So much has been written about the 2001 AFL “Super Draft” and its leading products that any claims about subsequent years even approaching its quality have invariably been taken with a grain of salt.
But those claims have been made consistently about the talent available at the draft table in 2018. And now starts the process of putting them to the test.
Whether Thursday night’s first three selections – Sam Walsh, Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine – end up even approaching the feats of Luke Hodge, Luke Ball and Chris Judd, is something which won’t be answered for maybe seven or eight years.
But that trio, picked up by Carlton and Gold Coast, are far from the only players among the first 22 selected in the first of this year’s two-day draft process who could play a lot of senior AFL football even in their first seasons.
No. 1 pick Sam Walsh!
— AFL (@AFL) November 22, 2018
This was Carlton’s fifth No.1 pick in the past 14 years, and as with their previous first selections, the Blues played the percentages.
That led them to midfielder Walsh, almost universally seen as the best player in the draft and fresh off an outstanding season for Geelong Falcons and Vic Country at the under-18 championships.
It was an obvious move. The Blues need more midfield depth and class, sorely lacking beyond Patrick Cripps, and this year having had only one player in the AFL’s top 30 ball winners.
Walsh wasn’t Carlton’s only bounty on the evening, however. In the first draft featuring live trading of picks, the Blues effectively swapped next year’s first-round draft pick with Adelaide to enable them to take a second midfielder in Sandringham Dragons’ Liam Stocker at No.19.
It means that if Carlton ends up with another wooden spoon next season, it’s the Crows who will have first dibs at the draft. Perhaps, though, another mid capable of playing at the level helps them end up with a first pick a lot closer to Adelaide than now seems likely.
That was part of the intrigue which went along with this new draft format, which made for more complexity, but perhaps also a little more excitement than previous draft evenings.
If it was a big night for Carlton, it was no less important for Gold Coast, effectively building a list from scratch again. And indeed, for South Australian football, which provided three of the first five players selected.
The Suns, at No.2 and No.3, made arguably their two most important draft selections since their inaugural list was put together given the departures in successive off-seasons of three captains in Gary Ablett, Tom Lynch and Steven May.
They went for two forward talents of differing dimensions, both from Adelaide, and both with the capacity to have some sort of immediate impact.
Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine played plenty of senior SANFL football with Woodville-West Torrens and West Adelaide respectively. The 194-centimetre Lukosius is a fine mark and kick but just as renowned for his athleticism – pretty much what the Suns have lost in Lynch.
Rankine, meanwhile, is viewed by plenty of experts as the most exciting of this year’s crop, a small forward dynamo who won All-Australian selection at two under-18 carnivals and has pace and skill. Both he and Lukosius will be playing plenty of AFL football in 2019.
And they could have a third draftee alongside them up forward in Ben King, taken with the Suns’ third selection at No.6. King is capable of playing both forward and back, having starred in both spots with Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup competition.
His name was read out just two spots after his twin brother Max, who headed to St Kilda at No.4 despite playing only one TAC game this year before seriously injuring a knee. The 204-centimetre key forward is strong in the air and athletic and can expect plenty of opportunity alongside Tim Membrey and Paddy McCartin.
In between came a third outstanding junior product from South Australia in midfielder Connor Rozee, who unlike the first pair, gets to stay at home after being taken by Port Adelaide. Port was looking for midfield talent after having lost Chad Wingard and Jared Polec.
But like the others, Rozee is also capable of playing AFL early, having already played in a senior premiership at North Adelaide.
The remaining players of the top 10 – Bailey Smith (Western Bulldogs), Tarryn Thomas (North Melbourne), Chayce Jones (Adelaide) and Nick Blakey (Sydney) were all expected to go around that mark, but there was some wheeling and dealing to be done before they did.
The first live trading of picks came courtesy of Sydney, which traded pick No.26 to West Coast for a future selection, soon after trading it back to the Eagles for pick 24.
And the first actual player picked up by the Swans came only after they had matched a bid from crosstown rival Greater Western Sydney for Swans Academy product Nick Blakey, the son of Sydney assistant coach and former Fitzroy and North Melbourne defender John Blakey.
That followed another bid on a Next Generation Academy product, Tasmanian Tarryn Thomas, made by Adelaide and promptly matched by North Melbourne. The Roos are excited about the speedy midfielder, promptly christened by Fox Footy draft watcher David King as “Daniel Wells Mark II”.
Indeed, it was a double for Tasmania, from where draft pickings have been slim in recent years, when Adelaide followed up the North selection by using its No. 9 pick on Launceston product Chayce Jones.
Of the first 22 players selected on Thursday evening, perhaps only Sam Sturt, taken by Fremantle at No.17, and Ely Smith, picked by Brisbane at No.21, raised any eyebrows.
The Dockers overlooked WA speedster Ian Hill, a second cousin of their speedsters Stephen and Brad Hill, for Victorian Sam Sturt, who had concentrated on cricket and played only a handful of games for Dandenong Stingrays as a forward late in the TAC Cup season.
Smith, from Murray Bushrangers, a big-bodied inside midfielder, had received only a late invitation to Thursday night’s proceedings after being spoken about as only a potential late second-round pick in September.
That leaves room for another lucky prospect to have his name read out on Friday as the remaining selections are made. And if what they’ve said about the class of 2018 is any guide, even that deep into the process, it could be a name we’ll be remembering down the track.
You can read more of Rohan Connolly’s work at Footyology