AFL U18s Player Focus: Mattaes Phillipou (South Australia)
ONE of the steepest-rising draft prospects across this year’s Under 18 National Championships has been Mattaes Phillipou. The Woodville-West Torrens product is an athletic midfielder forward who suits the hybrid mould, measuring up at over 190cm and adding a sense of dynamism to whichever side he turns out for.
Only eligible to be drafted this year by a matter of days, the 17-year-old has firmed from a first round contender to a lock, and is now poised to crack the top 10. With a clean set of hands, he wins plenty of the ball through midfield but can also mark high and hit the scoreboard, making him an all-round game changing threat.
While hampered for just about three quarters of his latest appearance for South Australia, Phillipou was one of his side’s most likely players when the game was still close, and produced more of the highlight reel moments we have come to expect. We put him under the Player Focus microscope this week.
SEASON SO FAR
Reserves – 2 games | 14.5 disposals (8.0 kicks, 6.5 handballs), 3.0 marks, 1.5 tackles, 1.5 clearances, 3.5 inside 50s, 0.5 goals (1 total)
Under 18s – 8 games | 28.0 disposals (17.5 kicks, 10.5 handballs), 6.6 marks, 5.1 tackles, 4.3 clearances, 7.0 inside 50s, 1.5 goals (12 total)
Spending most of his time as a shining light in Woodville-West Torrens’ Under 18 side, Phillipou has broken through twice for Reserves berths. His debut came in Round 2 after 23 touches and three goals in the junior grade, where he really came to life between Rounds 6 to 9. In that time, he averaged 33 disposals, 8.3 inside 50s, and 1.5 goals per his four games, which set him up well for representative duties. Across three outings in South Australian colours, he has been one of the state’s top performers as an impactful midfielder-forward, even despite being hampered in his latest effort.
2022 AFL Under 18 National Championships
Vic Metro 16.15 (111) def. South Australia 5.8 (38)
Arguably the best player afield until he went down with injury, Phillipou signalled his intent with nine disposals in the opening quarter. He spent the closing stages on the bench getting treatment on a lower back issue, which would hamper him for the rest of the game.
Nonetheless, he made an immediate impact starting on-ball and attending two of the term’s four centre bounces. The contest was hot early and Phillipou’s usually clean hands took some time to warm up, but proved polished as ever once some touch was achieved.
His first disposal came from an uncontested mark on the wing, but wasn’t his best effort as the left-foot kick was send straight into the lap of a Metro defender. His next few efforts by foot were much better, but his teammates let him down at times by spilling marks on the lead.
Phillipou also got involved at the contest but mostly played the role of receiver, displaying sound fundamentals with his ability to handle the wet ball before feeding it out quickly and cleanly. It was a shame Phillipou was forced off the ground late, as his first term was a sighter of his true potential.
Having spent time on the pine to finish term one, Phillipou started on the bench and showed signs he was a touch laboured in his movement. Unable to quite cover the ground as he usually does, he spent most of the quarter up forward but still enjoyed a stint on-ball.
His lone centre bounce attendance seemingly highlighted his limited movement, as the ball passed through his legs with Phillipou unable to get down in time or far enough to collect the ground ball.
Putting all that aside, the rising star produced one of the goals of the day in a sparkling bit of play. He hit up to mark overhead in the corridor, leaping well and showcasing his sticky hands, before sensing his opponent had slipped and backing his speed to burn just inside 50 where he launched a wonderful goal on the run.
The moment looked like being a real team-lifter, given Metro had slammed through six unanswered majors and were about to take an ominous lead into half time. Beware the injured golfer, so they say.
There were 15 centre bounces in the second half, and given his condition, Phillipou attended none of them. He was exclusively utilised up forward and with South Australia ending up 73 points in arrears of Metro, opportunities were limited.
Still, there were several occasions where Phillipou used his leap in marking contests to at least bring the ball to ground, doing his best to compete against an aerially apt Victorian defence. He just seemed to lack that same spring where covering the ground.
Phillipou also had another attempt on goal, when a volley from outside 50 landed fortuitously in his lap. His own kick was laden with less fortune, as it was sprayed out on the full from about 35 metres out.
With few more major contributions to speak of, Phillipou could not have done much more to compete given the circumstances, with his own status, team performance, and a desperate Metro back six all working against him on the day.
Still, his opening quarter exploits were enough to confirm he has the traits and talent to be a top 10 contender. He had a profound impact on the early stages and looked like taking hold against stiff opposition, but unfortunately could not sustain it. He looks quite comfortably to be South Australia’s top prospect, now.