Best On Ground: A draft like no other after a season like no other

TOP TRIO: Caleb Serong, Hayden Young and Liam Henry made their AFL debuts for Fremantle in 2020. They were all top-10 draftees. Picture: Getty Images
TOP TRIO: Caleb Serong, Hayden Young and Liam Henry made their AFL debuts for Fremantle in 2020. They were all top-10 draftees. Picture: Getty Images

AFL clubs will welcome their 2020 class through the doors on December 9.

Some of those much-hyped future stars have not played for 12 months.

Not through injury or form woes - they were sidelined, and often house-bound, due to a once-in-lifetime pandemic.

PICK ME: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, who hails from Framlingham near Warrnambool, is one of Oakleigh Chargers' draft contenders. Picture: Morgan Hancock

PICK ME: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, who hails from Framlingham near Warrnambool, is one of Oakleigh Chargers' draft contenders. Picture: Morgan Hancock

The Victorian group was denied a chance to impress recruiters with NAB League, VFL and local competitions aborted.

The rest of their peers - those in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory, New South Wales and Tasmania - got the opportunity to play.

Scouts will base many of their Victorian selections on bottom-age performances.

For some, like potential number one pick and Western Bulldogs' Next Generation Academy member Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and top-10 hopeful Elijah Hollands, who is coming off a knee reconstruction, that is good news after standout 2019 seasons.

ROAD TO RECOVERY: Potential top-10 draft pick Elijah Hollands, pictured representing Vic Country last year, has been nursing a knee injury. Picture: Morgan Hancock

ROAD TO RECOVERY: Potential top-10 draft pick Elijah Hollands, pictured representing Vic Country last year, has been nursing a knee injury. Picture: Morgan Hancock

But it will leave others, who wanted to use the season to press their claims, on the outer.

Thankfully, the NAB League will change from an under 18 to under 19 format next year, giving those players an opportunity to play under recruiters' noses for another 12 months.

Those lucky enough to hear their names called in two weeks' time will then face their next challenge - getting a senior game.

The top-13 draftees from 2019 made their debuts this year with Gold Coast midfielder and number one pick Matt Rowell, before he was injured, and Fremantle ball winner Caleb Serong, who went at pick eight and won the rising star award, the standout performers.

Noah Anderson (Gold Coast, pick two), Luke Jackson (Melbourne, pick two), Lachlan Ash (GWS, pick four), Dylan Stephens (Sydney, pick five), Fischer McAsey (Adelaide, pick six), Hayden Young (Fremantle, pick seven), Liam Henry (Fremantle, pick nine), Tom Green (GWS Giants, pick 10), Sam Flanders (Gold Coast, pick 11), Kysaiah Pickett (Melbourne, pick 12) and Will Day (Hawthorn, pick 13) all featured.

Seven of those - Rowell, Serong, Anderson, Jackson, Green, Pickett and Day - earned rising star nominations.

Can the class of 2020 follow a similar trajectory?

This edition of Best On Ground was written by Warrnambool Standard sports journalist Justine McCullagh-Beasy.

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This story A draft like no other after a season like no other first appeared on The Standard.