WEST Coast has taken powerful Dandenong Stingrays midfielder Jai Culley with the first pick in the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft as it launches a rebuild in the second half of 2022.
Linked strongly to the Eagles ahead of Wednesday night's draft, Culley was snapped up by the 18th-placed team, getting his AFL career underway just six months after being overlooked in the NAB AFL Draft.
He was the first of 17 players given a mid-season opportunity, with former North Melbourne defender Sam Durdin and ex-Western Bulldogs midfielder Will Hayes getting second chances with Carlton.
Culley joined North Melbourne's Jacob Edwards (2021) and former Fremantle and Carlton midfielder Josh Deluca (2019) as players taken with the No.1 selection in a mid-season draft since it was reintroduced.
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The 19-year-old has improved rapidly this season in the NAB League and has appealing AFL attributes as a 193cm midfielder who can push forward, mark strongly overhead and kick goals.
He underlined his credentials with a four-goal, 22-disposal performance for the Young Guns against Vic Metro last month.
"I hadn't really heard anything, so I'm just finding out now … I'm bloody stoked, I can't wait," Culley told the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft Show.
"I just can't wait to meet all the boys and just get into it."
West Coast, which passed on its second-round selection, has been hit with an availability crisis this season, due to both injury and regular COVID cases in its ranks, forcing it at times to draw on its WAFL top-up list.
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Culley could earn immediate opportunities once he crosses the country, with the Eagles keen to expose young players in the second half of the season but thin on emerging midfield talent.
North Melbourne opted for mature-age key defender Kallan Dawson with pick No.2, with Essendon snaring classy half-back Massimo D'Ambrosio out of Richmond's VFL program at pick No.3.
Adelaide looked to bolster its injury-hit midfield with mature-age SANFL ball-winner Brett Turner with pick No.4 before Greater Western Sydney snapped up WAFL forward Wade Derksen.
Hawthorn addressed its ruck issues with mobile Sandringham Dragons big man Max Ramsden, who was one of two rucks drafted, alongside East Fremantle's Brynn Teakle, who joined Port Adelaide at pick No.8.
Sandwiched in the middle, Gold Coast opted for midfielder Oskar Faulkhead.
Collingwood was one of the winners of the night, securing 22-year-old midfielder Josh Carmichael at pick No.9. The West Adelaide inside ball-winner has averaged 25 disposals in the SANFL this season and is expected to push for senior games quickly.
Forward Jacob Bauer, who has been a regular goalkicker in the SANFL with North Adelaide, rounded out the top 10 when he was snapped up by Richmond.
Sandringham Dragons wingman Hugo Hall-Kahan landed at Sydney via pick No.11, with Geelong recruiting Woodville-West Torrens small forward Zane Williams out of the SANFL.
Durdin, 25, earned his second AFL chance eight years after he was recruited by North Melbourne with pick No.16 in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft, and two years after he was delisted.
After St Kilda passed, Fremantle used pick No.15 to add depth to its tall forward stocks with East Perth key forward Sebit Kuek, who is averaging 3.3 goals a game in the WAFL this season.
The 21-year-old was born in a Kenyan refugee camp to South Sudanese parents, with his family moving to Australia when he was eight years old.
Five of the eight teams holding second-round selections chose not to use them, with Essendon (No.18) selecting Jye Menzie and Hawthorn (No.20) drafting Box Hill defender James Blanck.
Hayes, who was delisted by the Bulldogs at the end of last season after 11 games in three seasons, joined the Blues with the final selection, with his decision to play with Carlton's VFL team this year paying off.
Among those unlucky not to earn an AFL chance on Wednesday night were prolific WAFL midfielders Jake Florenca and Bailey Rogers, while Sturt defender Casey Voss – the son of Carlton coach Michael – was also overlooked out of the SANFL.
Former Brisbane big man Connor Ballenden, who was delisted at the end of last season, was also overlooked after impressing in the SANFL with Woodville-West Torrens this year.
MID-SEASON DRAFT IN FULL
1. West Coast Eagles — Jai Culley (Dandenong Stingrays)
2. North Melbourne — Kallan Dawson (Williamstown VFL)
3. Essendon — Massimo D’Ambrosio (Western Jets)
4. Adelaide Crows — Brett Turner (Glenelg)
5. GWS Giants — Wade Derksen (Peel Thunder)
6. Hawthorn — Max Ramsden (Sandringham Dragons)
7. Gold Coast Suns — Oskar Faulkhead (Bendigo Pioneers)
8. Port Adelaide — Brynn Teakle (East Fremantle)
9. Collingwood — Josh Carmichael (West Adelaide)
10. Richmond — Jacob Bauer (North Adelaide)
11. Sydney Swans — Hugo Hall-Kahan (Sandringham Dragons)
12. Geelong Cats — Zane Williams (Woodville-West Torrens)
13. Carlton — Sam Durdin (Glenelg)
14. St Kilda — Pass
15. Fremantle — Sebit Kuek (East Perth)
16. West Coast Eagles — Pass
17. North Melbourne — Pass
18. Essendon — Jye Menzie (South Adelaide)
19. Adelaide Crows — Pass
20. Hawthorn — James Blanck (Box Hill Hawks)
21. Collingwood — Pass
22. Carlton — Will Hayes (Carlton VFL)
23. Fremantle — Pass