2022 NAB League season preview: Tasmania Devils

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 Tasmania Devils.

“Probably like every club”, Tasmania Devils coach Jeromey Webberley says his NAB League Boys side has enjoyed a strong preseason, which is set to extend a week further than the mainstay Victorian regions. The Devils’ 2022 campaign begins in Round 2, as they take on the Sydney Swans Academy on the mainland next Saturday.

It means some of the region’s top prospects have been able to get some Tasmanian State League (TSL) experience under their belts before the Under 18 competition gets going. With preseason formalities winding down, Webberley says his side is in a good place ahead of season proper.

“We feel like we’ve had a really good preseason, we’ve got our jumper presentation and leadership announcement this Saturday and I think it’s the second or third time we’ve been able to get the boys all together since post-Christmas,” he said. “We’ve had some good practice matches against really good opposition in senior men’s teams, so we feel like that’s going to hold us in good stead for next weekend.”

With such a high list turnover each year, such is the nature of talent pathway football, the current crop of Devils is going about finding its identity. A disrupted couple of years has not made that easy. But above all else, representing the Apple Isle in a league which supplies over half of each year’s draft pool is something the team will take great pride in.

“Every year you’ve got a new group, this group obviously had a really good Under 17s game last year but essentially haven’t been able to get together because of Covid over the last couple of years,” Webberley said. “So, it’s been about connecting the players and then discovering what our identity is… we want to be a close-knit team that defends really hard, plays really good Tasmanian footy, and represents our jumper with pride and respect.”

Having produced one draftee in 2021, captain Sam Banks, the Devils again have a standout prospect in their midst. Lachlan Cowan is the name to remember, having impressed enough as a bottom-ager to earn AFL Academy selection in 2022. Webberley says he is expecting “more of the same” from his star player.

“Obviously Lachie Cowan is one of our star players, he’s had a really good preseason,” Webberley said. “He played well in the practice matches, then he had a really good Round 1 performance in the TSL, so he’s one who comes to mind quickly.

“He was solid last year so we’re expecting the same type of thing this year. He’ll probably start the season off half-back to let him settle down there before we give him some inside mid time and expose him to some other areas of the ground. He’s obviously an outstanding player, reads the ball really well at half-back, he creates a lot of drive from there so we’ll look to continue that, especially at the start of the year and get him into some good form.”

Webberley went on to highlight a few more Tasmanian’s to watch over the coming season. Among them, Tom McCallum is an outstanding athlete who can play a variety of roles, while a couple of 19-year-old talents have also staked their claims as key players in the squad early on.

“Tom McCallum’s another one who’s had a really good preseason,” Webberley said. “Obviously the (strong) athletic profiles through preseason really stand out. Liam Jones has been really solid through the preseason as well, and was in some really good form in the practice matches thus far.

“We’ve got few (19-year-olds). Brandon Leary has been on the radar for a while, he’s a North Launceston player. He was going to engage in the Devils program at the back-end of last year except obviously Covid interrupted that but he’s come in this year and has some exceptional talent so we’re really excited about what he’s going to offer our team.

“He’s a small forward that’s got super leg speed and agility. He’s a great finisher and I think he’s going to provide many a highlight this year. Will Splann (pictured) is another that we’re excited about. Obviously he had a really good back-end of the year last year, he’s had some continuity with his body over the preseason so we’re looking for some pretty big things from him as well.”

Along with the likes of Cowan, McCallum, Leary and Splann, there are a few more Devils in line to earn Allies selection should they put the pieces together this season. Webberley identified North West product Seth Campbell as one, and 204cm ruck-forward Cameron Owen as another who could potentially rise to representative level. All will be revealed or proven on April 9, when the Devils finally hit the field.

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