2019 AFL DRAFT - Werribee's leading prospects

In Mark ‘Choco’ Williams’ first season at the helm, Werribee shot up the ladder, won a final, got within a kick of a preliminary final, produced the J.J Liston Trophy and Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal winners, and as if that wasn’t enough, had a VFL-high five players named in the Team of the Year. Will the club’s 2019 success story continue at the AFL Drafts?

werribeefc.com.au spoke exclusively with the club’s leading prospects ahead of a potentially life-changing few days.

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Jake Riccardi

A household name in footy circles, largely thanks to Geelong stalwart Peter Riccardi, who despite false reporting is not Jake’s father or a relation, however, after a scintillating debut VFL season, it’s fair to say that Werribee’s No.32 had made a name for himself.

The then teenager put two years of draft disappointment and a short stint at full back in 2018 behind him, to take the VFL by storm in a 38-goal season that yielded VFL Team of the Year selection (CHB), a State Combine invitation and the prized Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal – a golden ticket to the AFL for the last 13 winners.

Riccardi is widely being tipped to be the first VFL player drafted, potentially as early as the second round.

Hopes & expectations?

“Obviously to be drafted to an AFL club would mean a lot and hopefully it works out that way but at the same time you can’t set your expectations too high,” Riccardi said.

“Hoping to be picked up but if not, I’m at a great club in Werribee.”

As for the clubs who have shown interest, Riccardi said, “I spoke to North Melbourne prior to the mid-season draft and then a handful of others after that”.

Media sources have also linked him to Collingwood, Essendon and Geelong.

“I go for Essendon and to play for the club you supported growing up would be unreal! But at the same time I’d happy to go to any club that would give me the chance.”

Which other Werribee players would you love to see get drafted?

“I trained with Bior Malual and Louis Pinnuck a fair bit prior to the combine so to see them get rewarded would be great. But in our side there’s a good 8-10 guys who are clearly capable so hopefully they get a chance, whether that be this year or in the next coming few.”

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Ryan Hebron

A former Sydney Swans Academy member, Hebron’s decision to relocate from NSW for the 2019 season proved a fruitful one.

The intercept defender arrived at Avalon Airport Oval after a successful three-year stint with Sydney University in the NEAFL where he was a club best & fairest winner and two-time team of the year member.

Hebron settled in seamlessly at VFL level, and finished the season with the second most marks in the competition, propelling him into draft calculations, not for the first time.

“Swans head recruiter Kinnear Beatson said he was really impressed with my year and asked me to come down and do the pre-season with the group,” Hebron said.

“It has been a really good few weeks. The boys and staff have been treating me like a listed player. It took a little while to adjust to such a big workload but the body's adapted well and I'm feeling well prepared for a full pre-season, ideally at an AFL club.

Hopes & expectations?

“I've had some good feedback from clubs on how I'm playing my role so hopefully I get that opportunity.”

Which other Werribee players would you love to see get drafted?

“I've got my fingers crossed for several players I think deserve a chance. I think ‘Ricca’ [Jake Riccardi] should be in the first 50 picked up. There's not many guys his age out their capable of doing what he did this year and he's still got so much improvement in him.”

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Bior Malual

The EDFL star returned to the VFL for a second crack and proved himself as one of the competition’s excitement machines. What he lacked in size, he made up for with his elite athleticism and impressive footy IQ.

Malual made quite the first impression at Werribee, winning the pre-season time trial in a canter to secure his place on the list, before going onto boot 19 goals primarily from the wing.

His eye-catching campaign earned him a state combine invitation, where he displayed his talents, winning both the agility and yo-yo tests.

“I had a little bit of interest from a couple of clubs who were tracking me throughout the season.”

Hopes & expectations?

“Overall my hopes are to make it onto an AFL list eventually, it may not be this year but down the track I believe I may have something to offer at the highest level,” Malual said.

With no guarantees, Malual believes he’s done what he can to impress clubs this season, but either way he’ll continue to strive for improvement.

“I don’t like to expect too much as I’m not in control over the draft period … I just try focus on what I can do to improve myself.

“Once the season finished I didn’t stop training as we had the combine to prepare for but after that I just tried to hit the gym more regularly and try put on a bit of size before starting pre-season again.”

Which other Werribee players would you love to see get drafted?

“Honestly I’d love to see as many blokes that have nominated for the draft, not only this year but in the near future as well!”

