(L-R): Colby McKercher, Ryley Sanders and Arie Schoenmaker. Pictures: AFL Photos

ONE OF the highlights of lockout week is hearing who is making their debut. We had some play their first game in Opening Round, but for AFL Fantasy purposes, it’s all about round one.

A rookie, or cash cow, is defined as a player priced at $300,000 or less.

Debutants make up a lot of these, but often the best come from those a year or two into the system. The substitute rule can keep some prices down and therefore, the cash cow value can be strong for those who have had little taste in the season prior.

The key to a successful Fantasy Classic season is nailing the cheap players to gain value. This allows coaches to sell players via downgrades and upgrades, like the stock market, to get a team full of stars.

Cash cows – or rookies – define your starting squad. Managing to fit the best ones in will help organise your structure. It’s all about nailing the right picks.


1. Blake Howes (DEF, $200,000)

AAMI Community Series: 26 (69 per cent TOG)
Opening Round: 74 (74 per cent TOG)
2022: 85.2 (14 games, VFL)

Getting a look at Howes in Opening Round has taken him from a player to avoid to a must-have due to his score that has brought his breakeven in the negative. Howes had an excellent debut with 17 disposals and seven marks. Jake Bowey’s shoulder injury has moved him up the pecking order and should get a run to increase in value leading into the Dees’ round six bye.

Blake Howes in action during Opening Round on March 7, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

2. Zach Reid (DEF, $253,000)

AAMI Community Series: 67 (92 per cent TOG)
2022: 36.5 (1 games, VFL)

Job security is important for our rookies and the 22-year-old should be an important member of the Bombers’ backline this season. With Jordan Ridley missing the early part of the season with a quad injury, Reid will be cemented in the back-six. If he can hit the stat lines of the AAMI Community Series game with 15 disposals and seven marks, then there’s cash to be made.

Zach Reid is all smiles at an Essendon training session in January 2024. Picture: Essendon FC

3. Ethan Phillips (DEF, $200,000)

AAMI Community Series: 43 (83 per cent TOG)
2022: 72.9 (18 games, VFL)

Picked up during the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP), Phillips will be filling a hole or two in Hawthorn’s decimated backline. Scoring may be sporadic, and his floor could be low, but there should be access to points as the ball will spend a bit of time in the Hawks’ defensive-half.

Ethan Phillips during the 2024 AAMI Community Series match between Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs. Picture: AFL Photos

4. Arie Schoenmaker (DEF, $200,000)

AAMI Community Series: 82 (79 per cent TOG)
2022: 78.5 (2 games, Under-18 Champs)

Taking 11 marks in the Saints’ last pre-season game coupled with the suspension for Jimmy Webster and the injury to Dougal Howard could hand the Tasmanian a round one debut. The ball was in his hands quite a bit as St Kilda transitioned out of defence as his long kicking was on display. In the Coates Talent League, Shoenmaker averaged 27 disposals a game for 104.3 Fantasy points when he returned to the side following an off-field incident.

Arie Schoenmaker warms up ahead of St Kilda's AAMI Community Series match against North Melbourne on March 3, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

OTHERS: Daniel Curtin (DEF/MID, $279,000), Josh Gibcus (DEF, $256,000), Bodhi Uwland (DEF, $219,000), Toby Pink (DEF, $200,000), Charlie Dean (DEF, $200,000).

We may have a few options to choose from, but as most will have to play defensively, the safest play is to have any rookie-priced defenders on the bench.  


1. Ryley Sanders (MID, $285,000)

AAMI Community Series: 92 (80 per cent TOG)
2022: 125 (4 games, Under-18 Champs)

Sanders was fantastic in the Dogs’ AAMI Community Series game in his hometown of Launceston. He collected 30 disposals as he pushed up the ground and made an impact on a significant number of contests. Sanders stared at half-forward and could be in line for dual-position status after round six. Based on his Under-18 Championships performance as the highest scoring Fantasy player and his 106.8 average for Sandringham in the Coates Talent League, Sanders should be a good chance to be the cash cow of the year.

