In the lead-up to the 2018 season on April 7 we will countdown the top 20 players to watch this year.
A new player will be profiled every day on neafl.com.au. They are all under 25 and all have the potential to take 2018 by storm.
The inaugural countdown in 2015 produced the NEAFL MVP (Tom Young) and Rising Star (Matthew Uebergang) winner, seven league representatives and two mature-age AFL draftees.
In 2016, the No.1 Player to Watch, Redland’s Blake Grewar, was drafted to the Brisbane Lions, while last year’s countdown featured three NEAFL representatives plus mature-age AFL draftee Jake Brown.
The 2018 countdown is set to rival previous years. Who do you think should make the list?
Check out the full player bios below.
RYAN HEBRON (Sydney University)
Age: 20. NEAFL Games: 47.
Sydney University defender Ryan Hebron left his mark on the competition last year to emerge as one of the NEAFL’s brightest young talents.
Averaging 17 disposals and 5.5 marks as a lock-down defender, Hebron was handed the task of shutting down some of the competition’s most dangerous forwards.
By season’s end, Hebron earned a NEAFL Rising Star nomination, was among the NEAFL’s best players in their representative match against Tasmania, and was selected in the NEAFL Team of the Year.
On top of his league achievements, the 20-year-old came third in the Students’ Driscoll Medal count behind Tom Young and Zac O’Brien, was joint winner of the club’s Rising Star Award, and was awarded a University Blue – the highest sporting honour for a student at the University of Sydney.
Set to reach his 50th NEAFL match in 2018 – after making his debut in 2014 for the Swans – there is one achievement Hebron still craves.
For a player who only seems to get better with age, Hebron will be one to watch in season 2018 in his quest to reach the elite level.
JACK ROLLS (Redland Bombers)
Age: 19. NEAFL Games: 25.
Redland teenager Jack Rolls has all the makings of becoming on of the best midfielders in the NEAFL in the coming years.
A former Lions and AFL Academy member, Rolls created history last season by becoming the first player to earn three consecutive NEAFL Rising Star nominations.
Playing only 14 games last year for the Bombers, Rolls was still ranked second highest at the club in average Champion Data ranking points.
With an impressive average of 23 disposals (43 per cent contested), four inside 50s, five tackles and five clearances per game, he was named in Redland’s best in seven of his 14 matches.
Still only 19, Rolls remains eligible for the NEAFL Rising Star Award in 2018, and stands on the cusp of a breakout season as he evolves into one of Redland’s most important players.
JACK POWELL (Canberra Demons)
Age: 18. NEAFL Games: 17.
Former AFL Academy member Jack Powell had a busy 2017 season after playing for the GIANTS Academy and Allies at the National Under-18 Championships, and suited up for both the GIANTS and Canberra Demons in the NEAFL.
The Ainslie product is clever in traffic, and earned a NEAFL Rising Star nomination last year after he polled seven MVP votes against Southport, the day he turned 18.
A NEAFL premiership player with the GIANTS in 2016, Powell has excelled at junior level for a number of years and was invited to the AFL Draft Combine last October.
If he can transfer that form into senior football on a regular basis in 2018, Powell will be one step further towards making his AFL dreams a reality.
ADAM SAMBONO (NT Thunder)
Age: 21. NEAFL Games: 11.
Adam Sambono captured headlines in 2017 when he burst on to the NEAFL scene with dominant performances in the first half of the season.
By Round 10, the lively forward had booted 26 goals in eight games and was second in the NEAFL MVP voting.
A raw talent with exquisite skills, pace and hunger for the contest, Sambono was selected in the Allies squad as an over-age player after his early-season form.
A combination of National Under-18 Championships, unavailability and illness restricted Sambono to only two more games for the remainder of the season, but his ability to perform at second-tier level after only first playing at age 18 sparked mass interest.
He won the NEAFL Rising Star Award over a quality field and earned NEAFL Team of the Year selection in a stunning debut season.
While his name wasn’t called out on AFL Draft night, with a full season under his belt, the sky is the limit for this exciting Northern Territory talent in 2018.
BEN SLOAN (Brisbane/Redland)
Age: 18. NEAFL Games: 9.
Entering 2018 as one of the competition’s best young talents, Ben Sloan will have a big opportunity to make his dreams a reality when he joins the Lions Under-19 Academy.
An Allies squad member in 2017, Sloan was among AFL Draft contention at season’s end with his versatility and athleticism standing out.
