Versus – Round 13
Which future star do you pick this week?
Hi all. It’s just me (Tom) here today. I’ve chosen two young future stars to compare today, both of whom are very Fantasy relevant early on in their respective careers. Gold Coast’s Ben Ainsworth made his debut in round one and, after missing multiple weeks with a quad injury, returned to the senior side on the weekend. Carlton’s David Cuningham has hit the ground running since managing his third game earlier this year. They are awkwardly priced and not for everyone, but will continue to rise in price. Both have impressed early on in their careers, but which one is best? Heeney v Barlow and Zorko v Martin are also debated in short.
Ben Ainsworth (MID/FWD, $310,000) V David Cuningham (MID, $311,000)
Aisworth followed the traditional Victorian path into the AFL. Having emerged as a likely first round pick a year before he was draft eligible, Ainsworth never fell from those heights. Now he finds himself on the Gold Coast, along with fellow first rounders Jack Scrimshaw, Will Brodie and academy prospect Jack Bowes. But having already made his debut, Ainsworth could be the pick of the bunch.
Named skipper of TAC Cup side Gippsland Power, Ainsworth was a shining light for the country Victorian side as they finished the season mid-table with just one eventual draftee. Throughout his under age years, Ainsworth spent the majority of his time operating inside-50 as a small forward. However he also showed promise when pushing up into the midfield for Vic Country and Gippsland. Is his three Under-18 Championships matches for Country, Ainsworth contributed six goals whilst also averaging 12 touches, 3.7 marks and 1.7 tackles. He was also one of only about half a dozen draftees to average over 100 Fantasy points in the TAC Cup. These numbers prove he has Fantasy ability whilst playing a potentially limiting role.
But his 2016 year was not a smooth ride. After battling injury for many stages, Ainsworth let his emotions get the better of him in the Power’s clash with Calder. He was used to being targeted by opposition week in week out, but Cannons defender James Peters was doing a particularly annoying job of curbing his influence on this occasion. In an act of frustration, Benny lashed out at his opponent, sending him into the turf. After watching the footage captured by Champion Data, Ainsworth was rubbed out for four weeks. But to his credit, he finished the TAC Cup season off well and starred in the Nationals. In many ways this incident sums up the way Ainsworth plays his footy – with passion and resilience.
In terms of playing style, Ainsworth has been compared to Collingwood’s Jamie Elliott. He has a high leap (as was demonstrated by a 84cm running jump at the national combine) which, like Elliott, sees him often soar for a contested mark. And more often than not he manages to take the grab too. Ainsworth is also strong in one-on-one contests – an attribute now becoming a requirement for developing smalls. He also ran a very good 2.90 second 20-metre sprint.
Ainwsorth was drafted with the Suns at pick four and immediately shaped as a potential starter come round one. Rodney Eade did include him in the opening round one squad and Ben certainly looked at home. He kicked 2 goals, looking threatening when the ball was in the vicinity and his six tackles saw him score a very impressive 86 Fantasy points. He wasn’t as good the following week but still serviceable, putting up 56. The injuries frustratingly returned though, this time a quad issue, and sidelined him for 8 weeks. After suiting up for one match in the NEAFL, he returned to the senior side and recorded another solid 73, this time from 18 disposals, 4 tackles and a goal.
There aren’t many rookies who seem to find scoring fairly easy in their debut year. Despite playing just three matches, it’s clear that Ainsworth has elevated himself into the top echelon of rookies from a Fantasy perspective. His bye round is long gone and job-security will remain stable. Injury is a slight concern but FWD/MID DPP status could prove handy. He’s priced awkwardly at $310,000 but would you consider a downgrade from a guy like Sloane to upgrade other areas? A BE of 32 suggests his price will take off soon enough so this may be your last chance.
