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2016 draft crop on show in Anzac clash with NZ

Ben Ainsworth of the Power in action during the round four TAC Cup match between Geelong Falcons v Gippsland Power at Queen Elizabeth Oval on April 11, 2015 in Bendigo, Australia.  (Photo by Pat Scala/Getty Images via AFL Photos)
Ben Ainsworth is one of several 2016 draft hopefuls keen to impress in New Zealand
There's a few big names like Jack Billings and Jarrod Pickett who have played well in these games
Ben Ainsworth

BEN Ainsworth is a powerful small forward who leaps high, has a powerful burst of speed and can kick a goal from nothing.

Until this week, he has used those traits as a player for local club Morwell, TAC Cup team Gippsland Power and representative side Vic Country. On Friday, Ainsworth will play for Australia.

The 17-year-old is a member of the level one NAB AFL Academy (featuring players eligible for next year's draft), which will face the New Zealand Hawks at Westpac Stadium in Wellington as part of the 100-year anniversary of Anzac Day. 

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The game is the centre point of the Academy's five-day tour of New Zealand, which has been moved to April for the first time this year after previously being held in January. Ainsworth is keen to don the Australian colours for the first time in the clash.

"It'll be something to look back on once I've matured a little bit, but I just can't wait to get into it. I've had a brief look at the itinerary and it looks like it will be a good camp," Ainsworth told

"It should be a privilege to represent my country around Anzac Day and it will be a great experience."

Ainsworth has already picked the brain of Gippsland teammates Josh Dunkley and Sam Skinner – Academy members who were on the tour last year – about what to expect while away.

Most AFL clubs will send a scout on the trip to get an early look at the 2016 draft pool, and Ainsworth is keen to follow others in recent years who have established themselves as strong prospects with standout games in New Zealand.

"I already knew it was a big match for us, but when I saw on the itinerary that we'd be having meetings with AFL clubs after the game I realised it's important," he said.

"There's a few big names like Jack Billings and Jarrod Pickett who have played well in these games, so if you impress recruiters it can get your name out there a little bit more for the upcoming draft."

The 177cm forward is likely to feature in this year's NAB AFL Under-18 Championships for Vic Country, after kicking three goals in Sunday's trial match against New South Wales. He's vibrant, can take excellent marks overhead and has studied how some of the game's best small forwards compete. 

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"My forward pressure and ability to take a contested mark is probably my forte, as well as just leaping at the ball," he said. "I've watched Jamie Elliott (Collingwood) and Luke Breust (Hawthorn) closely to see how they go about their forward work and address how they do it."

The Academy group departs Melbourne on Wednesday morning and will return on Sunday, with their visit to include a tour of the Museum of New Zealand and an Anzac Day dawn service on Saturday. The squad of 25 and coach Brenton Sanderson will also attend the St Kilda and Carlton clash at Westpac Stadium.

Already several players in the squad, including Ainsworth, West Australian pair Sam Petrevski-Seton and Sam Powell-Pepper, and Victorians Will Brodie and Jarrod Berry, have shown excellent signs as bottom-aged draft hopefuls.