North Melbourne ruckman Braydon Preuss was the standout performer in the Queensland AFL Class of 2017 as the JLT Community Series got under way last weekend.
Preuss, two years at North without an AFL game, took a giant step towards making his AFL debut this season with a powerhouse display against the Sydney Swans in Coffs Harbour.
He had eight disposals, three mark, two tackles and 29 hit-outs in the Roos’ two-point win over the 2016 grand finalists.
The hulking 21-year-old, listed at 206cm and 109kg and looking even bigger, had a strong physical presence to send an important message to coach Brad Scott that he’s ready to play at AFL level if required.
He’s still facing the massive task of unseating ruck veteran Todd Goldstein, and also has Majak Daw ahead of him in the pecking order at Arden Street, but it was an important step in the emerging career of the former schoolboy rugby league player.
This came after Preuss, from Townsville via the Gold Coast, was rewarded for two years on the rookie list at North with a two-year senior list contract over the summer.
It took Preuss fans back to 2 December 2014, when he was taken by North with selection 15 in the 2015 Pre-Season Draft and promptly declared “never in a million years – I never saw thing coming”.
“It’s really hard to try and explain what it’s like because it hasn’t sunk in yet,” Preuss said at the time.
“It was about 10am and I was at work, and my boss called me in to have a look at the draft and I saw my name. I never thought I’d have any chance in the world.”
Preuss had played rugby league throughout his junior days, and only took up AFL aged 16 in Year 11 at Kirwan State High in Townsville at the suggestion of some persuasive mates.
“I loved the game right from the start,” he said, having progressed to the Hermit Park Tigers senior side midway through 2012.
So impressive was he that he was invited to join the Gold Coast Suns’ Academy in Townsville before moving to the tourist strip to further his career and winning selection in the State U18 side.
Preuss has been content to learn his trade in the VFL, benefitting enormously from training against Goldstein, and according to North Melbourne development coach David Loader “made big strides” in 2016.
“His ruck work in the last four or five weeks of the year was exceptionally good; his centre bounce stuff especially,” Loader said.
“He trained hard to get his timing right with his jump and using his big frame properly in a contest.
“He’s still got plenty of areas he’s got to work on with his spread but his tap work was good. He’s got soft hands so he’s able to hit in all directions and that became a real strength late in the year.
“He was able to put himself in the slot a little more to try and get his hands on the footy in marking contests.
“Instead of three or four (contested) marking attempts in the first half of the year, he was getting eight to 10 later on in the year, which is a real positive sign and something that’s required for a guy his size.
“He was able to find himself getting involved in the game a little more, rather than just at the stoppage. It was a good growth year for him.”
Preuss is one of a number of emerging young Queenslanders looking to make their mark on the AFL this year.
He is one of 50 Queenslanders listed with AFL clubs – up from 47 last year after eight Queenslanders were drafted and five retired or were delisted.
New to the competition are Jack Bowes, Brad Scheer and Max Spencer (Gold Coast), Jacob Allison, Blake Grewar and Matt Eagles (Brisbane), Declan Watson (North) and Eliot Himmelberg (Adelaide), while Daniel Merrett (Brisbane) retired and Clay Cameron (Gold Coast), Joel Tippett (North) and Sam Michael and Courtenay Dempsey (Essendon) were delisted.
There are no less than 22 Queenslanders at the two Queensland clubs – 15 at the Lions and seven at the Suns.
Only Carlton, Essendon, West Coast and Western Bulldogs do not have a Queensland player.
The Queensland AFL Class of 2017 is:-
Adelaide (2): Elliot Himmelberg, Paul Hunter (rookie)
Brisbane (15): Dayne Beams, Dayne Zorko, Claye Beams, Tom Bell, Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood, Jono Freeman, Ben Keays, Archie Smith, Liam Dawson, Jacob Allison, Matthew Hammelmann (rookie), Reuben William (rookie), Blake Grewar (R), Matt Eagles (rookie).
Collingwood (5): Josh Smith, Adam Oxley, Lachie Keeffe, Jesse White, Josh Thomas (rookie).
Fremantle (3): Lachie Weller, Lee Spurr, Matt Uebergang (rookie).
Gold Coast (7): Alex Sexton, Rory Thompson, Jarrod Harbrow, Jack Bowes, Brad Scheer, Jesse Joyce, Max Spencer (rookie).
Geelong (2): Zac Smith, Wylie Buzza.
GWS (1): Sam Reid.
Hawthorn (1): Brendan Whitecross.
Melbourne (2): Josh Wagner, Jake Spencer.
North Melb (3): Braydon Preuss, Corey Wagner, Declan Watson.
Port Adelaide (1): Charlie Dixon.
Richmond (2): Shaun Hampson, Mabior Chol (R).
St.Kilda (4): Nick Riewoldt, Tom Hickey, David Armitage, Sam Gilbert.
Sydney (2): Kurt Tippett, Aliir Aliir.
The bad news to come out of Round 1 of the JLT series was the ankle injury to Melbourne’s Josh Wagner, who signed a two year contract extension over summary after an encouraging first season as a rookie.
Coming off an excellent pre-season, he suffered what appeared at first to be a broken ankle.
It turned out to be a less serious ankle dislocation which will sentence him to five-six weeks on the sideline, meaning a late start to the premiership.
Twenty-one Queenslanders played in the first round of the JLT series, in which each club will play three matches over four weeks.
Lachy Keeffe, who has missed the last two seasons through suspension, slipped back in nicely at Collingwood, picking up 11 disposals and 11 hit-outs as a forward/ruckman against Essendon, while Josh Smith, elevated to the senior list this season after finishing sixth in the B&F as a rookie last year, had 22 disposals and 11 marks to rank among the Pies’ best. Jesse White had 11 possessions and one goal.
Zac Smith was among Geelong’s best against Hawthorn in Launceston, collecting 14 possessions and 29 hit-outs, while Sam Reid had 10 possessions and a goal for GWS against West Coast, and Kurt Tippett had 11 disposals and 17 hit-outs for Sydney.
The highly-rated Bowes, the first Queenslander taken in last year’s National Draft, had 11 disposals on debut for Gold Coast in his first taste of the Q-Clash rivalry against Brisbane.
Rory Thompson had nine disposals and Jesse Joyce eight disposals and one goal for the Suns.
In the Brisbane side, Archie Smith (11 disposals and 27 hit-outs), won high praise from new football boss David Noble for his ruck work, and Jacob Allison (7 disposals), Harris Andrews (10 disposals), Claye Beams (5 disposals), Jono Freeman (3 dissposals and 1 goal), Ben Keays (9 disposals and 7 tackles) and Dayne Zorko (16 disposals) saw their first inter-club action of the season.
Declan Watson, passed over by Brisbane in the draft, had 11 disposals for North, while Corey Wagner (5 disposals) played only the second half.
Jake Spencer, carrying a giant beard to go with an over-sized mop of hair, had 29 hit-outs for Melbourne.
The Round 2 draw for the JLT Series is: St.Kilda v Port Adelaide, Richmond v Adelaide, Melbourne v Carlton, West Coast v Fremantle, North Melbourne v Hawthorn, Gold Coast v Essendon.
By Peter Blucher