Contributed by: Brett Northey Wednesday, August 19 2009 @ 10:05 pm ACST
The Adelaide Crows recruiting manager, Matt Rendell, recently returned home after watching the conclusion of the 2009 NAB Under 18 Championships. Rendell had two very dramatic predictions, one of which could rock the AFL and both of which should have positive ramifications for international Australian football.
Speaking several weeks ago on South Australian radio station 5AA, Rendell had just witnessed SA defeat Vic Metro at Etihad Stadium, possibly the first time SA has knocked off both Vic Metro and Country in the same year. Yet this didn't see SA win the title, with WA going through undefeated. This may be a significant point which we'll return to shortly.
When asked about the quality of this year's draft eligible players, Rendell was surprisingly blunt, answering that only around five available players were top quality, and being quite dismissive of the worth of any picks outside the first round. This was attributed to the 12 bottom age players (early 17 year olds) that the Gold Coast has first access to, and an overall smaller pool of talent.
A relevant question may be the apparent coincidence of such a weak pool in the same year that the Victorian teams have been knocked down the ladder. It has to be asked - is the Victorian talent much less in 2009 or could it be that playing the tournament around Australia, rather than just in Melbourne, has shown the Victorian quality to perhaps have been over-estimated in the past? Did the travel factor bring them back to the field?
This ties in with another theory. The Adelaide Crows face the same draft rules as the other clubs year in and year out, yet have never really bottomed out on the ladder like most of the teams that have had success. 2009 will mark the 8th time in the last 9 seasons that they have made the finals. They haven't benefited from any father-son selections either. Any list manager worth his salt should probably be asking - how have they achieved it? It is in part due to an excellent group of players that were acquired not through the normal draft but through the rookie list - generally South Australian players who were overlooked in the draft but were picked up from the SANFL and have proven to be stars. The list includes classy forward Jason Porplyzia and All-Australian defenders Ben Rutten and Nathan Bock, crucial players taken outside of the normal draft. Such players were available to all teams, but AFL clubs tend to place rookies from their own state. Did Victorian scouts overlook talent just because it was from a different state?
So perhaps the young stars of SA and WA have been ignored in favour of their Victorian counterparts at the national draft but been picked up later as rookies, and the travelling 2009 U18 tournament has revealed that in reality the state sides are much more evenly matched (given that Victoria is still clearly strongest overall, fielding two teams). Could this even level in 2009 be misinterpreted as a lower standard overall with less stand-out stars?
That's speculation, as admittedly much of this article is, but clearly if recruiting managers believe that quality is sparse then they will surely look more favourably on international scholarships.
Despite the favourable rules that look set to be afforded the new AFL clubs, it was surprising to hear Adelaide's recruiting manager, not a media shock jock, claim that the Gold Coast and West Sydney will win ten straight flags from 2015 onwards. “My estimate is that Western Sydney and Gold Coast will probably win 10 flags in-a-row between in 2015-2025”. Such an outcome would devastate the competition, and this view must surely be posturing by Rendell, perhaps to push the AFL to lower the likely concessions for West Sydney. 5AA Sports Show host Graham Cornes challenged Rendell's assertion, but he stood by the claim, suggesting that the new clubs could become virtually unbeatable, and citing first round draft statistics to support his view.
But again, if the lack of Australian talent due to new club concessions is that serious, the other clubs must surely examine international options long and hard - clearly something the AFL intends thanks to the international scholarship list and creation of AFL Oceania.
So look forward to your AFL club drafting an international rookie some time soon - just don't expect a premiership!