With the AFL national draft looming, a host of players will be desperate to break onto a senior list after missing out in their initial draft year or falling by the wayside at another club.
Be it a change of position or another year of development doing wonders, many prospects have once again thrown themselves into draft calculations.
Some list managers could turn to the proven, wiser bodies of state league stars. They could pick them up via the national or rookie drafts, or via the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP) or, if they’ve been on an AFL list before, delisted free agency.
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Below, foxfooty.com.au sizes up some of the key mature-age draft hopefuls.
Harvey Gallagher (Bendigo Pioneers)
Position: Forward (179cm, 77kg)
Third time could prove the charm for teen Harvey Gallagher after he was overlooked in both last year’s draft and this season’s Mid-Season draft. But a move to defence late this season has seen Gallagher’s draft hopes rise, as he dominated for the Pioneers. He had three 37+ disposal games and averaged 33.2 disposals in the last six games of the season in the backline. Gallagher had started the year as a small-forward/mid before the Round 12 move for Bendigo. The teen has been praised for his ability to work through traffic and hurt oppositions sides on the rebound.
Jerome Lawrence (Oakleigh Chargers/Hawthorn F/S)
Position: Key forward (196cm)
Jerome Lawrence, the son of premiership Hawk Stephen, has popped up as one of the “surprise packets” of this year’s draft. The father-son prospect played 10 games in the NAB League, showing good speed off the mark and aerial skills. He kicked five goals in a standout performance this season, and finished with another 10 goals from nine matches. Potential is a word being thrown around by recruiters.
Brandon Leary (Tasmania Devils)
Position: Forward (177cm)
Despite tipping the scales at just 72kg, Brandon Leary is an incredibly consistent forward, who hit the scoreboard in his first 13 NAB League matches. A season-high six goals came against the NT Thunder while he also managed to nab three-goal hauls on four separate occasions. Leary’s goal sense has been praised – as he finished with just one goal less than top draft contender Aaron Cadman and three less than Harry Sheezel. Leary says he’s modelling his game on Magpie Jamie Elliott, and could prove a ready-made option for some AFL clubs.
Brinn Little (Suns Academy)
Position: Key defender (195cm)
The Gold Coast Suns Academy Player of the Year, Brinn Little’s defensive efforts made recruiters take notice. Averaging almost six marks a game for the Academy this season, to go with his 13 touches and four rebound 50s, Little looked at home when he stepped up for the Allies. His kick during that competition was rated elite, while his intercept marking was impressive. The ground ball work is an area that needs work, but with his size, work rate and aerial ability, there’s plenty to entice an AFL club.
Tyreece Leiu (Carlton VFL/Eastern Ranges)
Position: Key defender (194cm, 93kg)
He has versatility, having initially been tried as a mid-forward before he moved to the backline and began to maximise his size. Leiu can also be a big-bodied midfielder if needed. His contest work in the middle is matched by his contest work in the air, frequently intercepting. He had a great finish to the VFL season for Carlton in a key defensive role, which the Blues could certainly do with at AFL level.
Corey Preston (Williamstown)
Position: Midfielder/defender (182cm, 76kg)
Preston enjoyed a very impressive finish to the season for Williamstown playing in defence. It was somewhat of a surprise given how he had previously been earmarked as a midfielder/forward. That’s a testament to his versatility and he has plenty to offer. Consistency is the challenge for him but he looks to be growing more and more comfortable with a role in defence and then offering spread through the midfield.
Kaelan Bradtke (Sydney VFL)
Position: Key forward (196cm)
He scored a state combine invite after just two VFL games, such is the raw athleticism he shows. He’s 196cm but has incredible speed and agility. It’s untapped potential to a large extent, but if a club could get the best out of him it would be a bargain pickup. He has bolted into draft calculations after his late-season showings for Sydney.
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Mutaz El Nour (Northern Bullants)
Position: Medium defender (192cm, 83kg)
Looks like being able to play the role of a third tall defender. A great interceptor and he is beginning to grow into his large frame, which means he continues to improve and show his class. Essendon and Geelong both looked to have interest heading into the mid-season draft before ultimately passing.
Jacob Dawson (Southport Sharks)
Position: Midfielder (182cm, 80kg)
Dawson managed nine senior games for Gold Coast between 2018 and 2019 before being delisted, but he has been putting in the hard work to try and get another crack at AFL level. In September, he took home the VFL Coaches Player of the Year award for an absolutely dominant season that saw him poll 120 votes out of a possible 180, missing out on voting just once all year. He could provide plenty of inside grunt to sides.
Corey Wagner (Port Melbourne)
Position: Defender / midfiedler (180cm, 80kg)
Wagner played 19 senior games during stints with North Melbourne and Melbourne. He played great football for Port Melbourne in the VFL after being moved to half-back. He averaged 28 disposals in the final five matches of the season and finished as a member of the 40-player VFL Team of the Year squad. Offers great run and football intelligence. Fremantle is considering Wagner for a rookie spot.
Ethan Phillips (Port Melbourne)
Position: Key defender (198cm)
Phillips thrived under new VFL coach Adam Skrobalak in 2022, taking on the role of the general in defence and becoming both an elite one-on-one defender and interceptor. By season’s end, Phillips led the VFL in both marks per game and intercept possessions. He took home the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal in September and given the last 15 winners have gone on to play at AFL level, it’s a promising omen for the 23-year-old, on top of selection in the VFL Team of the Year. At least three AFL clubs have shown interest per the Herald Sun.
