Three players have already established themselves as the top three 2022 draft prospects.
Plus the 204cm forward putting up big SANFL Under 18s numbers and some players to watch out for in the upcoming mid-season draft.
Foxfooty.com.au assesses the early 2022 AFL draft state of play.
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THREE EARLY STANDOUTS – AND THE UNLUCKY SLIDER
A couple of months into underage players’ 2022 campaign and three players have already emerged as the most likely Pick 1 candidates.
In fact one recruiter told foxfooty.com.au Will Ashcroft, Elijah Tsatas and George Wardlaw were the “clear” top three prospects at this stage of the year.
Sandringham Dragons midfielder and Lions father-son prospect Will Ashcroft entered the 2022 season as favorite to be taken with the first draft pick – and he’s only enhanced his chances over recent weeks.
Following three standout NAB League Boys performances for the Dragons – he kicked three goals and averaged 36 disposals, 14 contested possessions, 8.5 clearances, 8.5 score involvements and 141 ranking points as Sandy’s clear no. 1 midfielder – Ashcroft got the call up to the Lions’ VFL side. He hasn’t looked out of place at state league level either, racking up 28 disposals and nine tackles against Sydney before a one-goal, 32-disposal outing against Coburg in Queensland on Saturday.
Ashcroft, the son of triple premiership Lion and 318-game player Marcus Ashcroft, is eligible to Brisbane as a father-son selection, although he hasn’t officially nominated the Lions yet.
The 18-year-old has been likened to Carlton star Sam Walsh for his outstanding all-round ability and awesome consistency as a midfielder, as well as his off-field professionalism.
Ashcroft is a different type of player to the silky, smooth-moving Tsatas and the dynamic, explosive Wardlaw.
Elijah Tsatas Leads the NAB League Boys for disposals, averaging 32.8 per game for the Oakleigh Chargers, as well as eight marks and nine score involvements. His Round 3 game against the Eastern Ranges was particularly eye-catching, finishing with 42 disposals, 12 marks and 11 inside 50s.
A speedy mover with an efficient kick that can break lines and clean hands, Tsatas is everything a club is looking for in a wing/midfield prospect.
Charger’s teammate George Wardlawconversely, is a powerful, competitive and combative inside midfielder that plays with great intensity and models his game on Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver.
While Wardlaw’s start to 2022 hasn’t been as notable numerically – he’s averaged 20.7 touches, 9.3 contested possessions and 5.7 tackles from three games, missing Round 2 due to illness – he’s started to find his rhythm in his most recent matches for the Chargers and St Kevin’s College in the APS competition.
West Adelaide key forward Harry Lemmy entered the year in the Pick 1 conversation, but has struggled for continuity in recent months – which is why recruiters are giving him the benefit of the doubt.
The 199cm prospect missed Rounds 1 and 3 of the SANFL league season due to health and safety protocols, booting two goals from nine disposals and five marks against Central District in between. He then didn’t play in Round 4 against Norwood as he was a traveling emergency, returned in Round 5 to finish goalless from two disposals then was played in the Reserves last weekend where he had 0.1 from nine disposals.
However club recruiters are wary that Lemmey’s 2022 campaign to date has been severely interrupted, with multiple protocols-related absences also sidelining him from training.
Recruiters still believe Lemmey – a terrific size for a key forward with strong hands and an efficient kick – is the top key position prospect of this year’s class.
THE 204CM BIG MAN TURNING HEADS
Another player AFL clubs are closely monitoring is Tom Scully.
And no, not the 181cm running machine from the Demons, Giants and Hawks.
This is Tom Scully of West Adelaide – a co-ordinated 204cm prospect that possesses good hands, covers the ground well and, judging by the numbers below, certainly knows where the goals are.
From his first seven SANFL Under 18s games, Scully has kicked a whopping 37 goals while averaging 12.6 disposals and 3.9 contested marks. That goal tally has included three bags of seven majors against Central District, Woodville-West Torrens and North Adelaide respectively, as well as a six-goal haul against Sturt in Round 2.
Scully played predominantly as a ruckman in 2021 and, by his own admission, was pushed out of the way too easily. But he’s found form and confidence playing as a key forward this season, showing off his marking capabilities – both on the lead and in the air – and goalkicking accuracy.
The asterisk, however, is while AFL clubs want to see how Scully fares at a more advanced level, be it in the SANFL league or reserves competitions or for South Australia against the likes of Vic Metro’s Lewis Hayes (197cm) and WA’s Jedd Busslinger ( 195cm) at this year’s Under 18 national championships.
Recruiters are wary the key forward, so far, has often dominated opponents up to 20cm shorter than him in the SANFL Under 18s. However they can also see Scully growing into a prospect that ends up at the pointy end of this year’s draft.
BEST OF THE REST
While most early draft boards would have the Ashcroft, Tsatas and Wardlaw in the top three, AFL clubs want to see a lot more action before settling on the rest of their respective orders.
