Jake Stringer’s selection at pick five by the Western Bulldogs in the AFL Draft may have surprised some pundits, but not Bendigo Bank Pioneers coach David Newett.
While Echuca’s Ollie Wines was widely rated as a top-10 pick, questions were asked whether Stringer would return to his best after breaking his leg last year.
There’s still some way to go in his recovery, but the Eaglehawk gun’s nine goals on his TAC Cup return this season, followed by some top performances late in the VFL season for the Bendigo Gold, suggest he’s on the right track.
It was certainly enough for the Bulldogs to take him with their first pick, while Wines was snaffled by Port Adelaide with pick seven.
“We were thrilled for both of them to go top-10, it’s great,” Newett said.
“Probably Ollie was always going to go that high, but for Jake to come in late…we sort of had an inkling the Doggies were keen on him.
“I thought it might have been pick five or six because they were pretty impressed with him throughout the year and obviously on what he could do last year, it was just a case that they were happy he was going to get his leg right over the course of the next year or two.
“There’s no doubt that he has got the ability, maybe a lot of people were cautious that they weren’t going to use their first round draft pick on somebody who might be considered a bit of a risk.”
While Newett believes the Bulldogs might hold Stringer back from his debut until he’s fully fit, the Pioneers coach is confident Wines will quickly come into contention to play at the Power.
“Ollie’s going to be able to go to there and make an immediate impact with his leadership and the way he goes about his footy,” Newett said.
“I can see him having a long and strong career there at Port. Hopefully, they’re on the way up and he can be a part of it.
“If he can get through the full pre-season I can see him playing AFL footy next year.
“If he can just develop his strength and running capacity I’ve got no doubt he’ll debut next year, whether it’s first round or not is another thing, but I can certainly see him being able to step straight in next year.”
Two Pioneers players to be overlooked in the draft, Liam Byrne and Sam Heavyside, remain hopeful of being picked-up in the pre-season or rookie drafts next month.
“One of the clubs that spoke a fair bit to Liam passed on their last selection so whether or not they get a few boys up to train with them and then they’ll make a decision…I guess Liam’s got to wait to see what unfolds over the next week or two,” Newett said.
“But obviously he’s disappointed because we thought he might have been a late draft pick, but until the names get read out, that’s the way the draft goes.”
If Byrne and Heavyside aren’t drafted they will strengthen the Pioneers squad next season as 19-year-olds.
The Pioneers will make a first cut of its squad to about 50 or 60 players after trial games in Robinvale on December 16.
“We’ll be going into the Christmas period with a reduced list, then we’ll have our final trials come first week in February, so it’s probably getting to an exciting stage for us,” Newett said.