DESPITE missing out on finals, 2017 proved to be an exciting year for the Jets as they saw their spearhead Cameron Rayner selected as pick one in the National Draft. While they possessed the most valuable player in last year’s draft pool, those following the club would have been equally keen on the players who would become top-age prospects this year.
The Jets’ strong suit is their top-end midfield and defensive talent, with a good bunch of them having played almost every game in their bottom age year. The likes of 2017 best and fairest winner Stefan Radovanovic (13 games), smooth midfielder Zac Butters (17), and the versatile Connor Thar (17) lead the way in terms of their 2018 draft prospects, with a wealth of TAC Cup experience already under their belts. The latter two were joined by bullocking inside midfielders Xavier O’Halloran (18 games) and Jaden Rice (16) in the Vic Metro under-17 futures side, and highlighted why they have been so highly touted.
Others to look out for include the ever-improving Buku Khamis (16 games) who thrived in a different role down back with some impressive intercept marking. The South Sudanese-born prospect is also a member of Western Bulldogs’ Next Generation Academy. Carlton fans will also be keeping an eye out for potential a father-son pick in the form of Oskar Manton (four games), who is quite raw but seems to be working hard on his game.
The Jets will again have some bottom age talent to unleash, with a number of 16 year-olds earning debuts last season. The best of them include Darcy Cassar (four games), who made his mark with four goals on debut against the Northern Knights, as well as athletic tall Emerson Jeka (one), who looks like he could be a top 10 pick in 2019. A good spread of talent from the back, forward could see the Jets propel themselves into finals contention for the first time since 2014, and they will most likely again have a good number of players pique interest come draft time.
The Jets improved on their previous season with six wins seeing them finish in tenth place – just behind Calder Cannons on percentage, and six points away from a finals berth. They started and finished the season in promising fashion, winning two of their first four and three of their last four games. In between those highlights, with eventual draftees Cameron Rayner, Lachlan Forgarty and Tristan Xerri away on Vic Metro duties, the Jets lost nine out of ten mid-season games.
They managed to snap their losing streaks with huge upset wins against Eastern in Round 10 and minor premiers Oakleigh in Round 15, which allowed the talent now coming through as top agers to experience overcoming the cream of the crop. There were also a few tight losses in the mix, with the young Jets fighting hard against teams in similar ladder positions to them – including Northern (one win each), Calder (two wins) and Greater Western Victoria (one loss). Western will be looking to build off of the upsets they caused with some added consistency, which should come with the wealth of experience their top agers now have. They will hope to again be knocking on the door of finals.
The Jets will fancy their chances in their first three outings for the year with clashes against Calder, Northern, and Eastern – teams which all look to place around the same mark as Western. They’ll face stiffer competition in rounds four to nine, with games against Dandenong, Sandringham, Oakleigh and Geelong twice. The June/July period afterwards could also prove crucial to their finals chances, as they face the possibility of coming up against the Cannons and Knights once again without their star players due to Vic Metro commitments.
With five games at Williamstown Football Ground as well as four at Avalon Airport Oval, they have the opportunity to create a couple of fortresses in the west. Overall, the top age talent in the current squad has been recognised for a couple of years now and there is still more to come. The Jets will be an exciting team to watch during 2018, with plenty of pace at ground level below a selection of athletic talls and amidst a couple of very strong inside midfielders. The Western squad is well placed to challenge for finals and improve on their wins tally once again, with the possibility of a few draftees come the end of the year.