22/02/2024
Harley Reid at under 18 level.

In a game dubbed the ‘Harley Reid Cup’, West Coast was comprehensively smashed by then 18th-placed Hawthorn, prompting the question of whether the Eagles should pass on a generational talent to fast-track their rebuild.

Harley Reid is almost certain to be the first name called in November, with intrigue surrounding where the Bendigo Pioneers gun will end up in 2024.

Since 1990, there have never been three teams finish with a percentage lower than 65 per cent, with the most recent occurrence of multiple teams last season with the Kangaroos and Eagles.

Prior to the Hawks and Eagles clash, the three teams in question are on track to make history with North Melbourne (62.9 per cent), West Coast (60.5 per cent) and Hawthorn (60 per cent) all firming as genuine contenders for the wooden spoon.

The Eagles now have 55.4 per cent with their one win, the Kangaroos at 66.0 after their loss to the Swans and the Hawks boosted to 73.7 per cent following the 116-point victory.

With the AFL headed towards an inevitable switch towards US sporting trends, the frequency of players being traded by clubs without their consent is set to shape the future of the league’s trade system, with the belief that clubs should have full control over the players on their list.

This would allow clubs to free up salary space by performing a ‘salary dump’ to offload a player from their books, as well as position themselves to attack the draft by having a wider range of assets to move up the board.

A blockbuster trade such as Major League Baseball’s No. 1 pick Alex Rodriguez moving from Texas to the New York Yankees could become a norm in future seasons, with the Rangers agreeing to pay $67 million of the remaining $179 million on his contract.

Players would still be entitled to freedoms throughout their career in the form of free agency, occurring once they have completed eight seasons of service time in the league and each additional time they come out of contract, as well as placing no-trade clauses in negotiated contracts.

The idea of a mid-season trade period or an ongoing window for player movement with the use of a trade deadline could allow struggling clubs to acquire out-of-favour players at rival clubs, while in-form players with expiring contracts will heavily appeal to teams at the top end of the ladder.

With 46 per cent of the 138 players who have been traded since 2018 under contract, the trend will allow clubs to continue to improve their list far quicker than the current trajectory, with the injection of the Tasmanian side paving the way for clubs to pursue anyone of interest regardless of contract status going forward.

But what does this have to do with Harley Reid and the Eagles?

West Coast Recruiting and List Manager Rohan O’Brien fronts the media at the 2022 AFL Draft. Image: AFL

The ‘go home’ factor has been a major talking point for AFL clubs in recent seasons, with young stars requesting moves to their state of origin early in their career.

Since 2020, Greater Western Sydney has seen a trio of first-round selections from Victoria move back home, with Jackson Hately (Adelaide), Jye Caldwell (Essendon) and Tanner Bruhn (Geelong) all departing the club after just two years.

Oliver Henry joined his brother at Geelong under similar circumstances, while premiership Demon Luke Jackson and contracted Cats wingman Jordan Clark returned to Western Australia after three years in Victoria.

The most infamous trade request of late however was 2021’s first overall pick Jason Horne-Francis requesting a move to Port Adelaide after just one season at North Melbourne, similar to the move that saw former number-one pick Tom Boyd join the Western Bulldogs.

The go-home factor has become a significant consideration for AFL recruiters when picking players on draft night, leaving the question: could the AFL Draft’s first selection be on the move two years in a row?

2021 number one pick Jason Horne-Francis in his new colours for the first time. Image: Port Adelaide

The number one selection is sure to fetch a large ransom for the team that finishes on the bottom of the ladder, with a trade package of three first-round selections seen as a starting point in negotiations to secure Reid.

The Crows were believed to have offered three first-round selections to North Melbourne to draft Horne-Francis in 2021, however, they were keen to receive a second-round selection in return, emphasising the difficulty of trading outright for the first selection.

West Coast has made its list strategy known, with 61 per cent of their players hailing from Western Australia, the most local players of any non-Victorian club in the league.

Adam Simpson’s comments in 2021 that the club would only be targeting private school boys has only added to this strategy, with doubt over West Coast’s willingness to invest long-term in Reid who hails from Tongala in northern Victoria.

Harley Reid at the AFL Academy jumper presentation. Image: AFL

Additionally, the Eagles opted to split the second selection in the 2022 draft to secure multiple Western Australian talents in midfielders Rueben Ginbey and Elijah Hewett, joining the club with picks nine and 14 respectively.

