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Academy guns on show during loss to Werribee

2015 draft prospect Darcy Parish of the Geelong Falcons poses for a photograph in his family's shearing shed during a 2015 AFL.com.au photo shoot at Winchelsea, Victoria on March 23, 2015. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Darcy Parish, pictured at his family's shearing shed at Winchelsea, played well for the NAB AFL Academy
There was obviously some outstanding class on show today and we had 13 or 14 really good performers
Academy coach Brenton Sanderson

LAST April, Angus Brayshaw played on the MCG with the NAB AFL Academy for the squad's annual game against a VFL team. He collected 21 disposals and won the MCC Chairman's medal as the best player on the ground. A year later – to the day – the No.3 draft pick debuted for Melbourne.

In 2013, power forward Tom Boyd stamped himself as the best teenager in the country with a strong display in the corresponding game for the academy again. And in previous encounters, Lachie Whitfield and Joe Daniher had used the VFL opponents to emphasise their standings as high picks in their draft year.

The academy's matches against VFL opponents have proven so useful and constructive for the draft prospects and recruiters that this year, for the first time, they will play two VFL clubs within a week.

The first game came on Sunday at Simonds Stadium, when the level two squad faced off against Werribee's VFL side, which comprised a number of senior-listed North Melbourne players. The academy group of 35 players, all eligible for this year's NAB AFL Draft, was cut to 26 after injuries left nine unavailable.

But those who did play made the most of their chance in the Australian under-18 jumper. Although the final score and margin was extreme – Werribee won 20.7 (120) to 7.3 (45) – it didn't quite illustrate the gap after a close start.

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"Ultimately due to our age and experience we couldn't match it for long enough. But we showed some patches where it was a real snapshot into the future," academy coach Brenton Sanderson said.

"There was obviously some outstanding class on show today and we had 13 or 14 really good performers."

Topping the list was South Australian Aaron Francis, who patrolled half-back and took nine marks from 13 disposals. His poise and confidence in the air won him the medal as his team's best player, but there were many other contenders.

His counterpart in defence Jacob Weitering, widely tipped as a very early draft pick, outmarked, outmuscled and outworked a range of different opponents and had six marks by quarter-time.

Darcy Parish continued his excellent start to the year, gathering 21 disposals, sending the ball inside 50 on four occasions and kicking a goal. The 182cm midfielder darts through the play but isn't afraid to win the ball himself, which was important against a Werribee line-up that was significantly more mature and experienced.

Meet Darcy Parish

The same applied for midfield pair Nick O'Kearney (22 disposals, eight marks) and Ben Keays (21 disposals), while Greater Western Sydney's scouts would have watched closely as zone academy prospect Jacob Hopper (18 disposals, 12 tackles, seven clearances) never stopped in the midfield and half-forward.

Callum Mills, who did not play as he recovers from shin soreness, will grab most of the attention this year as the Sydney Swans' next talented academy recruit after Isaac Heeney. But Hopper, who comes from Leeton in New South Wales but plays for the North Ballarat Rebels, has also shown he will likely be one of the first handful of players chosen come November and the Giants will have first call.

This year's draft pool is not considered by recruiters to have the same depth of 2014, with many citing a slimmer Vic Metro squad as a reason. But the top end of the draft, like it always should, will provide clubs with different options for different needs.

On Sunday, West Australian Callum Ah Chee and Victorian Harley Balic rotated through half-forward and the midfield and made an impact, while tall trio Josh Schache, Charlie Curnow and Sam Weideman all hit the scoreboard and showed encouraging signs.

By the time they face the Northern Blues next Saturday at the MCG in a curtain-raiser to the Richmond and Western Bulldogs clash, Sanderson hopes they will be even more aware of what is coming.

"We spend the week now reviewing, touching up a few things and the boys will know what to expect next week," Sanderson said.

Werribee used the contest as another practice match in the lead-up to the VFL season, and a number of Kangaroos will be pushing for selection. With 23 disposals and three goals, Mason Wood looked a class above, while Robbie Tarrant had 26 disposals roaming around the ground.

Kieran Harper (18 touches and a goal) and Majak Daw (three goals, 33 hit-outs) were also strong contributors in the big win, while Jake Sharp was named his club's best player.

NAB AFL ACADEMY  3.1     5.3       6.3      7.3 (45)
WERRIBEE               7.1     10.2     15.5   20.7 (127)

GOALS
NAB AFL Academy: Weideman 2, Cole, Curnow, Hipwood, Parish, Schache
Werribee: Iles 4, Daw 3, Wood 3, Wales 2, Sherlock, Crichton, O'Shea, Harper, King, Currie, Ferrari, Adams

BEST
NAB AFL Academy: Francis, Parish, O'Kearney, Weitering, Hopper, Keays
Werribee: Sharp, Wood, Tarrant, Norris, Conway, Daw