wing, before being moulded into a pressure forward, and also having the potential to rotate through midfield. Having turned out in the VFL this season, Peatling will inevitably be right at home in the charcoal and orange, adding some handy depth to the GIANTS’ squad.

Hawthorn:

2. Jai Newcombe (Box Hill Hawks)
Inside Midfielder | 8/2/01 | 186cm | 85kg

A big-bodied midfielder out of the Gippsland region, Newcombe has thrived under the tutelage of Sam Mitchell at Box Hill in 2021. Having been cut at the end of preseason by the Power on multiple occasions, Newcombe looked like being one of the more promising over-age prospects in 2020, but instead gets his chance now. He should add some grunt to the Hawks’ engine room with his readymade frame and cannot be faulted for intent. Having been taken on special terms, Newcombe was one of the more intriguing cases leading into the draft.

17. Jackson Callow (Norwood)
Key Forward | 11/6/02 | 195cm | 96kg

Arguably one of the most unlucky players to be overlooked in last year’s intake, Callow trained with the Hawks during preseason and gets his opportunity after some ominous state league form. The Tasmanian shifted to the SANFL and dominated AFL-level opposition at times, with his contested marking the standout feature of his game. Mobility is his biggest knock, but Callow has the strength and aggression to compete at senior level.

Melbourne:

15. Kye Declase (Werribee)
Wing/Defender | 15/10/96 | 195cm | 85kg

Originally a graduate of the Northern Knights, Declase has shown a rapid rate of development since entering the state league and had plenty of work put into him by Melbourne during preseason. He has cut his teeth as an intercept and rebounding defender, but more recently rolled up to the wing and has even impacted in the front half during his VFL tenure. The 24-year-old adds good versatility and depth to Melbourne’s mix, perhaps as a direct replacement for the injured Adam Tomlinson.

24. Daniel Turner (Murray Bushrangers)
Defender | 28/1/02 | 191cm | 79kg

Another promising type out of the Murray Bushrangers, Turner is an intercept defender who thrives aerially and is sound in possession. He featured in this year’s Victorian Young Gun showcase and impressed, improving out of sight in his top-age season and performing well at NAB League level.

North Melbourne:

1. Jacob Edwards (Sandringham Dragons)
Key Forward/Ruck | 22/11/02 | 202cm | 83kg

The chances are, you have already heard of Edwards and everything he has to offer. The 202cm Sandringham Dragons prospect shot onto the radar during preseason and delivered on the hype as the NAB League season came forth. He is wonderfully mobile for his size, kicks well and can dominate aerially, boasting terrific upside as a long-term key position option. Having filled out their midfield stocks last year, the Roos now have a genuine tall gun among their ranks.

16. Charlie Ham (Geelong Falcons)
Small Defender/Midfielder | 11/11/02 | 180cm | 74kg

The brother of Essendon’s Brayden, Ham has followed in his elder sibling’s footsteps by being picked up having initially been overlooked. He is a dashing half-back who can also roll up to the wing, with his speed and precise foot skills key strengths of a promising overall game. While North will likely focus on building its key position brigade, they picked up another small along the way with plenty of upside.

Port Adelaide:

13. Jed McEntee (Sturt)
Small Forward/Midfielder | 15/2/01 | 176cm | 76kg

Port picked up a local talent in McEntee, who now has a good amount of senior experience under his belt having turned out for Sturt’s League side. He is a small forward who can also rotate through midfield, but will likely add a bit of defensive pressure to the front six for Port with his speed and competitiveness. A good point of difference in that mix.

Richmond:

10. Matthew Parker (South Fremantle)
Forward | 25/1/96 | 187cm | 79kg

Let go by St Kilda at the end of last season, Parker gets his second senior chance having once again proven a class above state league level over in Western Australia. He is capable of the mercurial with high flies and eye-catching goals, and will likely take little time to become a fan favourite at Tigerland. The 25-year-old follows in Marlion Pickett’s footsteps, being taken from South Fremantle in the mid-season crop. Could have an immediate impact and also rotates through midfield.

St Kilda:

7. Max Heath (Sandringham Dragons)
Ruck | 24/10/02 | 204cm | 94kg

The Sandringham Dragons ruck has followed a similar path to Edwards, in that he shot to contention with outstanding preseason form and now gets his chance. One key difference is that Heath did so last year, seeing him earn a National Combine invite despite not playing a competitive game in 2020, before being overlooked. He proved his worth in the NAB League this year though and at 204cm, is an aggressive tall who loves to compete and can also provide some fold up forward. He’s a local should thrive under the guidance of Rowan Marshall, whom he moulds his game on.

21. Cooper Sharman (WWT Eagles)
Forward | 25/7/00 | 194cm | 78kg

A bolter who missed out on being drafted in 2019, the Saints continued to track Sharman’s progress and pounced in 2021. The 20-year-old’s football journey has taken him around the country; starting with the GIANTS Academy, then shifting over to Oakleigh in the NAB League, and eventually landing him with Woodville-West Torrens in the SANFL. He is a dead-eye in front of goal and could serve as a quick fix to the Saints woes in that department.

26. Pass

27. Pass

Sydney:

12. Lachlan McAndrew (Sydney VFL)
Ruck | 26/5/00 | 208cm | 93kg

One of the many prospective ruck selections made, McAndrew has only been playing Australian football for two years. The rugby union convert graduated from the Swans Academy and has since passed through their VFL program, turning out twice in 2021 and doing enough to land a senior berth. He is a raw, long-term choice but should add to the strong competition for spots in Sydney’s tall department.

West Coast:

11. Will Collins (Swan Districts)
Defender | 24/5/02 | 185cm | 78kg

Another player who lands at the club he trained at during preseason, Collins has long been on the Eagles’ radar. The Swan Districts defender managed to crack League level this season and has also been rotating through the reserves, showing steady development with his clean ball use and ability to intercept across the defensive line. He suits a need for the Eagles, who also brought in Alex Witherden at the end of 2020.

23. Connor West (West Perth)
Midfielder | 7/5/99 | 183cm | 80kg

Once again dipping into the local talent pool, the Eagles prized a readymade ball winner who could help cover some of their most recent injury losses through midfield. The West Perth product averaged 27 disposals and six tackles per his seven League outings in 2021, with that form enough to warrant selection in the WAFL state side.

Western Bulldogs:

Nil.

Pick-by-pick: 2021 AFL mid-season draft

THE 2021 AFL mid-season draft has been run and done, with the half-hour long virtual event seeing 22 of a possible 27 selections made and plenty of fresh faces enter the elite level. As expected, Sandringham Dragons ruck/forward Jacob Edwards was selected with pick one, among seven top-age players taken straight out of the NAB League system.

