Marquee Matchups: George Wardlaw vs. Jhye Clark

THIS year’s National Championships have been the first full instalment since 2019, meaning the nation’s best Under 18 draft hopefuls have finally been able to test their mettle against each other once again. With that comes a number of mouthwatering contests between players vying for similar spots on draft boards, as their top-age campaigns turns for home.

In the return of our Marquee Matchups series, we highlight a pair of prospects who in one way or another, will continue to compete in 2022; comparing their vitals, stats, strengths, and improvement areas. Next up is a battle between two combative midfielders in top five contention – George Wardlaw and Jhye Clark.

>> TOP 25 RANKED: August Power Rankings update

PLAYER PROFILES:

George Wardlaw

Height: 182cm

Weight: 81kg

DOB: 18-07-2004

Jhye Clark

Height: 181cm

Weight: 77kg

DOB: 23-07-2004

2022 POWER RANKINGS CHART:

WARDLAW:

June: #1 | July: #1 | August: #2

CLARK:

June: #4 | July: #5 | August: #4

STATS:

2022 NAB LEAGUE

WARDLAW:

3 games | 20.7 disposals | 11.3 kicks | 9.3 handballs | 5.0 marks | 5.7 tackles | 3.3 inside 50s | 1.3 rebound 50s | 0.7 goals (2 total)

CLARK:

8 games | 25.3 disposals | 16.9 kicks | 8.4 handballs | 4.3 marks | 4.6 tackles | 5.8 inside 50s | 2.8 rebound 50s | 0.4 goals (3 total)

BEST GAME:

WARDLAW:

NAB League Round 1 vs. Sandringham Dragons
Key stats – 24 disposals, 8 tackles, 1 goal

Our scouts said…

“With conditions being a contested players’ dream, it’s no surprise that Wardlaw took the opportunity to show off his best traits. Simply put, Wardlaw was unmatchable for the game as he did as he pleased through the midfield, even managing to impact up forward with the opening goal of the match. All the things that you want from an inside midfielder; quick and precise hands in close, courage, contested work, tackling, were what Wardlaw was showing through the game.”

CLARK:

Under 18 National Championships Round 1 vs. South Australia
Key stats – 24 disposals, 8 marks, 1 goal

Our scouts said…

“Country’s captain was simply undeniable, and reliable as ever in the engine room. He racked up 24 touches and eight marks, putting his head over the ball when required but also accumulating as per usual around the ground. While a consistent figure, Clark produced a few outstanding moments; including a courageous intercept mark floating in front of the pack inside defensive 50, and a clutch set shot goal in the third term to steady his side. As always, he proved a real tone-setter in midfield.”

HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Though they are yet to play against each other at any level in 2022, the pair did so as bottom-agers during multiple Victorian Under 17 clashes. Clark’s Country and Wardlaw’s Metro went head-to-head twice for a win apiece, and both players were among the best for their respective sides. They’ll do battle in the same colours come September, with the Under 18 National Championship crown up for grabs. Ironically, the two on-ballers have lined up in the same team this year – the AFL Academy. Wardlaw (18 disposals, eight tackles) was adjudged best afield in a losing effort against Collingwood VFL, though Clark was not too far behind on the back of 19 touches and six tackles of his own.

STRENGTHS:

WARDLAW:

+ Competitiveness
+ Explosiveness
+ Inside game
+ Athleticism
+ Power
+ Team player

Wardlaw is the kind of player who has been described as the perfect teammate. He’s a monster at the contest, and uses his power to impact going both ways. He’ll just as desperately lay a shepherd or work to release his teammates in space, as he’ll do to win the ball and break away himself. While most inside types are pigeonholed as dour and one-dimensional, Wardlaw is far from it. His explosive athleticism is a massive point of difference, aiding his ball winning ability, breakaway speed, and knack for pulling down overhead marks around the ground. He showcased it at preseason testing, ranking second in the NAB League for running and vertical jumps. Able to use his athleticism on-field, Wardlaw has enhanced his hurt factor and made his kicking a real weapon this year, completing a well-rounded profile.

CLARK:

+ Dual-footed
+ Clean skills
+ Work rate
+ Contested game
+ Competitiveness
+ Leadership

Clark has top traits galore, with his dual-sidedness arguably one of his best. Able to keep the opposition guessing as to which side he’ll exit a stoppage, the hardened on-baller compounds his contested work by being able to get to the outside and lean on his clean fundamental skills. At the coalface, Clark does things at full intensity and drives low when putting his head over the ball. His toughness and competitiveness are what have him labelled as the Joel Selwood of this draft, and as captain of club and Country, he has the leadership to boot. Around the ground, Clark is also brave in marking contests and pulls down overhead marks, with his work rate allowing for accumulation of possession in all parts of the ground. He can do it all.

IMPROVEMENTS:

WARDLAW:

Endurance
Composure

Picking out deficiencies in top prospects is an exercise akin to splitting hairs, and that’s certainly the case with Wardlaw. Both of the improvements listed are factors he has worked on wonderfully well; notching up a high fitness base during preseason, and better utilising his kicks on the outside. While dominant on the inside, impacting away from the contest is something Wardlaw can continue to do, and his ability to pinch-hit up forward aids that. Having unfortunately been struck down by injury for much of the year, building up that running capacity to get from contest to contest, and showcasing his usual durability may be among his goals in whatever gametime he gets to round out his top-age season.

CLARK:

Speed
Versatility

Though he does so much, so well, Clark’s improvement areas are a little easier to pick out. By his own admission in preseason, speed is a trait which he can certainly work on. That explosive step, which players like Wardlaw naturally possess, is not a key part of his game, but is something determined prospects like Will Ashcroft have been able to improve. A greater deal of outside speed will also enhance his versatility. Clark works around the ground well, but breaks the lines less than others, and has had to prove himself as a forward rotation. With a few NAB League goals of late and the ability to score at crucial times, he’s doing a good job, but is very much a midfielder at his core.

VERDICT:

These two are midfielders with so much in common, but a couple of key differences which set them apart. Both are tough, competitive and consistent inside ball winners who have an uncompromising appetite for the contest. They both lead the way with their actions and pop up in big moments, but can also bring others into the game through sheer will. They look like top five locks, though the thing which sets Wardlaw apart is his athleticism. On the other hand, Clark has played more often over the last two years, and his rate of production is hard to ignore. Either way, these are two reliable prospects who clubs will love to get in the door, for their combination of character and high-level footballing ability.

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