Strength of reserves
They won’t receive half the attention of November’s NAB AFL Draft selections, and they quite literally are the talent pool leftovers. But if any of Tuesday’s rookie draftees think the opportunity they’ve been given is diluted in any way, they’re kidding themselves.
AFL recruiting has become so scientific that there is almost no doubt a small handful of this year’s rookie class will emerge as long-term players at the top level.
Unlike the national draft, however, there is less certainty that those success stories will be the players picked at the pointy end of the player lottery. They could come from anywhere.
There are three reasons why rookies are prospering now more than ever, with the first being the stronger prospects of being drafted.
Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney bring two full lists to fill, but they have also forced rival clubs to be more innovative with their recruiting because of the compromised nature of recent and future drafts.
Then there’s the AFL’s introduction of mature-age rookies and the success of players like Michael Barlow, James Podsiadly and Greg Broughton.
Players who might previously have given up on their AFL dream are now encouraged to stick at it longer, and when they are drafted it tends to be to a club that needs them to play senior football immediately.
Consider too the coaching and highly specialised training programs that clubs are investing in for their young players – including rookies.
Fremantle is a case in point. The club launched its development academy at the end of 2009 under Simon Lloyd, and it now employs four full-time development coaches and one part-timer to work with the rookies.
It’s a model rival clubs are now borrowing from, and why shouldn’t they with Barlow, Alex Silvagni, Matt de Boer and Jay van Berlo recently promoted to the senior list.
Add Broughton, Paul Duffield and Aaron Sandilands for other reasons why Fremantle views its rookie list as an extension of its senior list.
Rookies now have an enormous opportunity under specific, full-time training to improve, and for many of them it’s simply a case of fixing one obvious deficiency in their game.
Elsewhere around the league, Brodie Moles, Andrew Strijk, Jeff Garlett and Ricky Henderson have made an impact and earned promotion to senior lists, proving that if you’re good enough, a spot will be there.
Of this year’s crop, highly-rated trio Brad Harvey (Brisbane Lions), Sam Menagola (Hawthorn) and Declan Reilly (Collingwood) fell through the national draft into the rookie pool.
Tim Houlihan (West Coast) and Robert Eddy (St Kilda), among many others, have received second chances.
However, it could just as easily be speedster Mitchell Carter (Carlton) who jumps up under the right coaching to start a long and successful AFL career. That’s the beauty of the rookie system.