Want to get your Harry Houdini on and turn that under-performing mid-pricer into Dane Swan with a wave of your wand by round eight? Well, you’re going to need some help from these guys for that kind of magic trick. The best midfield rookies are heralded for their ability to make big bucks fast, with scoring punch worthy of a place on in your starting 22 (at least until the Pig or some other premium upgrade takes their place). How many and which ones you pick in your original squad will depend on a number of factors, including how much upside you see in the midfield premiums and mid-pricers this year and how strongly you rate the rookies in the other positions. Perhaps the biggest influence on your midfield rookie head count, however, is whether you predict solid game time for a lot or just a few. I happily (okay, a little nervously) started four midfield rookies in 2010, because I was reasonably sure at the conclusion of the NAB CUP that each of Tom Scully, Jack Trengove, Dustin Martin and Michael Barlow was going to see a fair chuck of action in their first years at AFL level. The bench duo (Mitch Duncan and Mitch Farmer) provided DP links to the back and forward lines. It turned out to be a pretty profitable plan of attack, in hindsight, with Scully, Trengove and Martin making bucketloads of cash and Barlow, as every coach on the planet fondly recalls, would’ve been a season-long keeper had it not been for the Rhys Palmer disaster. Last year, I started just one rookie in my midfield, wooed, regrettably, by a couple of mid-pricers, but mostly due to a lack of confidence in so many of the Gold Coast Suns kids because of the rotation policy in place at the first-year club. This year, I’ll again let the NAB Cup games provide a guide as to who’s looking likely to snag a spot in the all-important engine room.
Friday, Feb 17 – Richmond/Hawthorn/North Melbourne
Each of these clubs have produced decent rookie-priced options in the midfield over the past couple of years but, this season, the cupboard’s seemingly bare. Hopefully someone steps into the bright Friday night lights to change that.
Saturday, Feb 18 – GWS/Collingwood/Western Bulldogs
As you’d expect, this is where the bulk of your scouting will be done. It’s real mixed bag in the GWS midfield, too. There’re a few really young kids, a couple of mature-age choices and one pensioner-age pick. Some of the Blacktown boys are as cheap as chips and others are asking top (rookie) dollar. Dylan Shiel ($104,200), who averaged 96 DT points in 10 NEAFL games for the Giants last year, is the one I’ll be most looking forward to tracking after the former Dandenong ball-magnet missed last week’s intra-club clash with appendicitis. The only player to average more DTs for the Giants last year was Anthony Miles, who’s priced the same as Shiel but is a year older at 20. While that 103ppg average over 14 NEAFL games has had DT coaches salivating, Miles failed to have a huge impact in the intra-club game and, for what it’s worth, missed the cut in coach Kevin Sheedy’s projected round-one team. Also absent from that list was Dom Tyson, the second-most expensive option in the GWS midfield at $170,700 after he was taken with the third pick in last year’s draft. The kid certainly has DT nous, averaging 103 points for Oakleigh in the TAC Cup last year. The costliest Giant in this bracket is Stephen Coniglio who, courtesy of being taken with pick number two, has been slapped with a $175,200 price tag. The WAFL product showed his undoubted ability with a stand-out performance in the intra-club and will be hard to leave out if he plays just as impressively during the NAB Cup. There’s another Stephen C worth monitoring at Blackstown: Stephen Clifton – a $121,800 mature-age recruit who averaged 84 points (fourth for the Giants after Miles, Shiel and ruckman Jon Giles) in the NEAFL after three premierships and a Liston Medal win with North Ballarat in the VFL. You can read more about Clifton (and a bunch of others) in Damian Stone’s outstanding post on mature-age rookies here. Ex-Melbourne captain James McDonald (he was named on the ball when Sheedy peered into his crystal ball!) is another obvious one to keep tabs on, as is ex-Western Bulldog (not Swan) Sam Reid. Speaking of the ‘Doggies, take a minute off Giant stalking for two seconds to have a look at Clay Smith $107,700, who could come in for some games under new coach Brendan McCartney after impressing in their recent intra-club match. The 17th pick in the draft, he averaged a Swan-like 119 DT points in the TAC Cup last season.
Sunday, Feb 19 – West Coast/Essendon/Fremantle
It’s a bit of a long shot, given the number of players returning from injury to crowd the Fremantle midfield, (not to mention the forwards trying to get a piece of the action), but 18-year-old Lachie Neale ($98,700) has pushed his case for selection with a great game in the Dockers’ intra-club match. His last competitive outing was a doozie, collecting 40 possessions in Glenelg’s loss in the SANFL under-18 grand final. That came after Neale spent the last third of the 2011 season playing seniors, averaging almost 20 touches. West Coast’s Koby Stevens ($104,200) will be the other one to pay attention to in this group of three. For the best low-down on this third-year Eagle, revisit tBetta’s excellent Deck of DT article.
Friday, Feb 24 – St Kilda/Sydney/Geelong
One of my favourite rookies from 2009 is back on the radar, with Geelong midfielder Simon Hogan ($133,600) seemingly first in line to step into shoes hung up last season by Cameron Ling. Something of a unique selection back then, Hogan had me sold as a real-life midfielder listed as a forward in Dream Team, playing for a Cats side that racked up DT tons for fun. He’s no longer listed as a forward, but he’s still at Geelong and he hasn’t lost the ability to get his hands on the footy, finishing just outside the top 10 possession-getters in the latter stages of the VFL last year after getting on top of the depression that saw him sit out the first half of the season.
It’s a shame we won’t see Sydney father-son selection Tom Mitchell, who’s recovering from knee surgery, as the kid was a genuine DT demi-god at junior level. Keep him in mind for a downgrade once he gets his body right and, seeing it’s Sydney, earns his stripes in the seconds.
We will, however, be lucky enough to see how far St Kilda’s Tom Ledger ($163,200) has progressed from last year (by all reports, it’s quite a bit), and whether new teammate Seb Ross ($98,700) can continue the kind of form that saw him draw praise for an intra-club run-with role on Brendan Goddard.
Saturday, Feb 25 – Gold Coast/Melbourne/Brisbane
At 24 years of age, Kyal Horsley ($119,800) could add some experience, albeit at WAFL level, not AFL, to the Gold Coast midfield. He averaged 24 touches for Subiaco last year, but is rookie-listed so will need an upgrade before we see him in the season-proper.
Sunday, Feb 26 – Port Adelaide/Carlton/Adelaide
Of the three-way in SA, Port Adelaide first-round pick Chad Wingard ($157,200) looms as the one to watch, having completed his first AFL pre-season in which has been “taking it pretty easy, er, I mean, working really hard”.
I’m on the Twitter and trying hard not to break it. @ChookDT for all your rookie-related info.