A couple of sick kids – one that I’ll likely sell off in six weeks or so and another that’s more of a season-keeper – have trashed my best-laid plans for this week’s Rookies On The Radar article. After watching GWS defender Sam Darley in person last weekend, I had planned to wax lyrical about the uncontested +6s the talented teen was hoovering up in the back pocket of Aurora Stadium. Then came a mid-week tweet about a trip to hospital, followed by his absence from Kevin Sheedy’s team sheet, robbing me of the chance. I’d just switched focus, prepared to pump up Sam Kerridge or some other likely type, when Alex, my one-year-old son, fell crook. It’s not like I was seriously considering him for a spot in my DT just yet – he hasn’t been elevated – but it’s robbed me of some rookie research and writing time so you guys are getting Chook Lite today. Apologies, but it’ll leave me with more ammo for the all-important post-NAB round 4 write-up. Around the grounds we go, then.
Essendon v Sydney
As we get down to the business end of the pre-season merry-go-round, you can look at the omission of rookies from these round three NAB squads in two ways. Either they’ve blown their chance at a round-one berth and we won’t see them again until later in the season (or until this time next year), or the coaches are giving the kids a break before handing them a first-round debut. In Essendon’s case, I think the former is more likely. The fact that Elliott Kavanagh and his fellow first-year Bombers have been overlooked for the game against Sydney extinguishes their chances of being smokies to start the season. The only rookie-priced player in the Bombers team is 19-year-old defender Luke Davis ($104,200 defender), who wasn’t a huge ball-winner at junior level and that didn’t change during his VFL season at Bendigo last year.
For the Swans, Harry Cunningham ($85,800 mid) is getting another run after scoring 56 points in about two-thirds game time last week. While it’d be a nice story if Cunningham debuted against GWS in round one after the Giants overlooked him (Cunningham played some footy with GWS last year but was let slip until pick 93 in last year’s rookie draft before Sydney snapped him up), it’s more likely we’ll see him make his first appearance later in the year.
Adelaide v Collingwood
Sam Kerridge ($98,700 mid-fwd) and Josh Jenkins ($104,200 ruck) are the most DT-relevant rookie inclusions in the Adelaide line-up, while Luke Brown’s continued absence puts to bed any hopes we had of making him our cheap-as-chips link between the backline and midfield this season. Kerridge impressed with 58 points in half a game against Brisbane last week (he started as the sub) and Jenkins was serviceable too, but will need an injury to Jacobs, you’d think, to have any real impact this season.
Marty Clarke ($140-something defender, [Lazy, I know, but I said it was Chook Lite!]) gets the chance to reclaim a spot as our D7 after interest in the Irishman plummeted through February. Heading in the opposite direction is Peter Yagmoor ($98,700 defender), another contender for the spot left vacant by Leon Davis. An impressive performance by either could give them the edge in this race, although Simon Buckley will presumably get a look-in also. I’m rooting for Yagmoor.
Geelong v Richmond
Orren Stephenson ($98,700 ruck) is yet to live up to the hype surrounding his recruitment to the Cattery, although, to be fair, the DT community probably set that bar a little high. He gets another chance here. Speaking of hype, there’s been a lot of love for Simon Hogan ($133,600 midfielder) following consecutive high-scoring outings for Geelong this pre-season. As I’ve said previously, he ticks a lot of boxes but there’re some question marks over his disposal. Hopefully that’s not the excuse that the Cats selection committee use to hand Cameron Ling’s spot to Taylor Hunt instead. Priced a little higher than Hogan but, critically, listed as a defender, is Cameron Guthrie ($150,400), another Cat who’s had a prolific pre-season and could be worth a look if he can squeeze into Geelong’s first-round team. At the other end of the ground, George Horlin-Smith ($104,200 forward) has been named again, while Billie Smedts ($104,200), a rare forward-defender for DT purposes, returns to push his case for round-one selection after missing last weekend.
Richmond looks set to play an aggressive role in our Dream Team defences this year, but exactly which Tigers to pick remains unclear. First-year recruits Steven Morris ($104,200 defender) and Brandon Ellis ($116,700 defender) appeared to be battling for a spot in the Richmond rear-guard before Jeromey Webberley ($110,800 defender), drafted in 2009, re-entered to muddy an already hazy picture. It’s been said that an amalgam of Morris and Ellis – Morris defensive abilities and attack on the ball combined with Ellis’ elite kicking skills – would create a player perfectly suited to Richmond’s needs, but only the crap-kicking half of that combo gets a guernsey this week. I’m near-certain one of these three will fill a space on my backline bench at the beginning of the season, but I won’t be deciding which one until the final moments of that first partial lock-out.
Port Adelaide v Fremantle
Port are doing the right thing by us rookie hunters and auditioning a few kids for our Dream Teams again this week, but let’s face it, they don’t have much choice. Chad Wingard ($157,200 midfielder) enhanced his reputation with 30 points in a half against West Coast last week but his high price and the quality rookies in the same bracket made it hard to offer him a contract. Firm job security could be his saving grace. Mature-ager Darren Pfeiffer ($117,800) put his name forward with a more-than-handy 74 in his most recent outing, not forgetting of course that he holds dual-position eligibility between the midfield and forward lines. Perhaps even more impressive, however, was the performance of ruckman Jarrad Redden ($104,200), who racked up 84 points against DT royalty in Dean Cox. Those running with three rookie ruckman will have Redden ahead of Rowe, Witt and Derickx on the back of that match alone.
