best mature age state league prospects, VFL, WAFL, SANFL, Charlie Dean, Greg Clark, Leek Alleer, Mitch Cox

AFL clubs over the past few decades have struck gold at the draft by recruiting mature-age prospects.

And considering the lack of exposure for some Under 18 prospects in 2021, some list managers could turn to the proven, wiser bodies of state league stars. They could pick them up via the national or rookie drafts, or via the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP) or, if they’ve been on an AFL list before, delisted free agency

With the help of Champion Data, profiles 18 players from the VFL, SANFL and WAFL that could be bargain pick-ups at the drafts later this month.

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Charlie Dean (Williamstown – VFL)

Age: 20

Position: Key defender (195cm, 86kg)

This year’s winner of the VFL award suggests an AFL-level opportunity – and success – looms. After a breakout season as an intercept defender, Dean claimed the 2021 Fothergill-Round-Mitchell medal – the award given to the best young player in the VFL. The past 14 winners of the award, including Bayley Fritsch (Melbourne), Luke Ryan (Fremantle) and Kane Lambert (Richmond), have all been drafted by an AFL club. After playing predominantly forward in the NAB League in 2019, Dean moved into defence for the Seagulls this year and averaged 8.2 intercept possessions per match – the third-most of any key defender to play five matches – to earn a spot in the VFL team of the year. He then submitted a 2km time trial result, via Strava, of 6:11 – ranked seventh among Vic Metro and NSW/ACT prospects. He could be taken in the national draft, possibly as early as the second round.

Charlie Dean of Williamstown claimed the 2021 Fothergill-Round-Mitchell medal. Picture: Jonathan DiMaggioSource: Getty Images

Leek Alleer (Central District – SANFL)

Age: 20

Position: Key defender (195cm, 81kg)

Widely regarded as the most likely mature-age prospect to be taken in this year’s national draft – and rightly so. The 195cm intercept defender has rocketed up club draft boards throughout the season, playing 11 SANFL league games for Central and impressing with his athleticism and high marking. One recruiter told “Put the popcorn on when you watch him”. While Alleer didn’t win a lot of the ball this year, he ranked fourth in the SANFL for intercept marks, sixth for intercept possessions and 10th for spoils. Post-season, he smashed the combine record for the running vertical jump, recording a whopping 107cm off his left foot at the South Australian-based draft combine. Should go in the national draft, possibly as early as the second round.

Blake Schlensog (South Fremantle – WAFL)

Age: 21

Position: Key forward/key defender (199cm, 99kg)

A second AFL chance looms for the emerging key-position player after failing to play a game in two seasons on Geelong’s list. Schlensog linked up with South Fremantle for the 2021 WAFL season and was a constant threat for the Bulldogs at both ends of the field. He played as a key defender in his first 11 games and averaged 18 disposals, 7.3 intercept possessions and 3.5 intercept marks. Schlensog then went forward for eight games and averaged 13 disposals, 2.9 contested marks and 2.0 goals, before heading back into defence late in the year. The West Australian reported this week Schlensog had attracted interest from Geelong, Richmond, Collingwood and Gold Coast, but he told the publication the Cats – the club that initially helped Schlensog realise his AFL dream – were “the main ones showing the most positive signs”.

Blake Schlensog had a terrific 2021 campaign in Western Australia. Picture: David MariuzSource: Supplied

Greg Clark (Subiaco – WAFL))

Age: 24

Position: Midfielder (193cm, 94kg)

He was stiff not to be picked up in his draft year (2015), but Clark now genuinely appears primed for a crack at AFL level. The big-bodied inside midfielder had a tremendous 2021 campaign, capped off by his scintillating grand final performance against South Fremantle: 2.1 from 25 disposals, 14 tackles and six clearances. Among players that played at least five WAFL league matches this year, Clark ranked first for tackles (7.3 per match), fifth for disposals (27.1), seventh for contested possessions and 12th for score involvements. The Subiaco bull revealed post-season there’d been “a little bit” of interest from AFL clubs since the mid-season draft, with The West Australian reporting WA-based clubs Fremantle and West Coast had been keeping tabs. He’d be a terrific inclusion for not just those two teams, but any of the other 16 clubs.

Noah Pegoraro (West Perth – WAFL)

Age: 24

Position: Key defender (194cm, 90kg)

A late bloomer at the age of 24, highlighted by the significant improvement he showed from 2020 to 2021 across various areas. Pegoraro produced increases in disposals (10 last year to 18 this year), marks (3.2 to 5.6), intercept possessions (5.6 to 7.8), intercept marks (1.8 to 2.6) and spoils (3.0 to 4.4) in 2021. Among the players to play at least 10 WAFL league matches this season, Pegoraro led the competition for intercept possessions per match as he impressed with his natural speed, agility and composure with ball in hand. He then turned heads at the WA-based draft combine post-season, recording a standing vertical jump of 75cm – ranked equal-second among all draft prospects – as well as a 20m sprint time of 2.926 seconds and a running vertical jump of 92cm – both ranked fifth nationally. Strong chance to get picked up in the national draft.

