On the eve of the 2019 AFL National and Rookie drafts, the Gazette’s NAB League reporter TYLER LEWIS runs his eye over the players likely to hear their names called out.
Trademark: Skill, work rate and ability to win matches in minutes.
Description: Elegance and Hayden Young are synonymous. His trusty left foot slices through team structures. Nick Cox demonstrated his worth this year when he rotated the top three prospect through the midfield and forward lines. He was the star of the combine, dominating the agility testing. If he is to go to Melbourne, expect him to play the role of the recently-departed Jordan Lewis and to debut Round 1 in Perth against the Eagles.
AFL Player Comparison: Hamish Hartlett
Coach comment (Stingrays coach Nick Cox): “He is a sure bet. He has always been touted as the best player in our region and there is a reason for it – he is a professional, he does everything right, not just with his footy but with his off-field stuff, he just a really solid sure bet. You always knew he was touted to get to this level, but he is just a true hard competitor in everything he does and that is just the greatest trait he has, he competes hard and the execution isn’t bad either.”
Draft Range: Pick 3 (currently Melbourne), no later than pick 7.
Position: Small forward
Trademark: Kicking big goals in big moments.
Description: Weightman has all the attributes an AFL club would want in a small forward. While he possesses a ludicrous ability to kick the miraculous goals, he also can cause opposition defenders headaches through his smarts, underrated ability overhead and his leadership. Leading Haileybury to the ACA premiership, this livewire loves to get his teammates involved. Melbourne is desperate for a small forward; he could possibly link with Young in the red and blue given they also have pick 10.
AFL Player Comparison: Charlie Cameron
Coach comment: “He has bobbed up out of nowhere and is that small forward everyone loves at the moment – he kicks some amazing goals, and marks the ball well for his size. A loveable kid who we are really happy he has become what he has become.”
Draft Range: Ranging from pick 7-13.
SAM DE KONING
Position: Key position defender
Trademark: Intercept marking.
Description: De Koning’s growth spurt of over 10 centimetres in one season is often spoken about, but his determination and thirst for the contest is not. He’s at home in defence but can certainly swing down forward and create a contest. He’s currently sliding down the draft ranks and proving to be an absolute steal in the second round. A club in premiership contention with a strong backline would look to invest in him for years to come to add to the fold when the current crop moves on and he is ready to thrive.
AFL Player Comparison: Darcy Moore
Coach comment: “Sam is 200cm, he is quite versatile, he can play in majority of areas, and he has this year – he has played ruck, forward, and back. He had a really good national carnival which elevated him even more; he needs to put on a little bit of size, needs to get in the gym and do a bit of work but he’s a loveable kid. There is so much upside to him, he catches it and gets it back – he will be a good player.”
Draft Range: Ranging from pick 25-35.
Position: Outside ball user – wing/half-back
Trademark: Run and carry.
Description: Any club would feel safe with the ball in Lachlan Williams’ hands. The right footer loves to run and carry before kicking long and direct inside 50. A key forward’s dream player up the ground, Williams doesn’t shy away from pulling the trigger. He originated at half-back for the Stingrays before became one of the country’s more threatening wingmen after the nationals. He performed incredibly well at the combine in the jumping tests to show he can play taller if need be.
AFL Player Comparison: Jayden Short
Coach comment: “He has a lot of really good attributes and has come a really long way. He kicks the ball well, marks well for his size, he’s a good finisher inside 50; he kicks a lot of goals and doesn’t miss so he is efficient with his disposals. He needs to get his tank up, he has a little bit of a question mark with his running ability and that can be changed if he gets to a club.”
Draft Range: Pick 60+ possible rookie draft.
Position: Small forward
Trademark: Goal sense and ability to make an inch look like a mile on his opponent.
Description: Drafting Ned Cahill any pick after 40 would be considered a steal. There aren’t many small forwards in this year’s crop smarter in and around the ball than Cahill. He can pinch hit in the midfield if he improves his tank. Underestimating his size would be a mistake as he can win his own ball when he has too; and he isn’t afraid to launch at goal from beyond the arc and when he does, it often sails through.
