Gold Coast Suns coach Damien Hardwick has defended the AFL draft rules as they apply to northern academies as vital for the growth of the game after southern state disquiet.
Rising Suns Academy products Ethan Read, Will Graham, Jed Walter and Jake Rogers – all in the top 40 draft picks – were snapped up by the Suns in the first round of the draft and other clubs had no look in.
Under current rules, clubs outside of Queensland and NSW cannot stop rivals from poaching their Next Generation Academy (NGA) players if a bid is placed inside the first 40 draft picks.
The northern clubs are not restricted and are able to match a bid on their Academy players no matter where it comes on draft night.
This has caused angst outside of NSW and Queensland but Hardwick had no time for the naysayers and backed the system as it stands.
“I know there are always going to be people who will try and bring it down but for the greater good of the game it is an incredibly important part of the game moving forward,” Hardwick said of the current rules.
“I am really excited about those four players and getting to show the greater Australian population what those kids can do.
“To grow the game if we want this sport, which it is in my opinion, to be the greatest sport within Australia we have got to continue to grow it in the northern markets.”
Hardwick was asked about the “chat” from clubs outside of the northern states about the Suns getting an unfair advantage from the current system, but the coach said the rules as they stood should be cause for “a celebration”.
“These four kids might not be in the AFL system without the Academy. The investment under (Suns Academy coach) Jarrod Cotton and his team is incredible with the time and effort they put into it,” he said.
“To have four kids that have primarily grown up here to play our great game is incredibly important to the success of the AFL in general.”
Hardwick said he hoped all four would push for a spot in the side to play Richmond in round one next year.
He said it was “hard to say” whether that would be the case after one day of pre-season training.
“We have had one session and some guys have had a limited preparation,” he said.
“Jed and Jake are probably a little bit further back at this stage with injury. From our point of view, we won’t put a ceiling on these guys.
“If they put their hand up and are in the best 22 they are in the best 22.
“They have all got incredible talent and we are incredibly lucky to have them at our footy club to make it better.”