WITH the JLT Community Series and the pre-season quickly fading into the distance, the time has nearly arrived for the first teams to be picked for 2018.
After another long, hot summer, some of the hottest talent from last November’s AFL Draft is set to be unleashed next weekend.
Will we see Pick 1 Cam Rayner unveiled for the first time for Brisbane?
Can the Saints fit both of its top 10 picks — Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield — into their starting 22 first-up?
How many WAFL recruits will step into the big time straight away? Tim Kelly? Bailey Banfield? Liam Ryan? Aaron Naughton?
Time will tell.
Here are the players aiming for a Round 1 debut at your side.
While the Crows weren’t a big player in last November’s AFL Draft, they made a big move in the first round when they scooped up home grown midfielder-forward Darcy Fogarty at Pick 12. The 94kg bull turned heads in Saturday’s summer Showdown at Alberton, kicking 2.1 from three set shots and four marks by midway through the first quarter, before finishing with three goals from 14 disposals and eight marks. After inheriting Mark Ricciuto’s iconic No.32 guernsey, Fogarty might come straight into the side that lost last year’s decider.
After making a quiet start in the first week of the JLT Community Series, Pick 1 Cam Rayner showed glimpses of what’s to come in his first season at Southport on Sunday. The former Western Jets attacking weapon laid 10 tackles in sloppy conditions and collected 13 possessions against Gold Coast to all but book his spot against St Kilda in Round 1.
It may have been blowing a gale at Ikon Park a fortnight ago, but it didn’t stop Paddy Dow flaunting all of the class that forced the Blues to use their prized Pick 3 on the inside midfielder last November. Dow, who grew up on a 150-acre fruit farm just outside Swan Hill, has been likened to Geelong superstar Paddy Dangerfield for his blistering turn of speed from stoppages, which he demonstrated against St Kilda and Hawthorn over the JLT Community Series.
A heart condition might have scared some clubs off in the lead-up to the draft, but it didn’t deter Collingwood from grabbing Jaidyn Stephenson at Pick 6. The lightning quick half-forward-wingman featured in AFLX and both JLT Community Series games, collecting 13 disposals against Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs to press his claims for an opening round debut.
The Bombers are unlikely to have a debutant in Round 1.
Two draftees from either end of the spectrum have all but been guaranteed a first round debut from Ross Lyon, following strong performances across the pre-season fixtures. One is Andrew Brayshaw, who the Dockers took with the second pick last year. The other is mature-age recruit Bailey Banfield, who is one of the biggest surprises this year after being plucked from the WAFL in last year’s Rookie Draft.
It’s taken Tim Kelly a lot longer than others to get this far, but it might not take him too much longer to arrive on the scene. The 23-year-old mature-age recruit leapt up draft boards last year following a stunning season for South Fremantle that saw him finish runner-up in the Sandover Medal, culminating with the Cats taking the father of three at Pick 24. After two eye-catching performances in the JLT Community Series, the West Australian could run out for Geelong in Gary Ablett’s homecoming.
Nick Holman played the JLT Community Series like someone who knows what it’s like for things to end quickly. After all, he is someone who has had his dream shattered before. Holman, who won Central District’s best and fairest last year in the second year since being delisted by Carlton, impressed as a pressure forward in both of Gold Coast’s pre-season games, pressing his claims for a quick return to the highest level.
The Giants might be stacked with first-round picks, but it is a mature-age recruit from the West that has risen into contention for Leon Cameron’s Round 1 side. Former Claremont small forward Zac Langdon impressed in both pre-season fixtures against Collingwood and Sydney to emerge as a genuine candidate to face the Western Bulldogs in the opening weekend of the season.
The Hawks are unlikely to have a debutant in Round 1.
People inside Melbourne believe Bailey Fritsch would have played for the Demons last season if they could have picked him for the ones instead of Casey. That’s how strong his form was. But after following up a stellar 42-goal VFL season last year with two eye-catching efforts in the JLT Community Series, including a three-goal haul against North Melbourne, the late blooming 21-year-old has one foot inside Melbourne’s Round 1 side.
Luke Davies-Uniacke is a name that sticks in your mind quickly and is one North Melbourne supporters will be hoping to see for a long time to come, starting from next weekend. Since being acquired with Pick 4 in last November’s AFL Draft, the big-bodied midfielder has already added a two-year extension to the mandatory two-year deal. Davies-Uniacke featured in both of the Kangaroos’ JLT Community Series hit-outs, collecting 16 disposals against reigning premiers Richmond last Wednesday night to firm as a first round debutant.
Port Adelaide was a big player during last October’s trade period, but they may have also found another member of their best 22 in Dom Barry. The 24-year-old played five games for Melbourne in 2014 before walking away from the game at the end of that year. Barry starred for Glenelg in the SANFL last season to demand another opportunity and has since produced two strong performances in the JLT Community Series to indicate he will play plenty of football in 2018, perhaps as early as the first game of the year against Fremantle.
After so much success with their fleet of small forwards in 2017, Richmond pounced on another one late in the first-round of last year’s AFL Draft, picking Morrish Medal winner Jack Higgins at Pick 17. While he faces far more competition than some of the draftees mentioned above, Higgins is firmly in the mix to face the Blues on the first Thursday of the season, especially given the unavailability of premiership forward Daniel Rioli.
When Alan Richardson’s side runs out for the first time this season, there might be not one but two draftees in the 22. Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield, who were taken one pick apart at Picks 7 and 8, have followed up strong debut pre-seasons at Linen House Centre with quality performances in the JLT Community Series. Coffield appears almost certain to debut against the Lions after gathering 20 disposals against Carlton and 17 against Melbourne, displaying the composure and class that saw him earn All-Australian selection as an Under-18.
The Swans are unlikely to have a debutant in Round 1.
Liam Ryan, another member of the WAFL’s mature-age recruits from 2017, could slot straight into West Coast’s Round 1 side after playing both games of the JLT Community Series. The 22-year-old, who is renowned for his spectacular marks, booted 73 goals for Subiaco last year before the Eagles plucked him at Pick 26.
After making his mark in the WAFL last season to elevate his standing in the draft pool, Aaron Naughton has quickly made his mark at the kennel to all but sew up a Round 1 berth. The Pick 9 was impressive in both JLT Community Series games, particularly against Collingwood in Moe on the weekend where he hauled in seven intercept marks to strengthen his claims for a quick fire debut.