Frank Szekely (North Adelaide)
Position: Defender/forward (170cm, 70kg)
Speed and class by foot were both on display for the Roosters throughout the season. He can bring the ball out of defence with pace, charge along a wing and even kick goals when needed, kicking three goals on two occasions this season. He scored well in both the standing vertical jump and 2km time trial at the combine in Adelaide this year.
Baynen Lowe (Norwood)
Position: Forward (177cm, 75kg)
Kicked 25 goals in 18 games for Norwood, showing a lot of skill with the ball. He’s clean and composed under pressure and has only improved since his draft year. He kicked four goals in the side’s preliminary final win over Adelaide, with three of them coming in rapid time. A hard-worker with good football nous. Readymade small forward.
Rhett Montgomerie (Central District)
Position: Defender (190cm, 83kg)
Barring AFL-listed players, the 22-year-old was the best in the SANFL for taking intercept marks in 2022. He is a threat aerially and also once the ball hits the ground. He’s composed and looks to have fully realised his potential, which makes him a tantalising prospect for AFL clubs looking for a key position prospect.
Casey Voss (Sturt)
Position: Defender (182cm, 80kg)
With arguably one of the most famous surnames in footy, Casey Voss – the son of Lions premiership great and Carlton coach Michael, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. Described by ex-Swan Marty Mattner as one of the “smartest players” he’s seen, Voss is still waiting for his senior opportunity, after missing out on the National Draft and then again at the Mid-Season Draft a few months ago. Opting to remain with Sturt in the SANFL after his family left the state for dad’s job at the Blues, Voss went on to have a stellar 2022 season, culminating in his Fos Williams Medal win as South Australia’s best player. In the clash against WA, he tallied 29 disposals, 15 marks and four rebound 50s.
Josh Rentsch (Sturt)
Position: Forward (197cm, 100kg)
Josh Rentsch is considered one of the strongest contested marks in the AFL Draft crop. The key forward has been likened to Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon, due to his sheer size and presence. But despite winning the 2021 Morrish Medal (NAB League best and fairest) and being named in both the 2021 NAB League Team of the Year and the Victoria Country State Under 19s team, Rentsch was overlooked in the 2021 Draft. So he turned to Sturt in the SANFL and dominated at Reserves level, kicking 12.8 in seven games. The teen was promoted to the league side to see out the 2022 season, but didn’t have as big an impact on the scoreboard, finishing with 10 goals from 11 games.
Tom Emmett (Sturt)
Position: Forward (187cm, 86kg)
Missed out in the last two drafts, but has the capacity to do plenty of damage on the scoreboard. He kicked 15 goals in his final seven games in the SANFL this season to once again put himself in the frame for recruiters. That form also scored him an invite to the state draft combine. At that combine he ranked first in the agility test. He’s a mid-sized player who is a nightmare to match up on given his ability both in the air and on the ground.
Hamish Ellem (West Adelaide)
Position: Forward (195cm, 96kg)
The Sydney Academy product arrived in the SANFL with plenty of expectation, with recruiters impressed by his speed and hands at ground level considering his size. Hamish Ellem is no stranger to the Draft process, having attended the combine back in 2019 after representing the Allies that same year. Now more mature, Ellem is a key position forward and back-up ruck who once blitzed the 20m sprint – registering 3.01 despite his almost 100kg frame. The 21-year-old kicked 13 goals from his 16 SANFL league matches, including 4.0 against North Adelaide late in the season.
Toby McQuilkin (South Fremantle)
Position: Defender (184cm, 70kg)
Toby McQuilkin is rated WA’s best draft chance for a mature-ager. The Bulldog had an outstanding 2022 WAFL season and then blitzed the recent AFL State Draft Combine, topping the State for agility and the 2km time trial. He also recorded the second best 20m sprint in the country at 2.88 seconds, and finished seventh for both agility and the running vertical jump for all draft hopefuls. McQuilkin did complete a training stint with West Coast earlier this year and impressed across halfback.
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Jake Florenca (South Fremantle)
Position: Midfielder (184cm, 86kg)
The South Fremantle midfielder made his AFL debut against Brisbane in Round 8 as a Covid top-up player for the decimated West Coast Eagles. And he showed plenty of grit and determination, to collect 19 touches, three marks, seven tackles and four clearances against the preliminary finalists. Even Eagle Andrew Gaff said Florenca could “absolutely” cut it in the AFL. “He looked comfortable against a premiership credentialed, premiership standard team,” Gaff praised. “He is a guy who is a no fuss, quiet guy but he put his head down and worked really hard.”
Bailey Rogers (Claremont)
Position: Midfielder (185cm, 85kg)
Bailey Rogers is no stranger to the draft process, or the disappointment that can come from it. The 2021 Sandover Medallist and Claremont best and fairest first nominated for the draft eight years ago. But the versatile inside mid hasn’t given up on his AFL dream. Rogers trained with Fremantle last summer and was on the club’s Covid top-up player register for the 2022 season. He looms an option once again for a club looking to bolster its midfield with a mature-aged body.