The NAB League’s country-based clubs – as well as the Tasmania Devils – talk about what made their 2019 draftees sought after by AFL clubs, which of their players were unlucky to miss out on selection and who to keep an eye on for the 2020 NAB AFL Draft.
Twenty-one of the 43 total NAB League players added to AFL lists last week – 35 in the AFL Draft and eight as rookies – came from these seven clubs, including first-round AFL Draft selections such as Lachlan Ash (Murray Bushrangers - pictured, centre), Hayden Young (Dandenong Stingrays - pictured, left) and Caleb Serong (Gippsland Power - pictured, right).
Comments from Talent Manager Stephen Sharp
BRODIE KEMP (AFL Draft pick no.17 to Carlton): “Brodie is a really respectful kid and well mannered. He always had a hunger to get better and was always looking to improve all areas of his game. He worked really hard and took feedback on board. He’s a bit of a character as well; he was really engaging with the other kids.
“The versatility he has will give him opportunities at Carlton, because he can play in a number of roles and he’s not just pigeon-holed into one spot. We have a few Bendigo boys at the Blues now, with Paddy Dow and Lochie O’Brien there as well.”
THOMSON DOW (no.21 to Richmond): “Thomson is just a really vibrant kid who was always very grateful for everything we did for him. He showed early on that he has really good vision and really quick hands, and his athleticism is good too. He can win his own footy, but I think he’ll be a really good outside player as well.
“The way he moves the ball on really quickly suits the Richmond way of playing – that seems to be the way the like to move the ball, particularly around the contest. Unlike his brother Paddy who went to Carlton when they were down the ladder, I reckon Thomson will be given time to develop at the Tigers.”
FLYNN PEREZ (no.35 to North Melbourne): “Flynn had a great season last year and worked really hard with his rehab from an ACL injury this year. He demonstrated his preparedness to knuckle down and do the work, as well as looking at other ways he could improve his leadership and teamsmanship.
“He’s missed a year of footy, but he’s in pretty good nick. I think he could be an outside midfielder/defender at the elite level. He can win his own footy, but he has good skills on both sides of his body and that should stand him in good stead in those roles.”
BRADY ROWLES (Rookie Draft pick no.4 to Sydney): “Brady has some real excitement about him and has so much upside to his game. He was a really quiet kid when he started at the club, but his confidence built and he just really developed as a person.
“He’s like a Lachie Ash (drafted from the Murray Bushrangers – see below), but he’s probably 12 months behind Lachie in his development. I can see him running off half-back for the Swans – maybe not next year, but Sydney has a good record with their rookie picks, so you never know.”
“I thought Aaron Gundry might have received a rookie opportunity. There weren’t many talls in the draft and, at 200cm, his last half of the season was really good. He’ll come back and play with us as a 19-year-old and he’s really keen to do that. We’d hope he’ll be drafted next year as he develops.”
“Josh Treacy would have to be strongly considered in the draft. He can play as a forward/ruck, but I think he can play off half-back too. He loves the contest and if he sees one coming, he’ll welcome it. Sam Conforti was in the Vic Country hub as a bottom-ager this year and we think we can develop him as a small forward. Seamus Mitchell came in and played a few games for us this year and he has exciting speed.”
Comments from Talent Manager Darren Flanigan
HAYDEN YOUNG (AFL Draft pick no.7 to Fremantle): “Hayden is extremely professional, does everything really well and is just a really good player. His kick is as good as anyone of that age in the country. I was really surprised he got through until pick no.7; he could have gone at no.2 or 3.
“He goes to Freo as a prepared AFL player. There’s not a lot for him to do physically, not a lot for him to do skill-wise and if he handles the load of the pre-season then he could nearly play in Round 1 next year. He can play on someone in defence or he can play off them, and he can also push up onto the wing. You just love having the ball in his hands because he uses it so well.”