AFL Player Comparison: Tom Papley
Coach comment: “He is becoming a steal. Ned does everything well – he is clean, efficient, runs well, his pace is a bit of query but I think he plays fast with what he does with the footy. He has played through the midfield; he has played as a forward. His running power to get up the ground is unbelievable; he burns his opponent off and gets out the back. His pressure is great as well; Ned creates the turnover and gets on his bike to get another possession down the ground.”
Draft Range: Ranging from pick 40-50
Trademark: Athleticism and versatility.
Description: At almost 200 centimetres, Bigoa Nyuon defies the odds with how well he moves around the ground. After recently stunning the state combine in the 20-metre sprint, Nyuon can play anywhere. He pinch hit in the ruck towards the back end of the season with the absence of a ruckman at times, but has found himself on the wing or playing as a high half-forward. His size and athleticism will cause troubles for his opponents. If a club is to take him in the draft, a preseason will only stretch his potential further.
AFL Player Comparison: Aliir Aliir
Coach comment: “What an athlete he is! At the start of the year you could say he is an athlete playing footy but he has got the gap between the two drawn closer and his back six to eight weeks were exceptional. He produced some really good games and moments, he kicks the ball exceptionally well for a big bloke, he has learned what he can do when his work rate is higher.”
Draft Range: St Kilda Next Generation Academy student – St Kilda has pick 82 where they could take him if another club doesn’t bid on him first.
Trademark: Upside and athleticism.
Description: Kuipers is the yearly code-jumper who picks up the footy as if he never once dominated another sport. Kuipers, once an extremely accomplished beach volleyballer, is a powerful athlete who reads the ball well in the air. His size and athleticism enables him to play in all positions on the ground. If he doesn’t go in the draft, expect him to follow the path of Mitch Riordan earlier this year.
AFL Player Comparison: Majak Daw
Coach comment: “He has come from a volleyball background; he won the state title at the start of this year. He is really green, really raw, and still learning but athletically he is brilliant; runs under three seconds for a 20-metre sprint so he has got pace. He defends really well and he runs at the footy alright when he plays forward, fairly strong with his hands.”
Draft Range: Late Rookie Draft
Trademark: Ability to find the ball and composure once he has it
Description: Toner finds the footy with ease around the clearances and could be a surprise packet at the back end of the draft. A clean midfielder at NAB League level who does a lot of his work around the stoppages isn’t easy to find. At the conclusion of Dandenong’s season Toner returned to Narre Warren for the Outer East finals series and was an important figure in the Pies’ premiership against much bigger bodies. If he doesn’t get selected in the draft, his phone will be buzzing from a selection of VFL clubs.
AFL Player Comparison: Shaun Higgins
Coach comment: “Jack was second in our best and fairest, and he finds the footy really well. His kicking is exceptional, he’s a really strong competitor who this year gave himself every opportunity to play the way he did, and he trains well and looks after himself well. He works really hard, there is a question mark on his pace, which he is probably sick of hearing, but that is it.”
Draft Range: Rookie draft. He’s currently training with Sandringham in the VFL.
Trademark: Class with ball in hand
Description: Serong has carried the hype from a young age and has lifted with it on his shoulders in his draft year. A smooth-moving midfielder who definitely knows where the big sticks are, Serong is also underrated overhead and doesn’t need a lot of the ball to change the game. During the nationals, the Gippsland product averaged 23.5 disposals and 8.5 tackles, ultimately winning him the Vic Country player of the tournament.
AFL Player Comparison: Robbie Gray
Coach comment (Gippsland Power Rhett McLennan): “I think it is difficult for Caleb because he boards far away, plays for Geelong Grammar for the majority of the year as his primary club, he comes back and plays footy for us, then he plays also for Vic Country where he was the captain and for the Australian team as well. He has to wear a lot of hats, and had no pre-season. He came from playing an AGS cricket final where he bowled 24 overs to the next week playing elite junior football. If he is one of the guys who they think is one of the elite midfielders, imagine if he had a pre-season.”