Ryley Sanders in action during the Western Bulldogs' practice match against Hawthorn on March 2, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

2. Matt Roberts (MID, $245,000)

AAMI Community Series: 68 (56 per cent TOG)
Opening Round: 91 (78 per cent TOG)
2022: 30.8 (6 games)

Donning the substitute vest in three of his six games, with an early injury in another, Roberts comes in rookie-priced. He’s found a home on half-back which was on display in Opening Round as he took eight marks to go with his 19 disposals to be the Swans’ fifth highest scorer in their win. The new breakeven makes Roberts a lock for the price increase alone and may see some coaches look to play three rookie midfielders.

Matt Roberts during Sydney's game against Melbourne in Opening Round, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

3. Colby McKercher (MID, $297,000)

AAMI Community Series: 63 (78 per cent TOG)
2022: 117.3 (4 games, Under-18 Champs)

North Melbourne will unleash the No.2 pick in last year’s draft alongside Harry Sheezel off half-back. This Fantasy friendly role should be a winner for scoring and therefore cash generation early in the season.

Colby McKercher handballs during a practice match on February 21, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

4. Jhye Clark (MID, $237,000)

AAMI Community Series: 68 (69 per cent TOG)
2022: 36 (1 game)

Clark played just one AFL game in his debut season. He started as a substitute and scored 36 points from just 25 per cent time on ground. He averaged 66 from his six VFL games for Geelong following an average of 91 from his 15 games for Geelong Falcons in his draft year. Opportunity is there for him and the Cats should put plenty of time into him as he attended the most centre bounces for the club in the AAMI Community Series game.

Jhye Clark in action at a Geelong training session on March 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

5. Jeremy Sharp (MID, $284,000)

AAMI Community Series: 51 (77 per cent TOG)
2022: 91.1 (19 games, VFL)

Job security and role. Although playing on the wing isn’t always the best thing for Fantasy, it doesn’t matter at this price. We may have wanted to see a bit more from Sharp in his AAMI game to consider him as a starting option. Sharp kicked a goal to help him score 22 points in the final term against the restrictive Port Adelaide, without that, he may have been crossed off a few lists. The Docker is still an option pending his availability as he appeared to injure himself in a WAFL practice match.

I’m in two minds of what to do here and it might be an 11th hour decision; two rookies on field in the midfield, or three. I like the idea of three as that’s what I’ve traditionally done. McKercher and Sanders need to be on field, but with Roberts’ Opening Round effort and his upcoming fixture, I’d like him in the starting 22. For now, I’ll go with just the two.

Jeremy Sharp in action at Fremantle training on December 1, 2023. Picture: Fremantle FC


1. Harry Barnett (RUC/FWD, $200,000)

AAMI Community Series: 11 (33 per cent TOG)
2022: 9 (1 game)

Matthew Flynn is missing for a few weeks, so Barnett moves a spot up the pecking order. We have to have a bench ruck, we can’t just leave the spot blank. Barnett might be the most likely to play of all basement priced players. The bonus is that the Eagles play quite a few Sunday games, so if he’s not playing, we can use him as a loophole option.

Harry Barnett in action during round 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

OTHERS: Max Heath (RUC/FWD, $200,000), Coen Livingstone (RUC/FWD, $200,000), Will Verrall (RUC, $200,000).

Simply, I’ll be going with Harry Barnett as my bench player. Dual-position status with the RUC/FWD DPP together with West Coast’s number of Sunday games, he’ll be a captaincy loophole option.


1. Harley Reid (MID/FWD, $300,000)

AAMI Community Series: 73 (73 per cent TOG)
2022: 80.8 (4 games, Under-18 Champs)

He’s the most popular pick for a reason. The No.1 selection in last year’s draft will be getting plenty of midfield time, sprinkled with some time running off half-back. This should allow points to be scored and dollars to be made. As long as he’s playing, you should be picking him.

