PRE-SEASON or mid-season?
It is the question more than half of the AFL's clubs are weighing up ahead of the deadline for signing players in the Pre-Season Supplemental Selection Period.
With 11 clubs having had potential recruits train with them across the pre-season, the options are open before the March 9 cut off.
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Like Richmond (Tasmanian speedster Rhyan Mansell) and St Kilda (former Crows ruckman Paul Hunter) in recent days, clubs can use the SSP to spot a need and fill it after seeing how the player adjusts to training at AFL level. Certainly Hunter's intraclub form before Rowan Marshall's serious foot injury meant the Saints had a readymade option to select in front of their eyes.
Majak Daw's invitation to train at Melbourne, following the injuries to key forward pair Ben Brown and Sam Weideman, also shapes as a plug-and-play pick up.
But clubs that choose to leave the list spot vacant can head into the mid-season draft (which has been reinstated this year after being another casualty of the COVID-19 fallout last year) and pick off some of the overlooked players from last year's NAB AFL Draft.
A tug of war often exists between recruiting departments and coaches, with one department charged with looking after the long-term health of the club and the other fixed on a more immediate focus. The best clubs hit the balance between both.
That continues with calls on the SSP spots, with some coaches, already with a reduced list from last year, keen to enter this season with a full complement of players.
But a commonly held view of scouts is that this year's mid-season draft could include real gold, given hopefuls from the VFL and Victoria's under-18 competition last year weren't able to show their wares. Talent, say the spotters, lurks ready to surprise.
It is why some clubs will forgo adding players via the pre-season window even if they have had some training with them in recent months, instead keen to hold off for the mid-season spot to assess the opening months of the season.
Last year was the smallest draft pool ever, meaning an overflow of prospects who could shine at under-19 level or in state leagues will be available to clubs in the mid-season intake scheduled for June.
Adelaide, Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, Melbourne, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs have players continuing to train with them, while Sydney and Port Adelaide also have list openings, despite not offering any train-on spots. Salary cap implications could also impact decisions.
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More list places will inevitably open up, too, with clubs eligible to bring in players if others are sent to the inactive list.
For instance, with Ben Paton ruled out for the year at St Kilda with his broken leg, the Saints could bring in another player from outside of their current squad to replace him. Another spot would also be available if Dylan Roberton, who is considering retirement, pulls the pin on his career.
But the Saints could also hold off, with the feeling at clubland that the start of the draft season – lifted to an under-19s age group in Victoria – will see many 'over-age' players emerge.
Clubs and state bodies have been encouraged to make the most of the age shift (the national carnival has also gone up from under-18s to under-19s) so that AFL recruiters can assess a broader range of players, leaving the door ajar for a mid-season boom.
Who's training at your club?
Adelaide (one list spot): Nick Murray (Williamstown), Ayce Taylor (delisted Crow)
Carlton (one list spot): Ben Crocker (Adelaide), (Oscar McDonald (Melbourne), Callum Moore (Carlton), Zavier Maher (Murray Bushrangers)
Collingwood (two list spots): Jack Briskey (Sherwood Magpies, Queensland)
Essendon (two list spots): Alec Waterman (Claremont)
Hawthorn (two list spots): Lachie Bramble (Box Hill Hawks), Will Bravo (Dandenong Stingrays), Jackson Callow (Norwood)
Melbourne (three list spots): Majak Daw (North Heidelberg), Kobe Farmer (Peel Thunder), Deakyn Smith (Dandenong Stingrays)
North Melbourne (one list spot): Flynn Appleby (Collingwood), Sam Skinner (Brisbane)
Richmond (one list spot): Nick Couroupis (West Adelaide), Jordan Gallucci (Williamstown), Josh Green (Marist AFC, ACT), Derek Eggmolesse-Smith (delisted Tiger)
West Coast: Will Collins (Swan Districts), Cedric Cox (West Coast, WAFL), Nic Martin (Subiaco)
Western Bulldogs (two list spots): Ewan Macpherson (Northern Knights), Corey Preston (Eastern Ranges), Anthony Scott (Footscray)
* St Kilda, Sydney and Port Adelaide also have list openings