2022 NAB League season preview: Murray Bushrangers

THE 2022 NAB League Boys season is set to kick off at the start of April, with genuine excitement surrounding the latest crop of AFL Draft prospects. The 13 full-time regions are again set to compete in Australia’s most prolific talent pathway, and we preview each squad as season proper approaches. Next up, the Murray Bushrangers.

With six 19-year-old prospects returning, four players tied to the Vic Country talent hub, one in the AFL Academy, and some set to link with the Allies, Murray talent operations lead Mick Wilson is hoping his region’s brightest prospects can earn the right amount of “exposure” in 2022.

The Bushies had a total of seven players drafted from their program in 2021, a result Wilson says was “quite pleasing”. Now, there is a bunch of fresh and returning talent looking to follow in those footsteps and reach the top level via the NAB League.

Of the six returning, 19th-year talents are a couple of talls. Wilson identified 2003-born Toby Murray and Fletcher Hart as a couple to watch this coming season, with tall timber a key theme in Murray’s squad. They are two of seven players over 199cm.

“We’ve got six 19s on our list for the boys, we’re pretty hopeful a couple of those kids might get some attention for the mid-season draft,” Wilson said. “Toby Murray is the brother of Sam and Nick at Adelaide, he’s had a really good preseason so fingers crossed he starts well.

“We’ve also got Fletcher Hart from Albury, he started off well last year but ended up suffering a fractured leg. He’s come back over the preseason and had a strong lead-up fitness wise and he’s looked really good in the trials.”

None of Murray’s over-agers are yet signed to or training with VFL clubs, but with good form in season proper Wilson hopes they can earn that opportunity towards higher honours.

After Josh Rachele was drafted within the top 10 via Murray and the AFL Academy, Oliver Hollands has made this year’s intake and will look to follow a similar path. The brother of Gold Coast’s Elijah, Hollands has been keeping busy in the off-season with cricket commitments and training at Geelong Grammar, where he boards.

“Ollie Hollands is based down at Geelong Grammar so we haven’t seen much of him, but we know he’s a top class player,” Wilson said. “Obviously it’s a huge achievement to be considered and selected in the (AFL Academy) program, so from that perspective it’s great news… whatever he engages in he’ll do it exceptionally well.”

Hollands is also one of four Bushrangers among this year’s Vic Country talent hub, having also represented the ‘Big V’ in last year’s Under 17 carnival. Wilson says the quartet is looking “really good”, with one particular talent standout out with his form on the track.

Brayden George has been a standout on the track,” Wilson said. “His fitness is elite, his speed and power – he’s broken all records in the gym with us. It’s been a pretty impressive start by Brayden. “Josh Tweedale is going really well… and Max Clohesy has also been training really well in preseason.

“We’re hoping with Brayden that he might get an opportunity to pinch-hit through the midfield. “Ollie is a very strong midfielder, he’ll probably just play there because we don’t actually get to see Ollie with the school games, so he’ll stay primarily mid.

“Josh (a ruck-forward) might also end up playing key back at some stage and Max will be playing through the midfield as well. “So, probably a little different to what they might be doing in their roles with Vic Country.”

With opportunities at a premium over the last couple of years, Wilson is also hopeful the region can uncover a couple of breakout candidates in 2022. Among them is yet another key position prospect, and a midfielder primed to feature on the inside.

“Outside the Vic Country crew, one player that we think have some draftable traits is Ryan Eyers, as a 19-year-old, Wilson said. “Last year he was in the Allies squad but unfortunately didn’t get any exposure there because of Covid. “But he’s had a really strong preseason as well so he’s looking good.

“We’ve also got Caleb Mitchell who’s an inside mid from Yarrawonga. “He’s had an outstanding preseason. Hopefully we’ll see him play some really good footy this year as well.”

Murray’s 2022 campaign begins on April 2 with an all-Country Round 1 match-up against Gippsland Power at the Linen House Centre in Seaford. The Bushrangers’ first regional game will be held in Lavington the week after, when they take on the GWS Giants Academy.

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