2022 NAB League season preview: Oakleigh Chargers

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 Oakleigh Chargers.

Oakleigh is a region which has been no stranger to nurturing top-end talent over the last decade. Producing number one picks in 2019 and 2020, and two of the top four draftees in 2021, the Chargers are a NAB League powerhouse when it comes to getting those kind of results.

But as coach Jason Davenport explains, providing a pathway for talent outside of the bright lights of long-time prospect status or father-son eligibility is what truly sets up a region for success. Speaking at NAB League preseason testing, he outlined two players from last year’s crop as prime examples of a different path to the top.

“To see guys like Patrick Voss and Karl Worner get drafted, they’re the names that come to mind that give us a foundation moving forward for our future draftees to show there’s a different path for everyone,” he said.

“The way they applied themselves to their roles, Karl being a 19-year-old and Paddy being an academy member for GWS, it doesn’t always work out how you envision it but if you work hard enough and apply yourself there’s going to be an opportunity.

“We were really proud of those guys to get their opportunity, and also to see Ned Moyle go in the mid-season draft as a 19-year-old. We felt like off a really disrupted 2020 season, we did our best in the climate we were in, but we also took a lot of learnings out of it and we’re looking to implement them in our program this year and beyond.”

With the support and advice of AFL clubs, Oakleigh’s squad will again feature some 19-year-old talent looking for an extended run to prove their wares. With limited opportunities over the last two seasons, Davenport is hopeful the Chargers have another Worner-type story in their midst.

“The challenge of years prior for those 19-year-olds has been the limited opportunities to play and so we have to be conscious of how high our number of 19-year-olds is,” he said. “But we also want to make sure that we’re bringing in athletes past their draft year that are still on the radar for AFL clubs. Karl Worner is a great example of that for us, the opportunity to get some synergy and some games last year proved that he was deserving of an AFL spot.”

But like Nick Daicos and Sam Darcy were in 2021, Oakleigh has some genuine main event talent ready to be unleashed. Davenport, who also coaches the Vic Metro Under 18 squad, has a whopping eight Metro hub members at his disposal this year – including four who also made the AFL Academy intake. Among them, Elijah Tsatas and George Wardlaw are top pick contenders at this early stage.

Tall utility Matthew Jefferson also made the National Academy, along with the dynamic Luke Teal. Rounding out the Vic Metro crew are Blake Drury, Will Elliott, Nick McLarty and Hudson O’Keeffe. There are some family ties among them, with Elliott the son of former Australian test opener, Matthew, while McLarty’s brother Sam graduated from the Chargers program in 2016.

With a good mix of key position gems who can play at either end of the ground, midfielders, and utilities, Davenport says Oakleigh’s high-end talent will fit seamlessly into the structures of representative football.

“There’s got to be an element of balance in making sure the players in the squad are going to be able to play in their strongest positions and to their strengths,” he said. “There’s definitely a component of Oakleigh Chargers that fit into that, but also structurally it’s very deliberate. We ended up with two or three mids, a couple of rucks, a couple of forwards, a couple of backs, so we are quite dispersed across the ground in the Metro squad.

“We’ve got a number of guys that are desperate to put their hand up, particularly in that first month, to force their way into that Metro squad as well… so we’re really excited to get back into games and hopefully get some continuity throughout the season.”

Speaking on the Chargers’ four National Academy guns, Davenport said the quartet had “worked their tails off” to earn the honour. Along with the prestige comes the opportunity to spend time training at an AFL club over the summer – something which has helped lift the standards back at Oakleigh.

“First and foremost, those boys deserve the opportunity,” Davenport said. “They’re very humble with their approach but they really do apply themselves to put their best foot forward. The experience with AFL clubs is priceless and often they leave that experience even more determined, because the environment they’re entrenched in for that week is what they want to do and where they want to be in the short term.

“The one thing with our boys I’ve been really happy with is they quickly learned that in order for them to improve, the standards need to be set really high during training sessions, and that starts with your core group of leaders. If they’re applying themselves at a high level and utilising every opportunity to get better, player 40 on the list really has to keep up or they get left behind.”

Like last year, Oakleigh’s squad comes with some club-tied intrigue. Much of it will be directed unto the Davey twins – Alwyn Jnr and Jayden – who are eligible to nominate as Essendon father-son candidates. Both have spent time in the Bombers’ James Hird Academy and undertook a ripping preseason.

Unfortunately, Jayden suffered a long-term knee injury which will see him miss his top-age season. Despite the hard luck, Davenport says he could not “be more proud” of how both players have gone about improving prior to season proper.

“Both of them obviously had opportunities with Essendon to see what it was like at the next level and they were all in,” he said. “I guess it’s almost an additional devastation to Jayden short-term, because of how much hard work he had put in.

“The important thing for him is that he’s proven he is capable of getting himself into a really strong position physically where he’s in a confident enough headspace to perform… he’s already been able to establish that if he applies himself, what he’s capable of in a quick turnaround to prepare himself to play AFL footy, which he should be really encouraged by.

“For Alywn, the way he’s trained and particularly in our more competitive games, his agility and sense of space around him (is exciting)… he’s a beautiful kick of the footy, and he’s a beautiful kick because of his decision making ability. He’s organically one of those really exciting players, we can’t underestimate his toughness and competitive nature as well and he doesn’t take anything for granted that’s for sure.”

The Chargers are set to open their 2022 NAB League campaign on Sunday April 3 in a traditional Round 1 blockbuster against Sandringham Dragons. Bounce down is scheduled for 1:00pm at RSEA Park in Moorabbin.

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