Draft Range: Pick 5 (currently Sydney), otherwise pick 6 (Adelaide)
Position: Power forward/midfielder
Trademark: Brute strength and hunger to succeed
Description: Not many players have the capacity to sit in the goal square as a key target one minute, and burst from the centre square stoppage the next – but Sam Flanders does. The Gippsland product has a strong basketball background, which is shown in spades with his ball control and ability to read the play. An extremely powerful player, his debut at AFL level will certainly come early in the 2020 season but he may spend most of his time inside 50 early on.
AFL Player Comparison: Christian Petracca
Coach comment: “He exceeded his expectations in nearly every level, the way he played this year, given the way he played in the midfield. You look who he is compared to, which is a Christian Petracca who is more a forward than a midfielder, I think by the time a couple years comes around he will be more Toby Greene, who plays primarily midfield who sneaks forward and is dangerous.”
Draft Range: Pick 5-6
Trademark: Running power and versatility as a small
Description: Another one of Gippsland’s damaging forward-midfield options. Baldi is going to slide down the order and be one of the bigger steals in the national draft. He’s extremely composed by foot, damaging in front of goal and loves to get on his bike to work over his opponents up the ground. He was pivotal in the Power’s final home and away game and ran inside the top 10 in the yo-yo repetitive sprint testing.
AFL Player Comparison: Joel Selwood
Coach comment: “He’s very hard at the football, extremely good in close, and not known for his speed but his footy IQ around the ball is elite. He is a guy who is not being touted as a high draft pick, but if you look at his numbers they are as good as anyone’s.”
Draft Range: Ranging from pick 50-60
Position: Intercept and rebounding defender
Trademark: Leadership and composure with the ball
Description: Smith epitomises the modern defender – one who can play lockdown, but also makes his opponent accountable by creating his own play through intercept and rebounding work. He uses the ball well, preferring to kick shorter. Smith can also work up the ground, and his size means he is raring to go if a club picks him to play on the medium option on the last line.
AFL Player Comparison: Dylan Grimes
Coach comment: “He is a fantastic leader, but more importantly a fantastic young man. He always does the right thing, thinks of others, and I think he will fit into an AFL club perfectly. I see him as someone who can turn into a Nick Maxwell in regards to his leadership qualities. I am really excited with what he can offer at an AFL club and whoever he goes to will be as well.”
Draft Range: Ranging from picks 40-50
Trademark: Follow up work after a ruck contest
Description: Comben was riddled with injuries in the lead-up to the draft, but has peaked at the right time. His work below his knees for a big man is second to none, along with his repeat efforts, he surprised many recruiters when he took on the highly-touted West Australian ruckman Luke Jackson in the nationals final. Repeat efforts have been a trademark of his game up the ground, but he can also get on his bike and be an option up forward. To start off with he will be a forward while he is filling his frame, but if he gets a run and jump at the ball with his long arms, defenders will find him hard to stop.
AFL Player Comparison: Esava Ratugolea
Coach comment: “Charlie got injured and when he came back he was underdone. If you take his last game as an aberration his season was super. I am confident enough clubs, or nearly all, will see the enormous upside he has. They would be crazy not to pick him up.”
Draft Range: Ranging from picks 50-60
Position: Medium-sized forward
Trademark: Putting through left-foot snaps
Description: Phillips has what can’t be taught – a keen sense for goals. The left-footer has a bit of size to put on but is always in and around the right spots. He can play small and tall, and is a dangerous exponent out the back when he turns his opponent inside out on the fast break. When he runs around on to his left foot from deep in the pocket, he doesn’t often miss. He could possibly be one of the first players sent to the weights room when he enters an AFL club.
