AFL Talent Ambassador Kevin Sheehan looks at the NAB AFL Under-16 Championships, that draw to a close in Queensland this week.
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For over 20 years now this Championship has been one of the most enjoyable AFL events on the scouting calendar. Nearly 200 of our nation’s finest 16-year-old prospects give us an immediate glimpse of the future! Untapped natural talent showing us a touch of their ability and potential – in no other series of matches do we see a pack of 6 to 8 players flying for a mark with not one looking to spoil!! Coaching and playing the percentages comes a little later and that’s a good thing. It’s normally exciting open football with players showing their natural flair and maybe dreaming realistically about the big time.
And there is good reason for the boys to dream. For over two decades an averaged of 45 players from these NAB AFL Under-16 Championships have gone on to make it onto AFL lists. Only three years ago Sam Walsh (Victoria Country) Jack Lukosius, Connor Rozee and Izak Rankine (all SA) Bailey Smith, Max and Ben King(all Victoria Metro), Tarryn Thomas and Chayce Jones (both Tasmania) along with Nick Blakey ( NSW/ACT) all played in the championships before becoming the top 10 in last years NAB AFL Draft. Already they are having a significant impact at AFL level and giving their clubs hope for the future.
But the Championships as far as the eight teams are concerned is to live the moment and go for one of the titles on offer. In Division one remarkably the most dominant team at Under-18 level, Victoria Metro, has not won an Under 16s title for 10 years!! It gets its chance to break the drought on Friday in Brisbane with a win over Western Australia needed to remain unbeaten and secure the Cup. In Division two, Queensland has been the most successful in the last decade with five title wins but it’s the unbeaten NSW/ACT who must overcome Tasmania to win its third cup in 10 years on Saturday. Both divisions are still up for grabs with multiple outcomes still possible.
At the end of next week, when the dust settles and after the selectors have reflected and reviewed the 12 matches played in different states on varying services (Southport was a challenge in the rain and mud) a team of All Australian Under 16s will be announced to recognise the high achievers of this Championship. They will be the first 23 players to win a place in the expanded Hubs of the NAB AFL Academy with camps under the national direction set to begin in December 2019. A further group of up to 25 players of under 16 age level from the Championships will also get an invite at season’s end to join that next NAB AFL Academy intake.
A few AFL Eye-Catchers for mine, from the NAB League clubs sure to be contenders for selection include Vic Metro’s Josh Sinn (Sandringham Dragons /East Brighton /Xavier College) and Tyler Sonsie (Eastern Ranges/Lysterfield/Rowville Sports Academy) who have performed impressively in both matches to date. Sinn, a 186cm left footer has the composure and ball use to impact the game at a high level and has averaged 18.5 disposals, 6 tackles and 3 clearances. Sonsie is a smart reader of the play and prolific ball winner averaging 24.5 disposals, 3.5 tackles and 3 clearances.
Others who have thrived in the championships from NAB League clubs include Vic Country’s onballers Joshua Rachele (Murray Bushrangers/Shepparton Swans/Notre Dame) and Ben Hobbs (GWV Rebels/Horsham/ Ballarat and Clarendon College). Rachele’s game in the challenging heavy conditions at Southport in Round 2 was outstanding, gathering 32 disposals and showing clean ball handing skills and gaining invaluable meterage for his team when it was needed. Hobbs’s courage, skill and work rate has seen him average 26 disposals, 5.5 marks, 5 tackles and 3.5 clearances to also be amongst his team’s best in narrow losses to Vic Metro and Western Australia. Our Tasmanian Devils NAB League team wouldn’t have been too surprised to see one of its own in Sam Banks performing well at Under 16s level after already playing 5 games for them as a double bottom aged player- a feat matching Tarryn Thomas in recent years. Banks has averaged 23.5 disposals at 78% efficiency and 7.5 marks and provided impressive leadership for his team given his experience.
We look forward to the climax to both divisions at the GABBA on Friday for Division one with Division two at Aspley on Saturday. We trust for the nearly 200 players involved in these Championships that it provides a launching pad to greater achievements in the AFL world in the years to come.