Jake Kalanj (Northern Knights)
Height: 184 cm
Weight: 78 kg
Player Comparison: Ryan O’Keefe (except less of a goal kicker)
Style: Jimmy Bartel
Strengths: Marking, reading the play and tackling
Weaknesses: Lacks a damaging kick, predominately an outside midfielder and is one paced.
It’s impossible to really place the Northern Knights this season. They are a team based around three star players who are backed up by a group of a five decent players. Marcus Bontempelli and Ben Lennon have been missing from the Knights in recent week, but Jake Kalanj has stepped up and proved he is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the other two.
Kalanj plays predominately on a wing or off a half back flank, and he suits both roles perfectly. His ability to read the play and find himself in the perfect position a kick away from play is second to none. This sort of ‘football intelligence’ is a stand out attribute that is not easily taught.
To compliment his ability to read the play is his strong marking. Kalanj seems to play a lot bigger than his size suggests. He is much like Ryan O’Keefe and Jimmy Bartel in that he is a very strong over head mark and almost plays as an undersized key position player. Kalanj took a number of marks as he zoned off his opponent and filled the hole in the backline against the Bendigo Pioneers last week.
High fliers are what footy fans pay to see and Kalanj doesn’t mind going for a hanger. Preston City Oval all rose at the same time when he climbed over a pack to attempt a screamer. Although he dropped it, it was certainly the high point of the match in what was otherwise not much to write about.
Another asset that Kalanj shares with O’Keefe is his relentless tackling with great technique. If he somehow improves his speed, Kalanj could be the beneficiary of many holding the ball free kicks. Combine speed with his tackling ability could also see him become a more than capable inside midfielder, although he may be wasted there given his importance around the ground, particularly in defence.
Kalanj is a two way runner but doesn’t seem to stream forward in hope for personal glory. In saying that, he kicked two goals against Bendigo- one of which was a terrific drop punt from 40 metres out on an extremely tight angle. He has the capability to play as a goal kicker, but prefers to stay a kick behind play so he can set up another attack if the ball comes out of the forward 50.
Kalanj is no butcher by foot, but at the same time he isn’t Matt Suckling. He can kick it 50 metres, but that’s when he bombs it in high. If he is able to get some penetration on his kicks and keep them lower, then he would be the ideal person to deliver the football into the forward 50.
There are clearly technical deficiencies to his game, but it’s the unteachable and remarkable traits that Kalanj possesses that makes him stand out. Ideally, he could be a top 30 candidate, but he lacks that completeness to his game that could propel him towards the top 20. While his kick penetration and speed may be a worry from some AFL clubs, his determination and willingness to get to contests and position himself in the right spots could see a number of teams such as Melbourne, Carlton or Adelaide make use of a medium utility. Jake Kalanj’s Northern Knights take on the Geelong Falcons at Simmonds Stadium on Saturday from 2:00pm in a VFL curtain raiser.