The pre-season competition – the proving ground of AFL rookies – is yet to get underway, but that’s no excuse for not having got out the binoculars and taken in a spot of rookie watching yet. Chook has a look at which dual-position rookies have cropped up on his radar so far.
Last year, in a bid to make the most of dual-positioning, I used my midfield bench spots on Geelong mid-fwd Mitch Duncan and Richmond mid-def Mitch Farmer, dubbing the move “The Double Mitch Switch”. While Duncan proved a valuable pick-up, earning decent dollars and allowing me to sub Chapman into the midfield when required, Farmer proved far less useful (from memory, I think I used his dual-positioning once to allow Goddard to cover a late-season doughnut, but I’d have been much better off with a Bastinac type as Farmer’s low scoring crippled my ability to make any money out of that crucial midfield bench position). This year, of course, the introduction of a bye (and third bench spot) will make DP rookies far more valuable than in the past – and the good news is that there’s lots of choice in 2011. So who will scratch your DPP itch? Who will make us rich and who do we ditch?
Ben Jacobs (def-mid) put up some of the best DT numbers at the under-18 national championships and averaged over a 100 in the TAC Cup last year, but, at this stage, the posters on the Port Adelaide board at BigFooty can’t find room for him in the Power’s best 22. Hopefully a big NAB Cup has Primus thinking differently. Another DPP rookie who averaged more than 100 in the TAC Cup last year is Essendon’s Dyson Heppell (def-mid), the joint-winner of the competition’s Morrish Medal. He’s not the only bright DPP prospect at Essendon this year, though, with Michael Hibberd also earning def-mid status. A 21-year-old who plied his trade in the VFL last year, the most enticing thing that can be said about Hibberd is that he picked up the Fothergill-Round Medal in 2010 – the award for the most promising young player that Michael Barlow won in 2010. Whether either will get a go with the Bombers is up in the air given the new coaching panel at Essendon.
While DP alone might give these three the edge over some of the mid-or-def-only rookies, they also have the added benefit of playing for teams (Essendon, Richmond and Port Adelaide) that have their first bye in the middle of the season (well, rounds 10, 11 and 12, at least), meaning these cows will have a long, uninterrupted period in the paddock to fatten up.
In the mid-fwd bracket, Fremantle’s Tendai Mzungu looks likely to get a game from the start if he shows promise during the NAB Cup. He’s another mature-age recruit, having played in the WAFL for the past five years. The 25-year-old won Perth’s B&F last year and was third in the league in disposals. Another mid-fwd who’s a chance to debut in round one is Isaac Smith at Hawthorn, who’ve shaken things up in the off-season with 13 players (that includes rookies) leaving the club. While a few of the holes have been plugged by experienced players such as Cam Bruce, there are going to be opportunities for blokes like Smith, who started last season in the Ballarat Football League but ended up as a member of the VFL premiership-winning North Ballarat team. It’s a similar situation at Adelaide, who’ve had five retirements and two others depart to rival clubs. Crows coach Neil Craig has never been the best at giving kids an early chance, but he has to put 22 blokes on the park, so some rookies are going to get a chance. That’s music to the ears of mid-fwd Ian Callinan, although he’s not exactly young. A member of the Tassie Devils side that competed in the VFL a few years ago, Callinan, now 28, was last year best-on in Central Districts’ SANFL grand final win. He’ll be cheap and is a good chance of getting game time, though might not set the world alight with his scoring. Someone who might is Dion Prestia, a mid-fwd for Gold Coast who averaged 29 disposals a game in the TAC Cup last year. It’ll be hard to know whether the 18-year-old qualifies as best 22 given that we won’t see a Suns team sheet until round two, although hopefully coach Guy McKenna is pretty transparent with his selections in the pre-season tournaments.
It’s slim pickings in the def-fwd category again this year, with Adelaide’s first pick in the 2009 draft, Daniel Talia, being the only one to crop up on the radar at this early stage. As I said, Adelaide have some gaps to fill, but Talia doesn’t strike me as a high scorer. If your bullish about Sam Gilbert’s scoring potential and want to exploit his DP status, however, then Talia may be your man.
The fwd-ruck division is even worse, with Kurt Tippett’s younger brother Joel Tippett the only option. He played as a key defender for the Suns in the VFL last year, averaging a measly seven disposals, and is no guarantee to attract games in 2011, especially given that half of the experienced players the Suns poached from other clubs are defenders. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth wasting a bench spot on Tippett to give yourself the option of swinging Petrie through the ruck. That’s a maybe from me at this stage as, unlike those precious midfield bench spots, you’re unlikely to generate much cash from ruck rookies any how.
This ain’t an exhaustive list, so if there are any other DP rookies that are on your radar, then let us have it in the comments. Oh, and let me know in the comments whether you want me to track blokes like Andrew Krakouer (fwd-mid) this year – those that aren’t actual rookies, but are priced as such.
Tomorrow we’ll have a look at which back rookies are currently on the radar, followed by the rucks and forwards on Thursday, with the midfielders to come on Friday.