FOR the first time since 2003 the Bendigo Pioneers could have two players selected in the top 10 of the AFL National Draft.
Echuca’s Oliver Wines and Eaglehawk’s Jake Stringer are expected to follow in the footsteps of Carlton’s Andrew Walker and Melbourne’s Colin Sylvia, who were selections two and three respectively in the 2003 national draft.
Wines has been widely tipped to be selected by Melbourne with pick four in tomorrow night’s draft, while Stringer could go as high as selection six to the Western Bulldogs.
Bendigo Pioneers regional manager Ray Byrne said Wines and Stringer would be quality AFL players.
“From two years ago to now, Ollie Wines has improved out of sight,’’ Byrne said.
“He’s been a great captain for the Pioneers and a wonderful leader.
“Jake had everything going for him and then he broke his leg last year.
“He has worked extremely hard in the past 18 months to get back to where he is now.
“No matter which clubs picks them up at the draft, it will be a just reward for both players.”
Stringer’s recovery from a broken leg has created plenty of interest.
The 18-year-old still appears to run with an awkward gait.
However, Byrne has no doubt the powerfully-built midfielder will make an impact at AFL level.
“Jake’s come from a long way back and he’s not 100 per cent yet, but he will be,’’ Byrne said.
“Some people haven’t given him the credit he deserves for getting back to where he is.
“Give him another 12 months and he’ll be back to the Jake of old.”
Byrne said Wines had the capabilities to play AFL football
“Everyone is saying Ollie is similar to Jobe Watson and I would say they’re pretty much spot on,’’ he said.
“He does all the hard things and I doubt he was beaten all year.”
Byrne said Wines and Stringer’s likely selection added to the Pioneers’ proud history of producing high-quality AFL players.
“It continues to show that we mightn’t get a heap of players drafted, but the players that do get drafted from the Pioneers are high quality,’’ Byrne said.
“We’re rated the number two club in Australia for most AFL games played per draftee.
“The quality is very high.”
While Wines and Stringer have long been regarded as certainties to be drafted, little has been said about team-mate Liam Byrne’s prospects.
The South Bendigo teenager, who is no relation of Ray Byrne, shapes as one of the smokeys of the draft.
“Liam only played a few games with us this year because of a serious hand injury,’’ Ray Byrne said.
“He’s had one AFL club look at him in the past few months and he’s one that could be a surprise-packet.”
Liam Byrne has only played football for three years after giving up a promising junior soccer career.
He made a strong impression at senior level with South Bendigo as a 17-year-old before being picked up by the Pioneers.
If Liam Byrne is not drafted there is a strong chance he will return to the Pioneers and play in the TAC Cup as one of the club’s two 19-year-olds.
Tomorrow night’s AFL National Draft starts at 7pm on the Gold Coast.