From the dream debuts, to the worrying starts, to the surprising kids.
Last week’s scratch matches saw dozens of fresh faces making their first appearance in club colours.
Here’s how your club’s new boys went and who to look for in this coming weekend’s pre-season games.
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A number of youngsters made an impact in the club’s SANFL clash on Saturday, pushing their case for early selection in 2021. The club’s prized first selection, Riley Thilthorpe, slotted 4.2 in the hitout and was one of the best on the field. He took some outstanding contested marks and set up a number of other chances. Assistant coach Scott Burns said he’d be in the mix for the club’s AAMI Community Series match against the Power, praising Luke Pedlar and Sam Berry’s work. Mature-age recruit James Rowe played in the senior match but received limited supply up forward. Former Giant Jackson Hately spent an extended period of time in at the centre bounces with the Crows missing gun Matt Crouch through soreness.
All eyes were on key forward Joe Daniher, with the tall not failing to deliver on the big stage in the first official practice match of the year. The former Bomber slotted four goals for the game, including two in the first quarter, dominating against an understrength Suns backline. It seems like a simple equation; the former All-Australian will be a fantastic addition if fit. But ‘if fit’ has been bold, italicised and up in lights next to Daniher’s name for a couple of years now.
The Blues are certainly going to play some exciting footy throughout 2021 given the extra burst of speed coming out of the defensive half of the ground. Adam Saad’s addition adds another element to the backline of the Blues, with the left footer breaking the lines and zippy away from his opponents to get the ball moving forward. Zac Williams made an impact from the very first bounce against Essendon, winning the first clearance and booting it long inside 50. The Blues used him up forward and down back, with his addition into the midfield helping David Teague leave Patrick Cripps deep forward. Former Cat Lachie Fogarty had his moments but was largely quiet in the practice match.
The major standout for Collingwood against Geelong was young gun Ollie Henry, with the forward starring while his brother watched on in opposition colours. The first-year player flew high to take a number of impressive marks, using his athleticism inside 50. The club’s pick 17 from 2020 has pushed his Round 1 case, following a tough off-season for the Pies.
The Bombers unveiled a number of new faces against the Blues on Thursday. While there was no standout four quarter performance, it was a number of moments that caught the eye for those donning the sash for the first time. Youngster Jye Caldwell got into the thick of things in the midfield mix, with captain Dyson Heppell shifted to half back. On the wing, 200cm runner Nik Cox had a few flashes with his burst forward and caught the eye with his leap. Fellow top-10 draftee Archie Perkins played across half forward and remains in the mix for Round 1 selection. Former Saint Nick Hind’s speed across half back helped fill the void left by Adam Saad. While he is yet to win a deal, Alec Waterman slotted four majors to push his case to be signed by the Bombers.
The list of impressive young Dockers is set to grow after fine performances from rookie Josh Treacy and the club’s first round pick Heath Chapman. Treacy, a key forward, slotted two goals and claimed some impressive contested marks against the Eagles. At the other end, Chapman played the entire second-half and had strong moments. Dockers coach Justin Longmuir suggested there wasn’t a lot of expectation from their first-year players, but didn’t rule out Round 1 opportunity.
Cats fans got their first glimpse at seeing what life will be like with Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins in the same forward line for 2021. The ex-Giant played up the ground using his strong aerobic ability, slotting a goal early in the contest. He was rested for the second-half but the signs are very good for Chris Scott’s side. Young tall Shannon Neale booted a goal late in the match, while Nick Stevens played in the defensive half after the main break.
GOLD COAST SUNS
The Suns have added some speed off half back with Oleg Markov slotting straight into the vacancy left by Pearce Hanley. Against the Lions, the former Tiger rebounded the ball at speed and was clean with his ball skills.
Tanner Bruhn added plenty to GWS’ attacking half where he used his sublime skills to effectiveness. He played most of the game across half forward, slotting a goal on the run to cap off an impressive showing.
