THE Victorian Under 23 Young Guns showcase returned on Saturday, with the Country and Metro squads locking horns at Avalon Airport Oval in Werribee. Metro ran out convincing 61-point victors, as players staked their claims for mid-season draft selection. The teams, which featured 48 NAB League products and no player over the age of 20, were essentially hand-picked by recruiters and provide an insight into just who may be on the draft radar. We take you through the top performers in our Scouting Notes, which are the opinion of the individual.
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By: Michael Alvaro
#1 Sam Conforti (Bendigo Pioneers) 15/03/2002 | 173cm | 74kg
One who looks to have gained a great deal of confidence through recent VFL exposure with Essendon, Conforti had the ball on a string during the early stages. Part of a relatively small Country midfield, the Bendigo Pioneers product was as busy as anyone around the ball and went about accumulating plenty of disposals during the first half. He proved difficult to catch as a slippery kind of mover who was constantly in motion, using his work rate to zip up and down the ground and get involved in chains of possession. Conforti nearly troubled the scorers with a flying shot from long range during term three, and having that kind of impact with his many uses of the ball will be another step in his development. He was also co-captain on the day, and has held multiple leadership roles though the pathways.
#2 Charlie Ham (Geelong Falcons) 11/11/2002 | 180cm | 74kg
Ham was part of Country’s under-siege defensive unit during the first half, but arguably did his best work when rotating into midfield after the main break. He looked to generate a bit of run on the rebound from half-back, but was met with heavy pressure which only cramped his style. When thrown into the centre bounces, Ham was able to compete at ground level and mopped up well with his clean hands. On one occasion, he dropped a mark in the back half but remained composed enough to sweep up quickly before dishing off to a runner. He made up for the previous missed mark in term four when the ball was wet, juggling an overhead attempt nicely.
#3 Kobi George (Dandenong Stingrays) 19/04/2002 | 182cm | 74kg
Having been overlooked as a Melbourne Next Generation Academy (NGA) prospect last year, George has been able to showcase glimpses of his best traits in 2021. They all came to the fore in this outing, as the Dandenong Stingrays speedster provided great spark with his run-and-gun style. Even in precarious positions, George constantly looked to take the game and his opponents on with exciting dash from the back half, gaining good meterage before delivering by foot. Some of his disposals came off a touch wobbly at full tilt, though the 19-year-old was able to correct as the conditions got tougher. He is not always a huge accumulator of possessions, but had enough on this occasion to make a real impact and catch the eye. Unfortunately, George was helped off the ground in the final term, appearing quite proppy.
#5 Patrick Parnell (Murray Bushrangers) 4/03/2002 | 178cm | 60kg
There may not be much of the diminutive Murray Bushrangers defender, but it hardly mattered as Parnell went about his business with typical assuredness from defence. His turn of speed and willingness to move the ball on quickly from defensive 50 was an early feature, capped by terrific decision making. With most things happening at speed, Parnell was able to execute his skills with aplomb, including one particularly memorable inboard kick across his body to hit a target at half-back during term one. The 19-year-old is a very neat kind of player who is reliable in tough situations and seems to understand the game well. He impressed with his spurts of possession, but has plenty of size to put on.
#7 Will Bravo (Dandenong Stingrays) 6/05/2002 | 181cm | 77kg
The worsened conditions after half-time suited a player of Bravo’s style more than most, as he worked to compete for ground level possession and drive the ball forward in strong bursts. As one of Country’s starting midfielders, Bravo was up against it given Metro’s size and strength in the engine room, though he was not afraid to get stuck in at the coalface and got first hands to the ball a few times. He also showed a bit when afforded more space, using his pace to generate momentum moving forward and chaining possessions in those thrusts. The 19-year-old also applied solid defensive pressure and got his hands dirty in a tackling sense, but can look to add polish with his disposal.
#11 Will Papley (Gippsland Power) 26/11/2002 | 178cm | 78kg
Constantly compared to his elder brother, Tom given their uncanny resemblance in style and mannerisms, Papley remains an exciting player in his own right. Starting in his familiar forward post, the 178cm prospect presented nicely on the lead and showed handy forward craft when looking to work his opponents under the ball. He had three set shots on goal during the first half but could not quite make up the 40-plus metre distance from relatively tough angles. On two occasions, those attempts led to scoring shots nonetheless. The 18-year-old would later transfer his defensive pressure to the midfield as he was shifted after half time, but arguably looked most at home inside forward 50. With good smarts and the competitiveness his pedigree would suggest, Papley can certainly make things happen.
#12 Noah Gribble (Geelong Falcons) 8/07/2002 | 180cm | 79kg
The Country co-captain accumulated possessions in a manner which we have now come to expect, working hard both ways from his usual wing position. On a deck which he would be familiar with having trained with Werribee’s VFL side, Gribble read the flow of play nicely and got on his bike to get to position wherever the ball was about to be. He was also a viable option off the centre bounces, able to receive just outside the contest and attempt to continue the chain for his side. The Geelong Falcons top-ager also found the goals in term two thanks to a very generous Caleb Ernst handball, finishing easily from about 25 metres out. Gribble would continue to rack up possessions and while he could be more damaging in his disposal or neater under pressure, he showed nice composure in one instance to weave and hit a short kick at half-back in the final quarter.