AFL Player Comparison: Jesse Hogan
Coach comment: “What you see in regards to his positives in the way he moves the football, and his sense as a forward, but also as a tall, rangy midfielder is huge as well. Hopefully a club looks at him as a player they can put some time into because I have no doubt he has the ability, not only to play AFL football, but be a very good AFL footballer.”
Draft Range: Ranging from picks 40-50
Trademark: Foot skills and competitiveness
Description: Born and bred in the heart of country footy, Sparkes has an appetite for the contest. One of the smoother movers in the draft, he’s elite by hand and foot. He was struck across the face in a final during the season and in the following 15 minutes of football he worked harder and had a bigger impact than anyone else on the field. He isn’t afraid to win his own footy but is more damaging on the outside disrupting the ball to forwards leading at him. Running isn’t Sparkes’ strong suit, but his intelligence around the contest allows it to not matter. Sparkes will be one who improves immensely after an AFL pre-season.
AFL Player Comparison: Jarryd McVeigh
Coach comment: “He has an elite right foot, the same as Jarryd McVeigh. He didn’t need to be good on his left because he found a way to get to his right. He is similar in regards to his competitive nature – Ryan is never beaten wherever he plays on the ground. What he brings to a football club is super – his attitude is faultless, and his work ethic is as big I’ve seen in a young man before, whoever picks him up should be pleased in their recruiting staff.”
Draft Range: Picks 60-70
Trademark: Work ethic and resilience
Description: A beaming half-back, Pepper is able to launch with his speed and penetrating kick. He didn’t have his most damaging year but still has the potential to cause damage at the elite level and has talent to burn. The Hawthorn Academy player was dominant in the preliminary final against Eastern, showing he is still a soaring prospect. If he gets under the coaching mastermind of Alastair Clarkson, he could be anything.
AFL Player Comparison: Lewis Jetta
Coach comment: “His improvement over the year has been incredible, his work ethic is second to none, and he is our hardest trainer. He has great flexibility across the ground because he did it not only for us, but at national level as well. I have no doubt whoever picks him up will get great value for money.”
Draft Range: Pick 60+ – possible rookie
Position: Key position forward/ruck
Description: Josh Smith is full of potential at the top level. In the NAB League he plays as a key forward and ruckman, but at the AFL may be a bit undersized in height to begin in the ruck. He’s a dead-eye in front of goal with a very technically sound set shot routine and action. When he’s full of confidence, he is unstoppable when it comes to a long and direct ball inside forward 50. He struggles a bit in endurance and agility, but that’s nothing a pre-season running program won’t fix at AFL level.
AFL Player Comparison: Tom Hawkins
Coach comment: “Josh is extremely dedicated from where he has been from being a bigger kid to become a forward and a really good around the ground ruckman. I think he provides a competitive edge to a list. If an AFL club is looking for a tall with some competitive grunt, I think you could go a lot worse than picking Josh.”
Draft Range: Rookie draft
Position: Outside midfield/half-back
Trademark: Upside and ball use
Description: Connolly is an extremely damaging outside ball mover who improved immensely in his draft year at adding strings to his bow. Often not given the attention he deserves in a side threaded with stars, he harms the opposition as much as any other with ball in hand. He will need to add some size once he gets to an AFL list, but his work on the outside will already be up to the standard. A Sam Mitchell-type in terms of his foot skills, he is a genuine chance to be the dedicated kick-in taker as soon as he walks in the door of an AFL club if he is placed at half-back.
AFL Player Comparison: Bachar Houli
Coach comment: “Leo Connolly will be our biggest steal. I think Leo’s game is made for AFL football. Primarily you have seen him as an outside player at NAB League football, but closer and closer to the finals he developed that inside game that made his outside game even more dangerous. His left foot and right foot are identical, you can’t pick between them. Given that we only train one night a week, and with what he has shown in his highlights, give him five days a week in a program and goodness only knows what he could become at AFL level.”
Draft Range: Late national – possible rookie draft