AFL Talent Ambassador Kevin Sheehan takes an in-depth look at some of the eye-catching performers from the NAB AFL Under-18 Championship games on the weekend.
Round 1 of the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships has been completed, with Vic Country remaining undefeated.
Country made it 2 from 2 with its commanding victory over the Allies by 97 points at UTAS Stadium in Launceston on Sunday while Western Australia inflicted Victoria Metro’s second defeat – this time by 17 points – at Lathlain Park on Saturday.
Vic Country’s co-captain and dynamic small forward/midfielder Caleb Serong was a real AFL Eye-Catcher with his second dominant performance in eight days, as his team overran the Allies. Crafty, clever and with one touch hands, Serong backed up his 22-disposal performance against Vic Metro with another 22 disposals, this time with 7 marks, 6 tackles and 3 goals as he spent more time up forward. He was again combative and clean – working hard and driving standards once again for his team which would have no doubt pleased his coach Leigh Brown.
Coming from Gippsland Power in the NAB League and learning his football initially at Warragul Football Club, Serong at 178 cm reminds me of a similar sized Power graduate, now starring with the Sydney Swans, in Tom Papley.
Serong, like Papley, has innate goal sense and reads the cues off hands and packs – they both have the footy smarts, are quick decision makers and courageous in their attack on the ball. Both are powerful kicks of the ball weighting it to their teammates advantage.
Serong plays tall for his height with his natural spring (Running Vertical Jump 89cm) elite among potential draftees and making him a real threat one-on-one up forward. His ability to powerfully change direction and get through traffic is reflected with his best AFL Agility score of 8.02 seconds – again in the elite bracket.
Serong’s impressive start to the Championships shouldn’t come as a surprise to AFL scouts after his 28 disposals in the AFL Under-17 ‘Futures’ game on the MCG AFL Grand Final day for “Team Bartel”, setting the ceiling high for 2019.
For the Allies its eye catcher was a Tasmanian, a lively wingman from North Hobart, Mitch O’Neill. Hampered somewhat by a few niggling injuries in the first part of the year for the Tasmanian Devils, O’Neill returned to somewhere near his best with a team high 26 disposals (16 kicks and 10 handballs) 8 marks and 7 handball receives to be his team’s best player.
O’Neill’s step through traffic, his penetrating right foot along with his preparedness to run to outnumber and support his teammates were features of his play. He has some of the traits of Western Bulldogs midfielder Lachie Hunter – he can play outside or inside and is a smart reader of the game.
O’Neill was one of several Allies to taste the intensity of Division 1 championship football last year where he was rewarded with All-Australian selection – his challenge is to main his strong start, set high standards for his teammates and continue to provide great run and carry for his coach Luke Power.
In Perth on Saturday, again it was a captain leading the way for the winning team when Western Australia’s Deven Robertson was the player putting in the eye-catching performance with his 31 disposals through the midfield, playing a pivotal role in setting up the Sandgropers 17-point win over Vic Metro.
Robertson was the energizer and connector right from the start. His selflessness and team orientation were apparent as he dished off 24 well weighted handpasses setting up his teammates at centre bounces and around stoppages. He comes from great West Australian footballing stock with his uncle being former West Coast Eagles captain Darren Glass. Always demonstrative and passionate, Robertson competed aggressively and continued to be a prolific ball winner at under aged level for WA after winning their MVP 2 years ago when his team won the NAB AFL Under-16 Championships. Can Western Australia do it again?
Among Vic Metro’s best and a further eye-catcher was its versatile tall in Josh Worrell who showed us another dimension of his enormous potential. Starting on the wing at 194cm, Worrell pushed forward to become a marking target and ended up with 18 disposals, 6 marks (including 2 contested) and 4 goals as his versatility came to the fore.
Strong in the air and a neat set shot for goal, on his preferred left foot, Worrell backed up his solid performance down back in the opening game against Vic Country to be one of his sides best players.
This weekend at Optus Stadium in Perth, South Australia enters the fray for the first time this year against a confident Western Australia at home with the two Victorian teams and the Allies having a well-earned rest.