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With a number of off-field changes, Hawthorn has a big vacancy on the wing. And it could be academy pick Connor Downie to fill the void as early as Round 1. The Eastern Ranges prospect had some standout moments throughout the game against the Bulldogs, with his long left-foot kicking and his strong making a real highlight in the second term. He also spent time running alongside Lachie Hunter in the clash. Tom Phillips also spent ample time in the midfield, including a number of centre bounces, filling a role with Tom Mitchell on the sidelines.
Big trade recruit Ben Brown didn’t feature in the scratch match win over Richmond following knee surgery in early February, with the Demons bringing him back conservatively given his knee issues in 2020. In the ‘B’ game top draft pick Jake Bowey impressed, spending time in defence and showing plenty of speed and class by foot. His only issue is his size – he’s listed at 175cm and 67kg, and he’d be fighting to get to the latter soaking wet.
There weren’t many shining lights in the thumping loss to St Kilda. Jaidyn Stephenson spent most of his time up forward, rather than the midfield where it had been mooted he’d play, kicking two goals and showing flashes. Aidan Corr was understandably busy in defence and didn’t produce a performance of note. Will Phillips didn’t play, with the Kangaroos saying he wasn’t selected because other youngsters had shown more promise – which seems less than ideal for a No.3 draft pick. But fellow first-round selection Tom Powell looked comfortable while Charlie Lazzaro (pick No.36) was solid and spent some time in the midfield.
There wasn’t too much for defender Aliir Aliir to do in the clash with Adelaide given the one-sided result, with one-way traffic after the main break. Up forward, ex-Bomber Orazio Fantasia slotted two second quarter goals, showing his liveliness around the action inside 50. Academy selection Lachie Jones continued to press his case for Round 1 action, showing his composure across half back. However, he faces stiff competition if he is to find a role in Ken Hinkley’s 22.
It’ll be a struggle for any new faces to squeeze into the back-to-back premiers’ 22. Rhyan Mansell, signed as a mature-aged rookie after training with the Tigers this pre-season, played in the “B’ game suggesting he’s a little ways off AFL selection.
The level of competition wasn’t the best, but there was plenty to love about the Saints’ new faces on Thursday. Plenty of the goals that contributed to the 91-point margin came from recruits – including Jack Higgins (two), who combined with ex-Roo Mason Wood (four) in attack. We know Higgins’ talent as a small forward, but the question is whether he can push into the midfield; with Wood, it’s about staying on the park and converting flashes into consistent form. Helpfully with Max King nearby, he won’t need to be the main target. James Frawley is a much-needed steadying force in defence while Brad Crouch will be a quality addition to the midfield when he debuts after his early-season suspension. This is the benefit of targeting mature-aged recruits – you generally know what you’re gonna get. Recent list addition Paul Hunter looked like handy ruck depth as Rowan Marshall recovers from his foot injury, while ex-SANFL star Tom Highmore adds to the defensive stocks.
Errol Gulden’s Round 1 spot is firming after yet another standout effort in the club’s draw with the Giants. The Academy graduate was composed, crafty and crucial throughout the match, particularly in the third term with some brilliant passages of play, one of which directly resulted in a Tom Papley goal. His teammates gave him exceptional praise post-game. Tall Logan McDonald was quiet in wet conditions, while top-five academy pick Braeden Campbell didn’t look far off an AFL debut in his first season.
WEST COAST EAGLES
Alex Witherden pulled on his new colours for the first time and played mostly across half back. It wasn’t his best outing with a number of turnovers, but he is certain to improve the club’s rebounding efforts. Former Giant Zac Langdon suffered a minor ankle tweak in the contest.
The production line of Footscray VFL to Bulldogs AFL continued when 25-year-old Anthony Scott earned a spot on the senior list. It came following a strong performance as a forward-mid in the Dogs’ scratch match clash with Hawthorn. He’s a realistic chance of a Round 1 debut given Mitch Hannan’s groin injury, as is Lachlan McNeil, who played a high half-forward role in the win. Dogs assistant Rohan Smith told reporters post-game McNeil was “fantastic … he didn’t look out of place at all”. Stefan Martin looked like the steady veteran ruck presence most expected him to be when he was brought across.
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