THE KEY part of the draft season – the NAB AFL Under-19 Championships – will be pushed back to the end of this year as part of a significant shake-up of the program. 

The move, which was flagged by last July, will see the majority of the national carnival held after players finish their season with their local clubs.  

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The fixture for the under-19 season was presented to AFL clubs before their Christmas break and includes the change, which will see some draft prospects go straight from playing in a Grand Final into the important carnival.

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The championships have been lifted to be under-19 and under-17 age groups next year in a raft of moves after a review of the talent pathway during the COVID-19 hit 2020 season. 

Under the fixture, the carnival will commence with a game in July but will see the key matches involving Vic Country, Vic Metro, South Australia and Western Australia take place late in September and early in October over three weeks. 

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In the late September period the players will also convene for a streamlined national two-day NAB AFL Draft Combine involving roughly 50 players, with state-based Combines, which were held last year due to travel restrictions, to take place in following weeks for expanded numbers. 

WA's Luke Jackson and Vic Country's Charlie Comben compete during the 2019 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships. Picture: AFL Photos

The NAB League, which produces on average more than half of each year's draft pool, will also have a different season structure in 2021.

The 13-week home and away season will be broken into several different blocks, with the AFL keen to ensure that draft hopefuls are also able to play at community and school level. 

The changes also open up more time for highly rated players to feature for their schools without the overlap of the under-19 championships.

The AFL has moved away from its talent hubs of 50 players in each state-based program, instead returning to an elite NAB AFL Academy model with a group of 21 talented draftees selected for the prestigious program this year.