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Stevo, our resident draft guru of recent years is taking a sabbatical from the elite under 18 scene but did get to see some games at the end of the season. Here's his take on some players of interest.


With less than two weeks to go before this year's AFL National Draft I have to confess I am far less familiar with the pool of players available for selection than at any time in the past twenty or so years.

I watched all of this year's televised national championship games but that's not the same as watching them in the flesh so to speak. If you really want to assess a player you need to see what's going on when he's out of shot and not on screen.

I recently ended my association with the Under 18s competition and went back to coaching local junior football so I didn't get much of a chance to see the elite youngsters until my team's season was over. Only then did I manage to catch a couple of late TAC Cup rounds while following a relative with the Murray Bushrangers.

Fortunately, that took me to see games involving a few of the players named among the list of players who could be selected by Melbourne at selection 9 and, at Demonland's request, here are some of my impressions:

The Sandringham Dragons traditionally have a high number of APS players on their lists and consequently suffer when school commitments take precedence. This year, they failed to make the finals despite comfortably beating two finallists at the end of the home and away season. I saw them demolish the Bushies in Round 16 at Victoria Park. Brighton Grammarian Josh Kelly dominated in an outside midfielder role, running at will, amassing 36 disposals and kicking two goals. The son of former North Melbourne star Phil Kelly, Josh should go top three which became out of reach for the Demons once they traded selection two to the Giants.

However, the Dragons had three other stand out potential AFL midfielders that day (little wonder that they dominated) and it's mids that Melbourne wants according to every man and dog this side of the black stump, so let's look at them.

Haileybury College student Nathan Freeman, known for his athleticism and explosive bursts of pace, was in fine fettle picking up 30 touches but he was wasteful in front of goal with four behinds although scoring on the day was difficult because of the difficult cross wind. The performance wasn't enough to give him votes in the competition best and fairest (he didn't poll at all in 2013) but if his electric performance can be translated onto football's biggest stage and if he's drafted by Melbourne as many of the pundits are suggesting, then he will certainly provide a point of difference within the team's on ball division.

Another mid size player who caught my eye was slightly built Zach Merrett whose brother is on the Bombers list. Merrett is even more "outside" than Kelly and had close to 30 disposals. While he won't come under consideration at #9, is a chance to be drafted around the Demons' later pick at 40. Paul Roos is looking for bigger bodied players but in what they say is a "shallow draft", beggars can't be chosers and given time, this young bloke might develop into a very handy winger and that is such an important position on the MCG.

Kelly's schoolmate, Christian Salem is a strongly built player with great kicking skills on either side of the body and he exudes confidence and is tough. It would not surprise if he was ready to move early into AFL ranks wherever selected in much the same way that Nick Vlastuin fitted in at Richmond this year. Salem kicked a couple of goals and efficiently used his 20 odd possessions.


Christian Salem

The following week, I headed off to Wangaratta where the fifth placed Northern Knights lost a see saw battle by three points in an exciting game that saw the Bushrangers cement their place in the final eight. But it was the form of two visiting players that I was looking forward to on the day. A week earlier, Marcus Bontempelli, a tallish player with great athleticism had blitzed with five goals, This time around, he played well but his disposal was somewhat erratic and he was overshadowed by a teammate who I had seen playing as a high forward in the national championships.

Ben Lennon was on fire in the final round of the season and was now in the middle collecting 37 touches and going forward for a goal. If you're looking for a pure footballer, this bloke is the way to go. He's 188cm, is a beautiful long kick, has good hands and is all class.

How could I finish without mentioning a couple of Bushies players? Jarman Impey is a smallish, dynamic forward line crumber with some real indigenous excitement about him. If you want a little bloke (he's 177cm) at pick 40 who can tear up the forward linear the feet of your tall forwards, he's your man if available. Also within that range is teammate Nick Holman who was good in the win over the Knights (he missed the week before). Don't let that shock of blond hair fool you. He's tough and strong, has footy smarts and impresses as exactly the type of midfielder who would fit well into the Roos mould. He capped his season off playing in a premiership with Kyabram and we all know who the last Demon champion was to come from there.


Nick Holman

I also attended some TAC Cup finals and my report on the preliminary finals is here but on what little I saw of the TAC Cup this year, the player who impressed me the most was Lennon who I also saw star with three goals in the first week of the finals. Like Freeman, he's a point of difference player.


After providing the impressions above, it was brought to my attention that there had been criticism of Lennon in some quarters, partly because he apparently tested poorly at the Draft Combine. I don't know what the fuss is about. He plays a solid brand of football and if, in the early days of his conversion into a midfielder, he has achieved such strong numbers then he can only improve more with the right sort of training and a couple of years in a full-time AFL system under the likes of Roos, Misson and George Stone should see him end up a more accomplished footballer than the bloke he might be replacing at half forward/midfield in the Melbourne line up and held the same position for the better part of a decade.

The other main contender, Freeman, is quite different in one respect in that he is a pure athlete who plays an explosive brand of football. Which one will the Demons chose? Or (noting I haven't seen much of the interstate contenders) perhaps it will it be someone else?


Three of the players mentioned above as being in line for selection at #9 made the AFL Prospectus Top 25 draft prospects. Here are their profiles:-

Marcus Bontempelli​ Northern U18 midfielder, 188cm plays like Scott Pendlebury

Between school commitments at Marcellin College, Bontempelli played nine matches at TAC Cup level for the Northern Knights before breaking his collarbone in Round 15. He is a medium defender/midfielder with a raking left foot who breaks the lines and has good endurance. For the Knights he averaged 16 disposals, seven contested possessions, nine uncontested possessions, three inside 50s and three tackles per game.

