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Rookie Pre-season Report Card

If a week is a long time in football, then an entire pre-season campaign seems like a lifetime. And I’m not talking about the chubbers growing up today who are tipped to keel over before they reach retirement age, I mean the lifetime of someone really, really ancient… like Dustin Fletcher.

If a week is a long time in football, then an entire pre-season campaign seems like a lifetime. And I’m not talking about the chubbers growing up today who are tipped to keel over before they reach retirement age, I mean the lifetime of someone really, really ancient… like Dustin Fletcher.

Since the last time I popped up with previews of which rookies to look out for in the NAB CUP/Challenge matches, we’ve lost a lot of our best prospects to injury (Tendai Mzungu, Ian Callinan), illness (Ben Jacobs) and job security concerns (Michael Coad, Paul Puopolo, Isaac Smith).

Thankfully, some of our smokies (Jack Darling) and others that weren’t even on the radar (Rohan Bewick, Jarrad Irons, Nick Lower) have come through to give us a fighting chance of picking some cash cows and covering doughnuts in a bye-riddled season which really should have been sponsored by Krispy Kreme, rather than Toyota.

Honestly, though, it really is shaping as another year where finding solid rookies is going to be a trying task, despite the increase in kids that the addition of the Gold Coast has afforded us. It seems as though every time Guy McKenna opens his mouth, another Gold Coast rookie gets traded out of my team. All this talk of restricting the young Suns to effectively half a season of AFL football and swinging six changes a week has got me terribly worried about the likes of Josh Toy and Dion Prestia. Combined with the loss of Mzungu – arguably the most promising scorer in the rookie ranks and a dual-position mid-forward to boot – and the potential for a lot of rookies who do play to be used as a sub and all of a sudden I’m down to two rookies starting on my field as opposed to four just a couple of weeks ago. The upside, of course, is that we’re likely to be blessed with some decent downgrade options later in the year.

Anyway, let’s get into it…


Michael Hibberd (def-mid)

Has he scored okay? Back-to-back 63s after a 49 in the first full-length pre-season game.

What’ll I have to pay? $92,500.

But will he play? Hibberd will be hoping that coach James Hird and the rest of the Bombers’ selection panel subscribe to the “you’re only as good as your last game” theory, as his last outing – the NAB Cup grand final was his most influential. At the moment, he’s making as many fans’ teams as he is missing.

Chook, whadda ya say? The facts are that, if you’re going to take advantage of the mid-def link, then either Hibberd or Heppell need to be in your team now that Port’s Ben Jacobs is out of the picture early doors. A lot of teams will have both, one in the mids and one in defence.

Dyson Heppell (def-mid)

Has he scored okay? Started with a promising 63 in the first full-length NAB game, followed up with a 58 and then produced a tag-induced 24.

What’ll I have to pay? $132,500.

But will he play? One of the more likely round one starters, as seems highly rated by both club and coach. As with Hibberd, the water is a little muddied by the fact that Essendon play on Sunday, meaning we won’t know emergencies for the Bombers.

Chook, whadda ya say? A lock in most teams during the pre-season, the Presti-like score Heppell produced in the NAB Cup grand final turned some coaches off the Morrish Medal winner. I wouldn’t be overly concerned; he won’t expect that role every week, or expect to score so lowly when he does.

Dion Prestia (fwd-mid)

Has he scored okay? 71 and 62 before missing out last week.

What’ll I have to pay? $128,500.

But will he play? This is where the round one bye hurts. He will definitely get a look in at some point, but others look ahead of him for the Suns’ first game, despite his decent scoring over the pre-season.

Chook, whadda ya say? Prestia looked a good thing when the pre-season began, and the loss of Mzungu and Callinan only helps his case, but I’m concerned about the number of early games Dion will get. The slightly inflated price coupled with doubtful run of early games has me looking elsewhere.

Isaac Smith (fwd-mid)

Has he scored okay? DNP in the first full-length game and then 51 and a 64.

