Knightmare's AFL draft wrap: Sam Hayes starring in ruck

Each week, ESPN.com.au AFL draft expert Christopher Doerre - aka Knightmare - casts his eye over the country's best junior footballers to give readers an early insight into the next generation of AFL stars.

As well as attending live games, Doerre pores through match vision, analyses the stats and talks to industry sources to ensure he can offer the most insightful draft analysis.

Aside from the weekly wrap, Doerre will also unveil his power rankings at the end of each month.

And as we get closer to November's national draft, Doerre will also predict who goes where with his annual phantom draft.

Player Focus

Last year's sole Under-18 All-Australian from this year's draft class, Eastern ruckman Sam Hayes, 203cm, 93kg, staked his claim as this year's best ruckman. Hayes' presence individually was the difference in the first half between Eastern being in the contest and getting blown out by a powerful Geelong Falcons midfield during the second half which Hayes sat out of due to an injured a finger.

Hayes in one half of football collected a staggering 17 disposals, five marks (two contested), 21 hit outs and six clearances.

While Hayes was well on top at the ruck contests, delivering several hit outs to advantage, the Geelong midfield overpowered Eastern's midfield, winning the ball whenever Hayes didn't get the clear hit out to advantage and when Hayes did get the hit out, the Geelong midfielders would wrap up the Eastern midfielders with strong tackles. Hayes recognising Geelong's midfield superiority did the only thing he could do, take the ball out of the ruck himself and clear the ball with a long kick to gain territory and prevent Geelong driving the ball forward.

Hayes was a powerhouse through the ruck but his play around the ground was equally impressive. Taking a commanding contested mark from a kick out, using his body effectively in the contest. He was clean at ground level and also involved in general play.

While Hayes did not receive the opportunity in this game, he is also a genuine threat when utilized as a key forward with his vice-like hands overhead and body-on-body strength making him very hard to defend.

With Hayes' dominance and advanced game it would be reasonable to compare him to a young Matthew Kreuzer. Hayes has the opportunity to follow in Kreuzer's footsteps to become a two time All-Australian Under-18 ruckman and will likely also feature in the first round of the draft at seasons end.

TAC Cup

Bottom ager, Lachlan Sholl, 185cm, 69kg, impressed with his ball use, vision, evasiveness and composure. He collected 25 disposals, eight contested possessions, seven marks, four inside 50s and one score assist.

Noah Balta, 194cm, 92kg, was named Calder's best player, and it was not difficult to see why. He unselfishly set up teammates for scoring opportunities, was freakish at ground level and posed a threat with his overhead marking forward of centre. His athleticism and composure with ball in hand was also notable. While Balta played primarily through the ruck, he is one of this year's most exciting forwards. He gathered 17 disposals, seven marks (five contested), 12 hitouts, four inside 50s and four score assists.

Bottom age defender, Matty Lloyd, 185cm, 75kg, racked up the footy down back with 32 disposals, 11 marks, 14 rebound 50s and two score assists. He took the majority of the kickouts for Greater Western Victoria and was targeted regularly in general play coming out of defence. His reliability by foot was notable with 21 of his 23 kicks effective.

Again, doing a power of work at stoppages, top ager Callan Wellings collected 26 disposals, 15 contested possessions, seven marks (one contested), seven tackles, eight clearances, five inside 50s, one goal and one core assist.

Younger brother of Brisbane's Jarrod, bottom ager, Thomas Berry, 184cm, 74kg, appears just as talented. His pace and evasion were more notable, accelerating at every available opportunity and dodging and weaving through traffic. His 24 disposals, nine contested possessions, four marks (one contested), six tackles, four clearances, eight inside 50s, one goal and one score assist was a strong contribution with his second half particularly strong.

Top ager, Lloyd Meek, 202cm, 104kg, impressed both through the ruck and up forward. His 16 disposals, eight marks (four contested), four tackles, 26 hitouts, four clearances, three goals and two score assists suggests he can be utilised either as a genuine ruckman or as a forward who relieves through the ruck. His hands overhead look very strong and reliable and in one-on-one contests and pack situations he took advantage of the opposition defenders physically.

