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.
North Melbourne will enter a cut-throat elimination final this weekend, with a handful of talented youngsters set to make their mark in September.
aflplayers.com.au chatted to North veteran Drew Petrie about the progress his young teammates have made throughout 2014.
What a dream start for North’s father-son recruit. The 19-year-old has played 20 games in his debut season, coming straight into the senior side in Round 1 and slotting into a role across half-back. The 189cm defender gained a Rising Star nomination in Round 4 and averaged 17 disposals a game to be one of the more underrated Rising Star favourites for 2014.
Petrie said: “I’ve known Luke for a lot of years now, given that his dad has worked as an assistant coach and footy manager at North. It hasn’t been the case with Luke of giving him a game to blood him for the future; he’s actually earned his spot every single week. He’s very courageous and has run back with the flight plenty of times, putting his body on the line – which is an expectation, but to do that at 18 years of age of age is a good trait.
“He doesn’t get as much publicity as others but he’d be one of the few that play most games in their first season. He was a Rising Star nominee early in the season so he’s candidate for it and he’d definitely be a worthy winner.”
The dashing half-back has continued his steady progress since bursting onto the scene with an ability to break the lines back in 2011. Atley continues to be one of the most important players down at Aegis Park, coming second at the club for bounces while averaging 18 disposals across the 22 matches this season.
Petrie said: “Ats was commonly known as Humphrey in his first couple of years because he was very quiet and didn’t say much. He’s naturally a quiet person but on the footy field his running ability and his pace are his biggest assets.
“We’ve seen a lot of great highlights already when he tucks the ball under his arm. The coach and his teammates certainly encourage him to run really hard off half-back and back his pace in and he sets up a lot of our attacks through the use of his pace.”
McKenzie showed more progress in his third season at AFL level, equalling the ten games he played in 2013 with another ten this season. The elite-kicking half-back showed glimpses of his talents with 25 disposals, five clearances, and four rebounds in the Round 3 win against Port Adelaide.
Petrie said: “Brad is another good and young half-back flanker who can hopefully develop into regular player. He’s probably still in for a couple of games and then out for a couple of games so there is a little of inconsistencies in his performances, which is normal.
“He has a really damaging left-foot and he’d be close to the best kick in the team. It’d be the case of improving and progressing bits and pieces each year. Originally he was thrown around a bit. He played a bit on the wing and then at half-back so he’s talent is definitely there.
“He’s pretty quiet and reserved. He’s confident within his smaller group of mates but he’s a little bit quieter in the bigger group.”
It’s impossible to miss the 200cm redhead. Brown broke into the side in Round 14, playing eight games and kicking 12 goals in his debut season. The strong-marking forward is developing into a cult figure with the North fans and is seizing senior opportunities, booting three majors and gathering 16 disposals in Round 23.
Petrie said: “Browny is a person who will give you an honest crack every single time he plays in the side. There are no half measures with Browny; he just attacks the footy and is willing to listen and do whatever he can to help the team.
“I’d probably put him into the ‘little different’ category, but he’s very intelligent. I’m not sure how street smart he is but he’s very book smart. He’s like a sponge and absorbs a lot of information. He’s good to work with because he’s willing to try and carry out instructions. He tries to do everything right for the team so you can’t question Browny’s attitude or his effort so far.”
After a breakout season in 2013 that saw him named in the inaugural 22Under22 team, injuries and inconsistency have limited Mullett’s impact slightly in his fourth season at North Melbourne. The 22-year-old has worked hard on his defensive game while still averaging 14 disposals across his 17 games in 2014.
Petrie said: “Aaron’s left-foot off half-back sets up a lot of our attacking plays. He’s a good runner up the ground and he’s been able to kick goals as well so he makes his opponent accountable.
“He’s improved on his defensive side. Playing at half-back, his number one responsibility is basically to stop his opponent from having an impact and setting up goals for them. He’s been able to do that more-so this year and find that balance between defence and attack.
“He’s definitely a fun kind of bloke. He’d fit into the ‘cool’ bracket at the footy club. He’s got a good sense of humour and he’s someone who genuinely lifts spirits around the joint.”
The former Port youngster had a tough first year at Aegis Park, featuring in seven matches but has improved throughout 2014 in the role of a tagger. The 22-year-old has played the last nine matches of the home and away season, taking the scalps of Isaac Smith and the dangerous Troy Menzel.
Petrie said: “His form in the VFL has been outstanding throughout the whole season. His ability to win the footy himself and put defensive pressure on his opponents as well has been something that he’s worked really hard on this season and that what’s got him into the side at the moment.
“Benny’s probably in the ‘cool’ category as well. He’s a typical confident bloke but he’s one you could really have a conversation with. He has a friendly nature as well.”
The final 22Under22 team will be announced at the AFL Players’ MVP Awards on Tuesday, September 9. You can vote for Luke McDonald and Shaun Atley by selecting your 22Under22 team here.