Sandringham Dragons’ Harry Shezel has made a significant impression inside 50, booting 13.7 and averaging 19.5 disposals, 8.3 score involvements and 130 ranking points from four NAB League Boys games. He booted 6.2 from 28 disposals against the Tassie Devils in his most recent NAB League Boys clash before a brilliant five-goal haul for Vic Metro against a Young Guns side in Werribee last weekend. Arguably the best pure hybrid forward prospect in the draft class at 184cm, Sheezel is a crafty, classy mover inside 50 that can conjure goals in so many ways, be it from a set-shot, a ground-level crumb or a quick snap from nearly anywhere inside the arc.
Geelong Falcons captain Jhye Clark – an inside beast renowned for his competitive nature and thirst for the contest – is also in the top-10 conversation, despite his interrupted start to the season after copping a two-week ban for a sling tackle. While Clark has some work to do on his kicking and decision-making, he has a Joel Selwood-like presence on the field that appeals to recruiters.
Murray Bushrangers’ Oliver Hollands – the brother of Gold Coast top-10 draftee Elijah Hollands – has also had an interrupted start to 2022 due to injury. He missed a couple of NAB League Boys games before returning in Round 4 to have 26 disposals and nine tackles against the Northern Knights. He’s now back playing school footy with Geelong Grammar, named in his side’s best two players from its first two matches.
West Adelaide’s Kobe Ryan is catching the eye, too, stepping up at every level he’s played so far. After averaging 29.4 disposals, 13 contested possessions, 9.6 score involvements, 6.8 clearances and 156 ranking points from five SANFL Under 18s games, he was promoted to the reserves then, after a 27-dispsal outing, immediately put in the league team. And Ryan slotted into the Bloods’ senior side with aplomb, booting two goals from 22 disposals and doing ample damage after being moved onto the wing at half-time against the Crows’ SANFL team.
In WA, Elijah Hewett has been thrown in the deep end, playing his first four WAFL matches this year at league level. But the 186cm midfielder has looked comfortable in the top comp playing as a mid-forward, averaging 13.8 disposals, 5.8 contested possessions and 4.3 tackles. Not many top WA prospects in recent years have been thrown into the top level so early in the season, so the explosive Hewett is already well placed.
Some recruiters, though, are perplexed as to why East Perth’s Jedd Busslinger hasn’t been unleashed at WAFL league level yet, instead tearing the colts competition to shreds. Busslinger – a 197cm backman widely regarded as the best intercept defender of this year’s class and a possible top-10 pick – has starred across his first four games, averaging 23.8 disposals, 11.3 intercepts, 5.5 intercept marks and 132 ranking points.
Two ruckmen have also had solid starts in West Adelaide’s Harry Barnett and Peel Thunder’s Jackson Broadbent.
Barnett, another gun Bloods draft prospect, has been a standout in his seven SANFL Under 18s matches, averaging 17.3 disposals, 5.7 score involvements, 5.1 marks, 22.9 hit-outs (7.0 to advantage) and 111 ranking points. He might be in line for a promotion soon, considering he kicked two goals from 29 disposals, 12 marks, eight inside 50s and 28 hit-outs against Woodville-West Torrens last weekend.
Broadbent is an athletic 202cm ruck with a good skillset for a player of his size, highlighted by his ability to kick well on either foot. He was unleashed at WAFL league level at the age of 16 last year, but has only played three colts games so far this season, averaging 15.3 disposals, 5.0 marks, 26.0 hit-outs (6.0 to advantage) and 80 ranking points.
Two Woodville-West Torrens players are racking up big numbers in the SANFL Under 18s. Adam D’Aloia is averaging 30.8 disposals and 8.5 clearances, while Mattae Phillipou has kicked eight goals and averaged 25.8 disposals and 12 contested possessions from six games. Recruiters believe Phillipou has a few more tricks than D’Aloia at this stage, but there’s ample time for the latter to show his worth across the back-end of the season. North Adelaide’s Will Dowling is also killing it at the same level, averaging 32.7 disposals and 1.5 goals per game.
The wildcard is North Adelaide’s Isaac Keeler – a key forward ruck in the Paddy Ryder mold at 197cm that has ample talent upside. Keeler has played seven SANFL Under 18s games so far this season and booted 11 goals – including two bags of four from his past three games – while averaging 16.9 disposals and 114 ranking points.
MID SEASON DRAFT OPPORTUNITIES
With the 2022 mid-season rookie draft just weeks away, clubs have been monitoring players in the Young Guns squads that have been scheduled to face Vic Metro and Vic Country Under 18s teams this month.
And four players loom as strong contenders to be picked up by an AFL club in a few weeks.
Western Jets’ Massimo D’Ambrosio has had a terrific NAB League Boys season so far, racking up 28, 22, 31 and 30 disposals from his four games. He then impressed against Vic Metro for the Young Guns last weekend across half-back, finishing with 24 disposals and 159 ranking points as he provided terrific run from defence. He turns 19 four days after the mid-season draft is scheduled to be held …
Aggressive, big-bodied midfielder Jai Culley was a big standout, booting four first-half goals from 22 disposals, while also having four other score assists. Culley, described by Stingrays coach Nick Cox as “certainly the best 19-year-old in the NAB League” per the Star Journal, was clean with his ball use as he pulled off some brilliant, pinpoint field kicks.
Sandringham jerk Max Ramsden was also impressive in the Young Guns clash, pushing forward to boot two goals from 16 disposals, while Dragons teammate Hugo Hall-Kahan would also be in the mid-season draft mix.