THIS year's NAB AFL Draft Combine was pushed over a weekend because of the later start to the season, with the key events crammed into two big days on Saturday and Sunday.
Clubs place varying levels of importance on the testing at the combine, and also use it as a final chance to see the players' personalities amongst their peers, their ability to interact in a group and who competes under difficult circumstances.
Other clubs bring along their coaches, introducing them to the prospects for what is often the first time. Alan Richardson, Paul Roos, Brad Scott and Brendon Bolton were among the senior coaches in attendance this week.
So after a smattering of results and leading performers, here are some answers to the key questions to emerge out of the combine.
Who did well?
Daniel Rioli was this year's standout performer. The Northern Territory forward, who moved to Victoria and has played with North Ballarat in the TAC Cup, showed a mix of endurance and speed that saw his draft stocks rise. Rioli, whose father is a cousin to Hawthorn premiership star Cyril, came equal second in the 20-metre sprint (recording a time of 2.89 seconds) and won the 30-metre repeat sprints with a highly regarded score of 24.15 seconds. He placed in the top-10 for the vertical jump and clean hands test, and also ran to level 14.6 in the beep test. Rioli performed well for the NT during the mid-year carnival and again last week for the Allies in the Grand Final curtain-raiser, but his impressive few days at the combine have him well in the mix as a second-round draft pick.
Matthew Kennedy wasn't sure how he would test at the combine after nursing a knee injury for three months towards the back of the year, but the midfielder had a very good few days. The taller on-baller recorded a 14.12 beep test, and was among the best performed in the jumping tests, a trait evident in his game with his overhead marking prominent. Kennedy will go to Greater Western Sydney as an academy pick but every other club would like him. Western Bulldogs father-son prospect Darcy MacPherson, small midfielder Kieran Lovell, burly Murray Bushranger Clayton Oliver and overager Alex Morgan were others to press their case well at the combine.
How did the likely early picks fare?
Plenty of them didn't test at all, as tends to be the case with the prospects who are certain draftees. Injury ruled out Josh Schache (toe), Jacob Hopper (groin) and Callum Mills (hamstring), while Aaron Francis' long season kept him out of the action. Harley Balic's recovery from wrist surgery stopped him from playing any part, while Sam Weideman's long return from an ankle injury meant he did little bar a personal fitness session (which still caught some recruiters' attention). Josh Dunkley and Riley Bonner also did not test with foot and leg issues respectively.
Of the highly rated youngsters to test, it was hard to go past likely No.1 pick Jacob Weitering in terms of impact. The composed but competitive 17-year-old strode out to level 15.1 in the beep test, pushing himself into the top-five overall. His jumping and high reach was also evident in the vertical leap tests. Kennedy, as we've said already, stood out, while Charlie Curnow ran 14.5 in the beep test and won his group's three-kilometre time trial too. Darcy Tucker's level 15.3 shuttle run was on the back of hard work, and Ben Keays also showed his work ethic in the time trial at the end of the week. Possible top-five pick Darcy Parish tested but wasn't a standout in any event. That isn't a concern – watch him play once and you'll see his pace, drive and competitiveness. He's a footballer who thrives on the game.
Draft prospects in action during the beep test. Picture: AFL Media
What does it mean for how the first round might look?
That might depend on who ends up with the picks, with many expected to be shuffled in a frenzied trade period. But we know plenty of the names who will be right at the top: Weitering, Schache, Mills, Hopper, Parish, Kennedy, Curnow and Weideman. Bids seem most likely to come for Mills in the first four or five picks and for Hopper and Kennedy about the same spot. But should GWS acquire Collingwood's pick seven as part of the Adam Treloar deal (they already hold No.8), there's a chance the Giants could get through their first two picks before a bid on Kennedy comes. That would be the dream result for GWS under the new bidding system.
Wayne Milera has also shot up as a possible top-10 pick due to his class and pace (he finished seventh in the repeat sprints test) while Jade Gresham's smarts and craftiness with the ball have him as a first-round contender. Gresham was one of four winners of the goalkicking test and also placed highly in the other kicking and handballing skills tests. The return to fitness of Ryan Burton was also promising for recruiters. After 14 months out with a severe leg injury, Burton ran confidently at the combine and did well given his circumstances. Before the injury he was considered one of the most talented players of this pool – that hasn't changed. He will be a player recruiting teams spend many hours mulling over.
What did the combine tell us about this year's draft?
It probably reinforced some things we already knew rather than teaching us a lot, apart from some surprising pieces of information that pop up about some recruits through the testing. On the whole, the combine showed again that recruiters should be able to find some good players in the first couple of rounds of the draft. Some players have continued to develop: the athletic Mitchell Hibberd, quick David Cuningham and rangey Oleg Markov look to have some AFL traits, while Aidyn Johnson's injuries shouldn't stop him from getting picked. After a six-month layoff with quad injuries, Johnson ranked fourth in the agility test in a good pointer to his damaging zip.
The combine underlined the scarcity of ruck prospects, with the four rucks in attendance grouped to test with the tall forwards pack. Gach Nyuon was the standout – not only did he record the equal highest ever absolute running vertical jump, he also ran 2.95 seconds in the sprint. But clubs seem to prefer to trade for rucks rather than draft them, meaning the big men look likely to be picked later on in this year's pool or as rookies. It promises to be a prolific year for the northern academies, too, with Mabior Chol, Reuben William and Corey Wagner all tied to the Brisbane Lions and offering exciting signs in the past week. Apart from Hopper and Kennedy, the Giants might also be able to secure a couple of other academy picks. Lachlan Tiziani is a possibility. He won the running vertical jump test, leaping 97cm.
Draft prospects competing in the 3km time trial