CLASSY midfielder Dylan Stephens strengthened his case as a likely first-round draft pick after leading South Australia to a hard-earned 11-point victory over Western Australia on Saturday.
In slippery conditions at Optus Stadium, the visitors broke the game open with a four-goal-to-one third term and hung on as the inaccurate Sandgropers surged home in the final quarter, eventually running out 7.4 (46) to 4.11 (35) winners.
Stephens powered the Croweaters' engine room, racking up 23 touches with five inside 50s as the defending NAB AFL Under-18s champions opened their carnival on the right note.
Stephens' Norwood clubmate Cameron Taheny (two goals) was dangerous and the game's only multiple goalkicker, while SA captain Will Gould was rock-solid across half-back, finishing with 21 disposals and nine rebound 50s.
Kysaiah Pickett, the nephew of Norm Smith medallist Byron, didn't find much of the footy (six possessions) in attack but showed remarkable vision and ability to conjure space from tight confines.
SA's Lachlan Burrows goes up against WA's Luke Jackson. Picture: Michael Farnell/WAFC
He provided the match's highlight during the third term, when he tapped the ball to himself near the boundary line, picked up and threw the ball on his left boot for a miraculous major.
WA captain Deven Robertson backed up his stellar first outing in a win over Vic Metro last Saturday with 32 disposals, eight tackles and five inside 50s.
The Perth inside midfielder and lively Swan Districts onballer Riley Garcia (28 disposals, eight clearances, one goal) combined brilliantly with dominant ruck Luke Jackson.
Garcia's clever goal early in the last term reduced the margin to nine points but the home side couldn’t kick straight and five behinds in a row ended their chances of a comeback win.
Jackson's workrate was outstanding all game and the former basketball star finished with 35 hitouts, 14 touches and five clearances.
Liam Henry showed some dazzling foot skills against SA. Picture: Michael Farnell/WAFC
Fremantle Next Generation Academy product Liam Henry and outside runner Jeremy Sharp (19 disposals each) looked a class above with their piercing foot skills, and Sharp's dazzling sidestep and opening goal for WA from 50m would have impressed recruiters in the grandstands.
WA had 15 inside 50s to eight in the first quarter and won the overall count 46-35 but couldn't take advantage on the scoreboard.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA 1.2 2.4 3.6 4.11 (35)
SOUTH AUSTRALIA 1.1 2.2 6.3 7.4 (46)
Western Australia: Sharp, Taylor, Thorne, Garcia
South Australia: Taheny 2, Mead, Park, Tucker, Pickett, Durdin
Western Australia: Luke Jackson, Deven Robertson, Riley Garcia, Trey Ruscoe, Ben Johnson, Logan McDonald
South Australia: Karl Finlay, Dyson Hilder, Jackson Meade, Luke Edwards, Lachlan McNeil, Josh Morris