#22 Caleb Ernst (Bendigo Pioneers) 12/10/2002 | 194cm | 91kg
Ernst consistently looked like the most dangerous key position player for Country, presenting beautifully up forward and finishing as his side’s sole multiple goalkicker. He took advantage of the dry ball early on with a couple of terrific overhead marks; one coming from the back of a two-on-two contest on the wing, and the other a strong pack grab in the goalsquare, which resulted his first goal. Ernst would continue to present nicely and gained good separation with his combination of strength and athleticism. His finishing was the only issue at times, and a hand-off to Noah Gribble in the second term may have highlighted his wavering confidence in that area. Nonetheless, the Bendigo Pioneers tall went on to showcase his versatility by pinch-hitting in the ruck and even attending centre bounces during term four, in which he added his second major from close to the big sticks.
#23 Mutaz El Nour (Northern Bullants VFL) 14/08/2001 | 192cm | 83kg
Somewhat a surprise packet on the day, El Nour was ultra impressive in Country’s backline. The Western Bulldogs NGA graduate proved as consistent and reliable as anyone afield in his role, constantly getting into good positions to intercept before using the ball with wonderful composure on the rebound. His short kicking game was sound, as was his decision making by hand when working out of tight spots. The VFL-listed talent also made smart runs to receive and relieve others of pressure, working the percentages well as his side became increasingly besieged. El Nour was also able to use his height to compete aerially when needed, mostly bring the ball to ground or spoiling, but also taking a couple of nice intercept marks. Overall, he could well have been the player who looked most comfortable at the level, putting his name on the radar from seemingly nowhere.
Richmond VFL-listed prospect Sam Durham had his moments for Country, building nicely into the game from the wing. Dandenong Stingrays tall Bryce Milford started in defence but was later swung up forward, competing well at both ends. Murray’s Daniel Turner also played a key role down back with some super work and decision making under immense pressure. Jai Neal was another to show signs up forward, as did Aaron Gundry rotating there from the ruck. The likes of Jack Hickman and Charlie Byrne got their opportunities through midfield, as did Isaac Wareham having started in defence, but the going was tough for all.
By: Declan Reeve
#6 Corey Preston (Eastern Ranges) 18/12/2002 | 181cm | 77kg
Usually stationed as a small forward, Preston got to show his capabilities as a winger for essentially the entire contest. He took his time to work into the game as he was on the opposite side of the play or just couldn’t get a clean possession. When he started getting into it, it felt like he was impacting every time he was near it; causing turn overs with his pressure work, pushing down into defence to win it and get it forward, or handballing to central teammates. He did all he could to get the Metro side moving dangerously.
#7 Darby Hipwell (Sandringham Dragons) 15/08/2002 | 182cm | 82kg
One of the few who was consistent across the four quarters having run through midfield all game, Hipwell looked comfortable throughout even with the constant physicality – looking to have gained confidence from his games at VFL level with Sandringham Zebras. He was regularly the first possession winner around stoppages, where he’d so often look to handball out the back to a player in space, copping contact when required and standing strong in the tackles. He was a real lead by example sort, often looking for targets in the corridor and weighting his disposals well by foot.
#9 Joel Trudgeon (Northern Knights) 13/08/2002 | 186cm | 86kg
Spent the first half working into the game, spending time in the forwardline where his hard work at ground level and aggression on opponents got him opportunities to set up goals, where he’d put the ball in the right spot for a teammate to run onto. It was the second half when he was given more midfield time that he came to life and showed his skill at ground level. Even with oncoming pressure, he’d hold his composure and win the contested ball, following up with a handball to a teammate and then running hard to get it back or apply a shepherd to allow them to run through without pressure.
#10 Charlie McKay (Sandringham Dragons) 9/08/2002 | 186cm | 83kg
The Carlton father-son prospect spent the first half of the game as a defender, where he positioned well in marking contests to take quite a few intercept marks, either waiting for the ball out the back of a contest or even taking contested grabs further up the ground. The second half saw him move to the midfield for an extended period, where he looked extremely comfortable in and under the contest, and his prowess as a clearance winner came to the fore.
#15 Sam Clohesy (Calder Cannons) 12/12/2002 | 189cm | 72kg
Got more and more of the ball as the game went on, seemingly building in confidence with each successful disposal. Played well when he was in the high half-forward sort of role, providing an option as a link up player in transition where his long and penetrating kick would open up the Metro forward 50 and result in a shot on goal. Showed some good pace at times as well, mixed with a little bit of agility to get around opponents and then release the ball.
