Leaps and bounds for Queensland Roo

In the frantic world of the AFL it would have seemed like a miniscule thing, but North Melbourne’s Round 11 team announcement on Thursday night was massive for one North Queensland youngster.

Josh Williams, in his first season at the Kangaroos, was included in the senior match squad for the first time ahead of Saturday’s Etihad Stadium clash with Richmond.

The 18-year-old speedster was named as an emergency alongside former captain Andrew Swallow and fellow Townsville product Braydon Preuss.

Such has been the improvement that a player tagged a ‘developing prospect’ at the start of the year has rocketed up the pecking order at Arden Street after taking his time settling into the new environment and the daily requirements of life as a professional footballer.

It doesn’t mean he’s about to make his AFL debut, but he’s certainly in the mix and the accompanying words of encouragement from coach Brad Scott could only have been heartening.

“Over the past five weeks, he’s come on in leaps and bounds,” Scott told the North website today.

“He’s shown genuine line-breaking ability with his blistering speed in the VFL with Werribee. He’s been able to run and carry, and distribute the footy with great skill and we think he’ll bring a real point of difference to the side in the not too distant future.”

Lightly built and raw when he arrived at North via the 2016 AFL National Draft, Scott says Williams has stepped up his development at a rate that matches his lightning speed.

Filling a variety of roles playing with the North affiliate Werribee in the VFL, he has been finding a lot more of the football and has also hit the scoreboard when pushing forward.

He’s played all six VFL games with Werribee, averaging 17 possessions and kicking five goals, and had 22 possessions in each of his last two games to push his case.

“In time, we have no doubt that his attributes will be considered elite,” Scott added.

“He is the quickest player on our list and hopefully this elevation to the emergency list gives him another solid boost and confirms to him that he’s on the right track.

“He has diligently worked on all the areas the development coaches have asked him to and the future is bright for him if he maintains this level of improvement.”

Recently-retired AFL games record-holder and North champion Brent Harvey, who is doing specialist coaching at the club, is another big Williams fan.

“He (Williams) has got some really good attributes – he’s really, really quick and ­explosive,” Harvey said. “I reckon he could be a really exciting player for us as well, because we lack a bit of speed.

“We’ve got (Shaun) Atley and (Shaun) Higgins who can double up with possessions, but we haven’t got too many outsiders, and Josh can play that.”

North secured Williams with the compensation pick they received after losing Daniel Wells to Collingwood.

But in one of the quirks of the new bidding system attached to the AFL Draft, he almost didn’t get to North.

The Roos originally used the pick to bid on Callum Brown, the son of ex-Collingwood captain Gavin Brown, and only took Williams after Collingwood matched the bid for the father/son option, who, ironically, is in the Pies’ senior squad for the first time this week.

Interestingly, Williams was drafted ahead of four players who already have played at AFL level – Geelong’s Tom Stewart (#40), Melbourne’s Mitch Hannan (#46), Carlton’s Harrison Macreadie (#47) and Gold Coast’s Brad Scheer (#67).

Remarkably, Williams, who will turn 19 on 12 June, is one of five Hermit Park juniors presently on the senior lists of AFL clubs.

The others are Preuss, Melbourne ruckman Jake Spencer, Gold Coaster games record-holder Jarrod Harbrow and Adelaide forward Josh Jenkins.

Preuss and Spencer are an out-and-out Townsville boys, while Harbrow played U14s at Hermit Park before moving to Cairns and Jenkins had a stint at Hermit Park and attended Townsville State High School while following his first sporting love of basketball.

Born in Victoria, Jenkins was a development player with the Townsville Crocodiles in the NBL before being invited to a training camp with the GWS Giants ahead of their entry to the AFL and then being drafted as a rookie by Essendon and then traded to Adelaide.

Williams has followed a remarkably similar path to Preuss. He was identified by the Gold Coast Suns via their academy system, moved to the Gold Coast to further his football development, and was overlooked by the Suns in the draft after playing well last season for the Queensland U18 side, the Allies U18 side and the Suns NEAFL team.

He is the one of three Queenslanders at the Kangaroos, alongside Preuss and fellow 2016 draftee Declan Watson, from Aspley.

Williams was born in Adelaide. And although he moved with his family to Rockhampton as a youngster he spent long enough in the SA capital to spark his interest in football.

He started playing football with the Glenmore Bulls in Rockhampton, but when he was six the family moved again to Townsville, where he found himself at Hermit Park.

He was a senior premiership player with the club in 2015 before heading to the tourist strip.

He was lavish in his praise of Suns coaches Matthew Lappin and Aaron Rogers during his time with the Academy. “They were amazing – the amount of development we go through was incredible,” he said prior to the draft.

“Then being able to play with and against the Brisbane boys in the Queensland Academy, and having the high performance coaches like Adrian Fletcher was incredible.”

By Peter Blucher

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