However, by targeting both contracted and out-of-contract Western Australian talent around the league while still balancing their investment in the top end of the draft, West Coast can significantly put its list back into the finals conversation as players from rival clubs that were once seen as off-limits could be ‘gettable’ for the Eagles.

Latest AFL News:

So who should the Eagles be getting on the phone?

Melbourne

With a strong draft hand as a result of Luke Jackson’s departure, Melbourne was keen to move up the draft board last season, offering Essendon a package almost identical to that of Adelaide’s attempt to secure Horne-Francis, with a similar move floated again this year for the Demons.

WA young gun Jacob van Rooyen is a name that Eagles fans would love to see in the blue and gold, with the former first-round pick a star in the making. To sweeten the deal, the Eagles could look to partner the Demon with his younger brother Sam through a commitment to draft the Claremont forward.

Although accumulating 3425 points from its current hand of picks seven, 17 and 25, Melbourne’s trio of selections won’t be enough to satisfy Rohan O’Brien’s team to hand over pick one, with the 3000 point value of the selection likely to be increased to around 3750 points due to the potential flurry of suitors, opening the door for van Rooyen to enter negotiations.

The former pick 19 would command at least an early first-round pick considering he is contracted until the end of 2025, providing Melbourne with a better hand to press for the rights to Harley Reid.

Mock Trade:

West Coast receives: Jacob van Rooyen, Picks seven and 25

Melbourne receives: Picks one and 51

Jacob van Rooyen in action for Melbourne. Image: AFL

Hawthorn

While the Hawks could just as easily end up with pick one, the Eagles could make a bold move in the event they own the rights to the draft’s most sought-after pick.

Out of favour key defender Denver Grainger-Barras would be a fantastic addition to an aging West Coast backline, with the former pick-six struggling to break into Hawthorn’s senior side despite having a year to run on his deal.

Losing Grainger-Barras would be a high price to pay to move up one spot in the draft order, however, the hype around Reid may be too good to pass up on for the Hawks if they see the pick as being available come season’s end.

Mock Trade:

West Coast receive: Denver Grainger-Barras, pick two and future second-round pick

Hawthorn receive: Pick one

Denver Grainger-Barras in action for Hawthorn. Image: Hawthorn

Greater Western Sydney

The Giants secured Aaron Cadman with the first pick in 2022 after swaying the Vic Country key forward to embrace life in Western Sydney and could look to do the same this year, currently holding picks four and six in the current draft order.

2022 All-Australian defender and reigning GWS best and fairest winner, Sam Taylor, could be a huge name the Eagles could look to bring home in a return for Reid, with the Swan Districts junior likely to net a return on the same level as the arrivals of Steven May and Jake Lever at Melbourne. Darcy Jones, a fellow Swan Districts product, could be another name on the whiteboard for the Eagles and would be closely valued to the pick 21 he was selected at last year.

Between the two players, the Giants could make a genuine play for back-to-back number-one selections should they convince Victorian country boy Reid to commit to a long-term deal with the club before striking the proposed trade.

While the same argument could be made for West Coast, the number of Western Australian talents on offer may be too good to refuse against the risk factor involved in Reid potentially requesting a trade to return to Victoria down the track, with the level of established talent on offer around the league from New South Wales unlikely to warrant significant compensation for the pick.

Mock Trade:

West Coast receives: Sam Taylor, Darcy Jones, and pick four

Greater Western Sydney receives: pick one and a future second-round pick

Sam Taylor won the GWS Best and Fairest in 2022. Image: AFL

Gold Coast

The Suns’ pick is the most attainable of any in the draft, with the rapid rise of their trio of Academy members, Jed Walter, Jake Rogers and Ethan Read, prompting them to move their earliest selection to ensure it is not consumed by a bid for key forward Walter.

Rather than trading it away to bank a future selection, they could, however, look to move up the order to secure Reid, after parting with their first pick in a Jack Bowes salary dump last season.

Like GWS, Gold Coast chose to invest in a Vic Country prospect in Bailey Humphrey last season, while a tempting pitch to Collingwood star Nick Daicos not to nominate as a father-son has proved the Suns’ willingness to negotiate and attract underage Victorian talent to the club, reaping the rewards of Oakleigh pair Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson in 2023.

