THIS year new rules will be added to the NAB AFL Draft blocking clubs from matching bids on Next Generation Academy prospects inside the first 20 selections.
Mac Andrew, who is tied to Melbourne's Academy, best represents the rule change, with the exciting talent expected to be an early first-round selection and ineligible to join the Demons through their Academy link.
Sound complicated? Here's the explanation for how the rule works, what it means for clubs and why it has been introduced.
Who is Mac Andrew?
Andrew is a prospect for this year's draft from the Dandenong Stingrays in the NAB League. He emerged as a genuine draft prospect this season after years with Melbourne's NGA with an early-season run of form at under-19 level and has continued to excel and excite: he's a 200cm ruckman who is athletic, smart and skilful, and capable of pushing forward.
Playing for Vic Country against Vic Metro earlier this month, Andrew kicked the first goal of the game after a strong contested grab and then went into the ruck, won the hit-out and backed it up at ground level. Scouts, already enamoured with Andrew's development this season, were even more taken by those few moments.
Andrew was born in Egypt but his parents are South Sudanese and because of that he has been a member of Melbourne's Next Generation Academy since he was 13, having attended the Dees' first ever under-14s NGA session.
The multicultural talent hadn't been a part of the Vic Country pathway until this year.
But will he get to Melbourne?
It's very unlikely. Because of new Next Generation Academy rules this season, Melbourne will only get to match a bid on Andrew if it comes outside of the first 20 picks on draft night.
Andrew is shaping as a top-10 selection due to his athleticism, height, movement and game sense. In a draft pool that doesn't have a stack of talls available – the best is Western Bulldogs father-son selection Sam Darcy – 'Big Mac' has a set of skills hard to find.
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The lightly-framed 18-year-old has been compared to first-year Bomber Nik Cox with his versatility in key positions (Cox played mainly in key spots as a junior), although he doesn't have the same running capacity as the young Essendon wingman.
What are the new rules?
The AFL announced last year that from 2021, nominated Next Generation Academy players will only be eligible to be matched from pick 21 in the draft.
All other NGA players selected from pick 41 onwards can be matched by their club using their next available draft selection, while NGA players not picked in the national draft are still eligible to be pre-selected as rookies.
Essentially it means that, for 2021, the top-20 picks are a protected zone from NGA players. If a club picks them in that part of the draft, their NGA club has no ability to match a bid on them. But if they are bid beyond the top-20, they can join their NGA club if it chooses to match a bid.
From 2022, clubs will have even less access to NGA players. Next year, they will only be able to match bids for NGA prospects from pick 41 onwards, meaning essentially the first two rounds of the draft are off-limits for NGA players. It is a significant phase-out of the NGA system.
Why did they come in?
Some at clubland have called it 'the Jamarra rule'.
The addition of the Next Generation Academy, as well as the northern Academies and father-son rule, had made for a more compromised draft and last year saw Jamarra Ugle-Hagan crowned the No.1 pick after Adelaide used the opening choice to place a bid on the Western Bulldogs NGA talent. Later in the first round, Port Adelaide also nabbed Lachie Jones as a NGA player, with both Indigenous players being selected in the first 16 picks. They were to be the last of their kind.
Another factor in the change was the switch for NGA programs to be overseen by the AFL's talent pathway with support from the clubs. The drawback in investment from clubs into the NGA area, largely as a result of the COVID-19 slashes to football department spending, meant the League also wound back the potential draft windfalls out of the system.
The model, the AFL said, allowed for the elite talents to be available to all clubs whilst ensuring prospects later in the draft can make it onto lists of the clubs that have supported their development.
Do the new rules apply to northern Academy players and father-sons as well?
Players in the northern Academy clubs – Sydney, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast – are not party to the same rule changes as the Next Generation Academy.
Last year, the Hawks used pick No.5 to bid on Swans Academy prospect Braeden Campbell and the Swans matched it. This year they would still be able to do that. Father-son players are also exempt from the rule changes, meaning Collingwood (for Nick Daicos) and the Bulldogs (for Darcy) are able to match likely top-five bids for the father-son pair this year.
Who else could be impacted by the new rules?
While Andrew has risen right up draft boards, there are other Next Generation Academy products who are on the fringes of the top-20.
St Kilda has a host of NGA prospects this season but the standout at this stage appears to be Marcus Windhager, a powerful and versatile midfielder who has returned from a knee injury to be a consistent player this season. Mitchito Owens is also building well.
Collingwood's Youseph Dib is rated outside of the top-20, as are Isaiah Dudley and Blayne O'Loughlin (both at Adelaide).
Are there any other Next Generation Academy rules to be aware of?
The West Australian and South Australian clubs pushed for access to metropolitan Indigenous players to be added to their NGA zones and won approval for that two years ago in 2019.
Prior to that, West Coast, Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide had only had access to Indigenous players living in rural and remote areas. The AFL opened things up more in line with Victorian clubs' zoning, but put a caveat on that access, granting them rights to match a bid only after pick 40.
It means Fremantle, which has South Fremantle's Jesse Motlop in its Next Generation Academy this year, will only be able to match a bid on the small forward if it comes from pick 41 onwards.
That change came into effect in 2020, when West Coast nominated prospect Jamison Ugle as an NGA player but could only match a bid if it was outside the first 40.