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Ryan Kemp

The speedy small forward joined Werribee ahead of the 2019 season after an extraordinary year with Horsham Demons in the Wimmera FL.

He made an instant impression on debut kicking three goals and went onto play 13 games (11 goals) as an important pressure forward.

So good was his form, particularly in the finals series, he received an unexpected phone call from Fremantle’s draft manager, inviting him to a testing day with the Dockers.

“I spoke to Fremantle briefly and they said they were pretty happy with how I tested and they've got late picks in the national draft,” Kemp told The Wimmera Mail Times.

"If I did go, I would be one of their late picks or in the rookie draft."

Hopes & expectations?

"It’s pretty surreal, it's happened so quickly. I only moved to Melbourne this year and played 13 VFL games, and now AFL clubs are looking. I'll be at work for the rookie draft, trying to listen to it on my phone. Hopefully I'll hear my name called.

“Obviously I am really hoping to get this opportunity but I am not expecting too much. It would mean so much as I have always wanted to do this since I was a little kid.”

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Darcy Bennett

The 203cm Lara local who hails from a basketball background played eight games in his debut year as a backup ruckman, but came into his own during the finals, including the semi against Essendon where he amassed 33 hitouts and 12 disposals in tough conditions.

Bennett, 22, never played NAB League football, but his raw athletic attributes and rapid development in his first VFL season was enough for at least one AFL club to come knocking, Greater Western Sydney.

“I initially had a meeting with their recruiters towards the end of the season basically just for them to get to know me and see how I was tracking for a prospect maybe a year or two down the line,” Bennett said.

“After the finals series I was called up and got asked to go and do some testing for them in Melbourne and so Scott Graham (Werribee High Performance Manager) gave me a hand getting that done.”

Bennett has formed a close bond with Graham.

“Scott’s been great in that aspect as well. A week after the season I started doing some running with the state combine boys who were preparing for that, and then Scott had us all on a running program to keep the fitness up. I’ve also been in the gym trying to put on some size along with the running.”

Hopes & expectations?

“No major expectations really. Playing a few games in my first year at Werribee more than exceeded my expectations so being considered for the draft is a great end to the season.

“If I did get drafted, I guess it would mean that all the work I’ve put in this past year and the changes to my lifestyle have been more than worth it, and it would be another challenge to set for myself to step up to that higher level.”

Which other Werribee players would you love to see get drafted?

“The three state combine boys for sure. I don’t think you could’ve picked a better group of people to represent the club both in their work ethic as well as personality around the club.”

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Louis Pinnuck

The versatile defender enjoyed a productive season in Werribee’s back half. Pinnuck has the agility and strength to play tall and the speed and skill to take the smalls. Often seen dashing off half-back and flying for intercept marks, the Strathmerton/Murray Bushrangers product impressed at least one AFL club and was one of three Werribee players who tested at the state combine.

Hopes & expectations

“Honestly I’m not expecting too much, but I’m super excited for some of the other boys who I think would be unlucky not to go,” Pinnuck said.

Which other Werribee players would you love to see get drafted?

“Jake Riccardi is a jet and I reckon should definitely go. Bior deserves a chance too I think.”

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Tom Gribble

The prolific midfielder took his game to new heights in season 2019, culminating in the coveted J.J Liston and Bruce Montgomery Trophies, as well as VFL Team of the Year selection.

Gribble, who recently turned 25, averaged 30 disposals, 15 contested possessions, seven clearances, five tackles and five inside-50s a game, consistently matching it with AFL-listed talent.

But as he revealed in a Wydham Leader story recently, his phone hasn’t rung.

“I get more realistic as the years go,’’ he told the Leader.

“I’m not getting any younger. I’m getting better. But I’m expecting I’ll be rolling around at Werribee next year.

“I think I could step up to the level. I think I’ve shown consistently that I can find the footy, whether that be inside or outside – there’s a bit of both there, I’m not just an inside bull or an outsider winger – and I think my understanding of the game, my footy smarts, helps me get the footy.”

20 Werribee-listed players nominated for the draft: Daniel Nielson, Baxter Norton, Jake Riccardi, Max Spencer, Tylar Watts, Max Augerinos, Darcy Bennett, Dom Brew, Nick Coughlan, Kye Declase, Aiden Domic, Tom Gribble, Matt Hanson, Ryan Hebron, Jack Henderson, Ryan Kemp, Joe Maishman, Bior Malual, Matt Munro, Louis Pinnuck

AARON FETTER

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