Lions vice-captain Daniel Merrett and Suns recruit Karmichael Hunt were on hand to attend an AFL Queensland Combine event on Sunday.

Monday 15 November 2010

AFL Queensland, in conjunction with the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns talent academies, yesterday gave 20 AFL hopefuls a taste of what it takes to play at the highest level.

The boys aged 16 and 17 from northern NSW and south-east Queensland, part of an initial group of 150, attended a Combine event at Saint Stephen’s College.

AFL Queensland’s Combine, formerly known as Rookie Search, is a five-stage program run in partnership with the Lions and the Suns talent academies to provide athletes from non-AFL backgrounds with the opportunity to participate in and learn about the code’s elite player pathways.  

The Suns’ Karmichael Hunt (NRL) and Zac Smith (soccer) and the Lions’ Daniel Merrett (volleyball/rugby league) were on hand to speak with the athletes about the opportunities the talent academies can offer. 

Smith and Merrett (pictured below) are graduates of the program while Hunt (pictured above) is the highest profile AFL recruit from another code.

Mark Browning, AFL Academies and Talent Manager for Queensland and NSW, said the Combine was a great opportunity for athletes from any sport to learn about the AFL pathway without leaving home.

“What we can offer for young athletes is the chance to try our game while they continue to play their first sport of choice,” he said.  

“And ultimately, if they are accepted into the Lions or Suns academies, there is a pathway that will take them via local football, state representation and potentially to an AFL Club right here in Queensland.”

The Combine program is designed to identify potential players from all sporting backgrounds who possess natural athletic ability and who enjoy competing at the highest level. 

According to Browning, athletes might be great sprinters, long distance runners, basketballers, high jumpers, rugby players, tennis or just have a competitive nature.

There’s no obligation to participate in the program beyond the initial testing phase. All athletes are actively encouraged to continue playing their first sport but receive the benefit of access to additional professional coaching, he said.

The program name refers to the search for potential players who combine athletic potential with hand and foot skills and have the mental toughness to play AFL. 

Players need to show they can combine the three elements. Once a part of the academies, each participant will experience best practice learning, facilities and facilitators in a sports environment.

Merrett started playing AFL when his mates needed another player for their local Australian football team. He was a talented sportsman who played a variety of codes, concentrating on volleyball. 

Six months after being spotted by the AFLQ talent staff, he represented Queensland at U18 level on route to the AFL Draft..

“I guess it’s pretty funny how I got into AFL, but once I started I was hooked. I started with Surfers Paradise Demons at 16, played with Southport Sharks the next year and was drafted by the Brisbane Lions at the end of that same year,” he recalled.

“The AFLQ program I was part of, added to what I was learning in club footy by giving me extra skill development work and the opportunity to train with elite level players in the Stingrays, meaning I had a pretty quick transition to AFL level.”
Brett Smith, Zac’s father, also spoke to the parents about his family’s experience of the program and their move from Rockhampton, via the QAFL competition, to a contract with the Suns. 

The next step for the 20 young players involved today, if selected, is an invitation to join the AFL Queensland Scorpions U18 summer training program. 

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