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Recruiters split on quality of 2020 draft, big calls loom

Finlay Macrae, younger brother of Bulldog Jack, racked up 35 touches in Sunday's Futures game at Ikon Park - AFL,News,Draft,Tag-Draft
Finlay Macrae, younger brother of Bulldog Jack, racked up 35 touches in Sunday's Futures game at Ikon Park

THIS season hasn't finished yet but clubs are already sharpening their 2020 vision.  

On Sunday, recruiters gathered in Melbourne at Ikon Park to watch two 'futures' games between the best under-17 prospects from Vic Metro, Vic Country, NSW-ACT and Queensland.

Vic Country's Charlie Lazzaro fires out a handball against NSW/ACT on Sunday. Picture: AFL Photos

These are contests that have been played around the country across the year for list management teams to better know the 2020 draft pool so that when they are dealing in future draft picks in the NAB AFL Trade Period (and then during the draft), they know what they are getting into, or opting out of. 

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So will the quality of next year's draft affect clubs' trading plans this year? Opinions are split. 

"Absolutely it will," said one recruiter. "It has to. Next year looks like a bit of a dip in talent for me, so there could be a drop-off in clubs wanting to take future picks."

"Clubs could be more aggressive in trying to get into the very top of next year's draft, but after that may be more reluctant," said another scout. 

Added a third recruiter: "I think next year looks quite strong, there's a bit there, so that could allow more movement this year." 

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The under-18 championships are generally a good pointer for the following year's draft class, and since 2011, every under-18 All Australian team has had a bottom-ager picked a year before they were eligible for the draft. There were none in this year's team. 

A smaller sample of players were picked for their respective sides. Vic Country had Elijah Hollands, a medium forward and talented goalkicker, in their line-up, Vic Metro blooded key forward Nikolas Cox and midfielder Will Phillips for a game each, while West Australian marking defender Denver Grainger-Barras and Nathan O'Driscoll impressed. 

Nikolas Cox takes off for the NAB AFL Under-17 Australian team. Picture: AFL Photos

Injury meant likely starters Tanner Bruhn (Vic Country) and Riley Thilthorpe (South Australia) didn't feature, but overall there wasn't an underbelly of 2020 draft hopefuls who starred.  

Another consideration for clubs during this year's exchange period is whether they have any father-son or Academy players available.

"That's what could shape some decisions for clubs," said one list manager.

"Clubs with biases towards those players could try to bring in more middle-range picks for extra draft points. 

"That's where clubs who haven't got any players coming through next year are in a good position, because their picks might be more valuable for other clubs to try to get off them before next year." 

There's a few in this camp. The Western Bulldogs have first call on Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, a tall indigenous forward who is tied to them through their Next Generation and who shapes as an early selection. 

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan celebrates a goal with his Oakleigh Chargers teammates. Picture: AFL Photos

Melbourne has Deakyn Smith tied to its NGA, and he did some eye-catching things on Sunday with two goals, Hawthorn has rights over Connor Downie, and Collingwood first call on midfielder Reef McInnes, who showed promise on the weekend.

In Western Australia, Brandon Walker and Joel Western are both tied to the Dockers.

Luke Edwards performed strongly for South Australia's under-18 team and the son of former great Tyson can join the Crows next year, while Port will have access to Taj Schofield, the son of 2004 premiership player Jarrad.

Sydney Academy pair Braedon Campbell and Errol Gulden are on the Swans' radar, with Campbell kicking two goals from 18 disposals in Sunday's clash for the NSW-ACT Rams.

Gulden, too, was lively with 19 disposals, following his good form for the Allies during the national carnival. 

Errol Gulden is eligible as a Sydney Academy prospect. Picture: AFL Photos

Gold Coast can add another Queenslander to its list next season with athletic midfielder Alex Davies eligible to join the club, and Saxon Crozier, who picked up 19 disposals and six inside 50s on Sunday, is tied to Brisbane.

While some clubs may talk in lukewarm terms about next year's group, it is still early and more prospects continue to emerge.

Some showed those promising signs on Sunday. Gippsland midfielder Sam Berry was best afield on Sunday for Vic Country with 23 disposals, six clearances and a goal, Charlie Lazzaro will catch the eye and Noah Gadsby's speed and power makes him an interesting prospect. 

Oliver Henry, the younger brother of Geelong's Jack, can play as a tall at both ends. 

Oliver Henry in action during the Futures game on Sunday. Picture: AFL Photos

Another familiar name starred for Vic Metro. Finlay Macrae, whose brother Jack is a premiership star for the Western Bulldogs, gathered 35 disposals, seven clearances and eight inside 50s. He appears to have the same appetite for the ball as his brother.

Half-forward Archie Perkins, speedy small Jake Bowey and jumping tall forward Ollie Lord were others to show their promise.

Since clubs were first allowed to trade selections a year in advance in 2015, most recruiting teams have assigned scouts to focus on the 'futures' system to know the talent ahead. But knowing the draft's depth, its stars, standouts and talent is as much about the following year as positioning for the current one.