THE Western Bulldogs have continued their tradition of promoting from within, handing a rookie list berth to best-and-fairest winner Robbie McComb at the NAB AFL Rookie Draft after four years of development with Footscray in the VFL.
And the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal’s tradition of producing AFL draftees stretched to 15 years in a row when young Williamstown defender Charlie Dean was snapped up by Collingwood with the first live pick of the draft on Friday.
McComb, who will turn 26 next month, entered this season with just 22 VFL appearances and three goals in three seasons with Footscray, but quickly stamped himself as a dominant player in the competition after the year lost to COVID restrictions.
He had 24 touches and seven tackles in the opening round against Gold Coast and only twice dropped below that number in 10 games for the undefeated Bulldogs, finishing with averages of 25.2 disposals, 4.6 marks, 4.8 tackles and 4.9 clearances, while also kicking five goals as he put himself into more dangerous positions.
The gutsy midfielder dominated with 32 touches, seven marks and two goals against Frankston in round six in his best display of the year and signed off on an excellent campaign with another 32 disposals, five marks and 1.2 to drag the Bulldogs back from 47 points down to beat the Casey Demons at Casey in what turned out to be their final game.
McComb was named as rover in the VFL Team of the Year and polled 78 votes to win Footscray’s best-and-fairest by 10 from the club’s previous VFL draftee Will Hayes and father-son Rhylee West, impressing the club enough to give him a chance with pick 32, the last live selection taken in the rookie draft.
Former Sandringham Dragon Dean, 20, joined the Seagulls this year after being overlooked at the end of his top-age NAB League season in 2019 and immediately showed himself to be a natural.
Combining in defence with Jack Leslie, Harry Macreadie and fellow first-year player Jack Toner, the 195cm, 86kg Dean played all nine matches for Williamstown in the last line of defence, averaging 14.9 disposals, an eye-catching 7.3 marks and 1.9 tackles per game and even had time to sneak up the ground and have seven inside-50s.
He was selected in the back pocket in the VFL Team of the Year and was widely expected to be taken in Thursday night’s NAB AFL Draft but had to wait an extra 18 hours to hear his name called by the Magpies.
The selections of Dean and McComb join Essendon draftee Garrett McDonagh in making it three mature-age players selected from the VFL across the three days of drafting, while seven young men who played at least one VFL game this season were also picked up.
Josh Goater (North Melbourne), Tyler Sonsie (Richmond), Jake Soligo (Adelaide), Josh Fahey (GWS), Zac Taylor (Adelaide) and Jackson Archer (North Melbourne) all had a taste of senior football this year before being selected on Thursday night, while the Western Bulldogs listed Next Generation Academy prospect Cody Raak as a Category B rookie after three appearances for Footscray.
Richmond-listed youngster Karl Worner didn’t break through for a game with the VFL Tigers, but Fremantle saw enough of the 19-year-old from the Oakleigh Chargers to grab him with rookie pick No.8.
In fact, it was a successful draft week for the Tigers’ program, with McDonagh, Soligo and Worner making it four draftees this year, following Sam Durham’s selection by Essendon in the NAB Mid-Season Rookie Draft in June.
But there was disappointment for many more VFL players who held hopes of realising their AFL dreams, with Frankston’s Mitch Cox and Bailey Lambert, Southport champ Jacob Dawson, Aspley’s Matt Hammelmann, Werribee’s Hudson Garoni, Coburg’s Jack Maibaum and Charlie Thompson, Box Hill Hawks’ Fergus Greene and Vincent Adduci, Carlton’s Ben Crocker and Geelong’s Jye Chalcraft among those left to hope for an invite to train with an AFL club over summer in the hopes of getting a first, second or third chance in the supplementary selection period between now and March.
Dolphins ball-magnet Nathan Freeman has already been invited to join Gold Coast over the next couple of months as a train-on player and will be hoping to revive an AFL career that has so far just seen two games in five years at Collingwood and St Kilda.
NAB PRE-SEASON DRAFT
1: Gold Coast: Rory Thompson (Gold Coast)
2: Adelaide: Luke Nankervis (Sandringham Dragons)
NAB ROOKIE DRAFT
1: North Melbourne: Jared Polec (North Melbourne)
2: Collingwood: Charlie Dean (Williamstown)
3: Gold Coast: Levi Casboult (Carlton)
4: Adelaide: Ben Davis (Adelaide)
5: Hawthorn: Ned Long (Northern Knights)
6: Carlton: Lochie O’Brien (Carlton)
7: Richmond: Bigoa Nyuon (Richmond)
8: Fremantle: Karl Worner (Oakleigh Chargers)
9: St Kilda: PASS
10: West Coast: PASS
11: Essendon: Patrick Voss (GWS Academy)
12: Sydney: Lewis Taylor (Sydney)
13: GWS: Cooper Hamilton (Bendigo Pioneers)
14: Brisbane Lions: Cam Ellis-Yolmen (Brisbane Lions)
15: Geelong: Ollie Dempsey (Carey Grammar)
16: Port Adelaide: Trent Dumont (North Melbourne)
17: Western Bulldogs: Charlie Parker (East Fremantle)
18: Melbourne: Judd McVee (Sturt)
19: North Melbourne: PASS
20: Collingwood: Isaac Chugg (Collingwood)
21: Gold Coast: Jez McLennan (Gold Coast)
22: Adelaide: PASS
23: Hawthorn: PASS
24: Carlton: Matt Cottrell (Carlton)
25: Fremantle: Mitch Crowden (Fremantle)
26: St Kilda: PASS
27: Essendon: PASS
28: Sydney: PASS
29: GWS: Jacob Wehr (GWS)
30: Geelong: PASS
31: Port Adelaide: Sam Mayes (Port Adelaide)
32: Western Bulldogs: Robbie McComb (Footscray)
33: Gold Coast: PASS
34: Fremantle: Connor Blakely (Fremantle)
35: Essendon: PASS