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Melbourne Football Club

Analysis: new faces for round one

Angus Brayshaw poses for a photograph during the Melbourne Demons portrait session at the MCG, Melbourne on January 29, 2015. (Photo: Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
Angus Brayshaw poses for a photograph during the Melbourne Demons portrait session at the MCG, Melbourne on January 29, 2015. (Photo: Adam Trafford/AFL Media)

ON SATURDAY, Melbourne will field seven new players.

Four of them have AFL experience behind them; three are playing at the highest level for the first time. It could have been eight new players and four AFL debutants had NAB AFL Draft No.2 draft pick Christian Petracca not injured his knee in the lead-up to the 2015 season.

Still, it’s a fascinating look at the evolution of Melbourne’s list under Paul Roos.

In total, 22 players have joined the Demons since Roos became coach. That’s half the list.

Manager of player personnel Todd Viney said it was a double-edged sword that the club had turned over so many players, but at the same time it gave the list management/recruiting team the opportunity to bring in the players they wanted.

“We’ve brought in 22 players in the past two years and that’s not what we want to be doing in the next two years. We believe we’ve made the right changes to help us become better,” he told melbournefc.com.au.

“The ideal scenario is that we find it very hard to make the compulsory three changes to our list at the end of the year.

“Sometimes you might have retirements, but otherwise you have to make three list changes to your list. Hopefully we’ll get to the point where we won’t have to let anyone go – and it will be just retirements – because we want everyone to perform to the level.

“But it’s exciting to see some new faces and it’s up to them to consolidate their spot on the list and help us move forward, play in finals and ultimately in big finals.”

Along with Viney, national recruiting manager Jason Taylor, pro scout Kelly O’Donnell, national recruiting officer Tim Lamb and recruiting technology coordinator Darren Farrugia form the nucleus in shaping and recruiting Melbourne’s list, along with several talent scouts around the country.

But as Viney said, the fact that seven new players have been named in the opening match of the 2015 season is a fair effort – for a team that is starting its climb up the ladder.

“We’re rapt that so many of the guys have had good enough pre-seasons to be in the round one side. We thought they could help us get better,” the former Melbourne captain and coach said.

“Those guys have created more depth to the list and the reason why they’re playing round one is because they’ve proven to be in the best mix.

“They’ve all adapted to the life of a professional AFL footballer really well and have added to the quality of the group we’ve already got, so they’ve done really well.”

Heritier Lumumba, Jeff Garlett, Sam Frost and Ben Newton land at the club with previous AFL experience, with Jesse Hogan, Angus Brayshaw and Aaron Vandenberg set to make their AFL debut against the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG on Saturday. 

Petracca was well on his way to playing game No.1 this round, had it not been for a season-ending knee injury, as Viney explained.

“I think Christian was tracking really well before his injury. We saw some really exciting stuff from him in game simulation, which would have suggested that he could have been in the same situation as Angus for round one,” he said.

“It was disappointing that it happened.” 

Viney said it was good reinforcement for the list management/recruiting team that Melbourne had acquired players who were brought in to do a job – not just for now, but the future. He gave an overview of the ‘magnificent seven’ who will play their first match for Melbourne this weekend:

Angus Brayshaw: We watched him closely last year. He’s a genuine midfield player, who we thought could add to our mix. He’s a 187cm, big-bodied midfielder, who can win contested possessions, around the stoppage. If he doesn’t win the footy, he puts pressure on the opposition ball carrier. He’s a rare junior that seems to enjoy tackling, chasing and smothering as much as getting a kick, so that really stood out to us during the year. His ability to be a goalkicker – he is able to go forward and kick goals – was shown last weekend for Casey, with 2.1. That really stood out for us.

Sam Frost: We first started looking at Frosty, because we didn’t know what James Frawley’s movements were going to be, so we started scouring the country and other AFL teams for other tall defenders. That was Kelly O’Donnell’s brief as pro scout – to be able to tell us the options out there. Frost was out of contract, so we started to monitor him pretty quickly. Kelly had spent a lot of time watching him and then Jason Taylor and me. We also got Jade Rawlings to have a look and he really liked some of the things that he could bring to the table, particularly his athleticism. He’s super quick and we’ve already seen some stuff where he puts enormous pressure on the opposition, with his chasing and tackling. He’s got the ability to close down forwards on a lead. He’s probably played a little bit more forward than defence so far. He’s also pinch-hit in the ruck, so that adds another string to his bow, which has put him in the side for round one.

Jeff Garlett: One of the positions we needed to fill was a small forward, pressure player who could hit the scoreboard. When we saw a player like Jeff not getting a game at Carlton, we identified him throughout last year as a player who could help us. We managed to get the trade done and use a third round pick. For someone who has kicked more than 40 goals in at least two seasons and another close to it – those players are hard to come by. We thought he’d be a valuable acquisition for us and thus far – he’s been really exciting for us.

Jesse Hogan: Jesse has been with us for three years, so it seems like he’s almost a veteran. For him to play round one is great. He’s had to persevere, after arriving as a 17-year-old, who moved away from home. He played really well at VFL level in his first year, but to not be able to play [due to a back injury] last year would’ve been really hard for him mentally. He loves his footy and being at a footy club is tough when you’re not playing. But he handled that really well and he’s really developed as a person and as a player. He’s a key forward with a really good understanding. He knows how to use his body and running pattern, which is quite extraordinary for a young guy. He’s already advanced in that area, but with time and experience, he’ll be a really valuable player for us as a tall forward.

Heritier Lumumba: He was another we tracked and thought could add another dimension to us. We noticed that things weren’t all rosy at Collingwood, so we watched Heritier closely and liked the way he took the game on, carried the football and used yardage. He was very consistent at Collingwood – he finished top five in the best and fairest in the past four years – so he’s very durable and doesn’t miss much footy. Either through the midfield or at half-back, we thought he could really add some dynamic run and carry with the football. What we’ve also been really impressed with so far is his experience – he’s a premiership player with 199 games to his name. He also adds to our leadership and to be named in our leadership group in his first year at the club speaks volumes of his character.

Ben Newton: In keeping with our philosophy of building our midfield, we looked at players who weren’t getting games at most of the other clubs. Kelly O’Donnell, as pro scout, identified Ben as a player who had AFL talent. Ben wasn’t getting a game because of Port Adelaide’s mix of midfielders, so we watched him pretty closely throughout last year. He’s brought some class to our midfield. He’s a very good user of the ball. He’s a nice left foot kick and is very good around the stoppage and in congestion. He also makes good decisions, so we’re rapt that he’s in our mix. He can also play half-back or half-forward and will add flexibility to our midfield group.

Aaron vandenBerg: As we scoured the country, we saw Aaron in the NEAFL. Jason Taylor knew him as a junior and Kelly O’Donnell identified him as a player who was playing well. More and more time was spent looking at Aaron, as we tried to weigh up the competition [he played in], which is not as strong as the VFL or SANFL. Sometimes that can make recruiting out of the NEAFL a little bit harder. But we saw some real midfield and physical attributes from Aaron, which were outstanding. So we gave him an opportunity as a rookie. In the NAB Challenge games, he didn’t look out of place and he was able to hit the scoreboard and win some really good contested possessions.