DRAFT hopeful Josh Cripps was transported back to his childhood during last year's AFL season shutdown. His entire family had come together at their Northampton farm and he had what was now a rare opportunity to live and train with brother Paddy.  

The Cripps brothers whose childhood consisted of hunting, motorbike riding, and sport, returned to their roots on the 6,000 acre property in Western Australia's mid-west, 480km north of Perth.

And in the process they built their fitness, with Josh targeting a strong season at school level with Aquinas to catapult himself into calculations for the 2020 NAB AFL Draft.

They were joined on the family homestead their parents built by eldest brother Daniel and also trained with cousin and West Coast forward Jamie Cripps, getting into their program from early morning every day.

Cripps cousins: Eagle Jamie and Blue Paddy shake hands during round 11, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

"We had the whole family back there, so as much as it was a low point for a lot of people in Australia, that was one of the high points of my year last year," Cripps told AFL.com.au.

"Having everyone back on the farm, it felt like my childhood again.

"Paddy and I did a lot of training together and we got really fit and that was the stage where I thought I really want to give this a crack."

Cripps, who said he loves "the grind of working hard", knew he'd done the work and he returned to school footy when COVID-19 restrictions eased in the best shape possible.

It was shattering, and I knew straight away as soon as I did it. It was pretty heartbreaking

- Josh Cripps on his ACL tear

But before the 199cm forward/ruck had a chance to show teammates, coaches and recruiters the shape was in, he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee playing for Aquinas, wiping out his draft year.

"That was the most heartbreaking thing about doing my knee. You put so much work into it and then to go down after doing so much work I couldn't really show it," he said.

"I still remember being on the stretcher and thinking '12 months' and the 'the draft'. They were the first two thoughts that went through my head.

"It was shattering, and I knew straight away as soon as I did it. It was pretty heartbreaking."

INDICATIVE DRAFT ORDER Your club's picks as they stand

Cripps' dad, Brad, had also suffered an ACL injury playing football, and Josh remembered him describing it as being "like a hot knife going through your knee". 

After the initial shock, Cripps mapped out his recovery program and broke it into three-month blocks.

His overall goal was to use the period to add size and build strength in his legs and core. He was playing at 85kg when he suffered the injury and will enter the NAB AFL Draft at 93kg.

He returned just before the 12-month mark and was finally rewarded for his work ethic with an excellent four-game run for East Fremantle's colts team in the second half of the season, averaging three goals, 23 disposals and 11 hitouts and earning a call-up for the NAB AFL Draft Combine.  

Joshua Cripps in action for East Fremantle's colts team. Picture: Instagram

"Before the injury I was pretty lightly framed and I was playing just as a key forward, so I definitely think I've changed," he said. 

"Those first three games back I was finding my feet again, and my body wasn't conditioned with match practice. But you also have to learn the game again after such a long stint out.

"That was the main challenge and then a bit of form came after that as my body started to adapt, so it was nice to play a few good games and hit finals.

"This year was the first year I've played ruck. I'm still learning that craft and I would definitely say I'm a forward/ruck, not a ruck/forward."


Cripps graduated school last year and has spent 2021 studying commerce at Curtin University and working part-time as a warehouse labourer to pay the bills and keep busy. 

With Paddy back in Perth during Carlton's off-season, the brothers are hitting the gym together daily and plan to start running more, kicking and training flat out together from November.

It's a program that's keeping Josh's mind off the draft, where he is rated a late prospect, while also making sure he is prepared for an opportunity if it comes.

Josh Cripps at the 2021 NAB AFL Draft Combine. Picture: AFL Photos

"It's great fun. When two people have the same common goal to get fit and play at the elite level you enjoy it together, but to do it as brothers is unreal," Josh said.

When university exams are out of the way in two weeks, they will both return to Northampton with the whole family.

The Cripps' property, which was a wheat and sheep farm when they were kids, is now leased out, but the family maintains a homestead there and will get together for a special ceremony in the town.

CAL TWOMEY'S OCTOBER FORM GUIDE 35 top draft prospects ranked

Northampton is honouring the nine past and present AFL players who were raised in the town with a series of statues, including Patrick and Jamie Cripps, and champion West Coast forward Josh Kennedy.

The other AFL players from the proud town are Harry Taylor (Geelong), Andrew Lockyer (West Coast), Tarkyn Lockyer (Collingwood), Daniel Chick (Hawthorn and West Coast), Paul Hasleby (Fremantle) and Liam Anthony (North Melbourne).

Northampton's record of producing top-end AFL talent was special to the town, Cripps said, and worth celebrating.

Knowing Cripps has done the work to overcome a significant injury and put his best foot forward for the draft this year, the town will be hoping it can add another name to its honour roll before long.