CODY WEIGHTMAN (no.15 to Western Bulldogs): “Cody was a bit of a surprise packet this year; he came from a long way back. He has a really strong personality, and while he’s very focused on his own development, he’s also very cognisant of others around him. He’s a good small forward who attacks the ball with energy and is a good finisher.
“He had all the attributes, but he just needed to get his body right and put it all together this year – and he did. He has the aerobic capacity to play higher up the ground, too.”
SAM DE KONING (no.19 to Geelong): “Sam is very under-developed, physically. He’s quite light but he’s 201cm tall and has exceptional skills. He’s a beautiful kick of the footy and a really good intercept-mark. He has improved his defensive attributes enormously – he used to zone off a bit, but he learnt to defend strongly first.
“I think Geelong have picked him primarily as a key defender but also as a back-up ruck, because his ruck craft is quite solid. We threw him forward at times too, and he presents at the ball well because he has good speed and good hands.”
BIGOA NYUON (no.54 to Richmond): “Biggie is a good-sized athlete. He’s well ahead of the likes of (fellow Sudanese footballers) Majak Daw and Mabior Chol at the same age, because he understands the game having played it for a number of years.
“He just has to put on a bit of weight, but he would have won our 100m sprint at a training session by about 15 metres. Once he learns to use that speed, he’ll be a really good player. He likes playing as a tall defender with his good closing speed and rebounding ability. I think he’s a really good pick by Richmond.”
NED CAHILL (no.56 to Essendon): “We rated Ned really highly and had him as a potential late second-round pick. He can be a really strong impact player inside 50 – both kicking goals and setting up goals – but he also has the ability to get up the ground through stoppages and win his own ball there.
“The Bombers have a few good small forwards, so he might be behind a few of those until he develops, but I think he’s a really good player. He would have been a really good rookie pick if he hadn’t been picked up in the AFL Draft.”
“Lachlan Williams went to the national Draft Combine and missed out. He’s a nice kick with good power and is really good overhead for his size. Blake Kuipers is a former volleyballer and would have been a speculative pick, so he’ll probably come back to us as a 19-year-old. He developed really well in the back half of the season in his first crack at high-end footy.”
“The two we have in the Vic Country hub are Clayton Gay and Will Bravo. Clayton is really good overhead and has a good kick on him. He can play at both ends of the ground, but he’s still a bit light. Will plays with good speed and he’s hard and aggressive. He can win the footy inside and outside the contest.”
Comments from Talent Manager Michael Turner
COOPER STEPHENS (AFL Draft pick no.16 to Geelong): “Cooper built his reputation as a 16 and 17-year-old. Last year when the likes of Sam Walsh and Ned McHenry were playing, he was our inside midfielder giving those blokes a bit more room on the outside. He was very combative and showed a lot of strength. It was unfortunate he broke his leg in Round 3, but he got fit enough to test really well at the Draft Combine and that’s probably what sealed his selection.
“I think it’s a really good pick for Geelong. They’re trying to get Joel Selwood out on the wing more, I’m sure they want to push Paddy Dangerfield forward more often and Mitch Duncan isn’t what you’d call a pure inside midfielder, so they need another big bull coming through in the next couple of years to take on that role.”
“The other kid I really thought had a chance was Jesse Clark. I spoke to him before the draft and said I thought he was a 70-80 per cent chance of getting picked, but it’s never guaranteed. He’ll work through Geelong’s VFL system and take the longer path, and if he’s good enough it can still happen.”
“I think we have a really good draft crop next year, including Oliver Henry, Henry Walsh and Tanner Bruhn who are all very highly rated. Noah Gribble has unfortunately done his ACL, so he could be out of draft calculations because he doesn’t have the runs on the board like Cooper Stephens did.”
Comments from Head Coach Rhett McLennan
CALEB SERONG (AFL Draft pick no.8 to Fremantle): “The thing that impressed me straight away with Caleb was how smart a footballer he is. He’s a veteran in a young person’s body. He sees the game really well and when you combine that with his super clean hands, his goal sense and his professional approach to footy, I’m sure he’ll have a great AFL career.