Find the full draft order below, and stay tuned to Draft Central for our review of each selection – dropping tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

ROUND 1:

  1. North Melbourne – Jacob Edwards (Sandringham Dragons) | Key Forward/Ruck
  2. Hawthorn – Jai Newcombe (Box Hill Hawks) | Inside Midfielder
  3. Collingwood – Ash Johnson (Sturt) | Forward |
  4. Adelaide – Patrick Parnell (Murray Bushrangers) | Small Defender
  5. Gold Coast – Ned Moyle (Oakleigh Chargers) | Ruck
  6. Carlton – Alex Mirkov (Carlton VFL) | Ruck
  7. St Kilda – Max Heath (Sandringham Dragons) | Ruck/Key Forward
  8. Greater Western Sydney – James Peatling (GIANTS Academy) | Defender
  9. Essendon – Sam Durham (Richmond VFL) | Midfielder
  10. Richmond – Matthew Parker (South Fremantle) | Forward
  11. West Coast – Will Collins (Swan Districts) | Defender
  12. Sydney – Lachlan McAndrew (Sydney VFL) | Ruck
  13. Port Adelaide – Jed McEntee (Sturt) | Forward
  14. Brisbane – Kalin Lane (Claremont) | Ruck
  15. Melbourne –  Kye Declase (Werribee) | Wing/Defender

 

ROUND 2:

  1. North Melbourne – Charlie Ham (Geelong Falcons) | Defender/Midfielder
  2. Hawthorn – Jackson Callow (Norwood) | Key Forward
  3. Collingwood – Aiden Begg (Eastern Ranges) | Key Forward/Ruck
  4. Gold Coast – Pass
  5. Carlton – Jordan Boyd (Footscray VFL) | Small Forward
  6. St Kilda – Cooper Sharman (WWT Eagles) | Forward
  7. Essendon – Pass
  8. West Coast – Connor West (West Perth) | Midfielder
  9. Melbourne – Daniel Turner (Murray Bushrangers) | Defender

 

ROUND 3:

  1. Carlton – Pass
  2. St Kilda – Pass

ROUND 4:

  1. St Kilda – Pass

Image Credit: Steve Tanner/News Corp

PREVIEW | The top 2021 AFL mid-season draft candidates

THE 2021 AFL mid-season draft finally arrives on Wednesday night, with around 15 players expected to find homes at the elite level after weeks of speculation and on-field auditions. A spill of overlooked talents from last year’s draft pool have staked their claims as worthy candidates through the elite talent pathways and state leagues, while mature-agers are also inevitably in the mix. We run you through the most likely draftees across both groups, with an insight into how they play and where they may end up.

THE NAB LEAGUERS

It is well known that Sandringham Dragons ruck-forward Jacob Edwards is likely to be snapped up by North Melbourne with pick one, having burst onto the scene this year. The Mentone Grammar student was pegged as a long-term prospect last year and quickly rose to prominence during pre-season in 2021, showing great signs during the Dragons’ intraclub match.

At 202cm, he is a terrific athlete who not only marks well, but is also quite mobile and offers the dual threat of forward and ruck craft. Edwards averaged 12 disposals, 14 hitouts, and booted five goals across three NAB League appearances this season. He turns 19 in December, so has plenty of development left and could well have been considered a first round chance for the National Draft.

There are plenty of other talls in the mix, with a bunch of clubs scrambling to bolster their ruck and key forward stocks. Oakleigh Chargers ruck Ned Moyle is another who has come on strongly in 2021, improving out of sight to also earn a VFL berth with Collingwood. There, he tussled with AFL-level rucks and showed he was not afraid to compete hard, before transferring his ruck craft learnings back to the NAB League in one final audition before Wednesday. With pick two, Hawthorn could be into Moyle, while Collingwood would also be a fitting home, and Gold Coast is desperate for ruck cover at pick five.

Max Heath, a teammate of Edwards at Sandringham who is also completing his Year 12 studies, will likely also attract a Victorian suitor. He has been linked with St Kilda, a team which potentially has plenty of spots to fill given its growing injury woes. The 204cm ruckman was deemed a chance to go in last year’s National Draft after imposing pre-season performances, but was eventually overlooked and made to prove his worth through the NAB League this year. His aggression and physicality are key strengths at the contest.

A region which could produce multiple mid-season draftees is Murray, with key forward Cameron McLeod, defender Patrick Parnell, and midfielder Zavier Maher all attracting interest. Carlton are said to be into McLeod and Maher, with the latter tied to the Blues’ VFL side having trained there during pre-season. Parnell is a dashing small defender who is being monitored by clubs like GWS, where he turned out for a single VFL outing this year. McLeod has impressed of late with his mobility as a leading target, booting a bag of four goals in his latest NAB League outing. Maher made his return in that same game, winning 30 disposals as an explosive midfielder who just needs to polish his disposal coming away from the contest.

Another top-ager on the Blues’ radar is Noah Gribble, a hard-running wingman who has been ultra consistent upon returning from an ACL tear in 2021. The Geelong Falcons product is one of many in this group to have turned out in the Victorian Young Guns game, and has little trouble finding the ball. His knocks have been speed and disposal in the past, but he is hard to deny as a genuine prospect.

Elsewhere, Cody Raak has been one of the better performed top-agers in the NAB League this season, even making the step up to VFL level for Footscray. He is also a Bulldogs Next Generation Academy (NGA) graduate, but his home side does not currently have a selection available. Raak, and Eastern Ranges forward-midfielder Corey Preston trained at Whitten Oval during pre-season, and while both missed out on a spot then, they could come into consideration for other clubs now.

Like Raak, Luke Cleary is a reliable intercept defender who sweeps across half-back with work both in the air and on the ground. He is likely to have impressed a number of clubs with his ability to set up play from the defence, and also earned a National Combine invite last year before being overlooked.

Also in the mix are Aiden Begg and Liam Podhajski, a couple of fast-developing rucks who can also play at either end of the ground. Begg, of the Eastern Ranges may be considered despite being injured during NAB League duties this year, and may suit a need at either end of the ground. Podhajski has turned out for Calder Cannons and the Northern Bullants, rotating forward through the ruck as a mobile type who can also impact with his marking.

GWS and Richmond could be among the clubs looking at Giants Academy product Tom Green, who recently turned out in charcoal and orange in the NAB League. The brother of Tom also has family ties to Richmond, and is a versatile type who can play as a tall midfielder, or marking forward target. He racked up 25 touches and a goal against the Swans Academy on Sunday.

STATE LEAGUERS

Among the younger crop of state league players in the mix, Tasmanian pair Oliver Davis and Jackson Callow have created plenty of buzz. The former is a ball winning midfielder who returned to his state’s NAB League program in 2021, before jetting off to Adelaide to join the Crows’ reserves side. He could be looked at by either South Australian team, while Callow would be a great fit for Collingwood. The contested marking beast tore apart AFL opposition for Norwood in the SANFL recently, and is a readymade key forward.

