A NUMBER of new faces were among the first-year players who impressed in their games on the weekend, continuing the season trend of readymade draftees from last year’s AFL National Draft.
Hunter Clark was typically calm and composed across the St.Kilda half-back line in their defeat to the Western Bulldogs. The 19 year-old collected 20 disposals and recorded three rebounds but crucially, managed a disposal efficiency of 90 per cent, hitting 18 out of 20 targets by hand and foot and helping his side maintain possession of the Sherrin. The long-haired Hunter, who is versatile but looks perhaps best suited to a role in defence, has performed well enough this season to suggest he will live up to the hype as a future star of the competition.
Second-gamer Will Walker bagged the first two goals of his young career at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon. Viewed by some as a surprise selection when he was taken as early as pick 23 by the ‘Roos last year, Walker collected the majority of his possessions across the half-forward and wing areas, where his long leg and speed make him an exciting prospect for North. In addition to his two smart goals, Walker collected 11 disposals (seven kicks and four handballs at 64 per cent disposal efficiency), two clearances, one tackle and five score involvements. With the likes of Shaun Higgins and Ben Jacobs looking to make their returns to the side, Walker will have his work cut-out to keep his position. However he will undoubtedly have learned greatly from exposure in his first year.
In what was his second game and first Showdown, Kane Farrell was impressive, netting three goals. Opposed to Crows 199-game veteran David Mackay for much of the contest, Farrell was damaging out the back of the contests, hitting the scoreboard to help Port crawl back into the game after Adelaide got off to a flyer. Despite his side enduring a heartbreaking loss, the Victorian fitted in nicely, gaining 384 metres, moving the ball inside-50 five times and taking two strong contested marks. He looks to have made the small forward role his own, for the time being at-least.
It was a performance which he will remember for crucially missed a chance to snatch the game late, however the number one draft pick was strong across the board. Rayner presented well up the spine of the ground as a medium forward, collecting six of his 14 disposals in the true centre-half-forward region. In addition to his six marks and two goals, also impressive was Cam’s time on-ground percentage which, at 82 per cent, suggests the has really worked hard to improve his endurance over the course of the year, given this was arguably the Western Jet’s lone flaw as a draftee. Rayner’s field kicking was terrific, ending with a disposal efficiency of 86 per cent however he will rue his final kick of the match.
In the absence of Premiership on-baller Dion Prestia, first-year small Jack Higgins stepped up the the plate, relishing his chance of added midfield minutes. A high draft pick from 2017, Higgins tallied 18 disposals (11 kicks and seven handballs), took two marks, laid a couple of tackles and kicked 1.2 in-front of goal. The former Oakleigh Charger showed off his stoppage smarts with four clearances and was an important piece in getting the ball moving for the Tigers. Although his role saw Higgins focus on winning and extracting the contested ball from inside, his disposal efficiency of 44 per cent will be an area for improvement moving forward.
In the Demons rout of the struggling Gold Coast, Bayley Fritsch once again more-than justified his second-round selection in the 2017 National Draft. His ability to cover the ground, pushing up across the wings and into the defensive half is becoming a trademark, as is his aerial prowess which saw him take another nine marks (including five intercept possessions). Recruited from the Dees’ VFL affiliate side Casey, notched up 21 touches (15 kicks and six handballs at 67 per cent efficiency) to go with 332 metres gained, three inside-50’s and two rebound-50’s. Fritsch is now not only an established best-22 player, but fast becoming an important link-up player for the Demons as they head into a draught-breaking finals series.
The incredible story of Tim Kelly rolls on, this time with the Western Australian collecting 36 touches (19 kicks, 17 handballs), three tackles, three marks, four clearances, 669 metres gained and one goal in the nail-biting loss at the hands of Richmond. Kelly was typically cool and composed under pressure in a game where many players struggled to get clean possessions away, highlighting his immense talent. I feel as if Kelly’s disposal efficiency (53 per cent) does not quite justify how good he was. Whenever the smooth-mover was in possession of the ball, you feel as if something good will come from the disposal. Kelly continues to star in just his first year in the competition, ignoring the media attention regarding his future at Kardinia Park to perfection.