Rooks On The Radar: Defenders & Forwards
The Guns ‘n’ Rookies strategy ain’t gunna fly without some solid fresh meat. Chook flags some of the rookie-priced defenders and forwards to keep an eye on in the NAB Cup.
In five years’ time, the Dream Team coaching community will look back on this season and the preceding one as the golden era of rookie-priced players. It won’t be this good again until 2032, when then-commissioner Karmichael Hunt grants the next wave of expansion teams – second and third Gold Coast sides – entry into the league. It’s not just GCS and GWS that are making this another year of rich pickings for rookie hunters, however. The other clubs’ willingness to take a punt on mature-aged draftees with AFL-ready bodies means there are a lot more first-year players getting 10-20 games as opposed to 2-3 games in their debut seasons. If this is our heyday, then let’s not f%^# it up. I can’t stop you picking the skinny key-position “project” kids that are going to spend the first 20 games in the VFL before getting a late-season call-up in which they score 12 vest-affected points. But I’m going to try.
The first (partial) lock-out is still four-plus weeks away and already I’ve got more than 50 rooks on my books. Intra-club matches are in full swing, though, and that annual rookie showcase – the NAB Cup – begins in earnest this weekend, so it’s time to dip my toe into the Dream Team waters for the first time in 2012. We’ll start with the defenders and forwards I’ll be keeping an eye on during the NAB Cup before moving on to midfielders, rucks and dual-position players later in the week.
There are more questions being asked here than there are answers, but things will look decidedly more clear cut at the end of the NAB Cup and I’ll be back with a more detailed take on our rookies’ job security and scoring potential then.
Oh, like in previous years, the post might be called Chook’s Rooks but won’t focus solely on first-year recruits to the league, as the name might imply. Anyone who’s earned a rookiesque price from Virtual Sports – that’s anyone under the $179,700 you have to fork out for last year’s number one pick Jon Patton – comes under consideration. I’d call it Chook’s Rookies And Assorted Young Blokes Who’ve Been In The System For A Few Years But Have Yet To Make Their Debuts Or Have Only Played A Smattering Of Games, but it’s a little unwieldy, as far as headings go.
Defenders and Forwards
It’s unlikely we’ll find the Black Caviar of this year’s rookie crop amongst the defender and forward ranks, but there’re always a few good sorts in the top and bottom lines of our DT teams – think Broughton, Stanley, Podsiadly and Darling as recent examples – and this season promises to be no different.
Friday, Feb 17 – Richmond/Hawthorn/North Melbourne
There won’t be many forwards I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the first NAB Cup fixture, featuring Richmond, Hawthorn and North Melbourne on Friday, but the Tigers have a couple of potential DT pick-ups in defence in the form of Brandon Ellis ($116,700) and Steve Morris ($104,200). Morris, a mature-age recruit from SANFL club West Adelaide, has experience on his side, but Ellis, the Calder Cannons’ elite-kicking defender, put in a better showing in Richmond’s intra-club clash last week. Hawthorn doesn’t have anyone popping up on the radar just yet, but former Hawk Will Sierakowski ($104,200) is of interest now that he’s been recruited by the Kangaroos. Named in the best players more than a third of the time he played in VFL last year, averaging 19 disposals, the 22-year-old could be well worth a place in your team if he gets one in Brad Scott’s.
Saturday, Feb 18 – GWS/Collingwood/Western Bulldogs
The monthly spend on Fox Footy will be worth it for this night alone, as we get our first good look at the rookie-laden Giants outfit. Unfortunately, most of the prized assets appear in the midfield or are dual-position mid-fwds. Of the defenders, run-with candidate Tomas Bugg ($104,200) and likely full-back Tim Mohr ($115,800) have been named in coach Kevin Sheedy’s projected round-one team, although anything the master of mind games says on the eve of that game has to be taken with a bucket of salt, let alone anything he says a month beforehand.
Of the GWS forwards, number one pick Jon Patton ($179,700) won’t be ready for the season-proper as he rehabilitates his injured knee, Jeremy Cameron mightn’t play due to a fractured jaw (and is a key-position prospect anyway), rugby league convert Israel Folau harldy shapes as DT gold and Nathan Wilson, while named in Sheedy’s projected round-one side, hasn’t shown signs of being a major ball-winner. Hopefully someone from the GWS attack or defence puts their hand up and says pick me. If anyone’s going to distract me from the search for that someone, it’ll probably be Western Bulldogs forward Tory Dickson ($98,700) or Collingwood defender Marty Clarke ($141,500). Dickson, a mature-age recruit from the Bendigo Bombers, has garnered some pre-season interest, but didn’t play in the Bulldogs’ intra-club match last week, so this will be our first chance to see him in at AFL level, while there’ll be strong interest in whether Clarke lines up in the potentially profitable spot made vacant by Leon Davis.
Sunday, Feb 19 – West Coast/Essendon/Fremantle
Not many on the radar for this one just yet, although Fremantle defender Lee Spurr ($107,800) is worth keeping an eye on. I couldn’t say it better than DT Girl, who wrote about Spurr in her DT Studs Team article: “’Hot Spurr’ is a mature age pick who looks to have the goods. Arguably one of the most talented players in SANFL last year. Dominated in SANFL Grand Final. Named on a wing in SANFL team of year. Currently rookie listed at Freo. Hope to see him elevated!” Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t have said ‘hot’, but the rest is on the money.
Friday, Feb 24 – St Kilda/Sydney/Geelong
A big percentage of the rookie defenders and forwards that I’m most looking forward to monitoring during the opening round of the NAB Cup appear in the first weekend, although this second Friday boasts a handful of DT-relevant young guns. A host of retirements and delistings, in addition to a new coach, means there’ll be some spots up for grabs at St Kilda, and I’ll be interested to see whether any of Beau Wilkes ($98,700, defender), Ahmed Saad ($115,800, forward), Terry Milera ($115,800, forward) or Jamie Cripps ($174,700, forward) can etch their names on the round-one team sheet with stand-out performances here. Mature-age trio Milera, Saad and Wilkes took a step in the right direction during the Saints’ intra-club match last week, impressing new coach Scott Watters, while second-year Saint Cripps pleased other pundits with a DT-happy role across half-back. Priced at 35 after all four of his 2011 games involved a vest and, predominantly, a place in the forward structure, Cripps could see his scores sky-rocket if he can secure a spot running out of defence. Wilkes isn’t likely to set the DT scoreboard alight if played at full-back, but will offer decent job security if he can make the position recently filled by Zac Dawson his own. None of the St Kilda hopefuls will have to compete with Tommy Walsh for a spot in Watters’ best 22 after the big Irishman was lost to Sydney last year. Watch to see if Walsh ($104,200) can translate his International Rules form into DT points for your forward line bench.
Saturday, Feb 25 – Gold Coast/Melbourne/Brisbane
No Sun, Demon or Lion is blinking furiously on the radar. Yet.
Sunday, Feb 26 – Port Adelaide/Carlton/Adelaide
Let us know which defender and forward “rookies” are on your radar in the comments. Midfielders to follow tomorrow.