National U18 Championships preview: Western Australia

WESTERN Australia was the surprise packet in last year’s National AFL Under 18 Championships, with some pundits expecting them to finish last, or at least fourth, in division one. Instead, the Sandgropers stood up to their critics with a resounding series, taking it up to all the sides and only dropping one game – to eventual winners Vic Metro. The championships would have helped a number of West Australian players in ultimately getting drafted, with a massive 20 players drafted – including some mature-agers from the Western Australia Football League (WAFL).

Fast forward twelve months and there is more excitement about the team from out west, with some genuine top-end talent as well as solid depth. This year appears to be stronger across all the sides, which will make it tough to determine a winner. Looking at the Western Australia side, there are plenty of names to keep an eye out for, starting with top 10 hopeful Ian Hill, who lit up Etihad Stadium last year against Vic Country, turning heads with his acceleration and game-breaking ability. Up forward, Jarrad Fazioli created all sorts of headaches booting goals out of nothing and impressing the spectators who turned out, while Sydney Stack was another highlighted player from last year back for his top-age year.

Players to watch:

Ian HILL
Outside Midfielder | 175cm | 66kg | Perth
Ave: 21.5 disposals | 3.0 marks | 5.0 tackles | 1.5 goals

One of the most exciting prospects in the entire draft crop, Ian Hill looms as the clear standout from Western Australia. He has slick skills, pace to burn and great acceleration, Hill is a damaging player who has plenty of hurt factor. He is the type of player that teammates will release with handballs into his running path and he will do the rest – averaging 1.5 goals at WAFL Colts level, showing he can hit the scoreboard as well as win the ball in the midfield. In his most recent game against West Perth, he booted 3.3 from 21 disposals, his best return for the season.

Jarrad FAZIOLI
Small Forward | 175cm | 72kg | Peel Thunder
Ave: 15.2 disposals | 3.4 marks | 2.5 tackles | 0.8 goals

Having burst onto the National Championships scene as a bottom-age small forward last year, it will be interesting to see the role Fazioli plays at this year’s National Championships. One would expect he might play further up the field, having improved his ball-winning ability at WAFL level with more time through the midfield. He provides excitement and has great goal nous when up forward, always dangerous around the stoppages deep inside 50. He is quick to release the ball when under pressure and has great pace.

Luke FOLEY
Inside Midfielder | 189cm | 73kg | Subiaco
Ave: 27.5 disposals | 4.0 marks | 6.5 tackles | 1.5 goals per game

Foley has been one of the more prominent ball winners in the WAFL Colts this season, and at 189cm is that prototype size. Although just the 73kg, he has also laid a whopping 6.5 tackles per game – helped by a 13-tackle effort in his last outing against Claremont which included 36 disposals and two goals. At the National Championships he will be looked at as the inside presence the West Australian side needs, with so many classy outside midfielders and forwards rotating in the front half of the field. Could boost his draft stocks with a big carnival.

Rylie MORGAN
Balanced Midfielder | 181cm | 80kg | Claremont
Ave: 27.8 disposals | 5.2 marks | 6.5 tackles | 1.0 goals

The big ball winner captained Western Australia at the National Under 16 Championships and looms as an important cog in the Sandgropers midfield. Morgan has averaged 27.8 disposals at WAFL Colts level, with his lowest disposal game being 22. In that same match he applied 12 tackles, symbolic of his season where he has averaged more than six tackles per game. He does get forward and hit the scoreboard as well, managing to score in all bar one of his five Colts matches this season. He will provide some good inside strength for the West Australians.

Sydney STACK
General Forward/Balanced Midfielder | 176cm | 72kg | Perth
Ave: 21.7 disposals | 2.8 marks | 7.5 tackles | 0.5 goals

A tackling machine, Stack is one of a number of players capable of rotating between midfield and half-forward. One of West Australia’s bottom-agers at the 2017 National Under 18 Championships, Stack showed clean hands, slick skills and the ability to hurt the opposition both offensively and defensively. Despite being lightly framed, Stack is capable of bringing down bigger bodies and has the acceleration and pace to run down opposition players. He plays the defensive forward role well, able to lock the ball inside 50 with his fierce tackling. Expect him to provide a neat highlight package across the carnival.

Rhai-Arn COX
General Forward | 174cm | 73kg | East Perth
Ave: 11.3 disposals | 2.7 marks | 3.5 tackles | 1.7 goals

The bottom-ager has played just the three games at WAFL Colts level this season for the Royals, but is a player to track at the National Championships after his impressive carnival at the National Under 16 Championships in 2017. He took the massive pack mark and goaled after the siren against Vic Country to steal the win for Western Australia, showing he is capable of clutch moments. A human highlight-reel, Cox is likely to be one to track over the next 18 months.

Jason CARTER
General Defender/Outside Midfielder | 185cm | 76kg | Peel Thunder
Ave: 16.5 disposals | 5.0 marks | 2.0 tackles | 0.0 goals

A classy defender who can play through the midfield, Carter is a member of the Fremantle Next Generation Academy, which means the Dockers are able to match any bid on him in the 2018 National Draft should they choose to do so. An All-Australian at Under 16s level, Carter provides electrifying pace and smarts across the ground, and was best remembered in that carnival from a massive five-bounce 80m running goal. No doubt there will be more eyes on him than just the Dockers as he provides some vital speed out of the West Australian defence.

Fixtures:

June 3: vs. South Australia – Alberton Oval
June 10: vs. Vic Metro – Optus Stadium
June 29: vs. Vic Country – GMHBA Stadium
July 4: vs. Allies – Etihad Stadium

Final word:

Western Australia head into the National Under 18 Championships as no doubt underdogs once again. The Victorian sides and South Australia have been much spoken about for their top-end talent, but Western Australia has plenty of speed and can apply plenty of defensive pressure. As seen last year, anything is possible at the championships, and the Sandgropers have a number of top bottom-agers joining those big ball winners in their top-age year.

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