2022 NAB League season preview: Northern Knights

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 Northern Knights.

Lead by the philosophy of coach Leigh Clarke, Northern has been a region which looks to enhance the “superpowers” of its players. That theme is set to continue in 2022, as the Knights back up a successful draft haul which saw two graduates taken in the top 20, and five overall.

Holding his side to a high standard of effort and preparation seen in the likes of Josh Ward and Darcy Wilmot, Clarke says the example last year’s crop set is rubbing off on the current group having witnessed their journeys first hand.

“Those top boys did such a great job last year,” Clarke said. “They just prepared so high-end, they were all professionals. It’s that real life example that washes through the boys really well. On average we had a much older, more senior group last year because of our 19s spots, but you can see some continuance in what they built that’s for sure.”

With so much football lost over the last couple of years, the Knights have brought back a strong core of 19-year-old talent and are looking forward to unleashing them into a (hopefully) uninterrupted campaign. While many of them are talls, Clarke says the Knights will play a slightly different style to last year.

“We were probably a turnover team last year, we were happy to wait and turn the ball over in our back half with our really strong back six to eight,” he said. “I think this year we’ll be more competitive on the spread. Our ball movement will be quicker, potentially more by hand to get some energy on the ball.

“We’ve got Liam Kolar coming back as a 20-year-old, he’s got a limited offer until those futures games kick in, then that will be decision time for his pathway with us. “Patrick Dozzi and Anthony Caminiti are back. “(Caminiti) is returning from surgery on his ankle so that’s been a bit slow. “Big Sam Grant is still getting around too.

“Both those boys are just so new to our program so we’re really interested in just giving them some consistency again. “Owen Mulady comes back, he was a new kid to our program last year, he came over from South Australia. He’s looking at a slightly different role after playing wing last year, we’ll look to get him a little more inside and show some other traits off half-back.”

Despite the wealth of top and over-age talent in 2021, the Knights got some valuable game time into their 2004 and 2005-born prospects. This year, leading talents Darcy Edmends and Dane Harvey made the cut for Vic Metro hub selection. Both spend plenty of time on the wing, bringing traits similar to Josh Kelly and Nik Cox respectively.

There are a few more Northern prospects on the cusp too. Swingman Deacon Kalpakis and goalsneak Jason McCormick have their sights on breaking into the representative fold, while North Melbourne father-son candidate Cooper Harvey and Carlton Next Generation Academy member Aviela Choka are set to draw plenty of eyes.

Clarke outlined a few more to keep tabs on, as a greater length of preseason has allowed the region to better identify where players will prosper and develop ahead of season proper.

Jack Chubb is one who came in and kicked goals, we’re really excited about the new talent coming in,” he said. “There’s kids that we haven’t seen and young ones coming up like Nate Caddy who has a really strong set of hands on him. We’re pretty excited about Will Green, a young developing tall who comes from a cricket background as well.

“We’ve been pretty lucky this year, we’re probably better planned and have had a better line of sight now that we’ve had some intraclub and practice matches. We’ve been able to see players in positions where they’re able to develop and show their strengths.

“In Round 1 we hope the boys can be a bit more settled and enjoy their footy because they’ve missed so much… they’re jumping out of their skin to play.”

Northern begins its NAB League season on Saturday April 2 with a clash against the Sydney Swans Academy at Highgate Recreation Reserve. Clarke expects the Swans to come out “strong and physical”, but maintains his troops are “ready to bite down” in Round 1.

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