It was the definition of an eye-catching moment.

A 200cm youngster in just his fourth AFL match playing on the wing at the SCG, swoops on the ball and gathers "one touch" and duly slots it through on his non preferred left foot. 

Bombers fans already had seen enough of Nik Cox in his first three games to be excited. He's one of the 29 players Drafted from the NAB League last year and the most impressive of the 10 who have already debuted in the first four matches of AFL season after the year in which they didn't play a game.            


The NAB League boys are finally back in town. 

After a Covid enforced hiatus of 18 months, the NAB League for boys has resumed with the initial rounds of matches spread across the 10 days over the Easter period with plenty of eye-catching performances from my viewpoint.

It's a little hard to comprehend that the NAB League's last match was the 2019 Grand final when a couple of Oakleigh Chargers boys took the underage football spotlight in their team's sound victory over the plucky young team from the Eastern Ranges. 

Of course, it was Matt Rowell with 44 disposals and the best on ground medal who starred again in an under aged match with his mate along the journey Noah Anderson with 26 disposals right at his side. Its AFL history they became the No 1 and No 2 NAB AFL Draft choices that year before both winning Rising Star nominations and becoming household names in the AFL world in their first year in the game at the highest level. 

And unfortunately, most of their teammates would not play another official match in a year before more of those premiership winning youngsters became Draftees themselves with Jamarra Ugle-Hagan heading that list, following Matt Rowell, and himself becoming the No 1 Draftee in 2020. 

So now we get to see who will emerge to become the Draft Class of 2021. 

Already nearly 300 players have undergone the longest wait collectively in history to finally show their talent across the 12 NAB League teams in Victoria in the opening rounds with Tasmania off a bye to join this week. 

We will also see cameo appearances from the four AFL Club Academy teams and the Northern Territory in May/June as their players also present their case for an AFL career.

Some of the players to present a positive first impression and become AFL Eye Catchers as the NAB League returns include Calder Cannons 190cm midfielder Josh Goater. He had already shown an athletic point of difference on testing day in March with both his Standing Vertical Jump of 80cm and Running Vertical Jump of 96cm ranked equal No 1 among the 400 players involved in testing. 

In the opening match against the Western Jets, Goater was not dominant but he showed real AFL traits with his clean hands and vision as well as speed from stoppages features of his 22-disposal performance giving scouts a thin slice of his potential. 

In the Eastern Ranges first match of the season its impressive win produced two outstanding AFL Eye Catchers in midfielder/ forward Tyler Sonsie and medium forward Corey Preston

Sonsie cut a sway through the Cannons midfield with his bursts from the centre, one touch ball handling and elite footy smarts all features of 34 possession (16 contested) eight clearances and two goals, best on ground performance, from the highly touted 18-year-old. 

Sonsie, from Rowville Football Club, played his last competitive match as a 16-year-old in that NAB League Grand Final in 2019 rubbing shoulders with the likes of Rowell and Anderson in one of his six matches late in the season. He has set his bar high with his mercurial performance to open his 2021 Draft year. 

Preston's story is a little different. He had already caught the attention of scouts before Covid lockdown last year after a couple of Ranges trial matches for the then 18-year-old who had not played any NAB League in his 16th or 17th years as many do. 

His form at underage and senior level with Ferntree Gully was impressive in 2019 and that glimpse of AFL type talent earnt Preston an invite to the Victorian Combine at the Holden Centre as one of 120 players Nationally closely considered for the 2020 Draft. 

Although Draft selection did not occur last year, the Western Bulldogs had seen enough to invite Preston into its preseason. Despite an injury setback he continued to show AFL traits.

It's hard to believe it was his debut match for the Ranges as he kicked four first half goals to light up the forward line in an 18 disposal and five-mark game by this left footer with both strong hands on the lead and innate goal sense. 

In the Northern Knights hard fought nine-point victory over the Jets in the second match at Highgate on Good Friday it was a strong performance from its tall midfielder/forward in Ned Long which was eye-catching with his game. His 26 possessions (12 contested), seven Inside 50s, nine marks and three goals from the 192cm and 88kg prospect from Fitzroy JFC and Melbourne Grammar were numbers earning him best on ground honours.

At centre bounces his clean hands and quickness of the mind helped send his team forward on numerous occasions and whilst forward his use of body with his vice like grip overhead made him a dangerous target. A neat user of the ball by foot, Long's influence on the game's outcome was profound and certainly AFL Eye-Catching.

And the final match of the round always promised to be a showcase game on Easter Monday between two of the most successful teams in the NAB League in nurturing players and winning matches (a fine balance) with the Oakleigh Chargers clashing with the Sandringham Dragons at St Kilda's home base at RESA Park.

The match certainly did not disappoint with its endeavour and intensity although as expected the execution wasn't prefect due to pressure and the windy conditions. After trailing most of the day it was the Dragons prevailing with a strong final quarter in front of an appreciative crowd of around 1500.

Eye Catchers were aplenty including Sandringham Dragons mercurial forward Blake Howes whose ariel ability as well as his recovery and agility suggested sometime special was possible down the track as he develops physically and adapts to the higher level of the NAB League. 

Two other highly regarded prospects with the Dragons, both All-Australians at Under 16s level in 2019, in defender Josh Sinn and wingman Campbell Chesser showed they are set for good seasons with strong performances first up. 

Sinn, a 186cm left footer, gathered 20 possessions (14 uncontested) as he linked up providing good rebound for his team with his speed and kicking real assets. A natural leader on the field Sinn has already completed his secondary education at Xavier College and is now studying at Monash University furthering his education. He looks set for an outstanding year. 

Although having a relatively quiet start Chesser, another 186cm AFL type, worked himself into the game running out the deciding final quarter better than most finishing with 23 disposals (at 83% efficiency) and five inside 50s. His lateral movement, speed and power are the assets that find him space in congestion and allow him time to execute his skills to the benefit of his team. From the Lavington Panthers in the Ovens and Murray, Chesser is a student at Melbourne Grammar but will qualify to represent Victoria Country at Under 19s Championships level.

My final AFL Eye-catcher for the round was Nick Daicos, another playing just his first match at NAB League level and he wasted no time impressing. His natural game sense combined with his pace and competitiveness had him in the game for the Oakleigh Chargers from the outset finishing with a game high 28 disposals having a good balance between contested and uncontested footy. 

Playing predominantly midfield he also hit the scoreboard with 3 goals and laid 7 tackles to be clearly one of his side's best in a dazzling first up performance.  

Chargers' Nick Daicos, together with his Dragons opponents on the weekend in Blake Howes, Josh Sinn and Campbell Chesser will become teammates on April 24th when they are all members of the Australian Under 18s team when they clash with Geelong's VFL side at GMHBA Stadium (curtain raiser to Geelong vs West Coast Eagles) in the annual representative match showcasing our nation's very best young talent. It's a must watch game for those accessing future stars.