The Mt Gravatt and Redland junior showed off his great potential in the NEAFL Round 19 when he was among the Bombers’ best players in a strong victory over finals-bound Aspley. Sloan, who was Redland’s 23rd player, booted an equal match high of four goals in their 43-point victory.
Although Sloan’s AFL dream didn’t eventuate at season’s end, expect to see seeing plenty more of this exciting talent in 2018 where he hopes to maximise his potential with the Lions.
MITCH MAGUIRE (Canberra Demons)
Age: 19. NEAFL Games: 21.
Canberra midfielder Mitch Maguire plays beyond his years and will enter 2018 as one of the Demons’ most important assets.
A member of the GIANTS Academy since he was 13, Maguire made the Under-15 All-Australian side before making the Allies squad to compete in the Under-18 Division 1 Championships in 2016.
He was unlucky to miss out on AFL Draft selection that year but it didn’t deter him in his first year with Canberra, earning a NEAFL Rising Star nomination in Round 2 and being named emergency for the NEAFL representative side.
Maguire played every game in 2017, averaging 22 disposals, three inside 50s and 3.5 clearances per game.
A midfielder and forward renowned for his consistent work ethic and football smarts, Maguire will only get better with age as he prepares for a big NEAFL season in 2018.
DARCY BARON-HAY (Sydney University)
Age: 20. NEAFL Games: 34.
Sydney University defender Darcy Baron-Hay produced an incredible debut season with the Students last season to well and truly establish himself as a future star of the NEAFL.
A member of the Swans Academy since he was 14, Baron-Hay made his league debut for the Swans in 2015 and was a member of their Grand Final side a year later.
But it was his breakout season last year which has many re-evaluating the limits of Baron-Hay’s potential.
The 190cm defender was regularly given the task of shutting down some of the competition’s best forwards, and earned a NEAFL Rising Star nomination within the first month of the season.
By the end of 2017, Baron-Hay earned NEAFL representative selection as well as Team of the Year honours – at only 19 years of age – to make the competition stand up and notice.
TOM HIGHMORE (Canberra Demons)
Age: 20. NEAFL Games: 29.
Canberra is brimming with young talent in 2018, but one young star who will be key to their success is defender Tom Highmore.
A talented junior since bursting on the scene in 2015 to finish runner-up in Eastlake’s best-and-fairest at just 17, Highmore will dedicate an entire season to Canberra for the first time.
A member of the GIANTS Academy since he was 14, the now 20-year-old was part of the GIANTS’ Under-19 Academy squad last season where he was a member of the Allies as an over-ager.
The 192cm mobile defender reads the play well and uses the ball with great composure, and many believe Highmore’s best football is still ahead of him.
Highmore will be a cornerstone of Canberra’s defence, and a dominant season will not only enhance the Demons’ finals aspirations, but may see him finally break through on to an AFL list at season’s end.
RODNEY BAIRD (NT Thunder)
Age: 19. NEAFL Games: 0.
Rodney Baird in action for Palmerston. Photo: AFLNT Media.
NTFL Rising Star winner Rodney Baird has his sights set firmly on the AFL ahead of his debut NEAFL season with NT Thunder in 2018.
The 2017 Allies squad member already comes with an impressive sporting resume, representing Australia at both rugby league and union at under-age level and was captain of Palmerston’s Under-16 side.
An all-round sportsman, Baird played both Australian football and rugby league through his teens and once held a development scholarship with Parramatta Eels.
Two years ago, Baird – who hails from Lake Evella in north-east Arnhem Land – made the permanent switch to Aussie Rules and has steadily climbed the ranks ever since.
He is also a three-time NTFL Rising Star nominee – earning his first nomination on debut as a 15-year-old – and won the award this 2017/18 season after playing 17 matches and being named in Palmerston’s best 12 times.
Although his 2017 season was hampered with injury, Baird has bounced back to head into 2018 full of steam.
CALLUM McFADDEN (Sydney University)
Age: 21. NEAFL Games: 35.
Kicking off the top 10 of our Players to Watch countdown is Sydney University midfielder, Callum McFadden.
A Rising Star nominee last season as well as named emergency for the NEAFL representative side, McFadden suffered a back injury towards the end of the season which ruled the young gun out of the NEAFL Finals Series.
But he showed plenty in his 15 matches to prove he is a star on the rise. Breaking into a star-studded Students midfield, McFadden averaged 20 disposals (46 per cent contested), five clearances and 4.5 inside 50s per game, plus booting 10 goals.
The former Sydney Swans Academy member – who also had his 2016 season cruelly cut short by glandular fever – was ranked fifth highest in average Champion Data ranking points in the side last year behind Zac O’Brien, Tom Young, Lewis Stevenson, and Jonathan Williams.
