IT’S that time of year again. Hearts will break for most, dreams will be realised for a select few, and debates will rage about players who were shock selections and others who were stiff to be overlooked.
Tomorrow night’s AFL national draft will sort out the best from the rest in the eyes of the men who matter most: the recruiters.
Draft night is the culmination of a young footballer’s junior career.
It’s the end point of years of hard work for teenagers across the nation, at least those who have left no stone unturned in their quest to land a berth in the big league.
Footballers in the west get their start in Auskick and progress through to their local school or club. Those talented enough get an invite to train and play with the Western Jets. That’s when it gets serious because to be considered for the big time you almost certainly have to impress at TAC Cup level unless you buck the trend.
The Jets have a number of players front and centre in the minds of the recruiters.
Is the athleticism, goal sense and stunning pre-draft testing of Spencer White going to land him on a list?
Can pint-sized Josh Bench break the mould and be snapped up after a best-and-fairest season?
Is a club willing to take a punt on the speedy, dancing feet of soccer player turned footballer Ajdin Elkasovic?
Can the younger brother of an AFL star, Jake McKenzie, make it a family affair in the AFL?
Will the leadership of captain Ashlin Brown be enough to get him a call-up?
Or how about a selection out of left field: Charlie Nastasi, Harley Walshe, Sam Critchley, Jack Walker or Scott Greenhough anyone? All will be revealed when the player IDs are read out tomorrow night.
The draft is almost a last chance saloon for players, though the AFL’s rookie and preseason drafts follow on December 11 and there’s the possibility of landing on a Victorian Football League list.
At least one Jet will hear his name called out on draft night. Lachie Hunter has already been snapped up by local club Western Bulldogs under the father-son rule.
Who will join him in the big league? Former Jets insider Steven Kretiuk names the candidates he’d choose in order …
1 Lachie Hunter
Kretiuk says: “He’s been drafted already, so he’d have to be No.1 selection.
“He’s just one of those natural footballers we didn’t have to do much work with. His knowledge base about the game was really good.
“He was a pretty easy player to coach because he understood the game so well.
“In saying that, he played school footy for most of the year and obviously had the state carnival (U18 national championships), but when he did play with us he was always up there in the top five or six players.
“He’s got to work a fair bit on his fitness base and his strength, but that will come in time. Obviously now that he’s in the AFL system, he’s going to improve dramatically over the next two or three years.
“He’s hard at work at training already.”
2 Spencer White
Centre half forward
Kretiuk says: “He really put himself into the calculations with his back half of the year and how he tested at draft camp.
“When you look through the TAC Cup this year and all of the draftable forwards, he’s probably got the most attributes in terms of athletic ability in the whole competition.
“There’s a few things he needs to work on still, but with the right tutelage and a bit more maturity and physical strength, he’s got all the attributes to be a really exciting player.
“For a guy who’s about 195cm, he had about 2.88 seconds at the camp for 20 metres, which is really quick, and broke a record for the running jump at the draft camp, too.
“He certainly showed that he’s got the athletic attributes and he showed in the back half of the year his marking ability and his ability to kick goals from different angles.”
3 Ajdin Elkasovic
Kretiuk says: “A bit of a smoky. He’s only new to the game, coming from a soccer background three years ago. He was a very good junior soccer player and got taken in by the Caroline Springs footy academy and they’ve done a fantastic job with him.
“He’s got some speed, some real toe, and that ability to sidestep and one thing he really improved on this year was his decision-making and execution.
“In terms of where he was last year and how much he’s improved this year, I think the future is pretty bright for this kid, and if it [getting drafted] doesn’t happen for him this year, I think he’ll be a 19-year-old at the Jets again next year.
“What recruiters saw this year was a fair bit of upside to him and . . . I’m certain he’s going to be the Adam Kennedy [who was drafted by GWS as a 19-year-old] of the draft next year.”
4 Jake McKenzie
Kretiuk says: “He played some really good games for us, but he had a lot of injuries throughout the year with sore calves and groins so I don’t think we saw the best of him.
“What he showed in the carnival [U18 national championships] when he played on some really handy players off a half-back flank, he did a really good job in a lockdown role, and he’s played some really good rebounding footy for us, too.
“Certainly the Jets didn’t see his best because of some little hiccups with injury, but what he showed in the carnival is that he can mix it with the best.
“I don’t think he’s as penetrating a kick as his brother (Trent, who plays for Gold Coast Suns in the AFL), but I think his ability in one-on-one contests is a lot better than where his brother was when he was at the Jets.
“He’s very good one on one and a very good decision-maker.”
5 Josh Bench
Kretiuk says: “Sometimes the recruiters try to find a reason not to draft players. If he was another three inches taller, he would certainly get drafted.
“This kid has pretty much done everything against all the top-line midfielders in the competition and matched them or beaten them, and if you can compete against taller players and beat them on game day, why not give him a chance?
“Someone of his attributes, his speed, his agility — and he won our best and fairest — I think there’s a place for those sort of players in the AFL now.
“Most teams have one of these small forwards-cum-midfielders who put on all the pressure in the forward line and generate scoring opportunities for their side, and he’s one who can easily do that. I just hope someone gives him the chance because this kid can play.”
The 2012 NAB AFL national draft is at the Gold Coast Convention Centre 7pm tomorrow.