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TWENTY per cent of premiership players over the past decade have started their career as rookies or through the pre-season draft, with clubs calling on the AFL to resist radical list size cuts.

As the League assesses its next move after the COVID-19 hit, it continues to debate slashing list sizes across the competition.

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Although the AFL Players' Association would need to be consulted before any changes are confirmed, clubs believe the rookie list is in real doubt to survive the cull as the AFL finds way to reduce the salary cap.

The rookie list has become the starting point for many of the all-time greats, including West Coast ruckman Dean Cox, Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis and St Kilda small forward Stephen Milne.

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It now houses a maximum of four to six players – often considered development, mature-age or 'project' prospects – outside of the senior list depending on each club's number of primary-listed players.

Clubs can also list up to three international or athletes from other sporting backgrounds as category B rookies.

But the rookie list has also been an instrumental list management tool, with clubs able to list players on one-year contracts who have gone undrafted in the national intake.

AFL.com.au found that in the past 10 premiership sides there had been 44 players (at an average of more than four a side) who begun their careers on the rookie list or as picks from the pre-season draft.

Some players, such as two-time premiership Tiger Jason Castagna, counts twice given he played in both of Richmond's recent triumphs.

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The one-in-five ratio may surprise some, however it is a key reason clubs are mindful that with fewer spots on the list and draft picks to use, they may not take on the prospects who are not yet physically matured or have knocks on their game who have previously slipped through to the rookie list.

Castagna was one of seven players in last year's Tigers' side that had risen off the rookie list or from the pre-season draft to feature in the flag.

Of the past 10 years two other flag-winning teams – the Western Bulldogs in 2016 and Collingwood in 2010 – also had seven players in the same position.

Former rookie Jason Johannisen won the Norm Smith Medal in the Dogs' breakthrough, while the Magpies' 15th premiership was captained by Nick Maxwell, who had started as a rookie after being overlooked in the draft.

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Geelong had the lowest number in 2011, with mature-age recruit James Podsiadly the only rookie in their Grand Final win, while West Coast had two rookies in 2018, including four-time Virgin Australia AFL All-Australian defender Jeremy McGovern.

With the expectation that there could be far fewer draft selections this season, clubs are mindful that late draft gems will go neglected.

By including premiership players who were picked in the draft from selection No.60 onwards in the national draft, the percentage rises to 26 – more than a quarter of premiership players from the past 10 years.

"The question is whether we will get to see these guys with less picks and less opportunity to get them onto a list?" one senior recruiter said this week. "So many of them just won't get a chance."

ROOKIES AND PRE-SEASON DRAFT SELECTIONS FOR THE PAST 10 PREMIERS

2019 – Richmond
Dylan Grimes (pre-season draft)
Jayden Short (rookie)
Kane Lambert (rookie)
Jason Castagna (rookie)
Ivan Soldo (rookie)
Liam Baker (rookie)
Marlion Pickett (rookie)

2018 – West Coast
Jeremy McGovern (rookie)
Mark Hutchings (rookie)

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2017 – Richmond
Dylan Grimes (pre-season draft)
Kane Lambert (rookie)
Jason Castagna (rookie)

2016 – Western Bulldogs
Fletcher Roberts (pre-season draft)
Jason Johannisen (rookie)
Matthew Boyd (rookie)
Shane Biggs (rookie)
Dale Morris (rookie)
Liam Picken (rookie)
Luke Dahlhaus (rookie)

2015 – Hawthorn
Josh Gibson (rookie)
Luke Breust (rookie)
Matt Suckling (rookie)

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2014 – Hawthorn
Josh Gibson (rookie)
Matt Suckling (rookie)
Will Langford (rookie)
Luke Breust (rookie)

2013 – Hawthorn
Josh Gibson (rookie)
Luke Breust (rookie)
Brad Sewell (rookie)
Jonathan Simpkin (rookie)

2012 – Sydney
Marty Mattner (rookie)
Heath Grundy (rookie)
Nick Smith (rookie)
Kieren Jack (rookie)
Shane Mumford (rookie)
Mike Pyke (rookie)

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2011 – Geelong
James Podsiadly (rookie)

2010 – Collingwood
Nick Maxwell (rookie)
Jarrid Blair (rookie)
Alan Toovey (rookie)
Heritier Lumumba (rookie)
Sharrod Wellingham (rookie)
Darren Jolly (rookie)
Brent Macaffer (rookie)