With a full season under his belt, there are no limits to what McFadden can achieve in the NEAFL and beyond.
SAM WICKS (Sydney Swans)
Age: 18. NEAFL Games: 12.
Sam Wicks’ response at missing out on Allies selection to be one of only two academy members to feature for the Swans in last year’s NEAFL Grand Final is why he enters 2018 as one of the most exciting Under-19 Academy prospects in the competition.
The 18-year-old midfielder and forward was one of Sydney’s best throughout the AFL Academy Series, but he didn’t let his Allies disappointment get in the way of finishing off the season in style.
After playing his first NEAFL game in Round 7, Wicks went on to play 11 matches and kick 14 goals, as well as averaging nearly two inside 50s per game to cement his place in the dominant Sydney team.
The Manly Bombers product is very disciplined and resilient, has good speed and endurance and is an elite decision-maker.
A member of the Swans Academy since its inception – when he was just 10 years old – Wicks will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Jake Brown, who created history last year as the first player from any Under-19 Academy squad in the NEAFL to be drafted.
ZAC BUECHNER (Aspley Hornets)
Age: 20. NEAFL Games: 0.
Among the influx of young talent to the Hornets nest in 2018 is Tasmanian talent Zac Buechner, who has the desire to test himself at a higher level.
The former Clarence utility made his mark on the National Under-18 Championships last year, producing multiple eye-catching performances for the Mariners which earned Buechner selection in the Allies squad as an overage player.
At 194cm and 96kg, the now 20-year-old was described as “unique” by Allies coach Adrian Fletcher, with his athleticism and versatility making him a tricky prospect for the opposition.
One Tasmanian who navigated the challenges of the NEAFL competition with success was former Glenorchy defender Daniel Joseph, who won the Hornets’ best-and-fairest and earned an invite to the AFL’s Rookie Me Combine after an outstanding debut NEAFL season in 2017.
Joseph’s feats are sure to act as inspiration for Buechner ahead of the challenge of breaking into Aspley’s star-studded lineup this season.
LUKE O’SULLIVAN (Redland Bombers)
Age: 19. NEAFL Games: 22.
NEAFL premiership player Luke O’Sullivan will be looking to have a big impact at his new club in 2018 as the former Lions Academy member starts a new chapter with the Redland Bombers.
The Mt Gravatt junior had been a part of the Lions for a number of years – making his NEAFL debut at the tender age of 16 back in 2015.
O’Sullivan added four games to his tally in 2016 before a massive 2017 campaign with both Brisbane – as part of their Under-19 Academy squad – and Redland.
After representing the Lions as an over-ager in the Under-18 AFL Academy Series, O’Sullivan went on to play 15 NEAFL games (eight for Redland, seven for Brisbane), including the NEAFL Grand Final victory over Sydney where the youngster booted the first goal of the match.
A quality young talent with loads of potential, O’Sullivan is expected to flourish in a Bombers’ environment renowned for producing mature-age draftees.
DYLAN FYFE (Southport Sharks)
Age: 21. NEAFL Games: 0.
Taking out the No.14 spot on our Players to Watch countdown is another newcomer to the NEAFL in Dylan Fyfe.
The 21-year-old Southport recruit enjoyed a breakout season in the Tasmanian State League last year and will be a quality inclusion to the Sharks midfield.
The former Lauderdale on-baller was named in the Tasmanian representative side which lost to the NEAFL in Hobart, and finished the season in the TSL Team of the Year.
Earning a reputation as one of the TSL’s young guns, Fyfe’s ability to shut down bigger opponents while racking up disposals and moving forward to kick goals are all attributes of his game.
His poise and cleanliness in traffic sets him apart, and Fyfe will be eager to impress at a higher level in 2018.
KIEREN BRIGGS (GWS GIANTS)
Age: 18. NEAFL Games: 12.
GWS GIANTS fans will be watching Kieren Briggs’ progress with interest in 2018 as the teenage utility aims to use an extra year within an AFL club environment to his full advantage.
The 18-year-old from western Sydney played 12 NEAFL matches in his debut season last year and was selected in the GIANTS Under-19 squad for 2018.
A key position forward and defender with neat skills and mobility, Briggs earned an AFL Sydney Rising Star nomination last year after being named best-on-ground for Pennant Hills in just his second Premier Division match.
A big year loom for Briggs – who stands at 199cm and 96kg – as the youngster prepares to represent the GIANTS Academy in the National Under-18 Championships as an overage player, and pushing for Allies selection.
