VIC COUNTRY has lost one of its leading midfielders for the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, with Cooper Stephens set to miss the carnival with a suspected fractured leg.
The Geelong Falcons ball-winner and draft prospect suffered the injury to his lower leg on Sunday in his side's draw with the Dandenong Stingrays in the NAB League.
"We're expecting him to recover in six-to-eight weeks. He won't be playing in the under-18 championships," said the Falcons talent manager Mick Turner.
"You've got to take a conservative approach with these players, so the main thing we've got to do is get him over the injury and look to get him playing with us by the end of the year."
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Stephens performed strongly last year in Geelong's midfield as a bottom-ager alongside first-round draft selections Sam Walsh and Ned McHenry.
Some recruiters view him as one of the better clearance players in this year's draft pool.
"He's a hard inside midfielder. He's got a great body size on him and he's not going to be as big as Patrick Cripps but he plays like him. He's strong, he's got good skills and running ability," Turner said.
The 18-year-old had been picked to play for the under-18 Australian side in next week's clash with VFL side the Casey Demons, as one of six Vic Country representatives in the 26-player squad.
From Vic Country, Hayden Young has proven to be a likely early pick with his run off half-back, while dashing defender Lachie Ash has also turned heads as a possible first-round selection with his pace and power.
Thomson Dow was not picked to play for the under-18 Australian side but the younger brother of Carlton's Paddy has had a promising start to the NAB League season with Bendigo Pioneers and is in Vic Country's squad.
The under-18 carnival begins in June, with Vic Country's first clash coming against the Allies on Sunday, June 9.