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Hard-running Ward primed for the big stage

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Roar Rookie
6th October, 2021
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Josh Ward is the quintessential AFL draft prospect from Melbourne.

He’s well mannered and well presented, with flowing long locks. He’s a straight-A student and a school leader at the prestigious Melbourne Grammar and aims to study at university after completing his VCE. But just like many before him, his ultimate goal is to play AFL.

The Northern Knights inside midfielder has drawn comparisons to Essendon Bombers prolific ball winner and recently inducted All Australian, Zach Merrett. It’s no surprise, then, that Ward values consistency and reliability over doing the extraordinary.

They’re sentiments that his NAB League coach Leigh Clarke echoes, with the successful mentor telling his players to work on being the best teammates they possibly can.

“He’s (Clarke) big on being reliable not remarkable,” Ward said.

“We don’t have to do anything incredible, just be reliable to our teammates.”

In a NAB League side that sits third on the ladder, with a plethora of draft prospects, Ward is the brightest star. Averaging over 30 disposals in his five games, Ward has been pivotal to the success of his team but praises his teammates for the group’s success.

“It’s a really close group that’s really been the key,” he said.

“We’ve just trained really hard over preseason; we’ve all been pushing each other.”

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It’s the 18-year-old’s second year on the Knights list, as he follows the traditional path of playing NAB League in both his bottom and top age year, before transitioning to the AFL.

However, a top-ten draft position hasn’t always been on the cards for Ward. A year off in 2020 due to the pandemic might just have been a blessing in disguise.

“I felt like sort of the last time I played before COVID hit, I was sort of a bit small and didn’t quite have the size to play midfield at NAB League level,” he said.

“It was definitely a good opportunity to prepare for this year.”

After seeing the silver lining in a cancelled 2020 NAB League season, the ball magnet took the opportunity to put himself in the best possible position for 2021. It certainly paid off as he began the year in blistering form, a key reason for his annoyance with continued lockdowns since May this year.

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“It’s just been frustrating because I felt like in those last few games before we got shut down again, I was sort of getting into a rhythm and getting comfortable.

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(Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

“I’ve just used those times when we’ve been shut down, from a physical side of things, to recover again, do a bit more gym and make sure I’m staying prepared.”

Before Victoria’s fourth lockdown, Ward’s strong Knights form carried into his matches for Victoria Metro. His 29-disposal, two-goal game against Vic Country was key to giving him the confidence to acknowledge his stance with the draft’s top prospects.

“I was pretty happy with how I played, especially in the second game.”

“In terms of my development, I think they were pretty important… sort of getting a bit of confidence playing at the highest level.”

It’s these representative matches that have really caught the eye of recruiters. Comparisons to Merrett and game play based off a silky Collingwood captain illuminate just how bright Ward’s future is.

“I always loved watching Scott Pendlebury.”

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Having recently been invited to this year’s AFL draft combine, the dream of being on AFL list is getting more realistic each day. The teenager’s goals are clear as the biggest few months of his short life are imminent.

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“I’m hoping to get a pretty good 2km time mainly.

“It’s pretty exciting.”

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Any club looking to stock up their midfield talent would surely be looking to Ward, as one of the most prolific disposal gatherers in the 2021 pool.

Along with his elite aerobic capacity and ball-winning ability, the Northern Knight was recognised for his leadership, being named captain of the 2021 NAB League team of the year, adding another achievement to his growing list.

With the 2021 NAB AFL Draft set to be spread over two days, with first round draft picks announced on November 24, Ward will only have to listen out on the first, as he is sure to find his way onto an AFL list.

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