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SA begins quest for three-peat in WA as 2015 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships fixture is revealed

SA's Stephen Tahana is likely to be a key player in his state's bid for a third straight NAB AFL U18 title - ${keywords}
SA's Stephen Tahana is likely to be a key player in his state's bid for a third straight NAB AFL U18 title

SOUTH Australia will begin its push for three successive division one titles when it opens this year's NAB AFL under-18 Championships against Western Australia in late May. 

The AFL has released its fixture for this year's under-18 carnival, with division one games again spread over six rounds in a home-and-away format.

After claiming back-to-back wins in the past two seasons, the South Australians will travel to Lathlain Park in Perth to face Western Australia on May 23 in the first game of the tournament.

The division two squads – NSW/ACT, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory – will play three games in a two-week block.

Before that, though, the NAB AFL Academy will take centre stage by playing two AFL curtain-raiser games in April against VFL teams.  

Under coach Brenton Sanderson for the first time, the Academy will face Werribee on April 5 at Etihad Stadium ahead of St Kilda's round-one clash with Greater Western Sydney.

The following week the level two Academy players – eligible for this year's draft – will take on the Northern Blues. The game is likely to be played at the MCG ahead of the Richmond and Western Bulldogs contest on April 11. 

As always there are varying early opinions on the strength of this year's draft pool, with the 18 games in the championships to illustrate whether it has a large group of candidates as high picks or struggles to match the depth of the last few years at the top end. 

Vic Country is expected to be the team to beat the national carnival, with a several players including Darcy Tucker, Jacob Weitering, Darcy Parish, Josh Schache and Rhys Mathieson already considered strong draft prospects.   

But while Vic Metro generally accounts for at least a quarter of the draft selections, it is not likely to have the strength of previous years in 2015.  

Key forward Sam Weideman, midfielder Nick O'Kearney and half-forward Harley Balic sit among the standout players for Metro.

Meanwhile, the AFL has started advertising for the role of a talent identification consultant, who will be responsible for the spotting of emerging AFL prospects at under-14, under-15 and under-16 level. 

The consultant will then have an important say in selecting the level one and two NAB AFL Academy squads.

The role was one of a number of suggested actions to arise from last year's AFL Talent Forum, which also led the appointment of full-time Academy coach Sanderson in January. 

Division one NAB AFL Under-18 Championships fixture

Round one
WA v SA Lathlain Park Saturday, May 23 11am
Vic Metro v Vic Country Simonds Stadium Sunday, May 24 11am
Round two
SA v Vic Metro AAMI Stadium Saturday, May 30 10.45am
WA v Vic Country Medibank Stadium Sunday, May 31 12pm
Round three
SA v WA AAMI Stadium Saturday, June 6 12pm
Vic Country v Vic Metro Simonds Stadium Sunday, June 7 12pm
Round four
WA v Vic Metro Domain Stadium Saturday, June 13 11.20am
SA v Vic Country AAMI Stadium Sunday, June 14 11am
Round five
Vic Country v SA Simonds Stadium Friday, June 26 12.35pm
Vic Metro v WA Simonds Stadium Friday, June 26 2.35pm
Round six
Vic Metro v SA Etihad Stadium Wednesday, July 1 5.05pm
Vic Country v WA Simonds Stadium Thursday, July 2 1.15pm

Division two NAB AFL Under-18 Championships fixture

Round one
NSW/ACT v Tasmania Gold Coast (venue TBC) Saturday, June 20 10am
Queensland v NT Gold Coast (venue TBC) Saturday, June 20 12.30pm
Round two
Tasmania v Queensland Simonds Stadium Saturday, June 27 12pm
NSW/ACT v NT Simonds Stadium Saturday, June 27 2.10pm
Round three
NT v Tasmania Etihad Stadium Wednesday, July 1 3.05pm
NSW/ACT v Queensland Simonds Stadium Thursday, July 2 11.05am