He’ll also be given every chance to impress for the GIANTS at NEAFL level, where the opportunity lies for Briggs to boost his AFL Draft chances.
TIMAKOI BOWIE (Gold Coast Suns)
Age: 18. NEAFL Games: 10.
Suns Academy member Timakoi Bowie could be set for a breakout year in 2018 as part of Gold Coast’s Under-19 squad.
The small forward, who hails from Badu Island in the Torres Strait, has taken giant strides in the past couple of years to further his football development.
Bowie relocated from Cairns to the Gold Coast last year where he had a productive season with the Suns Academy, earning Under-18 Allies selection after only taking up the game three years ago.
A former boarder at AFL Cape York House, he is strongly built with great pressure and tackling attributes, developed through playing rugby league as a junior.
Bowie came in to the Suns NEAFL team in Round 11 last year and played the remainder of the season as Gold Coast made the Preliminary Final for the first time.
A full season at NEAFL level is sure to benefit Bowie greatly as he aims to capture the attention of the football world.
BRANDON BATCHELOR (Aspley Hornets)
Age: 20. NEAFL Games: 0.
Tasmanian midfielder Brandon Batchelor made the move north to Queensland this year in the hopes of putting his name in mature-age AFL Draft calculations.
A star for Kingborough Tigers in the Tasmanian Football League for a number of years, the 20-year-old will slot in to a Hornets midfield boasting the likes of Andrew Swallow, Matt Payne, Reece Toye, James Ives and ruckman Jake Spencer.
Batchelor is a tough inside midfielder who was a member of the Tasmanian representative team as a 19-year-old in 2016 before being elevated to vice-captain last year.
He has twice been a runner-up best-and-fairest at the Tigers, the first coming in 2014 when he also won the clubs’ Rising Star Award.
Determined to reach his full potential, look for Batchelor to hit the ground running in 2018 and cement his place in the Hornets’ engine room.
NED REINHARD (Sydney University)
Age: 20. NEAFL Games: 31.
If Ned Reinhard’s recent trajectory is anything to go by, the 2018 season is shaping to be another big step forward in the 20-year-old’s development.
The Sydney University ruckman/forward has grown steadily in the past three years after debuting as a 17-year-old for Sydney in 2015.
The next year, while a member of the Swans’ NEAFL Development Squad, Reinhard played 16 games as a key forward, booting 25 goals and earned a NEAFL Rising Star Nomination for his five-goal haul in Round 3.
He joined the Students last year where he was selected in the NEAFL representative side which beat Tasmania in Hobart, handling the ruck duties alongside Sam Michael.
The 195cm prospect has many athletic attributes which has AFL recruiters taking notice, and a consistent season at NEAFL level in 2018 will do his aspirations no harm.
DANIEL CHARLESWORTH (Southport Sharks)
Age: 19. NEAFL Games: 28.
A rising talent for a number of years, Daniel Charlesworth will begin a new chapter of his NEAFL career in 2018 when he joins the Southport Sharks full-time.
The Cairns City Lions’ product earned an AFL Cairns Rising Star nomination at 16 before relocating to the Gold Coast to chase an opportunity at the elite level.
Charlesworth had a very productive under-18s year, captaining the Suns Academy, playing for the QLD Under-18s, and then being selected into the Allies squad while also making his debut for the Sharks.
Charlesworth plays as a big-bodied midfielder who is hard at the contest and has clean hands. He can also play across half-forward and half-back where he shows courage in the air.
He played 13 matches (one with Southport) last year while a part of the Suns Under-19 Academy, and will enter 2018 as one of the Sharks’ best young talents.
Still eligible for the NEAFL Rising Star Award, Charlesworth will be one to watch for Southport this season in the hopes of putting himself back on the AFL Draft radar.
MATT HAMMELMANN (Redland Bombers)
Age: 22. NEAFL Games: 52.
We kick off our 2018 countdown with Redland’s new recruit, Matt Hammelmann.
A tall forward with strong hands in front, on the lead and overhead, the 22-year-old was both a member of the NAB AFL Academy and Lions Academy before being drafted by Brisbane in 2014.
The Morningside product played 12 AFL matches since debuting in 2016, and is a handy addition to a powerful forward line at the Bombers.
Hammlemann produced arguably his best season last year, averaging 6.7 marks and 2.6 goals per match before a hamstring injury ruled him out of the NEAFL Grand Final against Sydney.
With ambitions to return to an AFL list at season’s end, Hammelmann will be determined to put his best foot forward in the NEAFL this year.
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