Gaining a reputation for his outside run and kicking skills on both sides of the body, potential first round selection, Hunter Clark, 186cm, 79kg, stepped into the midfield and was Dandenong's best with 25 disposals, 14 contested possessions, seven tackles, eight clearances, seven inside 50s and two goals.

Hayden McLean, 197cm, 93kg, playing primarily through the ruck secured 20 disposals, nine marks, six tackles, 20 hitouts and two goals. McLean is well suited to playing both through the ruck and forward and may be considered in this year's AFL Draft as a forward who relieves through the ruck.

With the Eastern midfield struggling, forward, Jaidyn Stephenson, from the second quarter pushed through the midfield. It was a move that paid off and is another string he has in his bow that will see his already high draft stocks potentially rise even further. He won first possession from teammate Sam Hayes' hitouts, reading the ruck taps early. He was clean at ground level and also showed composure with ball in hand at stoppages. His tackling pressure around the ground also was a highlight. Stephenson gathered 21 disposals, 10 contested possessions, five marks (one contested) four tackles, four clearances, four inside 50s and one score assist.

Rebounding backman, Lucas Woodward, 190cm, 81kg, was an intercept marking force down back. He read the flight early and regularly found himself at the drop of the ball for intercept marks. He also held his own in the contest, adding great value to the Eastern back half. His kicking let him down, but otherwise it was a positive and impactful game. Woodward collected 17 disposals, 12 contested possessions, seven marks (two contested), four tackles and 11 rebound 50s.

Powerful midfielder, James Worpel, 185cm, 84kg, was one of Geelong's powerhouses through the midfield responsible for making it a hard day for Eastern. At stoppages, Worpel could be found tackling Eastern midfielders into the ground each time they took possession. Worpel on one play alone had two consecutive tackles, bringing opposition midfielders to ground, then the following stoppage he tackling another midfielder to ground, halting any progress. Worpel for the match gathered 23 disposals, 12 contested possessions, 10 tackles, seven clearances, five inside 50s, one goal. The knock on Worpel is his kicking with only seven of his 18 kicks effective.

Cassidy Parish was Geelong's other dominant midfielder collecting 35 disposals, 14 contested possessions, 10 clearances and three score assists. Other than his contested work, the other strong area from Parish was his work rate, consistently getting to the next contest and after disposing of the ball continuing to work forward.

Potential Richmond father-son choice, Patrick Naish, 180cm, 69kg displayed striking agility and awareness in traffic. Naish secured 17 disposals, nine contested possessions, four marks (one contested), four tackles, two goals and one score assist in a particularly eye-catching match where his talent was on full display. Naish with continued improvement may be in the mix for selection inside the first round of this year's AFL draft.

Named Murray's best, Harrison Jones, 183cm, 79kg, collected 20 disposals, nine contested possessions, four marks, five clearances, six inside 50s, one goal and one score assist. He showed great composure in traffic with his pace and ball use also positives.

Jack Higgins, 178cm, 76kg, was prolific through the midfield with 29 disposals, 11 contested possessions, six marks, 15 tackles, five clearances, seven inside 50s and one score assist. Higgins last season built a reputation as a high-volume accumulator. In only one TAC Cup game in 2016 Higgins managed more than three tackles. Gathering 15 tackles is a significant step in the right direction for the potential first round selection.

Continuing to build on his strong start to the season, Toby Wooller also was terrific with 22 disposals, 14 contested possessions, five marks (two contested), four clearances, four goals and one score assist. It has been promising seeing the 193cm Wooller not only perform as forward but also during stints through the midfield.

SANFL

Reserves

Continuing his strong form, Lachlan Pascoe was again impressive down back with 28 disposals, six marks, five tackles and six rebound 50s.

Isaac Hewson also impressed with 26 disposals, five marks, five tackles and six inside 50s.

A product of the GWS Academy, Lyndon Hupfeld as a top ager also figured prominently with 27 disposals, eight marks, four tackles and seven rebound 50s.

WAFL

League

Top age midfielder Bailey Banfield had arguably his best game so far with 27 disposals and one goal. His consistency has been excellent, not dropping below 21 disposals over his last four matches.

Mature age forward Liam Ryan was again excellent with 16 disposals, five marks and five goals.

Colts

Top age midfielder, Brayden Ainsworth was again named Subiaco's best with 32 disposals, six inside 50s and one goal.