PREVIEW | AFL U18 Academy vs. Coburg VFL

THE NATIONAL Under 18 Academy is set to take on Coburg VFL this Saturday in the first of two annual showcase games for 2024. Consisting of 29 2006-born draft eligible players, the squad is a collection of this year’s top prospects from around the country.

>> SCROLL for the full squad & predicted lineup

A raft of changes have been made to the side due to injury, with seven players made unavailable and three Victorian talents stepping up as late inclusions. The squad may shuffle again in game two, scheduled for the weekend of April 27-28 against Footscray VFL.

Before the nation’s best and brightest top-agers take centre stage at Princes Park, we run through all you need to know about the big game – including the ins and outs, squad numbers, and a predicted lineup of the 22 available players.

Stay tuned, Rookie Me Central will have Scouting Notes on ALL 22 National Academy players.


WHO: AFL U18 Academy vs. Coburg VFL
WHEN: Saturday April 13, 1:00pm (AEST)
WHERE: IKON Park, Carlton North
HOW TO WATCH: Live stream via AFL website


IN: Taj Hotton, Tobie Travaglia, Jack Whitlock

A trio of Victorian talents have been called up to the injury-hit National Academy squad, which will be missing a whopping seven original inductees. Taj Hotton (Sandringham Dragons), Tobie Travaglia (Bendigo Pioneers), and Jack Whitlock (Murray Bushrangers) are the inclusions.

Hotton is the son of 78-game former Blue and Pie Trent, and the brother of St Kilda’s Olli, but may well be the most talented of the lot. He has shouldered more midfield minutes in 2024 having previously impressed as an agile, high-flying forward.

A standout performance of 32 disposals, 10 marks and four goals in Sandringham’s Round 2 win over Oakleigh certainly put him on the map. His overall start to the season has been exemplary though, averaging 29 disposals, seven marks and five inside 50s across three games.

Jack Whitlock is swamped after kicking a goal after the siren in 2023 | Image Credit: Rookie Me Central

Whitlock, a 200cm ruck-forward out of the Murray Bushrangers region, promises to provide ample key position coverage. He’s likely to start up forward but can provide a chop-out in the ruck, proving quite clean and mobile for his size.

The 17-year-old was terrific in a losing side on the weekend, bagging three goals from 16 touches and eight marks. He was also one of three Bushies to post four majors in Round 1 and had eight scoring shots in that game, also clunking seven marks.

Travaglia is a 187cm utility with great range; able to play in midfield, out on a wing, or in his arguably most comfortable post down back. The Pioneers product offers a handy point of difference with his overhead marking, averaging eight per game. He also runs hard and gets stuck in defensively.

Tobie Travaglia is one of three inclusions for the National Academy | Image Credit: Rookie Me Central

OUT: Bo Allan, Malakai Champion, Archer Day-Wicks, Sid Draper, Jonty Faull, Sam Lalor, Finn O’Sullivan

As is well known by now, top five prospects Finn O’Sullivan (thumb) and Sid Draper (shin) are spending time on the sidelines. Greater Western Victoria pair Jonty Faull and Sam Lalor have yet to feature this year and will not get back in time, leaving holes in the midfield and key forward slot.

There will be no West Australian representation in game one either, with Peel Thunder defender Bo Allan and Subiaco forward Malakai Champion both injured. Allan spent the opening two WAFL rounds at League level, while Champion played in Subi’s first Colts game but missed out on Saturday.

Along with O’Sullivan, Bendigo forward Archer Day-Wicks has not recovered from an injury sustained in Round 1 of the Coates Talent League. The classy left-footer suffered a bad corkie in his maiden top-age outing and has sat out the past fortnight his Pioneers have notched a 3-0 record.

There was some doubt over others in the squad, with the likes of Oliver Dean, Harry O’Farrell, Samuel Marshall, and Luke Trainor all absent from Talent League action over the weekend. Xavier Lindsay also copped a corked thigh in the third quarter of Gippsland’s game but looks ready to go.


Devising a predicted lineup for this particular National Academy squad was especially difficult due to the sheer versatility of the side. Its prolific and unique blend of midfielders makes for a near-endless number of combinations between the centre bounces, wings, and flanks.

As is the nature of such a showcase game, players will inevitably rotate between several roles and be trialled in positions outside of their comfort zone. That being the case, things could look very different on game day, but below is a basic outline of how they would normally line up.