Noah Pegoraro from Western Australia. Picture: David MariuzSource: Supplied

Mitch Cox (Frankston – VFL)

Age: 24

Position: Utility (190cm, 81kg)

A ready-made player that’s gaining interest from AFL clubs after a breakout 2021 VFL campaign. Cox had a great start to the year in defence, averaging 21 disposals and five intercept possessions from his first five matches. He was then switched forward and, from Round 6 onwards, played as a mid-forward. The move paid dividends as he averaged 23 disposals, four clearances, eight score involvements and two goals per match. That stretch included two monster games: 5.1 from 28 disposals against the Northern Bullants then 4.2 from 20 disposals against Port Melbourne. Cox’s on-field surge came off the back of a strong pre-season where he improved his fitness significantly. His ability to play various roles would appeal to AFL clubs.

Casey Voss (Sturt – SANFL)

Age: 20

Position: General defender (182cm, 80kg)

With his dad back in a senior coaching role, could Casey join him in the AFL system? Voss, the son of triple premiership Lions legend – and new Carlton coach – Michael Voss, showed excellent progression in every area as a general defender this year and claimed Sturt’s best and fairest award. His disposals jumped from 18 to 23, his intercept marks from 1.2 to 2.3, his spoils from 1.1 to 2.0 and his kicking efficiency from 66 per cent to 81 per cent. He was the third-highest ranked general defender in the SANFL, while he also ranked second for his position for intercept marks and fourth for intercept possessions. Premiership Swan and Sturt coach Marty Mattner told the Herald Sun Voss was “one of the smartest players I have ever seen play the game of footy” at any level. Fair wrap for a player that appears ready for his chance at AFL level.

Michael Voss and Casey Voss. Picture: Matt TurnerSource: News Corp Australia

Bailey Rogers (Claremont – WAFL)

Age: 24

Position: Midfielder (185cm, 85kg)

A move from the half-back line to the midfield paid enormous dividends for Rogers, who won’t stop pursuing his AFL dreams until “someone says no”. The Claremont on-baller claimed this year’s Sandover Medal – the WAFL’s highest individual honour – after kicking 29 goals and averaging 28 disposals from his 18 home and away games. Rogers averaged the third-most ranking points (125) in the WAFL among players that played at least 10 matches, while he also ranked sixth for disposals and fourth for score involvements. A career-best year has put him in a strong position to pull off a possible career-defining step up.

Bailey Lambert (Frankston – VFL)

Age: 22

Position: General forward (184cm, 82kg)

Was one of the hottest mature-age prospects in the land earlier this year among recruiters before injury – and the pandemic – slowed his momentum. Lambert, the son of former Richmond and Brisbane star Craig Lambert, started the season on fire, booting 11 goals and averaging 14 disposals from his first three matches. But he kicked just three goals from his last remaining matches amid a couple of injury setbacks. Lambert is a terrific overhead mark for his size, yet is just as dangerous at ground level and without the ball due to his defensive pressure.

Jacob Dawson starred for Southport: Jack Banister.Source: Supplied

Jacob Dawson (Southport – VFL)

Age: 22

Position: Midfielder (182cm, 80kg)

There was no JJ Liston medal awarded this year to the VFL’s best and fairest player. But if the votes were tallied from the games that were played, Dawson would likely be on top of the leaderboard after starring in a campaign where Southport lost just one game. After being delisted late last year following nine games in three seasons for the Gold Coast Suns, Dawson had a brilliant VFL season for the Sharks, averaging a whopping 34.7 disposals per game. He had 40-plus disposals on five occasions. Dawson also led the league for clearances (9.6), was second for contested possessions (17.7) behind Coburg’s Marcus Lentini and averaged the fifth-most score involvements (8.3). Deserves a second crack.

Eamon Wilkinson (South Adelaide – SANFL)

Age: 20

Position: Small forward (179cm, 75kg)

Was in the mid-season draft mix a few months ago, with Brisbane reportedly showing interest before it ultimately opted for Claremont ruckman Kalin Lane. Yet Wilkinson continued to be a consistent performer for South Adelaide at SANFL level, kicking a goal in 13 of his 18 matches. Just as noteworthy was his ability to apply defensive pressure, ranking third among small forwards for forward 50 tackles. Wilkinson’s best match of the season came in South Adelaide’s semi-final win over Norwood where he kicked two goals from 13 disposals and nine tackles (four inside 50). Blessed with speed and great goal nous, Wilkinson is a sneaky chance to get on an AFL list.

Vincent Adduci has become a key member of Box Hill’s team. Picture: Luke HemerSource: Getty Images

Vincent Adduci (Box Hill Hawks – VFL)

Age: 23

Position: Small forward (177cm, 84kg)

An energetic player that can change the momentum of a game promptly. Now a crucial member of Box Hill’s best 22, Adduci produced a career-best season in 2021. He had two outstanding performances: 21 disposals and four goals against Sandringham in Round 3 then 22 disposals and five goals against Carlton in Round 6. While these were the only times for the season he kicked multiple goals, Adduci still averaged 1.6 score assists per match – the fifth-most among small forwards. The Hawks drafted Lachie Bramble and Jai Newcombe out of their VFL affiliate … could they make it a third in Adduci?