Harley Reid during West Coast's match simulation against Fremantle on February 24, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

2. Darcy Wilson (MID/FWD, $249,000)

AAMI Community Series: 97 (79 per cent TOG)
2022: 70.8 (4 games, Under-18 Champs)

Looking at home on the wing for the Saints in match simulation and in the AAMI Community Series game, Wilson showed he can score. He racked up the most Fantasy points of any sub-$300k player in the pre-season games. In his 11 games for the Murray Bushrangers last year, the No.18 pick averaged 102.5. He can be an on-field selection.

Darcy Wilson during the AAMI Community Series match between North Melbourne and St Kilda. Picture: AFL Photos

3. Charlie Lazzaro (MID/FWD, $288,000)

AAMI Community Series: 80 (84 per cent TOG)
2022: 33.3 (6 games)

A solid performance in the final pre-season hit out should see Lazzaro in the round one team. While his numbers at AFL level last look low, he was substitute in half of his matches. In round 24, Lazzaro scored 88 which was more in tune with his VFL average of 99.4 from 13 games thanks to a return of 26 disposals, three marks and six tackles per game.

Charlie Lazzaro gets a handball away under pressure from Nick Daicos during a practice match on February 21, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

4. Caleb Windsor (MID/FWD, $282,000)

AAMI Community Series: 46 (66 per cent TOG)
Opening Round: 45 (81 per cent TOG)
2022: 66 (4 games, Under-18 Champs)

Playing in Opening Round was a good sign for Windsor’s job security. He’s already going to see his price rise after round one. The question is, how much can he score? Paying towards the top end of rookie priced players who are more than likely going to be on the bench (he didn’t crack 50 in either game that has been captured with official stats), could be an issue. For now, we can select him and know that he’s got a role for a few weeks while Lachie Hunter is out and hope that he can hit some numbers like his 83.7 average at Eastern Ranges.

Caleb Windsor in action during Opening Round on March 7, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

5. Seth Campbell (FWD, $200,000)

AAMI Community Series: 23 (77 per cent TOG)
Opening Round: 61 (80 per cent TOG)
2022: 31 (5 games, VFL)

A score of 61 in Opening Round will see Campbell’s price head north after round one. He kicked two goals against the Suns as a small forward. A bench option only, but the Tasmanian has put his hand up to be selected for the early part of the season. Hopefully he can hit some of the numbers he did for the Devils in the Coates Talent League in 2022 where he averaged 89.1.


6. Aaron Cadman (FWD, $221,000)

AAMI Community Series: 59 (86 per cent TOG)
Opening Round: 47 (77 per cent TOG)
2022: 24.5 (12 games)

We don’t like picking key position players in Fantasy, but it looks like Cadman could be an important part of the Giants’ line up this year. He was a substitute in four of his 12 games in his debut season but these were irrelevant as his average without sub games is the same as his season average. It’s all about looking forward now. Cadman was the third tall in the Opening Round game and was used at 10 per cent of their ruck contests. A slow burn cash cow.

Aaron Cadman celebrates kicking a goal during Opening Round on March 9, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

OTHERS: Zane Duursma (MID/FWD, $291,000), Nick Watson (MID/FWD, $282,000), Nate Caddy (FWD, $273,000), Orazio Fantasia (FWD, $269,000), Kai Lohmann (FWD, $257,000), Oliver Dempsey (FWD, $252,000), Lachlan McNeil (FWD, $248,000), Toby McMullin (FWD, $200,000), Bigoa Nyuon (FWD, $200,000), Harvey Thomas (MID/FWD, $200,000), Shaun Mannagh (MID/FWD, $200,000), Bailey Laurie (FWD, $200,000), Cooper Simpson (MID/FWD, $200,000).

There’s a lot of value in the forward line above rookie priced, but there are a lot of potential options in this range. Currently I’ll play two and there will be a rotation between Reid, Wilson and Lazzaro. In round one, it might be Reid benched as the Eagles have the tough match up of the Power who are restrictive in Fantasy.

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