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Prospects to watch in 2017

Callum Twomey, AFL Media  November 26, 2016 6:26 PM

AFL 2016 U18 Championship - Allies v Vic M

Charlie Spargo in action for the Allies at this year's Under 18 National Championships

With the 2016 NAB AFL National Draft done and dusted, attention will quickly turn to next year's pool of prospects.

This week the NAB AFL Academy squad will be undertaking a training camp in Darwin ahead of travelling to America in January.

So with that in mind, AFL Media has looked ahead to find 10 prospects who we'll be following closely throughout 2017.

Connor Ballenden
Tall forward
199cm/94kg
29/3/99
Brisbane Lions Academy/Queensland
The towering tall forward took a couple of pack marks in the NAB All-Stars clash to again highlight his talents as a key forward. He is big and bustling and a nice kick for goal, and will have excited Brisbane Lions supporters with his development across this season. The Lions will get first access to Ballenden, who used to be a rugby union player, under academy rules.

Jarrod Brander
Tall forward/defender
193cm/85kg
11/2/99
Bendigo Pioneers/GWS Academy/NSW-ACT
Clubs are already talking about Brander being one of the best prospects in next year's pool. The aggressive, athletic key position player can be used at both ends of the ground and finds a way to impact the game with his marking and ball use. It remains unclear whether he will be judged a member of Greater Western Sydney's academy or be available in the open pool.

Hunter Clark
Midfielder/half-back
185cm/73kg
26/3/99
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country
It was in 2015 that Clark began to come into prominence as a likely prospect, having performed exceptionally well at that year's NAB AFL Under-16 Championships. Clark is an excellent kick on both feet, he can fly for his marks, and he loves to stream down the wing and set up the play. He's tough and hard but plays with a great level of composure.

Joel Garner
Half-forward/midfielder
183cm/75kg
21/5/99
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
At this stage Garner is best deployed across half-forward, where his spark, pace and class really give him a point of difference. But his best game of this year was probably as a half-back for the NAB AFL Academy level one squad when he won the medal as its best player against New Zealand in April. The indigenous youngster is exciting and has a real bag of tricks.

Sam Hayes
Ruckman
200cm/90kg
9/6/99
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
Hayes kicked three goals for Vic Metro in its final game of the under-18 championships, but will play next year mainly as a ruckman who can float forward rather than the other way around. The 17-year-old is one of a group of taller types who look likely to be amongst the top prospects in next year's crop.

Jack Higgins
Midfielder
176cm/72kg
19/3/99
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Higgins got a good taste of things this year in representing Vic Metro at the under-18 carnival as a bottom-ager. He was also excellent for the Oakleigh Chargers at TAC Cup level, playing 10 games and kicking 19 goals. Higgins' ability to push forward and be a constant threat for a ball-winning midfielder gives him a point of difference from other prospects.

Jack Higgins handballs under pressure from Will Setterfield in the U18 titles. Picture: AFL Photos

Lochie O'Brien
Midfielder
183cm/73kg
18/9/99
Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country
O'Brien showed his dash and dare in the NAB All-Stars game on Grand Final morning, when he gathered 20 disposals and kicked two goals to finish his bottom-age season in style. The Bendigo Pioneers product plays with great poise and skill, and is a beautiful left-foot kick. He is an excellent endurance athlete and matches that with a classy and quick footy brain.

Cameron Rayner
Half-forward
185cm/84kg
21/10/99
Western Jets/Vic Metro
The exciting Western Jets half-forward was recently added to the NAB AFL Academy level two squad following a brilliant end to the season. He kicked a seven-goal haul in the TAC Cup for the Jets and then backed it up with another five goals the following week. Rayner is powerful, explosive and as dangerous in the air as he is on the ground. He looms as an exciting player to track next season.

Charlie Spargo
Midfielder
171cm/66kg
25/11/99
Murray Bushrangers/GWS Academy/NSW-ACT
Spargo is a busy midfielder who belies his size to dig into the packs and find the ball on a consistent basis. He's tough and active, and is already considered a leader in his age group. Spargo is the son of former North Melbourne player Paul, however does not qualify as a father-son selection. Having grown up in Albury, he is a member of Greater Western Sydney's academy zone (unless rules change before next year for the club).

Jaidyn Stephenson
Forward
184cm/67kg
15/1/99
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro

Stephenson is electric whenever he's around the ball and already has shown brilliant match-winning traits. He blitzed in the 2015 TAC Cup finals series for the Eastern Ranges as a 16-year-old, and he booted 23 goals in 11 games for the Ranges this year. He's wiry but can jump high and take huge marks, he has wheels to get away from opponents, and is efficient around goal.