The 2021 mid-season rookie draft has added a dimension of intrigue to the annual recruitment calendar, with 22 undrafted and mature aged players getting an unexpected AFL lifeline.
However, unlike the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP), where five of the 11 players taken were recycled past players, the mid-season draft yielded 21 previously undrafted players and only one delisted player who had previously been drafted as a mature aged player.
Several hopeful delisted players missed out on another chance, including (but not limited to) Nathan Freeman, Tyson Stengle, Riley Knight and Wylie Buzza, as most clubs opted to recruit for the future rather than for right now.
Other trends included four 2002-born players with late birthdays (players born earlier in their draft year are much more likely to be drafted), seven ruckmen selected, just four midfielders and four defenders picked, and another seven forwards chosen (nine including ruck/forwards).
Here is a pick-by-pick review of the 15 participating clubs.
Pick 1 – Jacob Edwards: 202cm, 83kg, ruck/forward, Sandringham Dragons
Pick 16 – Charlie Ham: 180cm, 74kg, midfielder, Geelong Falcons
North Melbourne used two selections after foregoing the chance to choose a final player in the rookie draft or the SSP and putting a player on their long-term injury list (LTI). The selection of Jacob Edwards, who turned out to be the youngest player in the mid-season draft, came as little surprise once the player himself admitted that the club had given him advance notice of their intentions, which appears to have leaked into the mainstream media.
The addition of a tall marking forward with back-up ruck potential gives David Noble more options at the selection table.
With their second pick, the Kangaroos chose to bolster their young midfield brigade with undrafted Charlie Ham, who becomes the 18th player under 22 on the rebuilding list. Tom Powell, Charlie Lazzaro and Will Phillips have already been blooded this year, while the VFL side just cracked it for their first win and will welcome some fresh blood.
Pick 2 – Jai Newcombe: 186cm, 85kg, Midfield, Box Hill
Pick 17 – Jackson Callow: 195cm, 96kg, Key forward, Norwood
The Hawks would be in the best position to judge Newcombe and, on exposed form, I think they are on the money. He had other teams coming after him and Sam Mitchell rates him, so that’s got to be good enough. Midfield variety is the key need at the Hawks, but so is youth and this kid will get an extended shot at cracking it for an AFL career.
Jackson Callow slid alarmingly in this draft, but he’s a very good player with tremendous upside and, judging by the number of clubs that passed after he was snapped up, it appears that many recruiters thought so too. He might get stuffed into Box Hill’s forward line for a season or two, but that’s what it takes for key forwards to thrive.
Pick 3 – Ash Johnson: 193cm, 85kg, forward, Sturt
Pick 18 – Aiden Begg: 197cm, 87kg, key position utility, Eastern Ranges
The Pies came in with a clear strategy to add pieces to their list with a long view to the future. They started with the most talented prospect in the draft in Ash Johnson, whose irresistible SANFL form has Collingwood recruiters trying to work out where on the field he can make them better and the answer might be everywhere.
Their second choice proved they were picking for the future when they selected the injured Aiden Begg, who will not be fit to contribute this season, but the 19-year-old shapes as a developing ruck/forward or tall defender.
List-wise, Collingwood has brought together a variety of younger players through the draft in the past few years to complement their biggest gamble to date: Nick Daicos. Should he become the next Gaz or even just Matt Rowell, these players are the teammates he’ll rise with.
Pick 4 – Patrick Parnell: 176cm, 67kg, small defender, Murray Bushrangers
The Crows are doubtlessly in a rebuild, so having such a high pick in this draft is certainly a boon for them. Without any specific position of need in mind, the club got their player in the form of the smallest player to be selected.
The high-flying Bushrangers have been the NAB League surprise packet, with several top-agers nominating for the mid-season draft, so Parnell’s performance last week in leading his side to victory against the competition heavyweight gave Adelaide recruiters pause that he might not even last until pick 4.
There’s a lot to like about the way the Crows recruited over the offseason and they have now amassed 22 players under 22. The club has its first wooden spoon now after 30 years, but with picks like this, there’s little chance they’ll be going back to those depths in seasons to come.
Pick 5 – Ned Moyle: 205cm, 87kg, ruck, Oakleigh Chargers
Having had to adjust their list from 53 to 49 during the offseason, the Suns were unable to participate in the SSP. Then disaster struck, with Jarrod Witts, Zac Smith and Matt Conroy going down in swift succession, plus Connor Budarick and Rory Thompson also being wiped out for the year. In addition to Elijah Hollands being recruited with a knee in rehabilitation, the club limped into the mid-season draft desperate for a ruckman.
To their astonishment, teams kept passing on the brightest talent in the pool, AFL Academy and Collingwood VFL ruckman, Ned Moyle. Not Gold Coast though, who matched their greatest need with a player so talented that he can enter the conversation as Jarrod Witts’ successor before a ball is kicked in anger. Watch for him to get blooded before season’s end, sooner if disaster strikes again to the club’s ruck division.
The club passed on their next pick, having already chosen not to activate the four picks they were entitled to, with Jackson Callow off the board and no other player in their wheelhouse.