Jai Newcombe is one who, after being robbed of an over-age NAB League season last year, has been excellent for Box Hill in the VFL. He is a combative inside midfielder who Gippsland Power staff were very high on, and he has come on well once again to be in the box seat to be taken under special terms by Hawthorn.

Richmond VFL utility Sam Durham is another in the mix, potentially for the Tigers having shown steady development but terrific upside. He featured in the recent Young Guns showcase and built into the contest nicely. The former Murray Bushranger can play on a wing or off half-back, with potential to even run through the engine room as he fills out.

Of the state leaguers who haven’t yet experienced the top flight, Carlton VFL ruck Alex Mirkov is one poised to do so soon. While he has not gained much in the way of on-field exposure, the 210cm ex-volleyballer showcased his potential in two outings for the Blues this season. He could be in for a Navy Blue promotion, but Gold Coast is lurking with a pick beforehand and his upside is clear for others to pounce on.

In a similar vein, Essendon VFL gun Angus Baker could finally earn his own call-up having continued to return terrific state league form. The 2019 NEAFL Rising Star was in contention for a spot at the Bombers during pre-season and continues to knock on the door having been overlooked there. Essendon has covered the running half-back role well, but has a readymade prospect in Baker waiting in the wings.

The likes of Ash Johnson (Sturt, SANFL) and Tyrone Thorne (Peel Thunder, WAFL) are other exciting state leaguers to have thrown their hats in the ring. Johnson is a high-marking forward who hails from the prosperous Halls Creek region and has good ties to the elite level through his pedigree. While small in stature, Thorne has stood out as a zippy midfielder who has the potential to impact as a small forward at AFL level.

Of those who have already been drafted to the AFL level, Wylie Buzza seems destined for another shot. He has been linked with Gold Coast’s pick after Michael Knoll failed a medical at the Suns, with Carlton another potential suitor given the two clubs’ competing interests coming into the intake. Tyson Stengle could land at Richmond once again, with Collingwood also potentially in for the talented small forward.

Another former Crow, Riley Knight has been in terrific SANFL form and has St Kilda taking a look, while former Saint Nathan Freeman is becoming increasingly difficult to deny given his dominant VFL feats. Geelong NGA graduate Blake Schlensog is said to have matured greatly during his time in Western Australia, while Jarrod Garlett has nominated in hopes of finding a home – though neither West Coast or Fremantle have opened up a list spot as of yet.

NEED TO KNOWS

The mid-season draft order will be structured like the National Draft, following the reverse ladder order set at the conclusion of Round 11. 602 players nominated for the draft, with 18 rookie list spots currently available. Clubs have until 5:00pm on Tuesday June 1 to make any changes to their lists, as the draft is set to commence at 7:00pm the following evening in a virtual event.

Below are the current availabilities per the AFL, again, subject to change until 5:00pm on Tuesday June 1.

Adelaide: 1 selection
Brisbane Lions: 0 selections
Carlton: 2 selections
Collingwood: 2 selections
Essendon: 1 Selection
Fremantle: 0 selections
Geelong: 0 selections
Gold Coast: 2 selections
GWS: 1 selection
Hawthorn: 1 selection
Melbourne: 2 selections
North Melbourne: 2 selections
Port Adelaide: 1 selection
Richmond: 1 selection
St Kilda: 1 selection
Sydney: 1 selection
West Coast: 0 selections
Western Bulldogs: 0 selections

Image Credit: Solstice Digital

Young Guns: 2021 VFL Round 5

WITH the NAB League in the midst of a month-long break after three full rounds of action, some of Victoria’s most promising Under 19 talent has begun filtering into the Victorian Football League (VFL). A raft of top-age draft prospects have already made their state league debuts, with more to come, while members of all four Northern Academies also get some run in their legs. We take a look at how the prominent 19th-year players performed as they hit the senior football grade.

>> PLAYER FOCUS: Ned Moyle (Collingwood VFL)

A Thursday night Q-Clash opened the Round 5 proceedings, as Brisbane easily accounted for its local rival to the tune of 60 points at Metricon Stadium. A pair of 2002-born Lions Academy graduates stole the show, with Will Tasker (21 disposals, five goals) and Toby Triffett (25 disposals, 10 tackles and three goals) enjoying nights out. Tahj Abberley, Charlie Bowes, and Saxon Crozier also found a good amount of ball in Brisbane’s win, as they continue to gain senior experience.

For the Suns, Bailey Reeves‘ consistent run rolled on as he notched another 24 touches and seven tackles, while enigmatic prospect Max Pescud also ticked over 20 disposals and found the goals. Jack Johnston was another 19th-year talent in the side, with the tall taking three marks among his eight touches overall.

Richmond was another side to win big on the weekend, trouncing GWS by 97 points at Punt Road Oval. Big bodied midfielder Fraser Elliot made his debut in yellow and black, ticking up to 23 disposals, as Eastern Ranges product Jake Soligo (17 disposals) also enjoyed his maiden outing. Sam Durham, who featured in the Young Guns game, took six marks among his 19 touches for the Tigers.

In charcoal and orange, star Academy rebounder Josh Fahey racked up 24 touches and six marks in a busy display, while potential mid-season draft prospect Josh Green turned out again and had it 19 times. Another talent garnering similar attention is Patrick Parnell, who made his debut alongside versatile bigman Jack Driscoll for the Giants.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Will Papley earned a berth with Port Melbourne as the Borough went down to Coburg, Marcus Herbert donned the hoops of Geelong once more as Casey beat the Cats in a thriller, and Darby Hipwell had 10 touches in Sandringham’s win over Williamstown. On the same night, Collingwood Next Generation Academy (NGA) talent Youseph Dib was a touch quieter in his latest state league appearance, as highly fancied ruck Ned Moyle managed a game-high 23 hitouts against AFL-listed opposition.

North Melbourne fielded a bunch of debutants in its heavy loss to Box Hill on Sunday, sampling talent from three different NAB League regions. Tall Sandringham Dragons midfielder Logan Young finished with 14 disposals and five tackles, while Eastern’s Tyreece Leiu (eight disposals, one goal) and Marc Massarotti (five disposals) got their chance, and Western midfielder Liam Conway (six disposals) also earned a call-up for the Roos.

Essendon rounded out the weekend’s action with a solid win over Frankston, which also saw the Bombers field some fresh faces. Calder Cannons teammates Zac Taylor and Josh Goater got their chance to don the sash, with the latter snaring a goal on debut. Bendigo Pioneers top-ager Sam Conforti impressed once again with 22 touches, as fellow Pio’ Jack Hickman had a crack and Western standout Billy Cootee found it 17 times.