The Suns have invested heavily into this year’s draft to ensure they can match bids for their tied prospects, currently holding picks eight, 22, 29, 44, 54, 62, 65, 68 and 80, giving them a total of 3903 points.

By offloading out of favour and uncontracted wingman Jeremy Sharp, who sought a move to Fremantle in the offseason for a proposed second-round pick, the Suns could find themselves with 2895 points remaining after the trade, allowing them to cover estimated bids at picks five, 15 and 30, following their 20 per cent discount on the trio.

Mock Trade:

West Coast receive: Jeremy Sharp, pick eight, future first and second-round picks

Gold Coast receive: Picks one and 33

Jeremy Sharp in action for Gold Coast. Image: AFL

Essendon

While Essendon fans would dream of the prospect of Harley Reid lining up in the red and black next season, the Dons must first figure out what they are doing with their two star free agents. Mason Redman seems like a priority for the Bombers going forward, with the defender’s emergence making him potentially the team’s most influential player in the past two seasons with the exception of Peter Wright.

The recent additions of Jye Caldwell, Ben Hobbs, and Elijah Tsatas in consecutive offseasons, as well as the resurgence of Will Setterfield, has left Essendon questioning how highly it values Darcy Parish. Should he depart in free agency, against the club’s will or not, the Dons would be left with a bounty of picks, including consecutive first-round picks in 2023 and their future first-round selection, which could be used to package up an enticing offer to the Eagles to secure the Bendigo gun.

Matt Guelfi, nicknamed ‘the Prince of Perth’, could potentially be offered up as part of a trade proposal, with Brad Scott’s preferred small forward combination of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Alwyn Davey Jnr and Jye Menzie set to push Guelfi down the pecking order in his return from injury.

Nic Martin would be an ideal trade target for the Eagles given his age and tremendous rise in the AFL, however bad blood between the two parties as a result of his train-on stint with the club would likely rule out a homecoming.

Mock Trade:

West Coast receives: Matt Guelfi, picks nine and 10

Essendon receives: Pick one

Matt Guelfi in action for Essendon. Image: AFL

Who should the Eagles target in the draft?

On the draft front, the Eagles obtain at least one top 10 selection in the 2023 draft in each scenario, enabling them to consider bringing in top talent in the form of Claremont key defender Daniel Curtin, Peel ruckman Mitch Edwards and as floated earlier, Sam van Rooyen.

A move with Hawthorn down to pick two could potentially be flipped to a team like North Melbourne with a Nick Watson or Zane Duursma potentially available around that mark, netting West Coast further capital in return for a second move down the order if it can still secure Curtin.

The combination of Curtin with Grainger-Barras or Taylor will sure up key defensive stocks for the next decade, while a van Rooyen and Oscar Allen partnership will be equally promising up forward. Edwards is the country’s leading underage ruckman, however, the Eagles may turn their attention elsewhere should they not have multiple first-round selections after securing Harry Barnett in 2022.

Daniel Curtin is WA’s top underage talent. Image: AFL

In other list moves, West Coast should strongly consider Claremont forward Jack Buller after all but securing the first pick in the Mid-Season Rookie Draft after losing this week’s clash with Hawthorn.

All presented scenarios have seen West Coast hang on to its second-round selection, currently pick 19, which could be put on the table to net a top WA talent from the 2019 draft, with Port Adelaide’s Mitch Georgiades (pick 18) and Brisbane’s Devon Robertson (pick 22) out of contract at the end of the year. 

And while it is difficult for bottom teams to attract free agents, triple premiership Tiger Nathan Broad could be swayed to return home to Western Australia with ample salary cap room available, following the addition of Jayden Hunt as an older recruit to a developing side during the offseason.

The side’s future first-round pick is heavily protected, with WA-born Sydney and Western Bulldogs products Chad Warner (2025), Logan McDonald (2024), Aaron Naughton (2024), and Tim English (2024) coming to the end of their current contracts, while Chayse Martinson is shaping as a top pick in the 2024 draft.

This weekend’s Harley Reid Cup has massive ramifications for both sides, as West Coast’s bidding power ultimately hinges on the result, potentially swaying the entire course of its rebuild.

As for Harley, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, with clubs well aware of the recent growth in go-home concerns, working away in the background to ensure they are not haunted by another Horne-Francis.

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