2022 NAB League season preview: Western Jets

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 Western Jets.

Setting a steep standard at the Jets this year has been the high-flying girls program, which finished top of the Metro standings on the back of a historic winning streak. As the boys approach Round 1, Western talent operations lead Luke Williams has been pleased with the connection his region has shown thus far.

“The boys have been particularly supportive from the girls’ program, that’s one of the things I’ve noticed each year,” Williams said. “It gets better and better with the connection between both programs. There’s definitely been a lot of support for them at games with the boys players and staff rocking up and helping out. I guess there’s a little bit of that momentum that hopefully carries over.

While the girls’ lofty feats will be difficult for any region to match, Williams maintains that regardless of results, the Jets have a set mantra which has allowed many players to get the best out of themselves. With a familiarly even squad to pick from, he hopes that will again be the case in 2022.

“We have a set agenda and philosophy that winning is great, but our standard is to compete,” Williams said. “We give ourselves a chance to win within the parameters of then exposing all the talent that we possibly can, but the end result takes care of itself and we move on pretty quickly.

“What the girls have achieved this year is on the back of probably four seasons of players being around the place, doing preseasons and learning their craft. The structure of the boys is different and we don’t get that opportunity to bring players through and have them around for four or five years.

“So we have to approach it slightly differently, but having said that, our preferred model in our region is definitely to give players those opportunities when they’re young. There’ll be no hesitation in bringing young players into the team if they’re worthy and ready to go.”

Laying claim to arguably less top-end talent than other regions in the way of representative and academy recognition at this early stage, there is something which Williams says sets Western apart. It may not be tangible, but the Jets’ close knit culture count for a lot on-field.

“One thing we pride ourselves on, which is our point of difference to a lot of other regions, is we’re a close-knit group,” Williams said. “We saw that last year, the connection piece that everyone strives for we have an opportunity to really thrive on. We train together two or three times a week and everyone lives reasonably close together, so the boys hang out a bit together off the field and the bonds they create through the season are quite exciting.”

Looking at Western’s spread of talent, there will again be somewhat of a reliance on returning 19-year-olds to maintain standards and keep the side competitive in games. With their help, there are a few top and bottom-age prospects who should thrive with plenty of gametime under their belts.

“Our younger players haven’t had that level of exposure yet, so they’re still quite inexperienced even though they’re of draft age,”Williams said. “We will be relying on those 19-year-olds – Massimo D’Ambrosio, Jaelen Pavlidis and Tom Rowland – to create the foundation of the team and help create opportunities for the younger ones eventually.

“I think Jackson McMenamin is a (top-ager) who is going to create a bit of interest for AFL clubs. Based on his athletic traits – he’s a state high jumper, 195cm and is in our top five for the 2km time trial – he’s got a profile that would be interesting to track.

“In a similar vein we’ve got quite an exceptional sprinter in our team in Matthew Payne who plays a specific role as a small forward. He kicked three goals in a game for us last year and he’ll be one to track because he does have an elite quality that clubs are looking for.

“I think it’s representative of our region for a couple of years, we are pretty even. We saw it last year with Paul Curtis that he had the AFL traits but he was unproven at this time last season. We’re probably not too dissimilar now, we’ve got a few guys who hopefully if they can get some continuity in their games and perform well, they’ll give themselves a shot.”

As has been evidenced by the girls side, Western will look to employ an exciting style of play under coach Robbie Chancellor. With players “gravitating” to his method of coaching, Williams says Chancellor has been a “breath of fresh air” for the prospects looking to put their best foot forward, but more importantly, enjoy their footy.

“There’s a big level of buy-in to how he wants them to play,” Williams said. “From that point of view, it should be pretty clear what the Jets’ style is and we certainly want to be exciting when we’ve got the ball and move it reasonably quickly.

“At the same time, we acknowledge that we’re a development pathway and we’re here to teach the players some skillsets that perhaps they haven’t developed at local clubs that are expected at AFL clubs. They’ll understand their roles when they haven’t got the ball and will be expected to play that to keep their spot in the side.”

Western’s 2022 NAB League campaign kicks off on Sunday April 3, when the Jets take on the Brisbane Lions Academy at Highgate Recreation Reserve. On the same weekend, the girls team will kick off its finals campaign against the Eastern Ranges.

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