With the NAB League set to return this week, involving cameos from each of the Northern Academies, 18th-year players who hit the VFL will likely return to pathway commitments, while 19th-year prospects will stay involved with the state league program or head back to local football, depending on their preferences.

Image Credit: Morgan Hancock / AFL Photos

Full squads: 2021 Victorian Young Guns showcase

THE ANNUAL Victorian Young Guns showcase is back in 2021, with Metro and Country squads set to battle it out as prospects look to stake their claims for mid-season draft (June 2) selection. Bouncing down at 2:30pm tomorrow at Avalon Airport Oval in Werribee, the fixture will see a selection of Victoria’s brightest Under 23 talent fielded all at once.

Though the parameters have been set at the 23-year-old limit, no player selected is older than 20, with 48 of the nominated prospects coming from the NAB League – including the entire Metro team – and just four out of the Victorian Football League (VFL). With players essentially hand-picked by AFL recruiters, the match promises to provide a useful insight into who is on the draft radar at this point.

>> SCROLL to see the full squads

SQUAD SNAPSHOTS:

Metro

Among the Metro standouts are a couple of talls who come in fresh off some VFL exposure. Oakleigh Chargers bigman Ned Moyle is one of them, and he looms as a favourable mid-season draft option having also turned out for the AFL Academy recently. The other is Calder Cannons ruck-forward Liam Podhajski, a fast-developing type who has proven his upside this year. The pair respectively played for Collingwood and Northern Bullants at state league level.

Some promising Next Generation Academy (NGA) graduates are also in the mix, with Cody Raak (Western Bulldogs) among them. The marking defender has been a level above the NAB League and recently earned a VFL berth with the Bulldogs. The raw athleticism of Carlton-tied prospect Dominic Akuei should also catch the eye, he can rotate up either end of the field while pinch-hitting in the ruck with a huge leap.

Bulldogs and Blues fans should also be on the lookout for a pair of father-sons in NAB League top-agers Ewan Macpherson and Charlie McKay. Both were overlooked last year but have returned in fine form, boasting good size as inside midfielders who win plenty of ball at the coalface, but can also rotate back to defence. Macpherson was also seen kicking a bag of five goals for local side, Diamond Creek a fortnight ago.

Elsewhere, skilled small forward Corey Preston remains on the radar after fighting for a preseason supplementary selection spot at the Western Bulldogs. The likes of Darby Hipwell (midfielder, Sandringham), Dylan Thomas (forward, Collingwood), Sam Paea (key forward, Essendon) have all gained VFL experience this year, while Logan Young is a West Australian native who crossed to play with Sandringham Dragons this year. He is a tall midfielder who has also rotated forward.

Country

Country will field the only four non-NAB League listed players on Saturday, including one of just two selected 20-year-olds in Aaron Gundry. The 201cm Bendigo Pioneers product is a developing ruck who currently plies his trade for Carlton’s reserves. Isaac Wareham (Geelong VFL) and Sam Durham (Richmond VFL) are familiar names with plenty of their own upside, while 2019 Bulldogs NGA graduate Mutaz El Nour (Northern Bullants) rounds out the state league selection.

Dandenong Stingrays speedster Kobi George is Country’s sole current NGA prospect, tied to Melbourne, but the likes of Will Bravo and Charlie Byrne have experienced the rigours of AFL-level training having fought for preseason supplementary selection spots at Hawthorn and Essendon respectively, before rolling back into the NAB League system come season proper.

Among those with VFL exposure this year are nippy Bendigo Pioneers smalls Sam Conforti and Jack Hickman. Both have turned out twice for Essendon’s reserves side and showed plenty – particularly in last week’s outing against Carlton. Expect them to rotate forward through midfield, or station on the outer. Geelong VFL-listed pair Charlie Ham and Marcus Herbert will also play, having turned out against the AFL Academy last month.

Ham, the brother of Essendon’s Brayden will be joined by another brother-of in the squad. Will Papley, who has similar forward craft to his elder sibling Tom, also earned a berth in the side and will likely start inside attacking 50 with the potential to roll into midfield. Elsewhere, watch for the work-rate of wingman Noah Gribble, who has impressed in the NAB League after tearing his ACL last year.

FULL SQUADS:

Metro

1. Jake Arundell, 18, 169cm, 65kg, Eastern Ranges
2. Harrison White, 19, 175cm, 70kg, Western Jets
3. Eren Soylemez, 19, 179cm, 82kg, Sandringham Dragons
4. Ewan Macpherson, 19, 179cm, 82kg, Northern Knights
5. Tom Blamires, 18, 180cm, 76kg, Sandringham Dragons
6. Corey Preston, 18, 181cm, 77kg, Eastern Ranges
7. Darby Hipwell, 18, 182cm, 82kg, Sandringham Dragons
8. Harrison Keeling, 19, 183cm, 68kg, Eastern Ranges
9. Joel Trudgeon, 18, 185cm, 90kg, Northern Knights
10. Charlie McKay, 18, 186cm, 83kg, Sandringham Dragons
11. Lachlan Riley, 19, 186cm, 85kg, Sandringham Dragons
12. Dylan Thomas, 18, 187cm, 77kg, Oakleigh Chargers
13. Liam Conway, 19, 188cm, 87kg, Western Jets
14. Ben De Bolfo, 18, 188cm, 79kg, Northern Knights
15. Sam Clohesy, 18, 189cm, 72kg, Calder Cannons
16. Fraser Elliot, 18, 189cm, 88kg, Oakleigh Chargers
17. Luke Cleary, 19, 189cm, 80kg, Sandringham Dragons
18. Logan Young, 19, 190cm, 84kg, Sandringham Dragons
19. Marc Massarotti, 18, 191cm, 91kg, Eastern Ranges
20. Cody Raak, 18, 192cm, 80kg, Western Jets
21. Dominic Akuei, 18, 192cm, 76kg, Northern Knights
22. Samuel Paea, 18, 194cm, 94kg, Calder Cannons
23. Flynn Maguire, 19, 195cm, 82kg, Oakleigh Chargers
24. Riley Smith, 20, 200cm, 104kg, Eastern Ranges
25. Felix Flockart, 19, 202cm, 80kg, Sandringham Dragons
26. Liam Podhajski, 18, 202cm, 99kg, Calder Cannons
27. Ned Moyle, 19, 205cm, 87kg, Oakleigh Chargers