B: #30 Luke Trainor – #25 Noah Mraz – #32 Tobie Travaglia
HB: #7 Xavier Lindsay – #26 Harry O’Farrell – #4 Lucas Camporeale
C: #3 Ben Camporeale – #8 Leo Lombard – #11 Christian Moraes
HF: #23 Tom Gross – #28 Jobe Shanahan – #12 Jagga Smith
F: #40 Tyler Welsh – #39 Jack Whitlock – #10 Ricky Mentha
FOL: #33 Oliver Dean – #2 Levi Ashcroft – #29 Josh Smillie

INT: #21 Joel Cochran, #31 Taj Hotton, #24 Harvey Langford, #9 Sam Marshall


Just about every member of the defence is capable of playing multiple roles, but will likely have to line up down back due to a wealth of midfielders. That means the likes of Lucas Camporeale, Lindsay and Travaglia will likely occupy flanks despite spending plenty of time in midfield at club level.

Lucas’ twin brother Ben is also a chance of slotting in at half-back, while the versatile Josh Smillie could also roll back there – though there is no shortage of height. Trainor, Harry O’Farrell and Noah Mraz all measure up at over 195cm and are terrific interceptors.

All three also move quite well and the former two are exceptional kicks of the ball. Trainor is the likely mainstay, while O’Farrell may swing forward in a swap for Jobe Shanahan, while Mraz may also get a run in the ruck. Joel Cochran is another 195cm option at centre half-back who could play at either end.


This on-ball group is ridiculously good. We’ve gone for Smillie and Levi Ashcroft as the two rovers, while Leonardo Lombard slots in at the heart of the side. Ashcroft will likely spend time forward but is such a great accumulator, while Lombard could go forward or outside, and Smillie can play anywhere.

Prospects like Christian Moraes and Ben Camporeale have been named on the wings for their outside running power, while Samuel Marshall fits a similar mould. The latter two may also roll forward, but all three are candidates to join in at the centre bounces at some stage.

Oakleigh pair Jagga Smith and Tom Gross should also see some midfield minutes, but are likely to spend plenty of time up forward. Smith has been developing a second position inside 50 and is arguably the more natural midfielder of the two, while Gross generates score involvements for fun in either role.

That leaves Hotton and Harvey Langford. The former has started forward for Sandringham before shifting into the middle, and may also be exposed on the wing. Langford, meanwhile is a genuine marking threat inside 50 and should be the rotating big body through midfield.


Along with the rotational pieces listed above – including Smith and Gross – there are a couple of genuine forwards who should be mainstays there. In the absence of Champion, Ricky Mentha is arguably the side’s lone genuine small forward and promises to get busy around the big sticks.

Adelaide father-son prospect Tyler Welsh is fresh off a senior preseason and will be able to play tall at 190cm, supporting the likes of Whitlock and Shanahan aerially. Langford could play a similar role to take the marking pressure off either key position outlet.

A wealth of midfielders are likely to rest in attack, but most are quite natural there and should still be able to make an impact. The potential tall swingmen like Shanahan, O’Farrell, Mraz and Cochran loom as one of the most interesting aspects of the overall side.


1SidDraper182South Adelaide
2LeviAshcroft179Sandringham Dragons
6ArcherDay-Wicks186Bendigo Pioneers
7XavierLindsay183Gippsland Power
8LeonardoLombard178Gold Coast Suns Academy
9SamMarshall185Brisbane Lions Academy
Sandringham Dragons
10RickyMentha178Northern Territory Academy
Gippsland Power
11ChristianMoraes183Eastern Ranges
12JaggaSmith181Oakleigh Chargers
20BoAllan191Peel Thunder
21JoelCochran195Sydney Swans Academy
22JontyFaull195GWV Rebels
23TomGross181Oakleigh Chargers
24HarveyLangford190Dandenong Stingrays
25NoahMraz198Dandenong Stingrays
26HarryO’Farrell196Calder Cannons
27FinnO’Sullivan182Oakleigh Chargers
28JobeShanahan194Bendigo Pioneers
29JoshSmillie194Eastern Ranges
30LukeTrainor194Sandringham Dragons
31TajHotton182Sandringham Dragons
32TobieTravaglia187Bendigo Pioneers
33OliverDean201Tasmania Devils
34SamLalor180GWV Rebels
39JackWhitlock200Murray Bushrangers

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