Pick 6 – Alex Mirkov: 210cm, 105kg, ruck, Carlton VFL
Pick 20 – Jordan Boyd: 182cm, 81kg, utility, Footscray
The next nearest sure thing in this draft was meant to be Zavier Maher to the Blues, particularly after his demolition of the Oakleigh Chargers midfield last week and an entire pre-season of speculation.
Instead, after nervously awaiting the first five picks, Carlton laid claim to their volleyball convert turned greenhorn ruckman (who might well be the tallest ever VFL player) in Alex Mirkov. Things fell neatly into place with the first four picks enabling the Suns to take the All Australian ruck (Moyle), leaving Carlton’s experimental ruck free to be claimed.
There is much more development to go into the 21-year-old (his nickname should be the Cosmonaut), but with his progress so far in the VFL the club has plenty to look forward to as the season goes on.
Then, with their other VFL notable squad member unchosen in the second round, the Blues instead went for Footscray VFL veteran, Jordan Boyd, a 22-year-old with a distinctly Bulldogs name. The selection doesn’t really come as a shock when the mature ager’s season is given a closer look, as he has played every game for the undefeated ‘Scray, so now he joins the newly minted Navy Blues VFL side on a six-month prove-it deal.
Carlton bringing in a pair of mature-aged players is a neat retrofit for their list profile with just four teenagers and 11 under 22 players in total, giving the overall list a balance that can be maintained once the 30-somethings at the other end of the age spectrum follow Kade Simpson out the door.
Pick 7 – Max Heath: 204cm, 96kg, ruck, Sandringham Dragons
Pick 21 – Cooper Sharman: 194cm, 83kg, forward, Woodville-West Torrens/ex-Giants Academy/Oakleigh Chargers
The Saints have picked up a couple of highly rated locals. Sort of. Max Heath comes from the St Kilda/Sandringham zone, so the step up to play for the Zebras after starring for the Dragons will come easily for the 18-year-old Carl Ditterich lookalike, who doesn’t turn 19 until after the season is over.
However, Cooper Sharman’s journey has taken him through three states, starting with the Giants Academy having come from the Riverina, he studied at Deakin University and played with Balwyn Football Club, taking a pitstop to win the NAB League grand final for the Oakleigh Chargers, then wound up at SANFL Premiers, Woodville-West Torrens, where he cracked the senior side. All before turning 20.
Although they passed on their final two picks, with obviously nothing left to tempt them, these players set them up well for the future with the club having just their first-round selection within the first 45 to 50 selections at the national draft.
Pick 8 – James Peatling: 182cm, 80kg, utility, GWS Academy
With just one sole selection in the mid-season draft, the Giants have gone with their own impressive 20-year-old academy product, possibly due to the threat of a later team selecting him at some stage this year without their ability to match a bid on him, unlike Josh Green, who they can still match a bid on at the end of the year should one come, as seems likely.
Having taken six picks at the draft (two over-age) and brought in a pair of big trades in Jesse Hogan and Braydon Preuss, this pick means the club will have just four teenagers on their list by month’s end. Peatling already plays in their VFL side, so this is just business as usual for GWS, adding a 13th New South Welshman to their list.
Pick 9 – Sam Durham: 190cm, 82kg, utility, Richmond VFL
This continues the game of ducks and drakes being played by the Bombers and Tigers in the 2020 National draft where first Richmond placed a bid on Essendon’s NGA prospect Josh Eyre, which was matched, then later the two teams switched it up with Maurice Rioli Junior’s father’s club matching a late bid by their Dreamtime game rivals.
Sam Durham had been all set to remain with his VFL club, albeit with the chance at playing AFL footy in 2021, but instead got taken by the Bombers a pick earlier. Still a teenager for another month, the young bull midfielder (get it?) has the height and versatility to add to the Bombers’ very young list, who now have 15 players under 22.
However, after the Bombers passed at their second selection, the question must be asked whether the player they had planned to take went off the board at the very next pick to none other than the Tigers?
Pick 10 – Matthew Parker: 187cm, 79kg, forward, South Fremantle/ex-St Kilda
Stymied by the Bombers and no doubt annoyed that the youngster they’d been nurturing through the VFL at Punt Road slipped through their fingers, the Premiers dialled up a selection that only they could afford of all the active clubs in the draft. Some are calling it “Marlion Pickett 2.0” given the similarities surrounding the Tigers selecting a player from South Fremantle who also happened to be the oldest player in the draft to be taken.
There’s no doubt this is a canny pick. Parker has shown that he can play at the level required and, at his best, he is a game-winner off his own boot. Where he went wrong in 2020 is anybody’s guess because 2019 had seen him enter the competition with a bang in his very first game. Nonetheless, Parker will be watching Dreamtime at Optus Stadium with his wife and kids wearing yellow and black (not a red sash).
As far as list profile goes, this is a perfect pick because the age profile at the Tigers is as balanced as they come, with as many teens and 30-somethings and an even smattering of age and experience in between. Richmond goes into this year’s draft with two picks in each of the first three rounds, which is one of the strongest of all. Don’t sleep on these kitties.