Country

1. Sam Conforti, 19, 173cm, 74kg, Bendigo Pioneers
2. Charlie Ham, 18, 180cm, 74kg, Geelong Falcons
3. Kobi George, 19, 182cm, 74kg, Dandenong Stingrays
4. Jack Hickman, 19, 177cm, 71kg, Bendigo Pioneers
5. Patrick Parnell, 19, 178cm, 60kg, Murray Bushrangers
6. Clayton Gay, 19, 183cm, 77kg, Dandenong Stingrays
7. Will Bravo, 19, 181cm, 77kg, Dandenong Stingrays
8. Marcus Herbert, 18, 181cm, 81kg, GWV Rebels
9. Flynn Young, 19, 181cm, 69kg, Geelong Falcons
10. Isaac Wareham, 19, 183cm, 81kg, Geelong VFL
11. Will Papley, 18, 178cm, 78kg, Gippsland Power
12. Noah Gribble, 18, 180cm, 79kg, Geelong Falcons
14. Charlie Byrne, 18, 184cm, 79kg, Murray Bushrangers
15. Sam Durham, 19, 190cm, 82kg, Richmond VFL
16. Cobi Maxted, 18, 188cm, 88kg, Bendigo Pioneers
17. Bryce Milford, 18, 195cm, 82kg, Dandenong Stingrays
18. Xavier Mitchell, 18, 191cm, 78kg, Bendigo Pioneers
19. Daniel Turner, 19, 191cm, 79kg, Murray Bushrangers
20. Ryan O’Keefe, 19, 192cm, 69kg, Bendigo Pioneers
22. Caleb Ernst, 18, 194cm, 91kg, Bendigo Pioneers
23. Mutaz El Nour, 19, 192cm, 83kg, Northern Bullants VFL
24. Cameron McLeod, 18, 192cm, 78kg, Murray Bushrangers
25. Jai Neal, 18, 192cm, 88kg, Dandenong Stingrays
27. Mason Hawkins, 19, 198cm, 82kg, Gippsland Power
28. Aaron Gundry, 20, 201cm, 91kg, Carlton VFL

The game is set to be streamed live via the official AFL app and website. Stay tuned to Draft Central for scouting notes on the outstanding players from both sides.

In Contention | Outsider AFL Draft prospects to consider: Vic Country

COME the end of a year like no other, there is likely to be a greater amount of hard luck stories and near misses than ever before, especially after the recent cuts to AFL list sizes. But for all that doom and gloom, the 2020 AFL Draft intake is also poised to provide some of the best stories of positivity as elite level hopefuls rise from the adversity this year has put forward.

In Draft Central’s newest series, we take a look at some of the draft prospects who remain in contention to fulfil their draft dreams despite missing out on invites to their respective states’ draft combines. These combine lists are often the best indicators of clubs’ interest in players, with at least four nominations required for those who were not selected in the two national Under -17 showcase games last year. Outsider talent from the Vic Country regions are next to go under the microscope, and there are plenty around the mark despite missing a full year of football.

Below are pocket profiles of some players to watch, which will also feature in our upcoming annual AFL Draft Guide.

>> 2020 AFL Draft Pool
>> AFL Draft Whispers: 2020 Edition
>> Power Rankings: November Update

BENDIGO PIONEERS:

Sam Conforti | Midfielder/Small Forward
15/03/2002 | 174cm/72kg

The diminutive mover quickly established himself as a mainstay in Bendigo’s lineup last year, going on to average 17.3 disposals across 16 games. He played mostly on the wing but was looking to develop as a hard-running, creative small forward.

Aaron Gundry | Ruck
17/02/2001 | 200cm/84kg

A player who could have benefitted greatly from another year in the NAB League system, Gundry is a mobile ruckman who has also enjoyed stints up forward. The 19-year-old’s clean hands and upside are his strengths, but he has some filling out to do.

Jack Tillig | Half-Back
07/03/2002 | 186cm/84kg

Tillig could have been one to surprise this year with a full NAB League season, set to return to the Pioneers after representing GWV while boarding at St Patrick’s Ballarat for school. He is a solid rebounder who also intercepts well at half-back.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS:

Henry Berenger | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/86kg

One who contributed a solid bottom-age campaign consisting of 15 games, Berenger showed he was capable of playing a key defensive role. His athletic profile does not jump off the page, but the 18-year-old is a readymade and versatile rebounder.

Blake Kuipers | Key Defender/Ruck
25/07/2001 | 197cm/82kg

A former high-level volleyballer, Kuipers is a player with plenty of upside who featured at last year’s Under 18 National Championships. He is quite raw, but very athletic and can fill key position posts at either end or in the ruck. Was poised for a big 2020.

Deakyn Smith | Outside Midfielder/Forward
22/08/2002 | 179cm/68kg

Part of Melbourne’s Next Generation Academy, Smith is a lightly-framed outside midfielder who can also rotate forward. He has good speed and plenty of raw talent, but is working on adding polish and consistency to his overall game.

Bayleigh Welsh | Midfielder/Forward
19/01/2002 | 180cm/82kg

Dandenong players and staff alike rate Welsh as a talent who was poised to make a real impact in 2020. He averaged a tick under 12 disposals across 14 NAB League games last year and was set for a more permanent midfield role.

GEELONG FALCONS:

Gennaro Bove | Midfielder/Small Forward
14/01/2002 | 177cm/78kg

One of two Geelong Falcons co-captains for 2020, Bove is a clean and agile small midfielder who can also get his hands dirty on the defensive end. His size and smarts bode well for development as a small forward in future.

Darcy Chrigwin | Inside Midfielder
25/07/2001 | 191cm/89kg

Another player who was poised to shift back to his native region in 2020, Chirgwin was also unlucky not to be picked up last year. The 19-year-old has grown to 89kg and would be a readymade choice as far as inside midfielders go.

Jay Dahlhaus | Small Forward
21/05/2001 | 172cm/71kg

Currently plying his trade with Southern Districts in the NTFL, Dahlhaus is an exciting small forward who brings terrific creative energy and defensive pressure to the forward half. Injury curtailed his top-age season last year and he was set to impact as a 19-year-old in 2020.

GIPPSLAND POWER:

Jai Newcombe | Inside Midfielder
02/08/2001 | 184cm/85kg

Was poised to stake his claim as one of 2020’s feel-good stories, having finally made the cut at Gippsland after being overlooked in multiple preseasons. He is an inside bull who proved hard to tackle at this year’s trials and the Power were certainly high on his potential as an over-ager.

GWV REBELS:

Isaac Wareham | Outside Midfielder
24/12/2001 | 186cm/77kg

Another who was unlucky to be overlooked last year, Wareham looked set to put injuries behind him and build on a top-age season which saw him represent Vic Country. He has plenty of development left as a December birth and makes things happen with ball in hand, playing into his overall upside.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS:

Ethan Baxter | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/82kg

A Richmond Next Generation Academy member, Baxter was an Under 16 All Australian in 2018 and had some development left to make in 2020. He is a strong key defender who can hold his own in the back 50, especially in one-on-one and aerial contests.

