Wednesday night saw 21 draftees find their homes in AFL football. Some project players were selected, who may take longer to develop, but there was also a plethora of ready-made talent who have been scooped up.
In 2019, 14 players taken in the 2018 national draft made their debuts in round one and here are 10 players from the first round who we here at Zero Hanger think will be in the mix in 2020:
Another prospect out of the famous Geelong Falcons footy factory, Cooper Stephens is seen as a successor to the experienced Joel Selwood within Geelong’s midfield. The medium-sized on-baller thrives in contested situations with a strong frame that can match it at the highest level.
Stephens, unfortunately, missed most of last season due to a fractured leg but made a full recovery in time for the combine where he led the yo-yo test with a score of 21.8 and ran a strong 6.17 time in the 2km time trial. While Stephens has gained plaudits for his physical gifts, he is also mentally sound, with his composure under pressure and decision-making drawing admirers in the 2018 NAB AFL Under-18 Championship.
Fremantle blitzed the first round of the draft, making three consecutive selections within the top 10. With their first selection, number seven, the Dockers took talented intercept defender, Hayden Young. In addition to his ability to read the play and take important defensive marks, Young is also one of the smoothest movers in the 2019 class, with his 7.94-second agility test topping the combine.
The 18-year-old performed well in the Under-18 Championships with Victoria Country, racking up 22 disposals a game at 79.5% along with 5.2 marks and 4.2 rebounds. Although the Dandenong Stingray caught the eyes of recruiters for his defensive work, he has also been trialled in the midfield and could be a valuable asset if he builds on that versatility. Young could form a strong tandem with fellow intercept defender Luke Ryan at the Dockers and push for a spot in the round one team.
Although Stephens has a slender build, weighing 74kg on a 184cm frame, his experience playing in Norwood’s senior side in the SANFL will hold him in good stead going forward. The outside midfielder held his own against men, averaging 18.2 disposals and 4.6 tackles in his 12 games for the Redlegs and has the speed and running capacity to make an impact in Sydney’s AFL side.
The left-footer showed promising signs during the under-18 Championships, averaging over 23 disposals, including a 33-disposal game vs the Allies, culminating in an All-Australian selection. With Sydney losing Zak Jones to St Kilda and Kieran Jack to retirement, there may be an opportunity for the number five pick to make his debut in round one next year.
7. Caleb Serong – Fremantle
The second of Fremantle’s three top 10 picks was Caleb Serong, taken with pick eight. Serong was impressive for the Victoria Country side during the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, averaging 23.5 disposals and 8.5 tackles per game to win the side’s MVP and earn an All-Australian selection.
The Geelong Grammar graduate stands at just 178cm, but is a talented ball-winner who could slot straight into the Dockers’ midfield or half-forward line. Serong’s contested ability and penetrating kick will be invaluable for the club who a desperate for midfield sidekick for Nat Fyfe. The 18-year-old is one of the most well-rounded prospects in the 2019 class and could be battling Andrew Brayshaw for a spot in Freo’s round one lineup.
6. Lachlan Ash – Greater Western Sydney
After studying his game religiously, Ash now gets the opportunity to learn from Lachie Whitfield first hand as the newest member of the GWS Giants. Lachlan Ash was taken by GWS with pick four in the draft after the former Murray Bushranger impressed as co-captain of his club and the Victoria Country side.
Although, like Whitfield, Ash’s best attribute is his speed and agility rebounding out of the backline, he is also a talented intercept defender who can take contested grabs, tallying 20 rebound 50s and averaging five marks in the Inder-18 Championships. The dashing half-back has modelled his game on the superstar Giant and with Heath Shaw’s career winding to a close, he could play alongside his idol sooner rather than later.
The Suns traded picks 17 and 22 to land Flanders, who was touted as a potential top-five pick, before falling to number 11. The Gippsland Power product is an impact player, who can win a game off his own boot in the midfield or up forward. Although Flanders relishes ground-ball gets, he is also very dangerous in contested one-on-ones and backs his marking ability against larger opponents.
With Gold Coast already boasting the likes of Ben Ainsworth, Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine in attack, the addition of another x-factor player to the mix in Flanders could make the Suns a difficult opponent to contain. Flanders has struggled with consistency and accuracy issues at stages but his explosive ability and goal sense should draw the attention of head coach Stewart Dew.
The nephew of 2004 Norm Smith Medallist Byron Pickett was selected by Melbourne with pick 12 and despite his small frame, at 171cm and 71kg, Pickett is a good chance of suiting up in round one. The South Australian possesses many of his uncle’s traits, including his ferocious attack on the footy and the man, with Kysaiah not afraid to take on bigger opponents and lay tackles.
In addition to his aggressive nature, the Woodville-West Torrens product is also blessed with electric speed and enjoys applying pressure in the forward 50. With Melbourne delisting experienced small forward Jeff Garlett this offseason, the door could be open for Pickett to make an instant impact in the Demons side.
3. Tom Green – Greater Western Sydney
The only thing that might stop Tom Green from making a round one debut is the talented players already in the GWS midfield. The 10th pick in the draft averaged 33 disposals and 10 clearances a game for the Giants’ Academy, catching eyes with his toughness and ball-winning ability at stoppages.
Green, who is the grandson of Richmond champion Michael Green, was nominated for the NEAFL Rising Star award and also won the Allies MVP award following an impressive display during the Under-18 Championships. GWS’ midfield is already stacked and will be tough for Green to squeeze in, but with his robust build and nose for the football, if the opportunity arises he’ll be ready.
2. Noah Anderson – Gold Coast
Despite the arrival of free agent Hugh Greenwood during the offseason, it is the following two players who will generate the most buzz on the Gold Coast. Noah Anderson has been the automatic number two selection ever since the Suns were granted the pick from the AFL. Despite operating as a midfielder, the Oakleigh Charger’s ability around the goals also turned heads, kicking 14 goals in six NAB League games.
Anderson also impressed as the skipper of the Victoria Metro team, averaging 23.5 disposals and 5.2 clearances during the Under-18 Championships, earning All-Australian honours. With Gold Coast in need of a match-winner in midfield, Anderson is the perfect fit and following a strong pre-season, should slot straight into the Suns’ best 22.
1. Matthew Rowell – Gold Coast
Anderson’s best mate, Matthew Rowell was the undisputed number one pick heading into the draft. The small midfielder draws comparisons to Clayton Oliver, not just due to his red locks, but also because of his incredible ability to accumulate possessions. In his final season for Oakleigh, Rowell averaged over 31 disposals per game and his work rate and pressure was also second-to-none, making 8.6 tackles per game.
The youngster already has plenty of individual accolades to his name following a distinguished junior career, winning best-on-ground during the 2018 NAB League Grand Final along with two under-18 All-Australian selections. Alongside Anderson, Rowell will be a certain starter for Gold Coast, who will be hoping they can hold onto the bevy of talent secured in recent years and finally challenge for finals.