What’ll I have to pay? $92,500.

But will he play? Unlikely starter in round one, although should get games down the track.

Chook, whadda ya say? Given the turnover of players at Hawthorn and his own good form on the track, Smith was considered a decent shot early in the piece. In the cold, hard light of round one eve, however, Smith looks like coming up a little short.


Danny Stanley

Has he scored okay? Stanley’s got the third-best DT average (72) of any Gold Coast player over the pre-season, although his numbers were boosted significantly by his last outing against Brisbane where he scored 108.

What’ll I have to pay? $106,400.

But will he play? A mature-age player with AFL experience, Stanley looks one of the best bets of the rookie-priced Suns.

Chook, whadda ya say? The leading candidate of the Gold Coast backs, Stanley should be in most teams when partial lock-out closes on Friday night.

Josh Toy

Has he scored okay? Not really. 37, 39.

What’ll I have to pay? $97,600.

But will he play? Like Prestia, I’m worried about how much exposure Toy will get to the big time early on. There’s no doubting his talent, but Toy is about as young as they come in the AFL.

Chook, whadda ya say? Any other year I’d probably be taking a chance on Toy, but the amount of decent alternatives in the backline this year has me leaving him out and praying that he continues to average 38 for the rest of the year.

Nick Duigan

Has he scored okay? A saliva-inducing 93 followed by a 66 and 62.

What’ll I have to pay? $92,500.

But will he play? Looks good for round one due to form and the suspension of Michael Jamison, but could be battling for a spot when Jamison returns (round three).

Chook, whadda ya say? The scoring has been good and the job security is as good as any other rookie backman, bar maybe Stanley and Robbie Tarrant. You’d think Carlton recruited the mature-age Duigan to play a role and he’s thus far taken his opportunities. In.

Nick Lower

Has he scored okay? Has he ever? Lower is Fremantle’s second-highest scorer over the full-length pre-season games, scoring 94, 95 and 82.

What’ll I have to pay? $92,500.

But will he play? He’s been elevated off the rookie list, so is now eligible to line-up against Brisbane on Saturday. A string of games is up for grabs, given Fremantle’s injury woes.

Chook, whadda ya say? Simply, there’s no reason not to get on.

Jake Batchelor

Has he scored okay? 34, 58 and a 12 (am trying to find an injury or TOG reason to explain this one).

What’ll I have to pay? $92,500.

But will he play? Wouldn’t be overly surprised to see him named tomorrow, given the injuries in the Tiger defence, and Hardwick will want to give him some opportunities to develop during the year.

Chook, whadda ya say? The Tigers are one of the best teams to pick rookies from due to their late bye, but I’m doubtful that Batchelor has the scoring potential to rival Lower, Duigan and Stanley for a spot on your back bench.

Robbie Tarrant

Has he scored okay? 62, 61 and 55.

What’ll I have to pay? $122,500.

But will he play? Strong pre-season form screams yes, although fellow Kangaroos defender Nathan Grima has unexpectedly got himself fit for round one.

Chook, whadda ya say? I’ve had Tarrant on my shortlist for a while, but am having justifying the extra money now that Grima is expected to return earlier than first thought and threaten his job security slightly. Plus there’s an early bye for the Roos, stalling his growth potential. As a KPP, you can’t expet huge scores either, and then there’s his fairly extensive injury history. A Sunday game in round one doesn’t help matters, but for some reason I can’t discount Tarrant altogether. Maybe one for those who haven’t bought into the Andy Otten hype.


David Swallow

Has he scored okay? A 57 and a 35 with a DNP in between is not exactly what most coaches would’ve been hoping for, but there’s no doubt playing alongside Gary Ablett will help is scoring in the season proper.

What’ll I have to pay? $160,500.

But will he play? Yes, but there’ll be rest weeks for Swallow this season. How many and when would be nice to know before we shell out top rookie dollar for this future superstar, Mr McKenna.