Kade Chalcraft | Outside Midfielder
28/03/2002 | 182cm/79kg

Chalcraft was touted for some more time on the inside this year having already showed his worth as a creative outlet on the outer. He is an evasive small-medium type who played 16 games as a bottom-ager.

Sam Durham | Balanced Midfielder
09/07/2001 | 185cm/77kg

One of last year’s state combine invitees, Durham missed out on being drafted as a top-ager but garnered interest with his speedy adjustment to the code as a multi-sport athlete. He moves well and has good skills, but would be working on his game sense and consistency.

Squad predictions: 2020 Vic Country Under 18s

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. Last week we began with our Vic Metro squad predictions and today we take a look at Vic Country’s potential line-up.

GUIDELINES:

  • 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 inclusions are limited, having already staked their claims in previous years

A lot may change between now and when the squad will be announced, and it should be noted that injured players will not be picked here. 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 second squad prediction, with Vic Country’s talent broken down line-by-line. An alternate squad with no limitations will also be provided below.

DEFENCE

FB – Clayton Gay (Dandenong), Zach Reid (Gippsland), Cam Fleeton (Geelong)
HB – Nick Stevens (GWV), Ethan Baxter (Murray), Isaac Wareham (GWV)

There is a good mix of styles and talent among this back six, with some height, power, dash, and clean ball use all to come from these potential representatives. Versatile 202cm tall Zach Reid seems a lock for full back, able to also double as ruck aid.

Leadership candidate Cam Fleeton and Dandenong standout Clayton Gay provide sound reading of the play and aerial presence on the last line, while Greater Western Victoria (GWV) pair Nick Stevens and Isaac Wareham are solid options off half-back. 19-year-old Wareham has already donned the Big V at under 18 level, but may earn another chance given injury curtailed his top-age season.

Ethan Baxter is the final member of the defence, a solidly-built Richmond Next Generation Academy (NGA) product who is a touch undersized (192cm) to play as a pure key defender, but makes up for it with strength. He could be utilised elsewhere, but we see him fulfilling a role down back.

MIDFIELD

C – Ryan Angwin (Gippsland), Tanner Bruhn (Geelong), Jack Ginnivan (Bendigo)
FOL – Henry Walsh (Geelong), Sam Berry (Gippsland), Zavier Maher (Murray)

Zavier Maher may be the tallest of the Vic Country mids here at 184cm, but by no means will the chosen crop lack power or ball winning ability. Maher, Sam Berry, and Tanner Bruhn are all terrific at the centre bounces, with Maher and Berry the powerful types, while Bruhn is all class in congestion.

Berry can run all day, too, much like Bendigo’s Jack Ginnivan on the outside. Ginnivan could also find a spot up forward like fellow wingman, Ryan Angwin, but the pair have really come on of late and should have no trouble in making an impact further afield.

Of course, Henry Walsh will likely be the one to provide first use to his midfield fleet as the primary ruck. The brother of Carlton Rising Star, Sam is quite apt at the centre bounces with his 201cm frame and is constantly working on his ground level work.

FORWARD

HF – Noah Gadsby (Geelong), Oliver Henry (Geelong), Seamus Mitchell (Bendigo)
FF – Dominic Bedendo (Murray), Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Oakleigh), Charlie Lazzaro (Geelong)

This is hardly a forward six blessed with height or overwhelming strength, but that is not to say that it lacks marking power. Much like Baxter in defence, the high-flying Oliver Henry could play above his size as a focal point, though may be better suited to a third tall role. Highly touted Bulldogs NGA prospect Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is unbeatable off the lead at full forward, so is a lock for that spot.

Alongside him may be Dominic Bedendo, a fantastic athletic talent who can compete both in the air and at ground level, while Charlie Lazzaro occupies the other pocket. He is arguably predominantly more a midfielder, but has been adding strings to his bow as a small forward.

On the flanks, his Geelong teammate Noah Gadsby also slots in as a newcomer to the forward line, while raw Bendigo product Seamus Mitchell assumes a role familiar to him on the same line. The largely small make-up of this six is somewhat a product of the guidelines we put in place, as there are a few key position products across each age bracket who could easily add some height and strength to the structure.

INTERCHANGE

INT – Sam Conforti (Bendigo), Will Bravo (Dandenong), Bayleigh Welsh (Dandenong), Blake Kuipers (Dandenong)

Filling out the side are some versatile options, with most of these prospects able to be utilised in many roles. Sam Conforti skippered the Under 16 Country side, and could well slot in as a small forward or wingman in this lineup. Dandenong’s Will Bravo is an exciting player who should also get a run up forward, providing a touch of speed and evasion while also being able to contribute in midfield.

Two more Stingrays cap off the side, with Bayleigh Welsh a midfielder the Dandenong program is high on, while athletic over-age swingman Blake Kuipers could be one to again sneak into the team as key position or ruck depth.

TOP-AGE DEPTH

Given this may be the only chance for draft-eligible top-agers to shine in front of recruiters in 2020, there will be plenty who come onto the radar of AFL clubs. Elijah Hollands and Noah Gribble are two who would have featured in the team, but unfortunately miss out due to long-term knee injuries.

Academy prospect Josh Treacy is a key forward who could well fit into the squad having gained experience for Country at Under 17 level, with fellow tall options Mason Hawkins and Keith Robinson of Gippsland others who can fill that forward/ruck role.

In terms of smalls, classy Geelong co-captain Gennaro Bove may be in the mix, while nippy GWV forward Harry Sharp has also caught the eye alongside another Falcon, Blake Reid. Other options from the Geelong region include Charlie Brauer – another outstanding athlete – and Kyle Skene.

Speaking of athletes, Bendigo is high on elite runner Jack Hickman and could also see the likes of ex-Rebel Jack Tillig or Finn Ellis-Castle push into contention. Dandenong has a couple of products around the mark too, with Deakyn Smith and Jai Neal both likely to be considered.

THE BOTTOM-AGERS

Last year’s Under 16 side may not have produced pure results-based success, but there are a few fantastic prospects who should push into contention. Leading the pack is last year’s carnival MVP Josh Rachele, a damaging midfielder/forward who is incredibly skilled.

Ben Hobbs was his partner-in-crime through midfield and should also get a crack as one of many high-end GWV up-and-comers. Those include Charlie Molan, Josh Rentsch, and Josh Gibcus, with the former two already boasting NAB League experience.

Fleet-footed Sandringham prospect Campbell Chesser was another to impress enough to break into the NAB League, while fellow Under 16 All Australians Toby Conway and Cooper Hamilton are also within the Academy bubble.

Given the focus will even more strictly be placed on draft eligible players, the likes of Ben Green, Connor Macdonald, Tom Brown, Justin Davies and so on will likely have to wait until next year to break into the Under-18 representative side.

