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The Roar


Why the AFL should focus more on mature-age recruits

Matt Priddis could have been the number-one pick in 2005. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)
Roar Pro
14th June, 2018

The majority of players in state leagues like the VFL, WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL will never get to fulfil their AFL dreams, but Channel Seven commentator Brian Taylor has come up with a concept that will allow many more of these state league stars to get onto AFL lists.

In recent years there have been many success stories of mature-age players coming from state league competitions and making their mark in the AFL. Luke Ryan, Tim Kelly, Kane Lambert and Bayley Fritsch are some recent examples of players who have transitioned from state leagues into the AFL, and all are now regulars for their respective clubs.

Recently on Channel Seven’s Talking Footy Brian Taylor brought up the idea of the AFL giving a draft pick to each club to pick a mature-age player from one of the main four state leagues – the VFL, WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL. Either this or each club must have a spot on their list for a mature-age recruit each season.

In Taylors words, “I reckon there’s another 50 at the moment playing around Australia that could play at this level (AFL) no problems”.

Taylor speaks some sense. Many AFL starts have come from state leagues, including 2015 Brownlow medalist Matt Priddis, along with others like Michael Barlow, Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Hibberd.

Matt Priddis West Coast Eagles

(AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

Taylor continued, saying, “There are so many great stories and good players that are missing out on our game because what the recruiters do is they say, ‘Oh, do we want that 23-year-old or do we want to develop the 18-year-old?’.

“You’ll always go the 18-year-old. But the 23-year-old that you can play is missing out.”


Adding to the discussion was Hawks and Suns player Campbell Brown, who said that there’s certainty in picking a player who already has three or four years of experience compared to speculatively choosing a rookie.

It will mean clubs will have to research more into these state leagues and look for the right type of player they’re looking for. We know from looking at some of these state league success stories that most of these mature-age recruits can make it at AFL level. Lions defender Matt Eagles came from a TV show The Recruit and still managed to work his way up the ranks through the NEAFL to make his debut at 29.

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This season 16 players have already been drafted out of state leagues as mature-age players and have made their AFL debuts. This is evidence it can work. Draft a mature-age player who has performed at the state league level and you can be sure that they’ll appreciate the opportunity so much more after so many of them missed out on being drafted as 18-year-old.

The AFL should really investigate this, and opening a position on every club’s list every year for mature-age recruits from these state leagues looks to be the best option. It gives these players a chance that they may have missed before and it gives clubs the chance to scout and look at more state league players that they would have otherwise missed out on.

To paraphrase Taylor, not only is it good for the AFL, but it helps the state competitions, which get some great stories and great buzz from seeing one of their own elevated to the national league. It’s good for everyone involved.