2022 NAB League season preview: Calder Cannons
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 Calder Cannons.
Elite talent pathways are all about getting players drafted, and that is exactly what Calder did on two counts last year. Talent operations lead Matthew Burton was pleased with the result and prior to looking towards the season ahead, reflected on “the best part” of his job.
“It was a great result, in particular for the two boys that ended up going, Josh (Goater) and Zac (Taylor),” Burton said. “I think Zac was a bit of a steal where he went, we rated him really highly, and for Josh to go to his childhood club at North Melbourne was so exciting.
“We were just thrilled for both kids, they really deserved what they got in the end and it was really a really exciting night. It’s always great to see the kids live out their dreams and reach their potential and it sounds like they’ve both going really well at their respective clubs.”
With the Cannons’ latest NAB League campaign in their sights, Burton says the region has enjoyed its best preseason “in years”. Thought there are no AFL Academy members and only one Vic Metro hub member at this point, the club is very pleased with how the next batch of talent is coming along internally.
“Our staff have just been second to none, they’ve done an outstanding job in preparing our kids,” Burton said. “The coaches have done a really good job in nailing down some fundamental parts of training, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the kids and they’ve just been phenomenal.
“Their work ethic, their competitiveness, their cohesion. Sometimes it’s really hard to build culture in NAB League clubs because it’s ever-changing, but our boys are such a tight nit group and are working really hard to push each other and have a lot of fun.”
Calder’s standout prospect this year is Paul Pascu, a tough inside midfielder who cut his teeth across half-back in his debut season last year. Having also represented Vic Metro at Under 17 level in 2021, the top-ager is said to be “ticking all the boxes” ahead of Round 1.
“He’s had a fantastic preseason,” Burton said. “He’s such a fantastic kid, he’s a leader and a hard worker who sets the tone on the training track. We just can’t wait to see him play footy.
“He’ll probably play midfield for the first part of the year, to allow him to go to as many stoppages as possible. That’s his strength, so we want him to show what he’s capable of there. Throughout the year we’ll be flexible if there’s an opportunity or we get some feedback for Paul to play another position, we’ll be open to that.”
The Cannons had a couple of prospects perform well in the brief Under 17s season last year, arguably proving unlucky not to make the final cut for Vic Metro honours. In particular, Burton highlighted Declan Willmore and Caleb Burquest as two talents to keep an eye on as they push into their draft eligible campaigns.
“Declan Willmore is a kid who was trialled for the Metro 17s last year. He’s come back in sparkling condition, he’s really fit,” Burton said. “He’s a third forward, a hybrid forward that’s now given himself the opportunity to play in different positions.
“Caleb Burquest is another one who trialled for the Metro 17s. He’s had an outstanding preseason, he’s just such a footballer’s footballer. He’s tough, competitive, wins his own footy and he’s a hard runner.
“Probably a kid that’s going to come out of left field is one by the name of Will Hubik. He did his ACL 12 months ago and his rehab was unbelievable. He’s come back with weapons in his game he didn’t have previously so it’s just a credit to him how diligent he was through the last 12 months.”
On top of the emerging talent, there will be a solid bunch of returning faces and familiar names among the Cannons’ cohort. Calder is into double digits for 19-year-olds and club-aligned players, with some even ticking both boxes. Essendon fans in particular will have plenty of Next Generation Academy (NGA) and father-son talent to keep an eye on.
“We’ve got a few players that have stayed on, and a couple who’ve already signed on at VFL clubs which is great,” Burton said. “Flynn Gentile who was our captain last year signed on at Coburg with Harrison Andronaco who played small forward/mid for us last year, and Matthew Gook who was a developing ruck signed on at Williamstown so they’re all back.
“Dane Whitnall is returning as a Carlton father-son, he’s had a fantastic three years. He’s had a really good preseason again. So, we’ve got a crop of nine to 10 19-year-olds who’ve returned to have another crack but they’re a few who’ve stuck their heads out early in the piece.
“(Essendon NGA candidate) Matthew Foley is another kid that we rate really highly. He’s just a sensational kid, a hybrid defender that’s got goals to play in the midfield so we’re going to give him the opportunity to build his aerobic base to do that.
“Carlos Egan is another who’s exciting. I’ve said earlier that I reckon he’ll have a mark and a goal of the year nomination this year at some stage as that small forward. We’re just continuing to work with him on his areas he needs to improve. He can be mercurial but it’s just nailing down those fundamentals in the game.”
With another even crop and plenty of interest surrounding club-tied talent, Calder will be a region for fans to monitor in 2022. The Cannons open the NAB League season for a second time running, this time taking on the GWS Giants Academy at Highgate Recreation Reserve on April 2.