Jack Hayes (Woodville-West Torrens – SANFL)

Age: 24

Position: Utility (192cm, 91kg)

Perhaps he can be ignored no longer. With 123 goals from 93 games, Hayes has been a SANFL star for years. This year, he finished with a highly unusual – yet mightily impressive – set of statistics. The 192cm utility averaged just under 20 disposals, 2.4 clearances, 2.1 intercept marks, 7.1 score involvements and 1.1 goals. In Round 14 against West Adelaide, Hayes booted 2.4 from 29 disposals and a lazy 20 marks (seven intercept marks). He then produced one of his best games for the season in the Eagles’ grand final triumph, booting 1.2 from 26 disposals, nine marks and seven clearances to win the Jack Oatey medal for best in ground. A rare key forward, key defender, midfielder set of numbers that no doubt would’ve caught recruiters’ eyes.

Nathan Freeman racked up a lot of disposals for Frankston in 2021. Picture: Jonathan DiMaggioSource: Getty Images

Nathan Freeman (Frankston – VFL)

Age: 26

Position: Midfielder (183cm, 88kg)

Third time lucky? A top-10 pick at the 2013 national draft, Freeman had a wretched run with injury during his five seasons in the AFL with Collingwood and St Kilda, managing just two games. While he’s worked into the player management space, he’s continued to impress at state league level – and it was impossible to ignore him in 2021. No VFL player racked up the ball more than Freeman did this year, averaging a competition-high 37.7 disposals per match. He won 40-plus disposals in five of his first seven matches. Recruiters will have their doubts on Freeman, including his age and the fact he had a contested possession rate of just 33 per cent this year while averaging only 1.8 tackles per match. But few hunt the ball on the field better than he does – and few are as hungry to return to AFL level than he is.

Angus Baker (Essendon/GWS Giants – VFL)

Age: 23

Position: General defender (191cm, 86kg)

Has been on AFL club recruiters’ radars for several years now after standout campaigns at state league level. Representing Canberra in the now-defunct NEAFL, Baker averaged 31 disposals and over 10 intercept possessions in 2019, leading to him winning the league’s rising star award and his club’s best and fairest count, while he finished second in NEAFL MVP voting. After the pandemic ruined his 2020 campaign, Baker was asked to train with Essendon in January this year. That led to a spot on the Bombers’ VFL team and four games under Leigh Tudor. But after it became clear he wouldn’t be picked up in the mid-season draft, Baker returned to NSW and linked up with the Giants VFL team where he added another two matches. Overall Baker averaged 26 disposals and 7.3 intercept possessions per match – elite digits for a general defender. An excellent interceptor and rebounder that performs at a high level consistently, Baker deserves an AFL gig.

Tom Lewis (Sturt – SANFL)

Age: 20

Position: Midfielder (178cm, 75kg)

After being surprisingly snubbed in his draft year, Lewis has gradually built momentum at SANFL level, culminating in a breakout season in 2021. A tough inside midfielder, Lewis led the SANFL for tackling with 9.9 per match and improved his ball-winning capabilities, taking his disposal average from 15 last year to 22 this year while doubling his clearance numbers from 2.9 to 5.8. Mightn’t have the height as other AFL-listed players, but his tough, blunt approach to the game will surely appeal to some recruiters.

Matthew Hammelmann kicked 42 goals for the Hornets. Picture: Russell FreemanSource: Getty Images

Matthew Hammelmann (Aspley – VFL)

Age: 25

Position: Key forward (198cm, 99kg)

This guy just keeps kicking goals. Following three seasons on the Brisbane Lions’ rookie list, Hammelmann became a genuine star in the NEAFL, booting a whopping 126 goals from 36 games for Redland. After the NEAFL merged with the VFL, Hammelmann linked up with Aspley, which finished second-last on the ladder this year. Despite his team’s fortunes, Hammelmann won the Frosty Miller medal for most goals kicked in the VFL, booting 42 majors from 10 matches. Among players to play more than five VFL matches, Hammelmann ranked second for marks inside 50 and third for contested marks. If a club needs a strong, mature-age key forward, they could do a lot worse than Hammelmann.

Brayden Crossley (Southport – VFL)

Age: 22

Position: Ruck-forward (199cm, 105kg)

The former Sun is back on the radar of some AFL clubs after a terrific season for Southport in the VFL. Crossley proved he can play as a ruck-forward, averaging 17.8 disposals, 19.2 hit-outs, 4.6 marks, 3.9 tackles and 1.3 goals per match. Most impressively, his hitout-to-advantage rate of 35 per cent was the best of any ruckman in the competition. Gold Coast could’ve really done with Crossley this season after its rucks stocks were severely hampered. Whether the Suns would take another chance on Crossley remains unclear, but he couldn’t have done much more in 2021 to put himself in the best position to earn an AFL lifeline.

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