Age no barrier for talented Dragons

The undefeated Sandringham Dragons are proving age is no barrier. The Dragons’ list boasts 32 players that aren’t eligible to be drafted until the 2014 National Draft; the youngest side in the competition. While they also have the largest playing list of 68, almost double that of the Gippsland Power; they have an impressive 47 per cent of under-age players competing this year.

The Dragons are just ahead of the Western Jets and North Ballarat Rebels who both have had an injection of youth this year with over 45 per cent of their total lists comprised of 1996 birthdates. Compare these statistics with that of the Gippsland Power who have brought a very experienced team to the competition this year, with only ten players who aren’t eligible for the draft. This means that unlike the Dragons, they have just 26 per cent of their list that can’t be drafted this season which in all likelihood means a largely fresh playing list in 2014.

Prior to the 2009 AFL season, drafting rules allowed 17 year olds born on April 30th or before to be eligible for selection in the National, Pre-season or Rookie drafts that year. In 2009 the rule changed so that the cut off became December 31st meaning that anyone not 18 before the start of the new year isn’t eligible to be drafted. For 2013 TAC Cup players that means anyone born in 1996 is ineligible to be selected by an AFL club.

One player that this change has ultimately affected even though he’s arrived four years later is Eastern Ranges’ Christian Petracca. Petracca is born on April 1st, 1996 and already in his two games so far, he has impressed as a leading forward in the Jason Porplyzia mould. Averaging two goals a game, Petracca has shown glimpses of his ability to break games open with small bursts of goal kicking prowess. Unfortunately for him, he won’t be able to hear his name called out on draft day until November next year.

Another player to watch out for in 2014 is Sandringham’s Tom Wilkinson who booted three goals last weekend against the Eastern Ranges. Under the pre-2009 rules, the March born Wilkinson could have been eyed off on the weekend by AFL scouts. Like Petracca, Wilkinson will have to wait another year before he gets his chance at achieving his dream.

In terms of clubs, both Sandringham and the Western Jets will be teams to watch out for both this season and next with their underage talent sure to progress throughout the next 18 months. While the likes of Josh Kelly, Christian Salem, Nathan Freeman and Max Hayes will be on recruiters watch lists for this season, Wilkinson and Sean Mclaren are ones to bookmark for 2014. Like Wilkinson, Mclaren was impressive up forward with the Haileybury student booting a goal and working well alternating between the ruck and key forward. At 197cm and 91kg already, he is a good size to make the transition into AFL in 2015.

The Western Jets’ under-agers have impressed thoroughly with the likes of Mitch Norton, Pete Manivong and Connor Menadue all providing dash through the middle and up forward. Norton in particular wreaked havoc for the Northern Knights defenders last week, slotting home three goals.

Of all the under-agers, the one player who has stood up for the past fortnight despite his team unable to bring home any points is Calder’s Josh Cauchi. At just 170cm and 64kg, there isn’t much of the speedy forward but his ten goals from two games gives fans and scouts a glimpse into the future. Unfortunately for fans, Cauchi was born less than 24 hours past what is considered the deadline, with his birthdate recorded as January 1, 1996. It could turn out to be a blessing in disguise with the pocket dynamo able to use the extra twelve months to bulk up and cement his spot in the minds of recruiters for the 2012 draft.

Sandringham has the youngest list in the TAC Cup but there are plenty of diamonds to be found across the competition for the 2014 National Draft. Here are ten names you could here on draft day next year:

1 Josh Cauchi (Calder Cannons)
2 Christian Petracca (Eastern Ranges)
3 Mitch Norton (Western Jets)
4 Pete Manivong (Western Jets)
5 Jake Lever (Calder Cannons)
6 Tom Wilkinson (Sandringham Dragons)
7 Connor Menadue (Western Jets)
8 Patrick McCartin (Geelong Falcons)
9 Keegan Mellington (North Ballarat Rebels)
10 Daniel Nielsen (Eastern Ranges)

These names along with a host of talented players yet to make their mark this season will be players to watch out for from the 2014 National Draft.

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