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Late bloomers: Stars that defied U18 form

Tiger talks tough, contracts aplenty Mitch Cleary brings you up to date with the latest news
Marcus Bontempelli wasn't always the superstar he is today - AFL,Under-18s,Marcus Bontempelli,Ed Richards,Daniel Rioli,Nick Haynes,Patrick Cripps,Nakia Cockatoo,Tom Doedee,Clayton Oliver,Tim Taranto,Will Hayward
Marcus Bontempelli wasn't always the superstar he is today

THE NAB AFL Under-18 Championships are underway and a host of highly rated youngsters - who are strutting their stuff across the country - are expected to feature in a bumper draft crop at season's end.

But a draft prospect making a name for himself at the carnival isn't the be all and end all for his hopes of hitting the ground running in the AFL, as a number of players have shown.

Here is a list of late bloomers to have gone on to achieve big things in an AFL environment.

Nick Haynes (Pick 7, 2011)

Haynes was recruited following a strong season playing as an athletic forward, but has morphed into one of the game's most respected rebounding defenders. Always an incredibly versatile prospect, it's in defence where Haynes has played his best footy. Having won Dandenong's best and fairest following a solid TAC Cup season, the Giants could afford to take a punt on the rangy youngster with the seventh pick back in 2011. It's paid off. 

Marcus Bontempelli (Pick 4, 2013)

A quiet under-18 championships campaign had many questioning where Bontempelli might fall in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft. But having been claimed with the fourth pick, the Western Bulldogs will certainly have no regrets. A strong finish to the TAC Cup season with Northern Knights brought Bontempelli back into the fold as an early pick. 

Patrick Cripps (Pick 13, 2013)

Although he was an All Australian from the under-18 championships, doubts over Cripps' running ability and speed on the outside had many tipping the big-bodied West Australian to slide down the draft order. However, he was recruited to Carlton with the 13th pick and hasn't looked back. He's continued to grow in stature, while his elite ball-winning capabilities have made him one of the best midfielders in the competition. 

Patrick Cripps deals with an Orazio Fantasia tackle in 2013. Picture: AFL Photos

Nakia Cockatoo (Pick 10, 2014)

A foot injury kept Cockatoo out of the spotlight for much of his draft year, but he soon made headlines with a standout performance for the Allies in a Grand Final curtain raiser. It was enough for a number of clubs to renew their interest in the talented playmaker inside the first round of the draft. A strong showing at the Draft Combine saw Geelong take a punt on Cockatoo, who has shown glimpses of his immense potential while on the field. 

Daniel Rioli (Pick 15, 2015)

Rioli's rich family history inevitably meant there would be a huge focus on his draft chances throughout the year, but a relatively inconsistent campaign saw him slip down the pecking order. That was until he finished the season particularly strongly. The standout performer in the Draft Combine, Rioli was ultimately selected inside the first round of the draft and has since become a premiership player with the Tigers. 

Daniel Rioli seems unfazed by this tackle in 2015. Picture: AFL Photos

Tom Doedee (Pick 17, 2015)

Doedee was arguably the biggest bolter from the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, but since earning his AFL debut at the start of this season he's shown he's right at home at senior level. A talented junior basketballer who once hoped to earn a scholarship in the US, Doedee turned his focus solely to footy and is now reaping the rewards. He's an elite intercept player at AFL level, maintaining the natural athletic ability that saw him so highly rated by the Crows. 

Clayton Oliver (Pick 4, 2015)

Oliver missed the under-18 championships, not even making the Vic Country squad. But such was his form throughout the back half of the TAC Cup season with Murray Bushrangers, he shot into first-round draft calculations. He won the Morrish Medal, was recruited to the Demons with the fourth pick and now looks a genuine midfield star. 

Clayton Oliver has always loved to handball under pressure. Picture: AFL Photos

Tim Taranto (Pick 2, 2016)

Taranto shot into first-round calculations with an impressive under-18 championships campaign, but really began to hit the radar of clubs with early picks later in the season due to his form with TAC Cup side Sandringham Dragons. Having played as a high half-forward early in the year, his move into the midfield enabled him to showcase his ability as a tough inside ball-winner. 

Will Hayward (Pick 21, 2016)

Despite a strong championships campaign with South Australia and a flurry of goals in the SANFL under-18s, Hayward still arrived at Sydney as a relatively unknown quantity. But having found his way to the Swans with Pick 21, he now looks a bargain. Hayward has been able to showcase his clean touch, good decision-making skills and his ability to consistently hit the scoreboard at AFL level. 

Ed Richards (Pick 16, 2017)

Richards has settled into the Dogs' back line beautifully so far this season, but endured a disrupted draft year that meant he only soared into first-round calculations late in the campaign. He injured his knee early in his draft year, ruling him out of the under-18 championships, but saw his form flourish towards the back end of the season. He looks a composed ball user off half-back.