I don’t know about you, but I’d like a fistful of rookie defenders to choose from, not the lonesome few currently about the place. That’s why I’m hoping Lee Spurr ($107,800 defender) puts in a blinder for new coach Ross Lyon. His 46 points in a half last week wouldn’t of hurt. It’s more likely, though, that Lachie Neale ($98,700 midfielder) will be there in round one after a string of successful pre-season performances.
Brisbane Lions v Carlton
Brisbane’s Elliot Yeo ($98,700 midfield) is probably the only slightly DT-relevant rookie here after Carlton’s Sam Rowe ($98,700 forward-ruck) lost the right to claim that title following his own poor showing and Redden’s stand-out effort. Yeo scored just 42 in a full game last week, which doesn’t cut the mustard when you’re competing for a spot with the likes of Magner and Hogan. After a measly three points in Carlton’s last pre-season game, Rowe will only be a consideration for those wanting to make use of his DPP status. No, the best rookie news to come out of this match would be an update on the fitness of fellow DPPs Dayne Zorko and Sam Docherty.
Gold Coast v Greater Western Sydney
What should be a veritable gold mine of rookie goodness has been weakened somewhat by the absence of GWS kids Sam Darley, Devon Smith, Stephen Cognilio, Adam Treloar and Dylan Shiel, and Gold Coast youngster Aaron Hall. Smith deserves a rest after plundering a DT century from the wide wings of Aurora Stadium last week, but we’d to love to see an end to the injury-enforced lay-offs currently being endured by potential DT money-makers Treloar and Shiel. It’s entirely possible we’ll be faced with the proposition of picking the two newly 19-year-olds without any NAB Cup appearances to use as a form guide. Of those that are playing tomorrow, keep an eye on, well, everyone, but in particular Calvin’s new favourite Tommy Bugg and Warnie’s old mate Tim Mohr for your backline, midfielders Steve Clifton, Anthony Miles, Dom Tyson and James McDonald, as well as dual-position mid-forward Curtly Hampton and, of course, ruckman Jon Giles, who will once again shoulder the bulk of the ruck duties in the absence of Dean Brogan.
Melbourne v Hawthorn
Another injury to Jack Grimes and a round-one suspension to Colin Sylvia (not to mention inconsistent scoring) looked to have condemned Melbourne to DT irrelevance this season, but rookie pair James Magner and Tom Couch can change all that, hopefully. Magner ($85,800 midfielder), the 24-year-old who led the VFL in the possession column last year, has been getting all the attention with team-topping scores in his pre-season encounters, but Couch (also $85,800) has his admirers (most notably in Fanfooty’s fearless leader m0nty), following his own solid contributions and he has mid-forward eligibility to boot. They’ll both need to be elevated off the club’s rookie list, but there’s room to do so if new coach Mark Neeld sees fit.
There’s no room for rookie-priced players of much note in the Hawthorn team following the return of Franklin, Mitchell and Rioli, and the season-ending injury to potential mid-season downgrade target Alex Woodward.
West Coast v St Kilda
The West Coast-St Kilda clash features a bunch of young blokes who are not necessarily new faces but come at a rookie price nonetheless. The Eagles have Koby Stevens ($104,200 midfielder) and Gerrick Weedon ($104,200 forward) pushing for a place in their line-up and ours, while we’re hoping the Saints can find room for Tom Ledger ($163,200 midfielder), Jamie Cripps ($174,400 forward) and Beau Wilkes ($98,700 defender). Stevens disappointed in the first weekend of mini-games that kick-started the NAB Cup before finding his feet with 77 points against Port Adelaide last week. Weedon went the other way, notching just 44 against the Power but impressing in the NAB’s opening round. Ledger, Cripps and Wilkes were infamously denied a hit-out against another AFL club last week. Genuine rookie Terry Milera ($115,800 forward) is named this week, although it might be the last we see of him in the short term, with Ahmed Saad (also a $115,800 forward) seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order, injuries permitting. The Milera-Saad situation will need some monitoring, with Saad not playing this week.
North Melbourne v Western Bulldogs
Don’t lock down that midfield until Sunday, when Sam Gibson ($85,800 midfielder) and Clay Smith ($107,700 midfielder), the last of the rookies vying for a spot, audition in the North Melbourne-Western Bulldogs game. Gibson was considered a lock after the first week of pre-season games, but interested has cooled thanks to the emergence of Magner and co, as well as Gibson’s slightly less productive showing as a second-half sub last week. Don’t be too deterred; still strongly consider if named in the Kangaroos’ round-one team. Smith is a similar proposition. After scoring 48 points in the first half of the Bulldogs’ narrow win against the Blues, have little fear in picking this hard-at-it midfielder if he wins an early debut in the season-proper. Tory Dickson ($98,700 forward) was another youngster who impressed for the Bulldogs last weekend, nabbing 37 points in the second half.
Talk up anyone you’re keen on and anyone I’ve missed (unless you’re saving them for yourself!) in the comments or take pot shots at me on twitter (@ChookDT).