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It’s time rookies were given respect and rights they deserve


Former Kangaroo Lindsay Thomas works out with his new teammates after being taken by Port Adelaide in the rookie draft. Photo: AFL MEDIA

It’s time rookies were given respect and rights they deserve

Luke Michael    

With the trade and draft period officially wrapped and club lists finalised for next year, AFL fans can begin to reflect on the shape of their team heading into the 2018 season.

When analysing all the wheelings and dealings, most pundits focus solely on moves made during the trade period and the national draft, those players touted as the ones who will make or break a side’s fortunes next season.

The rookie draft which officially signs off on player movements between seasons often seems almost an afterthought.

But it’s time the AFL community recognised the importance and value of the rookie draft, which continues to produce a range of outstanding players yet is still largely seen as the national draft’s poor younger brother.

Dean Cox, Matt Priddis, Aaron Sandilands, Josh Gibson, Brett Kirk and Nick Maxwell are just some of the stars who have emerged from the rookie draft since its inception in 1997.

Rookies have regularly shown they can become much more than simply depth players, with the Western Bulldogs 2016 premiership side a prime example.

On grand final day last year, Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd, Liam Picken, Luke Dahlhaus and Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen were among the best dozen players on the ground. The Bulldogs wouldn’t have won the flag without them, and all came from the rookie draft.

That alone should give hope to every rookie drafted this year that they too can aspire to become AFL premiership heroes.

Most of the attention on the rookie draft this year focused on whether some experienced delisted AFL players would find new homes.

In the end, Stewart Crameri (originally drafted by Essendon as a rookie) was selected by Geelong, while former Roo Lindsay Thomas was picked up by Port Adelaide.

Both add experience and scoring power to sides well and truly in the premiership hunt next season, adding another level of intrigue to this year’s rookie selections.

The rise of readymade AFL players selected in rookie draft – as well as the proven success of many lesser known picks – begs the question if a rookie list is even needed at all.

And the case for change gathers further strength when you consider the AFL has just changed the rules around Category A rookies (taken in the rookie draft).

While they previously needed to be elevated to the senior list at the end of a season or because of a long-term injury before they could play, they will now be free to play at AFL level immediately.

That means there is no discernible difference between rookies and senior listed players – besides a substantial difference in their pay packets and contract length.

Former AFL champion Nick Dal Santo is among those who believes this is grossly unfair.

“The rookies do exactly the same amount of training as the senior list. Even though you’re titled a rookie, the only difference is they get paid really poorly,” Dal Santo told SEN.

“It was seen as an opportunity or another list to develop players that may have slipped through the cracks, but we can develop them and then they can work their way up. You’re all there doing the same amount of work, put them on one list.”

There seems no real point to having a two-tier system on an AFL list anymore, especially since rookies will now most likely receive greater AFL exposure early on in their career.

Adding another four or five players to a senior list will not really affect much, but it will offer greater financial and job security to those players.

It would also stop the ridiculous process which exists now where clubs delist a player only to re-draft them as rookies on reduced pay.

But whether the AFL persists with the rookie draft or not, it deserves to be remembered as a valuable recruiting tool for clubs trying to find a diamond in the rough.

It may not feature the bright lights and media hype that the national draft receives, but it could be just as valuable for your club in constructing its next premiership list.

1 Comment
  1. One list. One draft. One free agency period. Way past time the AFL simplified the entire process.

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