Chook, whadda ya say? To Swallow or not really comes down to your structure, I believe. If you’re starting two or more rookies on your field, then I’d be splashing the cash to make Swallow one of them. I started four rookies in the midfield last year (Trengove, Scully, Barlow and Martin with dual-position Mitches Duncan and Farmer on the pine) and I was happy to pay the extra dosh for Trengove and Scully knowing that it bought me job security. If you’re only playing one rookie in your midfield this year, however, then I think Daniel Harris is your man and, let’s face it, $160k is too much money on the bench.

Daniel Harris

Has he scored okay? Um, kinda. A 60 and then a 16 in the past two NAB games.

What’ll I have to pay? $114,400.

But will he play? One of the few, if only, guys in this price range that you can expect a full season from.

Chook, whadda ya say? A former AFL player who raised his average to 100 in the VFL last year, Harris is the lockiest of locks in DT this year. That 16 in the last pre-season game sent off some alarm bells, but he wasn’t on the field for long. There are rumours of a rib injury doing the rounds; we can only hope they’re of the Goddard hamstring strain type, ie – just rumours.

Rohan Bewick

Has he scored okay? Escalating scores of 42, 70 and 118 mean he’s headed in the right direction. Will rack up a 200 in round one, based on these figures.

What’ll I have to pay? $97,600.

But will he play? We’ll know whether he’s in the round one team before lock-out on Friday night. Whether he gets a run of games will depend on form.

Chook, whadda ya say? That 118 has to be taken with a bottle of salt, having been scored against the Gold Coast, but there’s enough potential here to earn a spot in my team.

Claye Beams

Has he scored okay? Not up to Bewick’s standard, but 35, 71 and 82 ain’t bad.

What’ll I have to pay? $92,500.

But will he play? Will depend on whether Vossy realises his patch-up job has failed and his best hope is to embrace a long-term rebuild from the bottom up, or whether he presses on with his recycled players like Raines and Staker. As an avid rookie watcher, I’m praying for the former.

Chook, whadda ya say? Beams did his chances no harm by being named in the Lions’ best in their final pre-season game, but there is too much job security doubt for me at this stage.

Jared Polec

Has he scored okay? 36 in the first full-length NAB game and then back-to-back DNPs.

What’ll I have to pay? $144,500.

But will he play? You’d have said yes after his efforts in the NAB Cup opening round, but Polec missing the past two Challenge matches suggests he might not be the shoe-in for a round one berth that we expected.

Chook, whadda ya say? Pay $50k less and get on Bewick.

Shaun Atley

Has he scored okay? 67, 58 and a sub-affected 13.

What’ll I have to pay? $96,500.

But will he play? A strong chance to play round one, although it’ll be a bit of a guessing game given that North Melbourne kick starts its season on Sunday.

Chook, whadda ya say? The fact that Atley was used as the sub in the Roos’ last hit-out is a worrying indication that he’s slated for that role early this season. As evidenced by his 13 in that game, the sub rule threatens to have a decimating effect on many of our rookies this season, and Atley shapes a prime candidate. Avoid.

Reece Conca

Has he scored okay? You’d be pleased to hear that Conca has averaged the same as Brett Deledio over the pre-season, until you realise that their average is only 51, with Deledio missing large chunks of Richmond’s games.

What’ll I have to pay? $140,500.

But will he play? We’ll know for sure tomorrow. The crystal ball says yes.

Chook, whadda ya say? Like Atley, Conca looks a chance to be eased into AFL life wearing a red or green jacket. The fact that Richmond has one of the last byes is a big tick in his favour, however.

Jarrad Irons

Has he scored okay? 45, 88 and 25.

What’ll I have to pay? $80,400.

But will he play? A team in flux, Port’s best 22 is as difficult to predict as any in the AFL. A strong pre-season puts Irons in the picture, if he’s elevated, of course.

