IN A DRAFT pool that is dominated by midfielders, Jacob van Rooyen stands out. Then you throw in his 195cm frame, the strong marking, hard running and batch of blond hair and it is easy to see why the West Australian has caught the eye of scouts.
This week all clubs will be watching as the key forward, who comes from a Zimbabwean background, lines up for the NAB AFL Academy against Geelong's VFL side on Saturday morning at GMHBA Stadium.
Van Rooyen comes into the match after three games for Claremont at senior WAFL level, itself a step up for the 18-year-old, who begins the 2021 campaign as one of the leading key-position prospects available.
"It does give me a bit of confidence. It helps me being able to come in to this Academy game having already played against senior guys at the level in the past few weeks," he said.
"I'm really excited about it. It's a really good opportunity to show what I've got and what I can do, and the skills I can bring to an AFL club if I'm lucky enough to get drafted."
Van Rooyen made his senior debut in round one and booted 2.2 from 12 disposals and four marks. That came after an interrupted lead-in to the game, which included a bout of tonsillitis that saw him cleared to play from the club's doctors on game day.
"I pushed through it and had a good game but it was a tough few days. I didn't have too many nerves before the game because it had taken my mind off it because I was too busy fussing over that," he said.
"I thought I did quite well and as it went on I started to get rewarded for the hard work I put in."
He has been held goalless in the past two weeks but van Rooyen is learning to judge his games differently as he adjusts to the higher demands of WAFL seniors, having focused over summer on building his endurance base.
"It's not so much about me going out there and dominating – it's more playing the best I can and proving I am able to play against men. I think showing I can hold my spot and that I'm physically ready is the main thing that's good," he said.
Fremantle got a close look at van Rooyen (pronounced 'Roy-en') earlier this month as part of the Academy's program, with one of the state's leading NAB AFL Draft prospects training with the Dockers.
The lifelong Dockers supporter said it was surreal to be training alongside club greats Nat Fyfe and David Mundy, although it is a Richmond spearhead he idolises when developing his own craft in attack.
"I like Jack Riewoldt and the way he always jumps at contests. He doesn't always mark it but he is always there making contests and he's also a very good player on the lead," he said.
After more injuries to its squad, the Academy has added four more players to their group ahead of Saturday’s game. Skillful wingman Finn Callaghan, exciting ruckman Mac Andrew, forward Neil Erasmus and Nasiah Wanganeen, the nephew of Port and Essendon champion Gavin, have all been included to face Geelong’s VFL side.