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AFL Draft Weekly Wrap: Pendlebury-like midfielder impresses for WA

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Each week, ESPN.com.au AFL draft expert Chris Doerre casts his eye over the country's best junior footballers to give readers an early insight into the next generation of AFL stars.

As well as attending live games, Doerre pores through match vision, analyses the stats and talks to industry sources to ensure he can offer the most insightful draft analysis.

Aside from the weekly wraps, Doerre will also unveil his power rankings at the end of each month and as we get closer to November's national draft, Doerre will also predict who goes where with his annual phantom draft.


Player focus

Rangey midfielder Matthew Johnson enhanced his first-round credentials with an impressive performance for Western Australia in their 29-point win against South Australia in the opening game of the Under-19 Championships on Saturday.

The 192cm Johnson exhibited class and composure similar to Scott Pendlebury. There was a sense with Johnson that whenever he had ball in hand that he would make something happen. He sidestepped players, changed direction fluidly, and created time and space for himself at will.

Unusual for a tall midfielder, Johnson appears to think and move faster than others following the ball. He possesses not only a quick first step, but before he even wins or receives the ball, he appears to have already planned how he is going to move and what he's going to do.

His ball use was just as impressive. Johnson delivered with precision by both hand and foot to targets. No matter the pressure he was under, Johnson took his time, assessed his options and made the right decision. His kicks both into the corridor to targets to open the game up, and his vision to hit targets inside 50 was similarly a highlight.

Johnson has had an up-and-down year. He started the season slowly and struggled to find the football at WAFL League level, but more recently though in the Colts and Reserves has improved - continuing his strong vein of form on Saturday.

While Johnson has the tools to be one of this draft's best, he'll need to continue developing as a ball winner and improving his consistency. His 25 disposals in the WAFL Reserves in his previous match, and 19 disposals in an influential performance against South Australia is the progression recruiters have been waiting for.

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How did pick 1 contender Jason Horne-Francis go in the WA vs. SA clash?

Many onlookers were left a little disappointed with the performance of Jason Horne-Francis who was not one of South Australia's best. Horne-Francis was unable to have a meaningful influence and struggled to find the football. Through the midfield, he was well contained and struggled to find a way to get a clear run at the ball to win it off the bounce at speed as we customarily see.

What he did do was pressure and tackle to a high level as he can be relied upon to do each week. Where Horne-Francis enjoyed greater success was forward of centre. He kicked just the one goal and set up another. He worried opposition defenders one-on-one into free kicks and flew for balls, attempting to inject life and excitement into the game for South Australia.

While the performance was unextraordinary, it should be taken in the broader context of what he has been doing all season at SANFL League level.

Draft risers

Western Australia

Similar to how Matthew Johnson has hit form at the right time of year, the same seems to be the case with key position prospect Jacob Van Rooyen. Van Rooyen who has kicked 11 goals over his past two WAFL Colts games proved just as adept in defence as one of Western Australia's best. Van Rooyen played with a distinct aggression and hunger to prove himself. In one-on-one contests he was competitive either taking the mark or spoiling, he attacked the ball aerially flying for intercept marks and tackled with aggression. Van Rooyen if he closes out the season strongly may re-emerge as a first-round contender.

Sharing the spotlight in defence with Van Rooyen, Rhett Bazzo put on an intercept marking clinic. A 195cm defender, Bazzo's reading of the ball in flight and how he attacked the ball was a highlight. Playing in front of his opponent, Bazzo played a confident brand of football. He flew for and took just about every mark he went after, backing in his intercept marking capabilities. Bazzo in 2021 has struggled for consistency, but his performance against South Australia won't quickly be forgotten by recruiters and should enhance his draft stocks.

Starring through the midfield and providing both a contrast to the play of Matthew Johnson, Kade Dittmar was the physical bull to complement Johnson's class. There was a liveliness to Dittmar's play where any time he was around the ball he exerted his influence. He won first possession at stoppages, won ground balls around the field, broke tackles, demonstrated good speed and agility with ball in hand and was busy when South Australia had the ball, applying pressure. Dittmar looks like Western Australia's premier two-way midfielder and like Jason Horne-Francis is one of the few midfielders in this pool who can influence games both ways. Dittmar may not be regarded as an early pick but could be a value choice mid-late draft.

South Australia

The standout for South Australia and one of the players to enhance his draft stocks was Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera. Emerging as a first-round fancy on the back of consistently strong play this season, Wanganeen-Milera showed that he is South Australia's classiest. Every time he had the ball in his hands, he felt like he would make something happen. Wanganeen-Milera effortlessly created more time and space for himself, with his agility and quick mind among the most impressive in this pool. His decision making, vision and kicking were further highlights and what further to his agility made his influence felt so regularly with ball in hand.

Under-the-radar name

Asked mostly to play deep in defence for Western Australia, overager Jack Avery played a fundamentally sound game. He didn't lose one-on-one contests, moved well, intercepted to a high level and generated drive from defence. Averaging a competition high 34-disposals in the WAFL Colts as a rebounding defender and more recently translating his play to WAFL League football, he's ready-made and someone whose standard of play merits early draft discussion.