WHILE all eyes are on the season right now, it is also worth looking ahead to see where things sit once the premiership has been won.
Specifically, how this year's NAB AFL Draft will unfold and how the next generation of stars will enter the competition.
AFL.com.au's draft expert Callum Twomey explains what it all means to 'keep things simple' for you, detailing the impact of COVID-19 on the draft.
What's happening with this year's NAB AFL Draft?
The good news is that it is happening. AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has confirmed there will be a draft held this year, even if the model could be slightly tweaked depending on potential list cuts for clubs. The national draft is usually held late in November, but the most likely time for it this year is around the middle of December. The draft is a key part of the AFL's equalisation process and is also necessary to facilitate a trade period – how else will deals get done without picks to swap? – so it will happen. Recruiters and list management teams wore the brunt of industry-wide stand downs earlier this year, but have mainly returned to work in some capacity recent weeks with games recommencing and draft prospects again able to be interviewed.
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How many draft prospects will get onto the field this year?
Last week saw the SANFL competition recommence, meaning talented draft hopefuls in South Australia showed their wares. Players in Western Australia will also step out onto the field later this month, while the NAB League season is due to commence on August 22 for a six-week campaign that will see the competition split into two conferences. Some school competitions have also picked up in SA and WA and are set to later in July in Victoria, but the road ahead is more unclear for prospects in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory with the NEAFL cancelled this season. There remains hope that a form of representative 'carnival' could be played in October alongside a scaled-back NAB AFL Draft Combine, but those plans remain uncertain.
What's this year's draft crop like?
Recruiters still share plenty of optimism about this year's group. The lack of games clearly will leave them more uncertain on players than ever before, but that hasn't stopped them being excited about the talent available. This year's group is dotted with tall and athletic prospects at the top end, with less proven midfielders than the crop last year. Clubs also see this year as having a higher than usual proportion of players tied to clubs as father-son and Academy prospects, with a number of potential first-round picks in this category.
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Who are the No.1 pick contenders?
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is seen widely as the best player in the draft. The key forward booted 24 goals from nine games for the Oakleigh Chargers last year and is exciting, tall, quick and athletic. The Indigenous talent is tied to the Western Bulldogs as a Next Generation Academy selection, meaning they'll get to match a bid for him when it comes. If it's No.1, it would be the earliest ever bid for a player under the father-son/Academy system. SA tall forward Riley Thilthorpe and WA key defender Denver Grainger-Barras are also in the mix for the No.1 pick, while Elijah Hollands, who underwent a knee reconstruction at the start of the year, is also highly rated.
Are there any likely long-lasting effects of COVID-19 on the draft landscape?
Recruiting teams will be forced to be leaner as a result of the slashing of football department soft caps, so the scouting role will certainly be different. Lifting the draft age has been debated but is not on the AFL's radar, however discussions are continuing about possibly changing the NAB League to an under-19s competition next season and allowing more players to feature who have finished their studies but keeping the draft age at 18. Other changes, such as lifting the championships from under-16s and under-18s level to under-17s and under-19s has been raised, while clubs are unsure in what form the Next Generation Academies will remain. The future of the rookie draft is also clouded.