Matt Merlo (Calder Cannons)
Height: 183 cm
Weight: 85 kg
Player comparison: Luke Ball
Strengths: Contested ball, Stoppages, Vision
Weaknesses: Pure inside midfielder
Matt Merlo is a fantastic on-field leader who excels around the stoppages for Calder and is one of the smokies for this year’s draft. While he’s had injury concerns in the past, Merlo has particularly impressed this season having added goal kicking to his attributes, something incredibly important for a midfielder that does lack an outside game.
In many ways Merlo is very similar to Matt Crouch but even less outside capabilities but equal in winning the contested ball and racking up clearances. He hasn’t had the fanfare that Crouch has had, but he is one to watch and will likely go mid-to-late draft to a club craving a big-bodied inside midfielder.
At 85 kg, Merlo already has the body to compete at AFL level and while he can put on a few more kilograms, he is more prepared for the rigours of AFL football compared to other players in this draft crop. In previous years Merlo was a bit of a one-trick pony, but having developed that ability to go forward and kick goals has enhanced his reputation.
He doesn’t have that hurt factor that players such as Christian Salem or Billy Hartung have, but his ability to not hold back and have fantastic vision in close is second only to Matt Crouch. While his footskills aren’t overly impressive either, he plays to his strengths by prefering to deliver to teammates by hand instead of foot and involve them in the play.
Melo’s first priority in terms of improvement is to try and win a little more outside ball but given he has the potential to rack up multiple clearances and contested disposals, he does have that specialty that will interest a number of AFL clubs. He’s not overly quick, but can break away from packs not through speed, but anticipating the ball drop and being able to move through traffic. While this means he isn’t likely to sprint for 30 metres away from the pack, it does mean he can break through the congestion and pass it off by hand to a running teammate who can.
In the Bound For Glory News Phantom Draft, Matt Merlo was selected by Collingwood with pick 84. With so many outside users, Collingwood will be keen to pick up another inside ball winner to replace Luke Ball in time and Merlo is the perfect replacement given they are so similar in many ways. While they selected Darcy Lang with their previous pick, they are still slightly different players given the fact Lang is more likely to develop into a dual midfielder that can also play that outside role.
Matt Merlo is a pure inside midfielder, but because his strengths are so advantageous for his position, he will no doubt make the grade easily at AFL level. He might not be the most talented of players in terms of skills, but his great inside work and quick hands at stoppages will see him develop into a fantastic role player and leader at a football club to reward his great work ethic.