“I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t play for Fremantle next year at some stage. From the start he could play as a small forward with his goal sense and drive to apply defensive pressure, and as his game develops, I could see him moving into the midfield. Wherever he plays, he makes great decisions.”
SAM FLANDERS (no.11 to Gold Coast): “Sam’s season this year was super in regards to its consistency. Given his bottom-age year was his first full season without also playing basketball, his growth and maturity to adapt to playing football week in and week out was huge. The development in his midfield craft was awesome, too.
“A lot of people relate him to Christian Petracca (Melbourne), but the longer the season went on, he looked more like a Toby Greene (GWS) in the way he became a midfielder who could be really dangerous up forward. I expect him to be a high half-forward with goal sense who develops into a midfielder.”
CHARLIE COMBEN (no.31 to North Melbourne): “Charlie’s rapid development was the thing that really caught everyone’s eye this year. When we saw him in the pre-season, we thought he’d be a perfect 19-year-old player (in 2020), so if his development continues trending upwards like it has from last year then the sky’s the limit.
“His hands are sensational when he marks the footy – his big bucket hands wrap around the ball and they don’t move – but he also has some really good ruck craft and a lot of determination to compete. I think he’ll primarily be a forward who plays a little bit in the ruck.”
BROCK SMITH (no.33 to Brisbane): “Brock is a consummate professional and just a great human who has a great ability to connect to people. On the back of a really solid work ethic, his athletic ability to play on tall or small forwards as a defender will give him great flexibility. He’s also a really good decision-maker with ball in hand.
“You can give him the opposition’s best forward to lock down on, but he also has enough ability to win the footy on his own – plus he’s a great leader. I think Brisbane were really shrewd in selecting Brock because they get someone who enhances their culture even from where it was this year.”
LEO CONNOLLY (no.64 to St Kilda): “There was a lot of buzz for Leo after the season because his form was great from mid-year onwards. He’s the best two-sided kick I’ve ever seen, including at AFL level – it’s a complete mirror image on both sides. He can kick to long targets on both feet at pace and I’ve hardly ever seen that before.
“Couple that with his speed and agility, I think he’s tailor-made for AFL football. I’d expect him to play at half-back and he’ll keep improving as he spends more time in an elite environment, so I think he’s an inspired pick by St Kilda.”
FRASER PHILLIPS (Rookie Draft pick no.18 to Carlton): “Fraser is a bit of a project player. He’s very light-bodied at this stage, but his defensive skills for a light player are very sound. He has a great tackling and contested-ball technique, but it’ll just take some time for his body to develop.
“He’s a beautiful smooth-moving left-footer, so there’ll be instances next year at AFL or VFL level where Blues supporters will see snippets of Fraser they really like. I think he has the flexibility to play as a half-forward but also develop into a rangy midfielder.”
HARRISON PEPPER (NGA rookie signing to Hawthorn): “Harry’s work ethic is what we were really impressed with this year. His ability to just out-work everyone around him was exceptional. He had some flaws in his game regarding his kicking and his contested-ball technique, but he just worked and worked on it.
“I think Hawthorn will absolutely love what he brings to the club in regards to his professionalism. Couple that with some great agility and speed and don’t be too surprised if he becomes a permanent fixture in the AFL team in a couple of years’ time.”
“We thought Riley Baldi and Ryan Sparkes were really stiff to miss out. Riley has fantastic natural awareness at stoppages and his numbers this year in relation to other midfielders in the competition were as good as any – particularly given he didn’t do a pre-season due to groin issues. Ryan has an elite left-foot kick and hardly played a bad game in two years with us. He always found a way to be competitive and was stiff because he couldn’t have done any more to put his name forward.”
“Zach Reid is the one for next year that stands out the most – both in ability and in size. He’s 201cm tall and was exceptional this year as a key defender, but he also showed what he could do in other areas of the ground. He was fantastic in our qualifying final as a ruck and won a game off his own boot against the Geelong Falcons as a forward. He’s elite by foot for such a tall guy and a beautiful smooth mover.”
