By Jonty Ralphsmith
Ahead of the AFL National Draft, held across 20-21 November, and rookie draft on 22 November, Star News Group Coates Talent League reporter Jonty Ralphsmith runs his eye over prospects from Dandenong Stingrays and Gippsland Power.
Zane Duursma (Gippsland/Foster): Plenty has been written about Duursma, whose brother Xavier has 73 AFL games to his name; sister Yasmin has 11 AFLW games under her belt and younger sibling Willem shapes as a top-end 2025 selection. A top-10 lock. A smooth-moving, high IQ polished 189 centimetre forward who will impact quickly at AFL level.
Harry DeMattia (Stingrays/Edi-Asp): Likely the first Stingray to have his name read out, DeMattia’s professionalism and leadership have caught the eyes of onlookers this year. The lefty has lightning acceleration and used his strong frame mostly in the midfield in 2023 but also looks settled locking down in the backline.
Cooper Simpson (Stingrays/Mount Martha): A polished two-way running midfielder, Simpson put himself on the map with his sizzling kick, skill and power in 2022 before having to overcome injury this year. Has said he wants to be a one-club player and looms as a draft sleeper. Finished the year on the wing, where it is anticipated he could start his senior career.
Kade De La Rue (Stingrays/Beaconsfield): A clean link-up half-forward whose running capacity holds him in good stead and his ability to provide spark to the midfield is well known. Has been a mainstay for the Stingrays in the last two years after a ruptured ACL kept him out of action in 2021, but he used that period to put muscle on. Likely a late selection on night two.
Kobe Shipp (Stingrays/Beaconsfield): Hasn’t received the accolades of some of his teammates and Talent League counterparts, but is a 187cm competitive shutdown defender whose last two games showed the full breadth of his ability. The son of former Fremantle Docker Andrew doesn’t qualify as a father-son, but if a club takes a punt late, his intercepting, competitiveness one-on-one and strength over the contested footy will hold him in good stead.
Billy Wilson (Stingrays/Rosebud): A line-breaker with speed and evasiveness, Wilson reads the play well and makes good decisions. Played his best footy off halfback but was also given a chance in the midfield for Dandenong late in the season. Will be a late or rookie selection.
Wil Dawson (Gippsland/Leongatha): A versatile tall who settled down back in the second half of the season, but could also be developed as a forward or even a ruck who hunts at ground level. Will be on the precipice of the first round and plays with a hard edge. Two years ago, his size was if anything a hindrance; now it is a weapon that will hold him on good stead when he plays on the best at the next level.
Archer Reid (Gippsland/Inverloch-Kongwak): A genuine key forward who measures in at 203cm, Reid is an AFL Academy member and represented Vic Country as a bottom-ager in 2022 and top-ager in 2023. Still has some filling out to do, but the brother of Essendon’s Zach is an apt overhead mark and whoever takes him will hope to build their attack around him. After starting the season in top-15 talks, an up-and-down season has seen him fade a touch and he now looks a likely second round selection.
Tew Jiath (Gippsland/Morwell): The bolter of the 2023 draft class, Jiath is tied to Hawthorn’s next generation academy but will likely be selected before the Hawks can match a bid. Still raw, but played a game for the ages against Dandenong, embodying his athleticism and intercepting spark which topped off a strong finish to the year after missing Vic Country selection.
Jacob Grant (Stingrays/Endeavour Hills): A hit-up forward with a good leap, work-rate and set of mits, Grant featured for Vic Country, received a state combine invite, and played an important role in Endeavour Hills’ maiden senior premiership.
Lachie Smith (Gippsland/Warragul): That Smith is being talked about as a rookie prospect speaks to how far he has come. After playing under-10s for Bunyip, he only lined up for three games of footy in the next seven years at any level, before his Power debut last year. Basketball was the preference, but he returned to footy as a mature-bodied, combative ruck whose skills on the court have given him deft touch and a clean ground level game on the footy field.
Riak Andrew (Stingrays/Berwick): Injury ruined Andrew’s bottom-aged campaign and although the Melbourne Next Generation Academy prospect made the Vic Country squad, he didn’t play a game and remains an outsider for selection. The Berwick boy doesn’t have the height of his Gold Coast-listed brother, Mac, but showed some ticker down back in the Stingrays’ last game of the season.
Ben Hopkins (Stingrays/Langwarrin): A rapid riser, the light-bodied Langwarrin defender didn’t feature for Vic Country but was a mainstay of the Dandenong defence in his first season in a talent pathway program. Can shutdown and generate run on transition, a state combine invite confirming some interest.
Sam Frangalas (Stingrays/Berwick): A physical midfielder who throws his weight around, the Berwick local was dominant throughout his junior career and featured in the 2022 Under-17 All-Stars match. But he missed Vic Country selection this year, lacking some polish and fading as the year went on.