James Leake celebrates kicking a goal during the Coates Talent League match between Tasmania Devils and Gippsland Power at Highgate Reserve on September 9, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

NO MATTER who he has played for this season, James Leake has been 'Mr Everywhere'.

Leake, a skilful 187cm marking prospect, doesn't have a natural position. He played forward, back and through the midfield for Tasmania in the Coates Talent League, he played in defence for the Allies at the national under-18s championships, and he played across all three lines for St Patrick's College at school level.

On occasions, Leake played in all three positions in the same game. Sometimes, most notably in his school side's Grand Final against Hutchins midway through the season, he did that in the same quarter.

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Down by six points with under a minute to go in that Grand Final, Leake was pushed forward and soared above a pack to take a huge mark. With the seconds ticking down, he drilled the resulting set-shot to send the match to extra time where St Patrick's won.

"There were a few butterflies in the stomach," Leake told AFL.com.au.

"It was a wicked experience. It was a really cool moment to share with all of my mates. I spend every day with them, so it was a really cool moment. I was lucky enough to take a nice mark and send us into overtime, where we got the win. To share that with all of my school mates is something I'll treasure for a long time."

Leake was fantastic as an intercepting half-back in the Allies' successful national championships campaign, but it was with Tasmania in the Coates Talent League where he truly demonstrated his flexibility.

After averaging 17.3 disposals for the Devils in their opening six matches playing as a defender, he was then pushed forward for their next three games. The result was three goals against the Geelong Falcons, four against the Calder Cannons, and five against the Dandenong Stingrays.

In the team's preliminary final defeat, Leake played as an inside midfielder to give his Tasmanian side a spark. He finished with 21 disposals and two goals to go with seven tackles and four inside-50s, despite a 40-point loss to the Eastern Ranges.

"It was something that I really enjoyed, to be honest," Leake said.

"All through my junior football, my dad placed a big emphasis on playing every position. I played mid, back and forward. I think that came to the fore this year a little bit. I'm open to playing anywhere and improving my craft in all positions, so it's good fun.

"I started the year in the backline and played that for the Allies, which was really enjoyable for me. Going through the forward line and midfield, hopefully that enhanced my draft chances because it was something I loved."


Leake was named as an All-Australian playing across half-back for his role with the Allies in the national carnival, while Tasmania coach Jeromey Webberley also believes that the teenager's springy skillset favours a defensive role at the next level.

"James has got a fantastic foundation to his game," Webberley told AFL.com.au.

"He's got a willingness to put his body on the line and win critical contests. Early on in his footy career, he sets up well behind the ball. But, in saying that, he's got fantastic flexibility to move around the ground.

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"He's played in a senior premiership at TSL level as a defender, then this year with us he's played most of his footy as a defender but we've thrown him forward late in the year. He's also played a little bit of inside midfield stuff as well when we've needed some effort.

"But I think he sets up well as a defender. He's got great foundation in contest, effort and defence. He wins critical contests. You know what you're going to get week in, week out with James. He's a super character as well."

James Leake handballs during the 2023 U18 Championships match between Allies and Western Australia at Thebarton Oval on June 11, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Leake now shapes as a likely first-round pick on draft night, while he even has admirers inside the order's current top-10. His rising standing, combined with Tasmania's looming entrance into the AFL, has fuelled some tricky questions from clubs for him to consider.

Born and raised in Launceston, where he won a TSL premiership last season as a 16-year-old, Leake has always been set on moving interstate. He hopes his strong sense of loyalty has eased some clubs' concerns about the impending go-home factor.

"I do understand it," Leake said.

"There is that go-home factor, but it's not really any different to an interstate club drafting a Melbourne boy. For me, personally, the reality has always been that I'm Tasmanian and if I want to play high-level football – whether that's AFL, VFL, WAFL or anything – then I'm going to have to move away from home. That's just always been the reality for me.

"It's going to make a lot of Tasmanians very happy. (But) I'd like to think, being quite a loyal person, if a club was to give me an opportunity and draft me then I'd want to repay that faith in them."

Leake will almost certainly be joined in the AFL system next season by fellow Launceston locals and good friends including Colby McKercher and Arie Schoenmaker, with all three set to be in the conversation as potential first-round picks.

James Leake celebrates a goal during Tasmania's clash against Gippsland in the Coates Talent League on September 9, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

But, unlike his two close friends, Leake hasn't always been on the draft radar. A talented junior cricketer as well, he is considered among this crop's biggest bolters. It means a future in the AFL is a relatively newfound prospect for him, but one he's looking forward to.

"It's been interesting for me," Leake said.

"Dudes like Colby went into the year expecting it to happen, whereas I've had to keep my head down and keep working and keep trying to play good football. It's not so much that I haven't thought about it, I just haven't soaked it in too much.

"I've just always had the mindset to keep trying to play good football. But I guess now that the season is done, it does give you that opportunity to think about the possibility of maybe being on an AFL list.

"I'm just going to keep my head down, keep working hard and we'll see where it takes me."