IT'S BEEN two long years between NAB AFL Under-19s Championship matches, but last weekend Western Australia's best youngsters took on and defeated South Australia 9.13 (67) to 5.8 (38) at Lathlain Stadium, WA. 

AFL Talent Ambassador Kevin Sheehan watched the game and tells us which star juniors caught his eye, as well as joining some of the best assessors of young talent in the land to give their votes for the outstanding players.

Kevin Sheehan - AFL Talent Ambassador

Among the AFL Eyecatchers for Western Australia, were four key-position prospects, all with a range of appealing attributes and traits which our game is crying out for right now.

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Claremont's Jacob van Rooyen (194cm) and Swan Districts’ Rhett Bazzo (195cm) are tall defenders who played with great assurance and were standouts on the day.

Jacob van Rooyen marks during 2021 NAB AFL U19 Championships between Western Australia and South Australia at Lathlain Park. Picture: Supplied

Van Rooyen, from Wembley Downs JFC, is an 18-year-old with senior experience at WAFL level where he's played predominantly as a tall forward. On the weekend he showed real composure as a defender, controlling the air with eight marks, a number of which were contested while others were superbly anticipated intercepts. When the ball hit the ground van Rooyen’s second efforts and agility kept him in the contest, as did his willingness to hunt and tackle the opposition with intent. Maybe he can be an AFL swingman down the track?

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Bazzo, from South Mandurah, was likewise a rock in defense with 10 marks and aggressive spoiling a feature as he collected 18 possessions, predominantly in the back half. Another with a taste of senior WAFL football under his belt and having played both back and forward at college and club level, Bazzo looks a natural defender who also sets up play with his mobility and penetrating right foot. An All-Australian at Under 16s level in 2019, he certainly played some inspirational football for his state at the weekend, leaving a positive impression on his future AFL prospects.

Rhett Bazzo in action during 2021 NAB AFL U19 Championships between Western Australia and South Australia at Lathlain Park. Picture: Supplied

Up forward the Sandgropers also had twin towers with undoubted AFL potential in Jye Amiss (195cm) from East Perth/Bussellton FC and Jack Williams (195cm) from East Fremantle/Rossmoyne JFC, who both put in eyecatching performances.

Although only kicking two goals as the deepest forward, Amiss's team orientation and unselfishness was evident on a number of occasions with his team-first attitude a real plus. His speed on the lead, vice-like grip on the ball in front or overhead, as well as his physical presence, were all part of his weaponry in winning 12 possessions and taking six marks. His set shot kicking for goal showed a rigid routine and technically sound action on his preferred left foot, already netting him 49 goals 12 behinds in WAFL Colts this year.

WA's Jye Amiss crunches into the pack during 2021 NAB AFL U19 Championships between Western Australia and South Australia at Lathlain Park. Picture: Supplied

For a player of Amiss's size his ability to swoop on the ball and snap on the run for a goal of the day contender at the weekend was also a thin slice of his obvious potential. Full credit to his SA opponent Zac Becker who defended very well himself on a dangerous forward, no doubt winning admirers.

The second of the twin towers up forward in Jack Williams had 14 disposals and held nine marks, consistently providing a target for his rebounding defenders and midfielder forward thrusts. He read the ball well in flight and was generally first to move and a constant threat for the opposition, also kicking a goal in a promising performance. His physical presence helped his team at forward-zone stoppages, adding another string to his bow.

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Among the Eyecatchers for South Australia no one was more impressive than the ‘boy with the dancing feet’ in Glenelg's Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, who gathered 15 possessions, five marks and laid three tackles playing predominantly on the wing. His one-touch ball handling both at ground level and overhead, along with his pinpoint disposal by hand and foot, sets him apart. A member of the famous Wanganeen and Milera football family, he is a composed and unflappable player who always seems to have time and find space in congested areas.

Nas Wanganeen-Milera in action for South Australia during the NAB AFL U19 Champs at Lathlain Park on Saturday, August 28, 2021. Picture: Supplied

Rounding off my Eyecatchers, were South Australia's Jase Burgoyne (son of Peter) whose speed, agility and ball use kept him under notice in gathering 21 possessions in defense and midfield roles, as well as Western Australia's Matt Johnson who put his size (191cm), speed and skill set on show as he won 19 possessions in a polished game in the midfield for the winners.

To add a different point of view, we have asked four AFL Recruiting Managers in Steve Conole (Brisbane), Rohan O'Brien (West Coast), Adrian Caruso (Greater Western Sydney) and Geoff Parker (Port Adelaide), along with NAB AFL Academy coach Tarkyn Lockyer, to cast their votes on the game’s best players. We should always remember the performance in just one game is never defining, but an indication of excellence in the most measurable level we have below the AFL in the game today.   

Hopefully later in September we'll see both South Australian and Western Australian teams back in action at under-aged level, post their finals, to further push their cases for selection in November’s 2021 NAB AFL Draft.

THE VOTES ARE IN

Kevin Sheehan (AFL)
3- Rhett Bazzo (WA)
2-Jacob van Rooyen (WA)
1-Nas Wanganeen-Milera (SA)

Steve Conole (Brisbane)
3-Jacob van Rooyen (WA)
2-Angus Sheldrick (WA)
1- Matt Johnson (WA)

Geoff Parker (Port Adelaide)
3-Rhett Bazzo (WA)
2-Jacob van Rooyen (WA)
1-Nas Wanganeen-Milera (SA)

Rohan O'Brien (West Coast)
3-Rhett Bazzo (WA)
2- Jacob van Rooyen (WA)
1-Nas Wanganeen-Milera

Tarkyn Lockyer (AFL Academy)
3-Angus Sheldrick (WA)
2- Rhett Bazzo (WA)
1-Jacob van Rooyen (WA)

Adrian Caruso (Greater Western Sydney)
3- Rhett Bazzo (WA)
2-Jye Amiss (WA)
1-Matt Johnson (WA)

Total Votes
Rhett Bazzo (WA) 14 votes
Jacob van Rooyen (WA) 10 votes
Angus Sheldrick (WA) 5 votes
Nas Wanganeen-Milera (SA) 3 votes
Matt Johnson (WA) 2 votes
Jye Amiss (WA) 1 vote