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Worth a look: VFL stars pushing their draft case

Marc McGowan  July 14, 2017 6:49 AM

VFL 2017 Rd 09 - Williamstown v North Ballarat

Ben Cavarra continues to impress at VFL level

NO LEAGUE produces AFL-ready talent like the VFL.

Take last year for example, when 13 of the Victorian state league's finest joined AFL clubs via the national or rookie drafts.

Seven – Robbie Fox, Mitch Hannan, Ben Long, Ben McNiece, Luke Ryan, Tim Smith and Tom Stewart – have already made their AFL debut this year. There is more where that comes from in the 2017 crop.

Among them are familiar names such as Williamstown's Ben Cavarra and Michael Gibbons and Werribee gun Matt Hanson, emerging players like Geelong's James Tsitas and Essendon's Nash Holmes, and ex-AFL talent in Port Melbourne's Eli Templeton.

In some cases, all these guys are guilty of is measuring below 180cm. In others, they might be missing a yard of pace, slightly untidy with their ball use or perceived to have a lack of versatility.

Worth a look from other leagues

But pertinent is the Michael Barlow story of repeatedly being overlooked – for some of the reasons above – only for him to make everyone look silly with his instant impact in 2010, as a 22-year-old.

Gibbons, arguably the VFL's No.1 AFL draft prospect, will take heart from Barlow's journey.

The reigning J.J. Liston Trophy winner led the VFL in disposals, uncontested possessions and inside 50s last year and claimed the Frank Johnson Medal as the VFL's best player in representative duty, but went undrafted.

Ben Allan (Coburg)
The former Calder Cannon is small but prolific by hand, boasts pace to burn and can run all day, a la Hawthorn's Billy Hartung. Allan's strong finish to last year earned him a berth in the AFL Victoria Young Guns representative match and he has continued that form in 2017.

Kade Answerth (Sandringham)
Compared to Joel Selwood for his courageous acts and was runner-up in the Zebras' best and fairest in his debut VFL season last year, after being best afield in the 2015 TAC Cup Grand Final. Answerth is regarded highly for his professionalism, is equally effective inside and outside the contest and has a vicious sidestep in his arsenal.

Brett Bewley (Williamstown)
Free of the puppy fat and two years separated from the VFL development league, this Stuart Dew clone is emerging quickly and routinely thunders the ball 60 metres off his left boot. An NFL career beckons if an AFL one doesn’t eventuate. Bewley was particularly torrid in the past month, including a 41-possession effort on Sunday. 

Ben Cavarra (Williamstown)
A perennial mention on these lists since missing out in the 2013 drafts. Cavarra's resume is immense: two best and fairests for TAC Cup club Eastern Ranges, as well as winning the Morrish Medal, and another two for Frankston in the VFL. Switched to the Seagulls this year and has shone with his skill and pressure as a 175cm forward. 

Sam Dobson (Geelong)
Could be the Cats' latest success story out of local football. Stands 189cm and has brought his prolific goalkicking ways to the VFL, booting 12 in five matches in 2017. Turned 24 in June and has some similarities to Port Adelaide recruit Brett Eddy. 

Michael Gibbons (Williamstown)
There isn't much more Gibbons, 22, can do to score an AFL gig after his enormous VFL campaign last year, including winning the two biggest individual honours in the J.J. Liston Trophy and Frank Johnson Medal. The 174cm midfielder is averaging 26 disposals and 5.2 tackles this season, and has worked hard on his kicking. 

Matt Hanson (Werribee)
Strong-bodied onballer who won the Tigers' past two best and fairests in seasons also rewarded with VFL Team of the Year selection. An expert at stoppages and reading the play, but the consistent knock on him is his skill execution under pressure. Has worked hard on that area and is churning out another brilliant VFL campaign. 

Nash Holmes (Essendon)
The hard-running Gippsland Power product is a midfield bull who intimidates much older opponents on the field despite being in just his second VFL season. Represented Victoria Country at underage level. An ankle injury has kept him sidelined since late May. 

Nick Rippon (North Ballarat)
The 2015 J.J. Liston Trophy champion missed out in the 2012 AFL drafts despite some interest and went on to become one of the most decorated VFL footballers going around. Rippon is a ball magnet, although there are queries on his efficiency, and thrives despite the Roosters being without a win this year. 

Ball-magnet Nick Rippon continues to rack up big numbers. Picture AFL Photos

Sam Switkowski (Box Hill)
Switkowski represented the VFL this year and is yet to turn 21. He is another from the sub-180cm club and has battled glandular fever, but can play up forward – where he averages more than two goals and almost five tackles a game – and in the middle. 

Eli Templeton (Port Melbourne)
The ex-Saint, who grew up in Tasmania, played 14 AFL matches across three seasons after being a rookie selection, before being delisted last year. That setback has not stopped Templeton from averaging 28-plus possessions, including five games with at least 30, in the VFL this season. Might be worth another shot. 

James Tsitas (Geelong)
Four years have passed since he was a Geelong Falcons co-captain and part of the NAB AFL Academy. But Tsitas, 22, has taken his game to a new level this season in performing a number of different roles through the midfield, including as a tagger.