Ben Lennon (Northern U18) 187cm, utility plays Like: Brendon Goddard

Since the age of seven, Lennon had captained every junior team he has played with Macleod. We first saw him at the 2011 NAB AFL Under-16 Championships where he had elite averages of 17 disposals, 11 uncontested possessions and 106 Champion Data ranking points playing with Vic Metro. Strong overhead and a well-balanced right foot kick, he played mainly across half-back for the Northern Knights at TAC Cup level in 2012 where his elite averages included 18 disposals and five intercept possessions. At the

2012 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships he played three of five games, averaging 12 disposals and an elite six marks per match, with his performance against NT the standout, finishing with 20 disposals, 10 marks and two goals.

Christian Salem​ (Sandringham​ U 18) 182cm midfielder​ plays like Jordan Lewis.

Salem is a hard running midfielder who battled injury for most of 2011, managing three matches at the 2011 NAB AFL Under-16 Championships. In 2012, alongside school commitments for Brighton Grammar, he played 10 TAC Cup matches with Sandringham and three matches for Vic Metro at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships. He played predominately on the wing and across half back for the Dragons in 2012, averaging 21 disposals, 12 uncontested possessions, five marks and five tackles, while at state level his averages included nine disposals and three marks, rating above average for applying pressure and score assists.

And I would be breaking with tradition if I didn't share the Inside Football special edition's pen pictures of the players I mentioned as being within the club's range at picks 9 and 40. Heights and weights are as supplied but these might have changed as a result of measurements taken at the Draft Combine:

Marcus Bontempelli Northern Knights 24/11/95 H: 191cm W: 83kg

Bonts is the cousin of Nick Dal Santo and also Liam Hunt. He broke his collarbone last year but has really come on after the past 12 months. When he came into the midfield [after the national championships] he was sensational. He's got a big motor and he ran well in the 3km trial and did well in the beep test. He is a very good, penetrating kick on his left side and will turn into a big-bodied midfielder like Jobe Watson and Josh Kennedy. He was probably a top 25 pick at the start of the year, but he's really jumped up in calculations now and will probably go in the top 10 - possibly as high as pick six. - Northern region manager Peter Kennedy


Nathan Freeman Sandringham Dragons 16/6/95 H: 182cm W: 85kg

Like Josh Kelly, he took the combine by storm not only with his testing but with his personality he was up and about all week. His personality is a bit like the way he plays its up and about and sometimes a bit in your face, but in a good way, but I think hes exciting and we are going to be talking about him in the next few years at AFL level taking the game on and doing really well. Hes got that electric burst of speed but has also worked very hard on his endurance and has firmed right into a possible first round pick chance as he plays football for the current day AFL like a Luke Shuey or even a Daniel Kerr. - Sandringham region manager Ryan OConnor


Nick Holman Murray Bushrangers 29/5/95 H: 187cm W: 79kg

Nick is another ripper. He's come a long way - he was more of a key forward at Under 16 level and only played a few games last year but this year he was vice captain, inside midfielder in round 1 at the first centre bounce. He won Vic Country's MVP at the nationals and his speed, endurance, work-rate and application are as good as anyone going around. He's good at winning his own ball in close but can run and carry the length of the ground. In terms of his training and professionalism, he is outstanding and he also played in the Goulburn Valley senior grand final this year kicking three goals. - Murray region manager Andrew Carson

DRAFT RANGE: 2nd/3rd round

Jarman Impey Murray Bushrangers 9/7/95 H: 177cm W: 78kg

This kid has something that a lot of people haven't got - he's got speed, he's got vertical leap. Aerobically was his biggest deficiency, but he's worked super hard in that regard. He's missed the past two pre-seasons so he's come in under-done, but his evasive skills are enormous and he has raw speed. Jars is a competitive kid and has great skills so he can play as a small forward of back, but down the track he will develop into a midfielder we hope. He will be one of our first kids picked. - Murray region manager Andrew Carson

DRAFT RANGE: 2nd round

Ben Lennon Northern Knights 5/7/95 H: 188cm W: 78kg

Ben has had a terrific season even though he only played seven games. At the start of the year he was away with the AIS, then he had school football and Vic Metro. When he came back he went into the midfield, which was really good for him, as he had always played as the high half forward. His point of difference is his kicking - he really is an elite kick. He's got good vision and footy smarts but going into the midfield added another string to his bow. His area of improvement is his tank - he's always been a burst-type player but he's an excellent mark for his size as we saw in the nationals. In his first two games in the TAC Cup as a 16-year-old he kicked four goals in each, which is pretty rare! - Northern region manager Peter Kennedy


Zac Merrett Sandringham Dragons 3/10/95 H: 178cm W: 73kg

Zac's the brother of Essendon's Jackson. He's a Cobram boy who boards at Melbourne Grammar so we only had him for a handful of games this year but he has great footy smarts and awareness and is a beautiful user of the ball by foot. He has good pace and agility and can really break the lines with the ball in his hands and is dangerous around goal. At the moment he is more of a half forward than a midfielder, but in a full-time system he can build his tank. - Sandringham region manager Ryan OConnor

DRAFT RANGE: 2nd/3rd round

Christian Salem Sandringham Dragons 15/7/95 H: 183cm W: 81kg

He's one of the excitement packets who can play just about anywhere and even showed that he can play as an inside midfielder after some time in a full-time program. He's been played predominantly outside as people have wanted to make full use of his elite kicking, but he seems to have handled the microscope pretty well he revels on playing on a big stage and when the chips are down he is the one to really lift. He should go pretty early, we would think. - Sandringham region manager Ryan OConnor


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From what has been written I am very happy with our having picked Salem.

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merret btw is a COBDEN boy not cobram

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