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Rooks on the Radar – Midfielders

To Swallow or not to Swallow? It’s not a question I’ve had to ask myself too many times before, but it shapes as one of the major decisions of this AFL Dream Team pre-season.

Ah, the mids. Or the mint as I like to call it. This is where you’ll make your money. Sure, there’s always the odd forward or back rookie who’ll step up and make a decent amount of coin or, better still, become a keeper. But it’s the midfield where the true treasure lies and there’s gold to be found if you’re willing to do the prospecting in, like, the, um, Prospectus.

We’ll start this trip at the top end of town where you’ll find number one pick David Swallow priced at $160k. With lower-end picks coming in at just under $100,000, that’s a fair premium to pay for the Gold Coast young gun. What that extra dough buys you is job security. Voted the fourth-best player in the VFL last year, Swallow is clearly a star in the making and will get plenty of opportunities in the Suns’ midfield this season. Some will argue that teammates like Maverick Weller or Marc Lock are better value picks at $97,600, given that they’re part of the debut club’s leadership group, but I’m not convinced that’ll guarantee that they play every round this year. It’s a big leadership group and I don’t think the Suns’ selection panel will feel they’re hands are tied when it comes to those two, should they go through a form slump that warrants some time in the seconds. On the other hand, $160,000 is too much money sitting on the pine, so the question as to whether you Swallow or not really comes down to structure. If we’re talking about a place on your ground, then Swallow is the ticket. Bench fodder? Then lock in Lock or make Mav your man – in my opinion, Weller is the better of the two.

While not a rookie, former North Melbourne midfielder Daniel Harris will be the most picked Sun in this price range, of course. Priced at $114-thousand-something, he’s a little more expensive than your bargain-basement rookie, but averaged 107 DT points for Gold Coast in the VFL last year, compared to 82 for Swallow, 51 for Weller and 61 for Lock. The step up to AFL level and the addition of established players like Gary Ablett will have a big impact on Harris and co’s scores, but there’s no reason to suggest that Harris won’t be a valuable cash cow this season. Your other midfield options at the Gold Coast include mature-ager Sam Iles, Trent McKenzie, Harley Bennell and Josh Caddy, but I’d take Harris, Swallow or Weller ahead of any of them and you don’t want to go GC crazy given we won’t see their first team sheet until round two.

I mentioned Mitch Wallis in my segment on the second pre-season vidcast earlier this week, but only to highlight the potential the kid has as a heavy DT scorer. As I said, he’s got all the hallmarks of an ideal DT rookie – averaged over 100 DTs in the TAC Cup and national championships last year, recruited to a high-scoring top-four team, priced at just $92k – the only problem is that he is far from guaranteed any time on ground for the Western Bulldogs. It doesn’t matter how much of a ball magnet you are if you’re running around in the VFL – I don’t have a VFL Dream Team (yet). I’m not wishing an injury on anyone, but Mitch might need one to unlock his awesome DT potential.

One player who may be the beneficiary of a teammate going down is North Melbourne’s Shaun Atley. Atley’s bid to repeat the efforts of Ryan Bastinac last year by playing every game for the Kangaroos has ironically been given a big boost by Bastinac suffering a pre-season knee injury that could keep him out for four months. The major criticism of Atley’s game in the TAC Cup was his inaccurate kicking, but who cares? This is DT Talk, not SuperCoach Talk.

A horror season for Brisbane last year was compounded by the off-season departure of several experienced players, such as Palsonic, the “real JB” and the Sherminator, and yet more tom-foolery from Fev, meaning Lions coach Michael Voss has no choice but to rebuild. Hopefully it’s from the ground up and we get plenty of game time out of youngsters like Claye Beams, a promoted rookie from last year who happens to be the younger brother of Collingwood’s Dayne, and Josh Green, a proven ball-winner at junior level. Both are sub-$100k picks in the midfield, but could be fighting it out for the same spot in the Lions’ round one team, so keep an eye on the NAB to see who’s got their nose in front. Brisbane’s top selection last year, the speedy Jared Polec, looks a good pick for the future, but at this stage seems behind both Beams and Green for a round one debut.

There’s been a bit of media speculation already that suggests West Coast’s highest pick and number four overall Andrew Gaff has been “pencilled” in for a round one berth. There’s no doubting Gaff’s quality – he’s a noted ball winner with excellent endurance who averaged 27 disposals at the nationals and 30 in the TAC Cup last year. The main problem is the club that recruited him, or more specifically, the coach he now plays under, has shown a reluctance to gift early games to rookies. That’s probably why the general feeling on the West Coast board at BigFooty is that Gaff is more likely to pull on the blue and gold in round 6-10. Hopefully a wooden-spoon has given Woosha a change of mind regarding blooding the youngsters. If not, let’s hope Gaff can produce an outstanding NAB Cup/Challenge campaign and change it for him. At a touch under $150k, you’ll want to be sure Gaff is getting a game before splashing the cash.

The last two midfield rooks on my pre-NAB radar are both at Richmond – last year’s number-six pick Reece Conca and the rookie-listed Pat Contin. I don’t know a great deal about either, apart from the fact that they’ll both get a crack against the All-Stars tonight (whenever the game is held), so will get the chance to have a peak at their potential then. Oh, and Contin is the subject of the funniest thread doing the rounds at BigFooty at the moment. It’d be great if Conca or Contin could sneak in to the Tigers’ team, as Richmond have one of the latest byes, meaning an unbroken period of generating cash.

Anyway, there’s a few kids to keep your eye on when the NAB Cup starts next week. Remember, most midfields will have three to four premiums, possibly a Foley/McLean type and two dual-position rookies (one to switch with the defenders and one to switch with the forwards). That doesn’t leave a lot of room for midfield-only rookies, so choose carefully.

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