Player focus: Jaidyn Stephenson

JAIDYN Stephenson emerged as one to watch during the 2015 TAC Cup finals series as a 16-year old. Now, he’s an out-and-out star with a unique mix of traits that make him one of the most exciting prospects in this year’s draft cohort.

While he’s massively boosted his midfield minutes, Stephenson looks most at home inside the forward-50 where he can win games off his own boot and work his magic around goals. At 189cm and with a sub-three second 20m sprint time, Stephenson is dangerous both in the air and at ground level, making him a complete forward.

This year in particular has seen Stephenson juggle both roles though, and his average of 23.2 disposals and a goal per TAC Cup game indicate that he’s doing so quite easily. He’s one of those players who is capable of a fabled ’30 and 3’ game, and he almost did so in his crowning performance to date – 28 disposals and 5 goals against South Australia in this year’s National Championships.

Quarter by Quarter:

Stephenson started the game as a deep-lying forward and look ominous in the opening exchanges, hinting that this may have been his game to rip open. His eight first-quarter disposals as a makeshift full forward backed that notion up, but it didn’t quite pan out that way.

Stephenson’s lone goal came during Eastern’s early onslaught as he bagged their third unanswered major to start the game. It was a clever snap in the left forward pocket that he wrapped around his Dandenong opponent after a deft quick-step, putting it straight through the middle. TAC Cup Radio’s Phil Crooks claimed it as an early shout for the AFL Draft Central goal of the day, but snaps like that have come to be Stephenson’s bread and butter.

He was dangerous in almost all the many times the ball entered Eastern’s 50 as he played behind his defender and looked to get a good run at the footy in the air. While it made intercept marking easier, this tactic allowed Stephenson to show off his aerial prowess and bring the ball to ground for his teammates. His follow-up work was superb too, and he willed his way through traffic at times to dart out handballs in dangerous areas.

His good form somewhat slowed in the second quarter despite being thrown into the middle, attending the first centre bounce of the term. He still managed to stand out in a couple of plays; the first being a gut-busting chase on Luke Davies-Uniacke through the middle of the ground, and the second being a nice mark up forward with some heat on him.

He also shrugged off a couple of opponents well and dished out a couple of fend-offs, showing off the bit of swagger he’s gained on the field. He tended to hang about a kick off the ball alongside Sam Hayes, but looked a bit lost as he drifted in and of the game.

The third term again saw Stephenson start in the middle, this time on the possible no.1 pick Davies-Uniake. It was his best term in terms of disposal output, but he didn’t have the desired effect on the game as Dandenong slowly crept back into the contest.

His field kicking throughout the year has posed a slight question mark over his credentials – going at 49% efficiency – and he had a couple of clangers late on. His six clearances and five inside-50’s somewhat accounted for that on the day, but there were times where he could’ve lowered his eyes.

The final term wasn’t a good one for the Ranges, and Stephenson was no different. His side were overrun in the midfield and he could do little to stop their onslaught. It goes to show how vital his output is for his side and how effective he is when in full flight.

Overall it was a soild shift from Stephenson with some extended midfield time, providing some much-needed zip and grunt throughout the day. At this stage, it looks like Stephenson will be a top 10 selection – and may even find himself pushing inside the top five – after his strong form post the NAB AFL Under 18 Championships.

Final Stats:

30 disposals
19 kicks
11 handballs
50% efficiency
11 tackles
6 clearances
5 marks
1 goal

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