THE PRIORITY pick discussion often, and justifiably, centres around early draft selections. Over the years, the names of Marc Murphy, Tom Scully and Matt Rowell have understandably been the poster boys of the controversial conversation.
But, as debate continues to rage about North Melbourne's merits in warranting AFL assistance at season's end, another player should be among the faces of the dialogue; that of Gold Coast's star defender Sam Collins.
As the reliable Suns vice-captain continues his charge to put an All-Australian blazer alongside his 2020 best and fairest award at Metricon Stadium, his journey back onto an AFL list shouldn't be forgotten by those at Arden Street.
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Delisted by Fremantle at the end of 2017, Collins returned to the VFL and enjoyed a standout season with Werribee when Gold Coast was handed an assistance package that allowed it to pre-list three state league players at the conclusion of its 2018 campaign.
The club was one of two teams – Carlton was also given access to pre-list two players after applying for a priority pick – to secure the package. The Suns had won 20 games in four years, the Blues had secured eight victories in two years. Both compare similarly with the struggling Kangaroos, who have won nine games in three seasons.
Gold Coast pre-listed Collins with its AFL support and has watched him provide an immediate and lasting impact at the club. He's played 63 games – it would have been more if not for a hip injury in his maiden campaign at Metricon Stadium – becoming one of its most reliable players.
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North Melbourne, be it through former coach David Noble, its current interim coach Leigh Adams or football boss Dan McPherson, has spoken consistently of the club's desire to target mature-aged talent in the upcoming trade and draft periods. As part of its pitch to the AFL for assistance, made earlier this month, the club noted its lack of elite players in the 25 to 30 age bracket as being key to its lack of in-game competitiveness.
McPherson, talking to AFL.com.au in June, said: "We're really confident with the young talent that we've got. The gap that we've got at the moment in the list is the middle-aged guys, the 23s to 27s. That's the gap that we need to fill as quickly as we can. We'll be looking at the end of the year to try and bring in a couple of guys in that demographic."
Collins was 24 when pre-listed by Gold Coast while the other players it claimed – Chris Burgess from West Adelaide in the SANFL and Josh Corbett from Werribee in the VFL – were 23 and 22 years of age respectively. The players Carlton claimed, then traded – Shane McAdam from Sturt and Nathan Kreuger from South Adelaide, both in the SANFL – were 23 and 19 respectively. Most fit the profile North Melbourne is looking for.
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The Kangaroos are likely to ask for an early priority pick from the AFL as their first preference when it comes to an assistance package. They could also look at multiple early-to-middle selections over consecutive years, which the Suns received in 2019 and could help the club on-trade for uncontracted players around the competition. But the ability to pre-list mature-aged players is a unique tool that has evidence of helping to fast-track rebuilds and provide clubs with ongoing help.
Collins is one example of that. Burgess and Corbett, who have played 35 and 36 senior games respectively for Gold Coast, are others. But the manner in which Carlton used its support package, although markedly different, is yet another means to attract ready-made talent to a football club.
The Blues pre-selected McAdam and Kreuger and immediately traded both to Adelaide and Geelong respectively. The club then took the returns and found ways of securing players that would add to the young list it had already built at Ikon Park.
McAdam and Kreuger have provided their own clubs with handy additions. The former has kicked 55 goals from 40 games with the Crows, while the latter booted four goals in three games with the Magpies this year before injury interrupted a promising start to life at his second club.
But instead, the Blues traded McAdam, along with picks No.26, 28 and a future fifth-round selection, to Adelaide in order to secure intercept defender Mitch McGovern and a future third-round pick. One year later, that future third-round pick was then split and sent to Hawthorn in order to secure ruckman Marc Pittonet.
Kreuger, meanwhile, was sent to Geelong for pick No.42. Carlton then used that selection to put together a deal with Greater Western Sydney for midfielder Will Setterfield later in the same trade period.
McGovern, Pittonet and Setterfield – all components of the club's ability to pre-list two state league players back in 2018 – are now all expected to play key roles as the Blues finally break their September drought later this year.
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The return of the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft in 2019, giving clubs the ability to get a head-start on selecting from state league talent in-season, has diluted the pool somewhat for clubs looking to find mature-aged players at year's end. But recruiters have still shown there are gems to be found in November and beyond.
Jake Riccardi (pick No.51 in 2019), Brad Close (rookie pick in 2019), James Rowe (pick No.38 in 2020), Jacob Wehr (pick No.59 in 2020), Nic Martin (Supplemental Selection Period recruit in 2022) and Paddy McCartin (SSP recruit in 2022) are just a few of those who would have been available at season's end under similar circumstances, able to either be recruited to a club in need or on-traded for draft returns as part of an assistance package.
The impact that a player like Collins has had since arriving at Gold Coast is therefore just one example of how the priority pick discussion can be formed going forward. The influence McGovern, Pittonet and Setterfield might play in Carlton's finals run is another.
Priority picks don't necessarily need to be blue-chip draft selections to ensure success can follow. With a keen eye for talent, or perhaps some creativity in the market, there are many ways for North Melbourne to fast-track its rebuild with varying AFL assistance packages.