Chook, whadda ya say? The price is tempting, given you can get two Irons for the price of one Swallow. The pre-season form has been solid, too, especially when you consider his final-game 25 came from a quarter or so of football before he left with a reportedly minor injury. He’s showing up in a lot of teams, although I’m tipping many of them to get spooked just before lock-out and instead opt for teammate…

Jasper Pittard

Has he scored okay? 34, 60, 21.

What’ll I have to pay? $97,600.

But will he play? Slated for a round one berth.

Chook, whadda ya say? Has flown under the radar of rookie hunters all pre-season, partly because of his unspectacular scoring and partly because he plays outside of Victoria. One of the most secure round one starters in the mids and Port’s late bye weigh in his favour, but probably only one for those coaches picking a plethora of midfield rookies.


Brandon Matera

Has he scored okay? 72, followed by a DNP and 83.

What’ll I have to pay? $97,600.

But will he play? Most are convinced he’s the best bet of the Suns’ small forwards and could go close to 22 games.

Chook, whadda ya say? Should rival Cam Richardson as the highest-picked rookie forward, if coaches have their heads screwed on properly. Matera was the Gold Coast’s second-highest DT scorer over the full-length NAB games.

Jack Darling

Has he scored okay? 61, DNP, 76.

What’ll I have to pay? $92,500.

But will he play? We’ll have to guess who gets left out of the West Coast team on Friday night before lock-out, given that the Eagles play on Sunday, but the word on the street is that Darling has earned a round one berth.

Chook, whadda ya say? We had him listed as a long-shot before the pre-season campaign got underway, but Darling has acquitted himself well, throwing his big body about and scoring at a decent rate. Seven tackles in his last outing shows he doesn’t necessarily need to kick goals to score well in DT.

Luke Tapscott

Has he scored okay? 50 and 37 in the last two NAB Challenge games.

What’ll I have to pay? $97,600.

But will he play? Fanfooty’s m0nty is particularly bullish about his round-one chances and while he hasn’t scored freely DT-wise, he has performed well on the field, strengthening his claim. He’s in the same boat as Darling in that he plays on Sunday, meaning we won’t know for certain whether he’s in or out if named on an uncut interchange bench.

Chook, whadda ya say? Now a second-year player after spending his first year at Melbourne battling injury, Tapscott is one of the biggest teenagers I’ve ever seen and has the body to compete at AFL level right away. He’s already consider among the best kicks at Melbourne, so has those things in his favour, but his DT scoring potential doesn’t look huge, going by his NAB form. I’m still tossing up between him and Darling to take my third bench spot alongside Matera and…

Cam Richardson

Has he scored okay? Not too shabby, with a 64 and 74 sandwiching a DNP in the second-last NAB game.

What’ll I have to pay? $97,600.

But will he play? One of the rookies most assured of a round-one berth.

Chook, whadda ya say? You can read more about Richardson in my Rookies On The Radar post from last month, but all you need to know is “lock and load”, as they say around these parts.

Byron Sumner

Has he scored okay? 30, 63, 52.

What’ll I have to pay? $97,600.

But will he play? The injuries to Sydney’s defensive line means Sumner may get an early shot, although his competition for a spot could be Gary Rohan, who’s looked reasonably impressive during the pre-season.

Chook, whadda ya say? Yet another who plays on Sunday, potentially making it hard to determine whether he’s a round-one starter or not. Either way, his place will come under threat from Swans returning from injury. Like Viv Mitchie and Jayden Pitt at Fremantle, hasn’t done enough to dislodge Richardson, Matera or Tapscott/Darling from my forward bench.

You’ll notice I’ve ignored the rucks completely, as who you choose has much less to do with the players available than it does with your on-field ruck structure. There are a handful of rookies in other positions that could’ve warranted a mention too, blokes like Mitchie, Pitt, Helbig, Dixon, Coad (yes, I saw the article) etc, but none that I have early hopes for. Let loose in the comments if you want to talk up your smokie rookie who failed to make the cut here, or rubbish one of the guys that I’ve given the thumbs up.

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