There are a number of others outside of the current representative and academy bubbles who could also break through in their own top-age seasons, but it simply remains to be seen.

19-YEAR-OLDS

Possibly the most unlucky over-ager to miss out on our squads is Geelong’s Darcy Chirgwin, who was set to return to his original region after representing Sandringham in his draft year. After injury heavily interrupted his 2019 campaign, he should come into consideration once again.

Geelong teammate Jay Dahlhaus also suffered a long-term injury last year but should be back for more, while Murray prospect Sam Durham has shown a good rate of improvement as a latecomer to the code. Jai Newcombe is somewhat of a bolter having only now made the final cut at Gippsland, and could provide that inside presence with Chirgwin given he is yet to capture centre stage.

The two 19-year-olds we chose for both squads, Kuipers and Wareham, come into the category of players with great upside. Kuipers’ height and athleticism make him a handy option to fill gaps up either end or in the ruck, and his phenomenal testing performance puts him in good stead. Wareham is a solid athlete who will more so be looking for consistency after his top-age campaign last year.

With these additional top, bottom, and over-age prospects in mind, below is our potential best Vic Country squad without any provisions.

FB – Clayton Gay, Zach Reid, Cameron Fleeton
HB – Nick Stevens, Blake Kuipers, Ethan Baxter
C – Ryan Angwin, Tanner Bruhn, Jack Ginnivan
HF – Noah Gadsby, Oliver Henry, Seamus Mitchell
FF – Charlie Lazzaro, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Josh Rachele
FOL – Henry Walsh, Sam Berry, Zavier Maher
INT
– Will Bravo, Dominic Bedendo, Ben Hobbs, Isaac Wareham

Classic Contests: GIANTS hold off Bushrangers in tight contest

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 7 clashes in the NAB League this year between the Murray Bushrangers and GWS GIANTS Academy. In this edition, we wind back the clock only one year to 2019, when the two sides met for the first official time in the NAB League competition.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS 2.4 | 5.7 | 7.7 | 11.11 (77)
GWS GIANTS ACADEMY 4.5 | 6.8 | 8.11 | 12.16 (88)

NAB League Round 6 | Saturday May 4, 2019
Albury Sports Ground, 1pm

In a battle of the border, Murray Bushrangers took on the GWS GIANTS Academy having had a number of players who represented both sides over the years. A perfect example was Nick Murray on the GIANTS’ team as the overage had played for the Bushrangers in defence for the years prior. Heading into the match, neither team had set the world on fire, having both played four games and won just one, with the Bushrangers holding a 12 per cent lead over the GIANTS in 13th to 14th on the NAB League Boys ladder. The two players touted as top 10 picks coming into the match were Bushrangers’ Lachlan Ash and GIANTS’ Tom Green who both would end up in the orange and charcoal by year’s ned.

Green made an early statement with a strong mark and goal two minutes into the contest, in what would be a rare appearance up forward. With Harry Grant converting the first of what would be three majors, the GIANTS raced out to a 13-point lead midway through the quarter before Jimmy Boyer and Hudson Kaak broke the Bushrangers’ drought with back-to-back goals in 90 seconds. The visiting team kicked away again with two goals in the last five minutes to lead by 13 points at quarter time.

The Bushrangers needed a response early, and like Green in the first term, this time is was Ash who stepped up with a big goal to give his team confidence. After a couple of near misses, Boyer booted his second of the game to level the scores. Liam Delahunty and Jye Chalcraft traded goals before Grant found his second and the GIANTS had a seven-point buffer at the main break.

Josh Green and Jeromy Lucas booted the first two goals of the term as the GIANTS dominated the third stanza of the match, leading by as much as 22 points at one stage, with 2.3 to 0.0 on the board. Luckily for the Bushrangers, they managed to grab some momentum back going into the final break as Kaak and Mitchell Holt found the big sticks. With the deficit back to a manageable 10 points, it was well and truly game on in the final term.

GIANTS’ Lucas Conlan kicked the all-important first goal of the term, before Chalcraft capitalised with his second and the margin was back to 13 points. A couple of misses and then a third Grant goal had the GIANTS back out to a 20-point lead with 15 minutes left on the clock. With a scoreline of 10.15 inaccuracy was an issue for the visitors despite the solid advantage. Lachlan Sykes kept the Bushrangers hopes alive with an important goal, but back-to-back misses, this time from Ash and Chalcraft left Murray with some work to do at 11 points down. With seven minutes remaining, Matthew Hamblin booted his second and the game was as good as done with a couple of late goals to Cam Wilson and Boyer either side of Conlan’s second was not enough to get their side over the line.

It was no surprise to see Tom Green at the top of the disposal count with a mammoth 37 touches, 11 clearances, three marks, five tackles, five hitouts, two inside 50s and a goal in a best on ground performance. Lucas was not too far behind with 33 touches, seven marks, five tackles, four clearances, five inside 50s and a goal, while Ed Perryman picked up 31 disposals, nine marks and six rebounds out of defence. Up forward, Grant booted three majors from 23 touches and eight marks while laying eight tackles, as Liam Delahunty was busy with 21 disposals, seven marks, three tackles, seven inside 50s and a goal. Murray had five rebounds from 10 touches and four marks against his former side, while Conlan and Josh Green both booted multiple goals.

Ash was one of three players to record the most disposals, teaming up with fellow midfielders, Dylan Clarke and Cameron Wild. All three had 27 disposals, and combined for 13 marks and eight clearances. Ash also had the five inside 50s and a goal, while Boyer was the most lively in the forward half with three majors from 22 disposals, five marks and three clearances. Sam Durham (22 disposals, four marks, six tackles, four clearances and five inside 50s) and Charlie Byrne (20 disposals, three tackles and nine rebounds) also found plenty of the ball, while Chalcraft (14 touches, four marks) and Kaak (eight touches, three marks) booted two goals each.

The win was the GIANTS’ last match in the Academy Series, finishing with a 2-3 record, while the Bushrangers would go on to finish ninth, only to narrowly bow out to Dandenong Stingrays in Wildcard Round.

NAB League Boys 2019 Throwback: Round 5 – Dragons, Ranges humble Academies to go top

ROUND 5 of the 2019 NAB League season saw the Victorian mainstays peg back their Northern visitors in an action packed nine-game weekend. Sandringham and Eastern delivered big wins over the two Queensland academies at Trevor Barker Oval, while the Sydney Academy won strongly to remain undefeated alongside Dandenong (3-0-1).

But first to take the field were the Bendigo Pioneers and Northern Knights at Queen Elizabeth Oval, with the visitors taking four points back to Preston after trailing at every other break. After streaming ahead by 17 points at half-time with double the goal tally, the Pioneers ran out of legs to be held to just one major in the second half as the Knights snuck ahead to come away five-point victors.