Pick 11 – Will Collins: 191cm, 81kg, defender, Swan Districts
Pick 23 – Connor West: 183cm, 80kg, midfielder, West Perth
Amid an injury crisis that seemed to build throughout their Bombers game, depth in the midfield has been the biggest question asked of the West Coast juggernaut. On cue, just like their mascot, they swooped in at the last minute and plucked a couple of likely prospects from the WAFL, having only filed hours before the list lodgement deadline the day before.
With their first pick, they went with a 2020 undrafted defender, who has broken into senior footy this year after spending part of the pre-season training at West Coast’s sparkling facility. Interestingly, mainstream media is persisting with 2020 measurements, but as teenagers do, he’s grown and so has his potential.
The Eagles got to their second pick before drafting to need, taking the son of former West Coast player, Robbie West, who won the Sandover Medal in 1992 while on the Eagles list, then played in a semi-finals campaign in his one year at Footscray, before winning a SANFL Premiership alongside Nathan Buckley at Port Adelaide Magpies.
Connor, like his dad, is somewhat of a late bloomer at 22 years old, but his pace and ball accumulation has him firmly in the gun for an AFL debut as the Eagles try to get their season back on track.
The cavalry is coming for West Coast, with several players set to return in coming weeks, but in the meantime, they look to be debuting two first-year players – tres unusual for them – and may need to dip further into the well as June rolls on.
Pick 12 – Lachlan McAndrew: 208cm, 93kg, ruck, Swans Academy
After Sydney’s draft coup in December where they nailed two of the top five picks, then had one of their star academy graduates slide into the second round, bringing home a ruckman to develop under the experienced division they have in Sam Naismith, Cal Sinclair and Tom Hickey is a masterstroke. Having converted from rugby union late and standing taller than 99 per cent of all AFL players, the 21-year-old has been playing at VFL level for the Swans, so the natural progression for him now can continue in its advanced developmental phase.
The Swans have now plugged a serious hole in their armoury as they head into the second half of the season with a strong chance at making finals if their luck with injury continues and they can get good supply from the rucks at stoppages.
Pick 13 – Jed McEntee: 176cm, 76kg, midfielder/forward, Sturt SANFL
With Collingwood poaching Sturt’s emerging player of the season, the Double Blues will have to console themselves with the $20k coming their way as Port pinch their 20-year-old terrier too, which is a nightmare scenario for any state league club. However, Sturt’s loss is the Power’s gain as they head into the second half of the season with a lengthening list of short- and medium-term injuries.
The selection of a twice undrafted player fits Port’s list needs from a positional, age profile and planning perspective as they carried this pick over from the rookie draft, after choosing not to load up in the pre-season.
While they do not specifically need another midfielder, McEntee’s value to the team lies in his defensive forward pressure and harassment of opposition ball carriers, so while he lines up as a small forward, he hunts the ball like a mid. But perhaps most significant is that he is older than the draft classes of 2020 and 2019, so bringing him in now will pay dividends later when this generation is required to take the place of the 30 plus crowd, which now numbers eight players at the critical end of the list.
Pick 14 – Kalin Lane 204cm, 95kg, ruck, Claremont
The Lions were a shadow of their former selves in the opening rounds, largely due to the disintegration of their ruck division. Starting with the departure of Stef Martin in the offseason, injuries to Oscar McInerny and Archie Smith, then the reliance on basketball convert Tom Fullarton, and the reluctance of Joe Daniher, the 1-3 Lions got to 8-3 knowing that their ruck tandem is not what it used to be in terms of potency and resilience.
Taking another shot at filling that void in the mid-season draft, Brisbane has taken a third consecutive young greenhorn ruck, having missed recruiting their own academy ruck in Samson Ryan. Lane is the 20th under 22 player on the Lions list, which fits very nicely with their age profile and makes their VFL side look scary good suddenly. There is no hurry for him to develop into an overnight senior ruckman.
Yet the question really must be, with no fewer than four Smiths playing in the VFL side, how did Brisbane miss the opportunity to recruit highly rated Eastern Ranges and Under 23 Young Guns Vic Metro Captain and first choice ruck, Riley Smith?!
Pick 15 – Kye Declase: 195cm, 85kg, defender, Werribee
Pick 24 – Daniel Turner: 191cm, 79kg, defender, Murray Bushrangers
With the last pick in each round, the Demons went to the mid-season draft blindfolded as to what would be on the board when they picked, yet both times they were able to pick players complementary to their needs. Although their defence is currently rated the best in the competition, injuries to some defenders has necessitated recruiting two more, one a tough mid-career stalwart out of the VFL and the other an undrafted teenager from the NAB League.
Melbourne’s strategy with boning up on big defenders makes complete sense when you consider that they only recruited forwards in December, bringing in four of them to try and boost scoring. Then they were active in the SSP, signing both a forward and a defender, so it makes sense they prioritised defence. 24-year-old Declase looks AFL ready and could be the defender who really Steven May and Jake Lever off the chain in place of Adam Tomlinson, while 19-year-old Turner will make the jump from NAB League for Casey.
So, with Geelong, Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs opting out of the mid-season draft, that wraps up the draft review.