#17 Luke Cleary (Sandringham Dragons) 5/03/2002 | 189cm | 80kg
Far from the best day to be showing off your skillset as a defender for Metro, Cleary still managed to pop up and have his nice moments throughout the game. Positioned well behind the play in a similar fashion to the other Metro defenders, Cleary was not afraid to push up the ground when the ball was inside his teams’s forward 50 to jump on any long rebounding kick. This positioning got him a few intercept marks, one in particular impressed in the third quarter, where he ran back with the flight of the ball and took it on the chest in front of a pack in the goal square. He took some riskier kicks in the defensive 50, most of which paid off, where he’d look to move it out quickly straight through the corridor.
#19 Marc Massarotti (Eastern Ranges) 29/09/2002 | 191cm | 91kg
Despite being an undersized target up forward, Massarotti managed to impact all around the ground as he worked hard to win the ball or provide an option in the forward half. Had a really good moment early in the first quarter where he ran onto the ball that had been kicked over his head, cleanly picked it up, took a bounce and slotted Metro’s second goal, all while out-running three opponents. He also showed that despite his height he has some classic small forward traits, able to rove and crumb balls well in the second half in particular, to end the day with two goals.
#20 Cody Raak (Western Jets) 8/10/2002 | 192cm | 80kg
Coming into the game as one a well known name, the Western Bulldogs NGA prospect looked to be one of the more confident and comfortable players throughout the game. Started in his usual role in the defensive half as a safe pair of hands to chop off incoming Country bombs, where more often than not he’d look to switch the play or hit a central option after marking in an effort to get Metro moving in transition quickly. When Metro started to comfortably get on top in the second quarter, Raak pushed up to ground to do the same sorts of things, giving the Country defence no rest. Not content with a solid defensive display, Raak moved forward in the second half, where the aforementioned marking skill came out again, paired with some really good leading patterns that resulted in him finishing with two goals for the day
#21 Dominic Akuei (Northern Knights) 12/05/2002 | 192cm | 78kg
The Carlton NGA prospect was impressive in his first game not being a number one ruck. With Smith in the side, Akuei was given the freedom to ply his trade down in defence, where his elite leap and marking ability led to two particularly memorable moments. Both times, he got up on the shoulders of opponents to take the ball above his head. Perhaps seen as risky given he was in defensive 50 for both of these, it was an eye-catching display of confidence and skill. He moved the footy well by foot, delivering darting kicks to inside 45 options every time the opportunity presented itself. He then played mostly on a wing in the second half, where he looked comfortable with his positioning and ability to hold space, again utilising that marking a few times to hand Metro possession and move quickly.
#22 Samuel Paea (Calder Cannons) 14/07/2002 | 194cm | 94kg
Whilst not prolific in a ball winning sense, the tall forward impressed with his leap, burst of speed and leading patterns throughout the game. As Metro’s main target up forward, he constantly provided as an option and worked hard up the ground in an effort to work over his opponents. There was one particular mark inside 50 in the second quarter, where he wasn’t expecting his teammate to pass it off, but he reacted to the kick splendidly, hitting top speed after only a few steps and then leaping to take the ball at the highest point he could. Ended the day with two goals despite the second half providing poor conditions for a tall marking player.
#25 Riley Smith (Eastern Ranges) 31/07/2000 | 200cm | 104kg
The captain of the Metro side, and convincingly one of the better players of the game, Smith added his hat into the ring as another ruck option for the upcoming mid-season draft. In the absence of Ned Moyle (Collingwood VFL), Liam Podjashki (Preston Bullants VFL), Jacob Edwards and Max Heath (not selected), Smith took the opportunity as the main ruck to prove that he is one of the most physically ready rucks in Victoria outside of the AFL. He used his strength to get front position in the ruck contest, pushing his opponent aside as he tapped the ball well for his midfielders. Also showed some neat skills in the game, with one particular kick, where he moved it from the wing to the middle of the forward 50 mark, evading an opponent in the process, proving this well.
Small forwards Eren Soylemez and Harrison White were good at ground level all game, showing some nice bits of speed and agility on their way to two goals each. Lachlan Riley was particularly prolific early on in the midfield, before moving into the backline and looking solid the few times it came down to him. Logan Young wasn’t necessarily a major ball winner, but was clean with his hands and foot skills when called upon and looked comfortable playing in defence.
FINAL SCORES: COUNTRY 2.0 | 3.3 | 3.3 | 5.6 (36)
METRO 4.1 | 10.4 | 13.9 | 14.13 (97)
Country: C. Ernst 2, X. Mitchell, N. Gribble, I. Wareham
Metro: E. Soylemez 2, M. Massarotti 2, H. White 2, S. Paea 2, C. Raak 2, J. Arundell, L. Riley, R. Smith, D. Hipwell
Country: D. Hipwell, R. Smith, S. Clohesy, C. McKay, C. Preston
Metro: C. Ernst, M. El Nour, K. George, W. Papley, N. Gribble