As was a theme in Round 5, both sides were weakened but had some solid talent running around from each age bracket. Josh D’Intinosante and Sunny Brazier had plenty of the ball while also hitting the scoreboard, while Lachlan Potter created some zip on the outside. Top-age Pioneers James Schischka, Ben Worme, and Logan Fitzgerald all had 25 touches, while bottom-age jet Jack Ginnivan showed promise with 20 and a goal.

Sam Philp was the best ball winner of the 2019 draftees, earning 17 touches for Northern, while Swans recruit Brady Rowles had just 11 as he popped up in spurts. Ryan Sturgess, who almost joined Philp at the Blues as a supplementary top-up, was also impressive with 21 disposals and seven marks.

Saturday’s first game opened a Blacktown double-header as the Swans Academy accounted for Murray in a close encounter to move to equal-first. The Sydneysiders shot out of the blocks with five goals to nil to open the match, adding another four in the second term to lead by six goals at half time. Although they fared much better in the second half, the Bushrangers could not fully recover the deficit and went down by 24 points.

Sydney over-ager Kyle Martin led all comers with 29 disposals, just one touch ahead of Bushrangers runner Cam Wild (28, one goal). Dylan Clarke also led the way for Murray with 23 disposals, with Jye Chalcraft, Jimmy Boyer, and Sam Durham all also ticking over the 20-mark. Max Geddes (23 disposals) was also influential for the Swans, but it was big man Hamish Ellem who stole the show with 22 disposals, nine marks, and 3.3 in a performance which went a long way to securing him an Allies berth.

The GWS Academy was next up on its home turf against another Victorian country side in Gippsland, only it could not repeat the feats of its New South Wales rival. The GIANTS trailed at every break but brought the contest to the highly-fancied Power, getting within a single point at three-quarter time before falling by nine points.

Harry Grant had an outstanding game for GWS, booting two goals from his game-high 31 disposals, while Oakleigh squad member Jeromy Lucas had 24 touches and newly-transferred Northern Knight Liam Delahunty booted two goals. But a talent rich Gippsland unit was led well by Brock Smith (24 disposals, seven rebound 50s) and Hawthorn rookie Harrison Pepper (26 disposals, one goal), with Riley Baldi also stepping up through midfield. Draftees Kyle Dunkley, Leo Connolly, Fraser Phillips, and Charlie Comben were also in action for the Power.

Skipping back, and Dandenong extended its unbeaten start to the season with a huge win over Oakleigh on home turf. After a tight opener, the Stingrays played the conditions perfectly to pile on eight goals in the second term, and seven in the last to storm away 70-point victors with 11 individual goalkickers.

Lachlan Williams and Ned Cahill slotted three majors each for the winners, while bottom-ager Will Bravo slotted two and Richmond recruit Bigoa Nyuon managed one from 17 touches. Cahill was the leading disposal getter with 29, while Joe Ayton-Delaney, Lochlan Jenkins, and Trent Bianco all managed 24 for the Chargers. Port draftee Dylan Williams went goalless in a different role, while Gold Coast mid-season recruit Mitch Riordan had 15 touches and Melbourne rookie Austin Bradtke had just eight disposals and a goal.

Saturday’s other double-header began with Sandringham thumping the Brisbane Lions Academy by 97 points on home turf. The Lions had won just one game to that point, and were in for more immediate pain as the Dragons helped themselves to 13 first half goals while holding the visitors to one. There was no way back from there, with Sandringham coasting to victory.

Brisbane skipper Will Martyn was one of the sole Lions to stand up all day, collecting a game-high 31 touches while fellow Richmond draftee Noah Cumberland was kept to just nine. Louis Butler and Ryan Byrnes strutted their stuff for the Dragons to win plenty of the ball, while Miles Bergman started to get into his stride with 17 touches, Jack Bell impressed with two goals from the same disposal haul, and Blake O’Leary finished with a game-high three goals.

Eastern completed the academy rout with a defensively sound 59-point thumping of Gold Coast’s academy, keeping the SUNS to just two goals. After just three goals were scored in the first half, the Ranges clicked into gear to break the game open with seven in the third term and run home comfortable winners.

Zak Pretty had a monster day out with 37 disposals, aided well by Lachlan Stapleton (27) and Mitch Mellis (24), while bottom-age defenders Wil Parker and Josh Clarke also impressed. Bailey White led the goal count with four, while Jamieson Rossiter managed three and Cody Hirst played one of his last games before being snapped up by Sydney. Skipper Connor Budarick was the standout for Gold Coast, accumulating 27 touches, with bottom-ager Max Pescud also thereabouts, and fellow SUNS recruits Matt Conroy and Patrick Murtagh also taking the field.

Saturday’s final fixture saw Calder edge Geelong in a close battle at Highgate Recreation Reserve, with both sides enjoying time in the lead. The Cannons looked the goods after coming out on top in a low-scoring first half, but were pegged back to within a point at the final break. Keeping their heads, the hosts held on to win by seven points.

Sam Ramsay was the sole draftee afield, and he had a decent outing with 27 disposals – behind only Daniel Mott (29) and Brodie Newman (36). Ned Gentile booted three goals from 21 disposals to also be among the best, while skipper Jesse Clark claimed that honour for Geelong. Nineteen-year-old Charlie Sprague was another to impress with two goals from 18 touches, with fellow over-ager Henry Stubbings managing 20.

Fast-forward to Sunday, and Western got the better of Tasmania in their trip to the Apple Isle, trumping the hosts by 47 points to get within touch of the top four. A steady opening half saw Tasmania prove wasteful, booting 1.6 as Western eventually took flight to run home with six goals to two after half-time.

Competition leading goalkicker Archi Manton took full toll with a game-high three majors, supported well by Carlton rookie Josh Honey (two from 25 disposals) and bottom-age jet Eddie Ford (two from 16 disposals). Darcy Cassar racked it up across half back to finish with 31 disposals, while Patrick Walker and Bailey Gordon shared that feat for Tasmania (25). Isaac Chugg was also impressive on debut for a Devils side which was missing a lot of its star power.

Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels took home a huge win in the round’s final match, defeating the Northern Territory Thunder Academy by 55 points on neutral territory. The Rebels never looked back after a 10 goals to one opening half at Windy Hill, which proved more than enough for the win despite a more even second half.

Nick Caris led the goal count with four for GWV, while Jay Rantall (27 disposals, two goals), Matty Lloyd (28, two), and Riley Polkinghorne (23, two) all had an impact. There was plenty of class on show for NT despite the loss too, with Beau O’Connell (29 disposals, two goals) having a day out, while Ben Jungfer had it 28 times, Joel Jeffrey had 24 touches and six marks, and new SUNS rookie Malcolm Rosas Jnr also got on the park.