The 2014 AFL season has seen a new generation of superstars make their mark on the competition – to celebrate, the AFL Players’ Association is calling on all footy fans to help pick this year’s 22Under22 team. Click here to create yours.
With three Saints named in the AFL Players’ 22Under22 squad announced yesterday, and a handful of others showing plenty of promise for St Kilda, aflplayers.com.au caught up with Saints veteran Leigh Montagna to chat about the progress of his young teammates in 2014.
The Saints picked up the former Brisbane ruckman after Ben McEvoy left to became a Hawk during last year’s trade period. Longer has enjoyed the best season of his short career, carrying the Saints’ ruck stocks in the absence of Tom Hickey.
“It’s his first year at the club. Billy took a bit of time fitting in and getting his fitness up to scratch but he’s a really competitive guy. He has plenty to work on but made the most of his opportunity when Tom Hickey went out, built into it slowly and made some real progress.
“He’s a bit of a character and a different cat. He loves his sleeping and is a little bit quirky at times. But he’s fitted in really well and is another likable big kid.”
2014 was a stellar year for the debutant who burst onto the scene as a high half-forward. Billings slotted straight into the Saints’ line up this year to play 16 games to date, adding some pace and enthusiasm to the mix.
“Jack is a beauty. He’s very young and very raw. He’s come into the system bright-eyed and looking to learn as much as he can. He absorbs a lot of information and asks a lot of questions. His ability can’t be questioned and he’ll be a beauty for a long time. He has a lovely left foot kick too.
“He’s a pretty quiet kid but he’s bought into the club already and shown some signs of strong leadership. I’m mentoring Jack so I’m trying to pass on some knowledge and get him up to scratch.”
After three years in the system, Newnes has played every game in 2014, taking his game to new heights. The versatile defender is second behind Lenny Hayes for tackles at the club and is averaging 20 disposals a match this season.
“I think he’s played every game this season and is one of the more popular kids in the group. He’s been around for three years now so is starting to own the direction of the club with a bunch of other guys. He has a lot of leadership potential, but is still working on his performance and preparation. Once he gets all that together his upside will be huge.
“He’s a really good kid and a northern suburbs boy – he went to the same school as me so I’ll give him big wraps there – and he’s having a really consistent season and really improved.”
Dunstan burst onto the scene in 2014, playing an in-and-under role in the midfield. The strong-bodied youngster earned the Round 1 Rising Star nomination and played 16 games before a shoulder injury derailed the end of his debut season.
“Luke came in as the most mature kid of the group. He was a captain in the juniors and certainly showed his leadership material right from the start. He’s a tough, in-and-under player. I’d probably describe him as a Lenny Hayes type where he is a really hard worker but also a humble kid.
“He’s a really humble and level-headed kid, but confident as well. He’s got a lot of leadership potential. I tip that he’ll be a future leader of the club.”
A skilful half-back, Webster backed up his 2013 with 11 games so far this season. The skilful half-back has a competitive edge and is part of the younger brigade at St Kilda beginning to find his feet at AFL level.
“Jimmy’s our most fierce competitor as a youngster. He’s tough as nails and will scrap for the last inch. He’s really improved this season with his leadership; he’s more of a quiet kid, but the way he goes about it on the field makes him more of an actions man rather than a talking man.
“He’s a really popular kid in the group. Jimmy’s a Tassie boy and is one of those down to earth kids who loves hunting, fishing, and hanging out with his mates. He’s a beauty and there are some really positive signs with him. He’ll grow from strength to strength.”
The former Giant has had an encouraging year. Bruce is a tall and athletic key position prospect who’s capable of playing at both ends but looks most at home holding down a key defensive post.
“It’s Josh’s first year at the club. He’s fitted in really well and he’s a likable fella. He’s a lot bigger and more athletic than we thought. I think he’s 197cm but he can really run and jump and has a lot of athletic attributes. He’s got a great pair of hands but is still working on his kicking. Earlier in the year he was going to be marked down as a key defender but has shown signs that he can also play up forward. We’re looking for him to maybe be a swingman of the future and he’s certainly got a bright future.
“He’s a pretty likable kid. He’s pretty laid back, chilled out and cool. He’s done well and bought a house in south Yarra or somewhere like that. So he’s moved down from Canberra and found the right spot in Melbourne to go and hang out.”
The final 22Under22 team will be announced at the AFL Players’ MVP Awards on Tuesday, September 9. You can vote for Billy Longer, Jack Billings, and Jack Newnes by selecting your 22Under22 team here.