The 2015 draft will likely be regarded as a key aspect of the Carlton ‘rebuild’. All five National Draft selections are shaping as key pillars in the future Blues side. Their night started by selecting Jacob Weitering with pick one. That was no surprise and Jacob looks set to be a 200 game centre half-back. They then went with athletic key position prospect Harry McKay who will take time but the Blues will reap the rewards in a few years. In what was their third overall pick of the night, the Blues again picked a tall, this time Charlie Curnow. But David Cuningham was one of the more surprising calls of the draft and is the most recent recipient of a rising star nomination.
A midfielder who can play on the inside and outside, Cuningham is quick to spread from the stoppages, often evades tackles and has good vision in traffic. He spent the 2015 season playing TAC Cup footy for the Oakleigh Chargers and Victoria Metro during the mid-season national champs. Throughout the season he was a consistent figure in the midfield and occasionally across half-forward but never really dominated a match. This led to his performances being somewhat underrated by many draft watches.
In the past few years, being drafted by the Blues won’t kick-start your AFL career in a winning fashion. But one thing you are almost assured of is game time if you perform in the seconds. Carlton are in a position where they may as well blood the youngsters – and there’s no shortage of them. Although the results won’t always be positive, their club is at an exciting time and the victory over GWS is proof the next generation are ready and waiting. Cuningham broke through for three matches late in his debut season and earned his call up ahead of the round nine clash with Fremantle. His form in the VFL was inconsistent (some weeks he used the ball supremely well, others he struggled to hit a target) but he found plenty of the ball.
Cuningham managed 13 touches, 1 mark, 5 tackles and 51 points in the 35 point loss but it was the preceding week which really highlighted his Fantasy ability. He found it 15 times (11 kicks and 4 handballs), took five marks and most impressively laid seven tackles. Many youngsters score a large percentage of their Fantasy scores from tackles and his seven against North contributed to a score of 94. It was also pleasing to see him kick 2 goals when the heat was on. Further sweetening the figure was the fact Cuningham spent just 64% time on ground. Despite laying just one tackle on the weekend, he still managed to carve out a respectable score of 74 thanks to 19 disposals, 5 marks and 2 majors.
Put simply, Cuningham is another Blue with plenty of ability. His time on ground average of 73% is solid for a second year player and generally leads to more points. He joins a unique bunch of youngsters boasting relatively safe job-security and scoring ability. Was a little surprised to see him not start the year with FWD status but that may be added soon enough? Some would argue he’s not worth the risk at this price, but he should be considered at the very least as he will only improve with additional game time.
Verdict: This comparison was selected purely chosen because of the debate between which prospect is that better pick, but rather to inform coaches of two leading downgrade options. They both have steady job-security but the thing I like the most is that they have each managed two scores of above 70. If I had to choose one I’d probably lean towards Cuningham solely because of Ainsworth’s duels with injury.
Isaac Heeney (MID/FWD, $516,000) V Michael Barlow (MID/FWD, $546,000)
Verdict: I’ve seen this debate thrown around a bit on DTTalk and as much as I like Heeney as a player, Barlow is the best option in my book. Despite a change of scenery in the off-season, I didn’t expect him to be averaging as high as 95 by this stage of the year. Apart from round four against Carlton where he managed 44, albeit from 68% TOG (his lowest for the season so far), Barlow has been very consistent, mixing four tons with six scores of above 80. He finds more of the ball than Heeney and is the better pick if you’re prepared to fork out the extra $30k.
Dayne Zorko (MID, $653,000) V Dustin Martin (MID, $639,000)
Verdict: Remember the days where these two where dead set locks up forward. Good times. But they are both still scoring extremely highly and are amongst the leading midfielders in the AFL and Fantasy world. Martin has proven to have the higher ceiling of the two with scores of 139, 156, 133 and 164. With that being said, Zorko also has a tendency to go huge with three scores of over 130 and, interestingly, has hit the scoreboard in all bar one game (Dusty has failed to trouble the scorers twice). To be quite honest, you can’t go wrong with either heavy weights, but Zorko has more runs on the board so I’ll back him in.
Apologies for just the one main comparison this week, but hopefully it helped you gain greater knowledge of the two rookies. Rest assure Leighroy and I will be back next week for a regular instalment. Good luck in the final wave of byes coaches.