Comments from Talent Manager Phil Partington
JAY RANTALL (AFL Draft pick no.40 to Collingwood): “Jay has a high-performance attitude. He’s a very coachable young man and very determined to get the best out of himself. Jay was an elite basketballer who’d played only five games of football on average each year for the last five years, so to see his skill fundamentals improve over the last 10-12 months and see him learn enough about footy to become a draftable player has been really pleasing.
“We were a bit surprised he went as late as pick 40 – as a lot of AFL clubs did – so Collingwood were lucky enough to pick him up when they did. Jay is a running type and I can see him playing AFL football next year – maybe in a run-with role to start with, but he’ll work into a midfielder/forward role in the future.”
“Isaac Wareham is athletically very gifted, but unfortunately he just didn’t do enough this year due to injuries. We look forward to him possibly coming back as a 19-year-old and also getting opportunities at VFL level next year. Hopefully he’ll have an injury-free year and put his name up again.”
“We have a few players that are capable of reaching the next level; they just need to have a big pre-season and stay injury-free throughout the year.”
Comments from Talent Manager Mick Wilson
LACHLAN ASH (AFL Draft pick no.4 to GWS): “Lachie’s work rate and willingness to improve impressed me the most. He came into our program as an under-16 and wasn’t necessarily one of the most draftable players, but he did everything he possibly could to maximise his chance of playing in the AFL. He made a lot of sacrifices in how he approached his training and was very disciplined off the field. He was a leader by example, too – he inspired teammates with how hard he worked.
“He’s as ready-made a player as I’ve seen come through the system and I think he’ll be a really nice fit for GWS playing off half-back. He’s a similar player to Heath Shaw in how they run through the lines and will probably be Heath’s long-term replacement at the club.”
“Ben Kelly is a 202cm key-position player/ruck who’ll hopefully get another opportunity after some good state-league footy next year. Jimmy Boyer played at half-back last year and went into a forward/midfielder role this year, and we think he has some traits that could still get him onto an AFL list.”
“Elijah Hollands had a really strong year playing as a half-forward and we’re excited about his prospects. He’s a really strong character who works hard and has leadership skills. Zavier Maher is a strong-bodied midfielder who we think has a solid future too.”
Comments from Talent Manager Craig Notman
MITCH O’NEILL (Rookie Draft pick no.25 to West Coast): “Mitch continues to rise to the level of footy he’s playing. Every time he’s challenged, he steps up and plays well. He’s good above his head and uses the ball well. He’s more of an outside player, but he showed this year he can win his own ball on the inside and push forward and kick goals too.
“I think he deserves to have gone higher than a rookie pick, but he got his opportunity and he’ll really impress once he gets into the elite environment. I think he’s a very good winger at the moment, so that’s where I’d be looking to play him.”
MATT McGUINNESS (NGA rookie signing by North Melbourne): “The most impressive thing with Matt is he returned as a 19-year-old this year and made the most of the opportunity. I don’t think he had a bad game over the course of the season. He found plenty of the footy, uses it exceptionally well by foot and has some really good footy smarts.
“I think he showed this year that he can play a number of different roles, but he played predominantly back for us and I think we saw his best footy as a defender. A half-back role suits his strengths.”
“If he’d played more than one NAB League game this year, I think Jared Dakin may have been a draft chance. He just didn’t have exposed form because of a shoulder injury, so he’ll return as a 19-year-old with us next year. He can play some really good footy based on his bottom-age form and is made of the right stuff in terms of character.”
“We have Oliver Davis, Sam Collins, Jackson Callow and Patrick Walker in the Allies hub and they could be in the draft mix. I think Isaac Chugg is another one who has some very good attributes. Hamish Allan is a 207cm ruckman who will come back as a 20-year-old because of knee troubles this season and Jye Menzie is a crafty small forward who showed some good signs as a bottom-ager this year.”