Leagues: NAB League Boys
SNAPSHOT: "A classy midfielder capable of consistently winning mountains of possessions, Ward is a centre bounce mainstay with his clean skills and work rate."
One of the steepest risers in this year's draft pool, Josh Ward has earned his place among the top 10 calculations on the back of a consistently high level of output. The Northern Knights midfielder was utilised on the outside and at half-forward for Vic Metro's Under 16 side in 2019, but that changed in 2021 as he skippered the Under 19s and featured at the heart of a stacked centre bounce group. Also plying his trade for Melbourne Grammar and the Northern Knights, Ward's form throughout multiple competitions was recognised at the recent NAB League awards, where he was named captain of the Team of the Year. His balance of competitive ball winning and clean skills bode well for an all-round and reliable midfield game, one which many clubs will value at the top end of the draft.
- Clean skills
- Decision making
With Victorian prospects afforded limited on-field exposure over the last two years, there is something to be said of those who have been able to grasp every opportunity possible. Ward is one such player, and his level of consistency across multiple competitions has been nothing short of exceptional. He was named captain of both the APS and NAB League Teams of the Year, while also coming second in Northern's best and fairest count off just five of a possible nine games.
Ward averaged over 30 disposals, five marks and four tackles across those outings, with his equal best tally of 34 touches coming in a game which elevated his standing. In Round 9 against Oakleigh, he took it upon himself to line up on Nick Daicos at the centre bounces and while the pick one contender had 37 disposals, Ward stood up to the task and was arguably best afield in a 42-point win.
The 181cm prospect has a terrific endurance base, something which will hold him in good stead as a midfielder at the next level. It is something which lends to Ward's high work rate and balance of inside/outside traits, which sees him accumulate a high rate of possessions across four quarters. His output barely wavers throughout each game and season as a whole, making for big ticks in the boxes of consistency and durability. These traits make him a reliable option as far as midfielders go, and he rarely misses a game.
Looking at his craft in possession, Ward is one of the cleanest operators going around. He has constantly worked on his handling and is slick in his disposal by both hand and foot. The leftie may not be as outwardly damaging as others, but is ever-present and rarely wastes a touch with excellent decision making in tight spots.
Speaking of damage, managing a couple of improvement areas could help amplify his impact on games. Ward is not limited in his versatility and likes to roll forward, but only really achieved scoreboard impact towards the end of the season with two goals in Vic Metro's challenge match triumph. At the moment, he is one who more often provides for others.
Another area for growth is Ward's athleticism. While he certainly does not lack for aerobic capacity, Ward can continue to build his explosive power and speed, which will be important if he is to permanently play midfield at 181cm. He is currently able to navigate congestion well and utilises quick decision making, but can always add strings to his bow. A bit more toe on the outside never hurts.
Top 10 talents are often prone to being nit-picked and that is ultimately the case with Ward here, who already has plenty of traits which will serve him well at the top level. His clean skills, high footy IQ, and endurance are musts for AFL-level midfielders and he should take little time to adjust given how hard he works on his game.
DRAFT RANGE: Top 10
Recruiters often look at a prospect's reliability and repeatable skills, both of which Ward has in spades. He has come from the precipice of round one contention to firmly plant his name in top 10 calculations, offering plenty of safety as a high-end selection. In a draft stacked with midfielders, the Northern Knights ball magnet has managed to stand above many others and has all the makings of a consistent asset with great durability and craft. Some think of fellow Northern Knights graduate Trent Cotchin or Brisbane champ Luke Power when looking at Ward, both of whom have played over 250 AFL games.
NAB League Boys