Representative match preview
Here's everything you need to know about the NEAFL and WAFL clash.
Saturday May 24
Blacktown International Sports Park
By Sam Canavan
The best of the NEAFL host the cream of the WAFL’s crop in a representative blockbuster at Blacktown International Sports Park on Saturday afternoon.
The WAFL has long been renowned as one of the strongest second-tier competitions in the country; a breeding ground for countless AFL stars, with a history stretching back more than 120 years.
The NEAFL, in stark comparison, was founded in 2011, though in its short history there have been many big successes, and Saturday’s side will no doubt rise to the challenge of representative football.
With a combined 14-team competition strengthening a revamped NEAFL this year, this is the first time the competition has fielded a single representative side, and the team looks likely on paper.
A towering forward line featuring four big men who hold down key position posts for their club sides could be the NEAFL’s trump card under blue skies at Blacktown, with Redland spearhead Cleve Hughes coming off 11 goals last week, former WAFL defender Jacob Derickx starting to dominate matches, and ever-consistent Southport and NT Thunder lynchpins Josh Baxter and Chris Dunne in typically irrepressible form.
The rest of the NEAFL's side is a good mixture of young and older players, with representative veterans Wayde Mills, Gavin Grose, and Cameron Illett shoring up the backline and midfield, alongside a less experienced but enterprising contingent including Ben Rioli, Kal Geary, Todd Grayson, and Luke Shreeve.
Former Essendon star Alwyn Davey is a player the NEAFL side would have liked to be available, while Aspley ruckman Michael Pettitt has been drafted in, after an injury to Eastlake's Chad Gibson, and the 26-year-old will need to play better than he did in his side's Foxtel Cup loss to Williamstown on Tuesday night.
The WAFL line-up boasts a plethora of players with AFL experience, and the visitors will look to the likes of Brad Dalziell, Steven Dodd, Ashton Hams, and Jay Van Berlo to provide the impetus for their side to carry on its stellar state representative record.
Luke Blackwell is a hard-nosed onballer the NEAFL will need to stop, with the Sandover Medallist so often winning hard ball and driving his side forward, while former Collingwood midfielder Ryan Coook is another prolific possession winner.
East Fremantle skipper Andrew Stephen is another WAFL player in stellar form, along with hard-as-nails former West Coast defender Jamie McNamara, and zippy forward Shane Nelson will look to boost his draft prospects with a standout showing, playing alongside arguably the most in-form marksman in the competition Ben Saunders, who won the Bernie Naylor Medal as the WAFL's leading goal-kicker in 2012.
While the men in gold will enter this match as deserving favourites, on their home turf the most talented side formed from the NEAFL will give this an almighty shake.