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Rookie draft analysis: Hawks happy to wait while rivals go readymade

Pre-season and rookie draft analysis Draft experts Callum Twomey and Nat Edwards analyse the 2014 NAB AFL pre-season and rookie drafts
Jared Hardisty of Western Australia in action during the 2014 NAB AFL Under 18 Championship match between VIC Metro and Western Australia at Simonds Stadium, Geelong on June 27, 2014. (Photo: Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media)
Jared Hardisty was selected as a rookie by Hawthorn on Wednesday
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IN RECENT years, the rookie list has become something of a replacement list. Clubs have filled spots with players they know will do the work at training, will perform at state league level and fill in for the seniors if required.

Waiting for them to become the player they could be has been less of a priority; they have been drafted for the players they are now. Some of that still happened this year.

But Hawthorn's approach at Wednesday's NAB AFL Rookie Draft spoke of a different use of the list: to pick underexposed talent and give it time to develop.

After picking big-bodied midfielder Jared Hardisty, the Hawks went with Jermaine Miller-Lewis and Lachie Langford, who are longer-term prospects. For this pair (and the Hawks), there's no rush.

Miller-Lewis has played very little football over the past two years with injury, and had all but resigned himself to not getting picked this year and starting again in 2015.

But the Hawks would have seen his performances at under-16 level, when he impressed for Western Australia with his speed, skills and aggression. An energetic, likable and positive character, Miller-Lewis has an angry streak on the field.

Given his talent, there was also a chance that, had he got fit, Miller-Lewis would have been taken at next year's draft. The Hawks, in one sense, got in early.

They did the same for Langford, but in another way all together - he hasn't really been on the talent pathway's radar and was solid without being outstanding for Melbourne Grammar this year in the private schools' competition.

But the Hawks saw enough to let the 189cm youngster develop at the club instead of away from it. His brother, Will, took three years to break into Hawthorn's senior side off its rookie list. Instead of being a readymade replacement rookie, the younger Langford is more of a project.

Clubs assess and talk regularly of upside – the level of improvement left in a player. For Langford, it would have been a strong consideration that, like Will, he would take a bit longer to get there, but that he would.

Hawthorn's position as reigning premier gives it more chance to back its system to develop without a hurry, but a number of other well-positioned clubs went with the better-the-rookie-you-know philosophy.

Geelong grabbed North Melbourne defender Cameron Delaney (who the Roos were likely to re-draft), North Melbourne offered Max Warren another shot and Port Adelaide added more experience, bringing Nathan Krakouer back and selecting mature-ager Tom Logan.

They weren't alone. Of the 64 players taken in the rookie draft, 17 had previously been on AFL lists. Another 10 were category B rookies – either international prospects, players who hadn't been registered in a football league for three years or a reality TV show winner.

Of the new faces, many had taken longer roads to join rookie lists. Jack Sinclair (St Kilda, pick one) and Hugh Beasley (Brisbane Lions, pick 22) were overlooked last year, while Josh Glenn (Gold Coast, pick seven) pulled out of last year's combine and knocked back the chance to be picked.

They are another type of rookie clubs search for: the ones who beat down the door until they break through. That type won't ever go out of fashion.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs