Young midfielder Drews little praise, but the stats don’t lie

Willem Drew shakes off a tackle from Collingwood's Steele Sidebottom. (Photo: Port Adelaide FC)

Young Port Adelaide midfielder Willem Drew has a penchant for flying under the radar.

2019 was an exciting year for the youth of Port Adelaide. The trio of Connor Rozee, Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters exploded onto the scene, drawing praise game-on-game.

In a year where hulking forward Charlie Dixon struggled to stay on the park, Rozee lead the club goalkicking with 29 goals. He was notched out by number one pick Sam Walsh by just 12 votes in the Rising Star Award.

Duursma become infamous across the league for his bombastic ‘bow and arrow’ celebration, while Butters was no slouch in front of goals either.

While his teammates took the spotlight, 2016 second round pick Willem Drew quietly debuted in the first round win over Melbourne with 21 disposals, five tackles and four clearances.

He wasn’t able to break into a strong midfield group prior due to a mix of injury woes and the likes of Travis Boak, Robbie Gray, Brad Ebert, Ollie Wines and Chad Wingard unshakable in the best 22.

With Ebert retiring, Wingard departing, and Gray spending more time around the goals, Drew had the chance to take advantage of coach Ken Hinkley’s pseudo-rebuild.

10 games later, and Drew had put together a modest 2019 season. He finished the year averaging 16 disposals, six tackles, two clearances and two inside 50s. His hard-nosed, no nonsense style drew the praise of Power fans, but wasn’t on the radar of the greater footballing community yet.

A difficult 2020 season filled with frustrating injury setbacks left Drew watching as his side returned to the finals, bundled out in the preliminary final.

Fast forward to this weekend, and he’s got the chance to contribute to a grand final berth under Hinkley as a first-choice midfield option.

The Inner Sanctum explores Willem Drew’s remarkable breakout season through the important numbers.

Diligent Drew by the numbers

In the lead-up to his debut, Drew toiled away in the SANFL in 2017 before missing the entire 2018 season with injury.

The first year in the twos saw him average 15 disposals, five tackles, two inside 50s and six goals across 18 games. A good season, but nothing to take note of.

Safe to say that 2021 has been a complete breakout from the young man from Koroit.

This season, Drew has averaged 18.1 disposals at 73 per cent efficiency, 2.7 inside 50s, 9.1 contested possessions, 6.6 ground ball gets, four clearances, 6.8 tackles and 25.2 pressure acts.

The raw numbers are all well and good, but how they rank within his side is what’s particularly impressive.

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Firstly: clearances. Drew ranks third in the Power’s line-up with 95 for the season, only behind star midfielders Boak (131) and (130). This ranks him 43rd in the competition, equal with GWS’ Josh Kelly and better than Patrick Dangerfield, Nat Fyfe, Zach Merrett and Scott Pendlebury.

He’s also third for centre clearances, 49th overall in the competition and equal with Fyfe and Gold Coast’s Hugh Greenwood.

Stoppage clearances are his particular strength however, still third with 59 but only nine behind Boak. This ranks him 40th in the AFL for total stoppage clearances.

Drew is once again third for contested possessions behind Wines and Boak.

After just 33 AFL games, Drew is only a lesser contested player than a Brownlow medal fancy and All-Australian, and a three time All-Australian and two time John Cahill Medallist.

All this while also taking on a run with role.

Wines voted the Fans MG MVP for Round 17
Drew is nipping on the heels of his All-Australian teammates for contested ball and clearance numbers. (Photo: Port Adelaide FC)

In addition to his strong contested work, Drew’s skills as a tagger have been growing across recent weeks.

He was placed firmly on Bulldogs midfielder Tom Liberatore in the Round 23 clash, keeping him to just 17 disposals and four clearances, well below his season averages. Drew had a handy 14 disposals, six tackles and two inside 50s himself.

This released Boak and Wines to, between them, amass 65 disposals, three goals, 13 tackles, 11 inside 50s, eight score involvements and eight clearances.

Drew would then perform a similar role on Geelong captain Joel Selwood in the qualifying final the following week. He kept the star Cat veteran to 17 disposals, two tackles and two marks.

When in and under, tackling is where Drew shines the brightest. In that same game he made 22 tackle attempts, the most of any player in 2021, successfully landing 11.

He ranks first overall in Power players for tackles, 45 clear of Boak in second place. He ranks second in tackles inside 50 behind fellow young teammate Mitch Georgiades.

Even scarier is that he ranks second in the competition for total tackles in 2021, behind Jack Steele, and fifth for tackles per game.

The numbers don’t lie: the kid is a contested machine.

Does he tag on Saturday?

With a grand final spot on the line, does Hinkley let Drew run free and amass the contested ball unopposed, or does he set him upon the Dogs midfield once again?

Liberatore could be a threat that needs to be neutralised like the last time they met, with 35 disposals and seven clearances against the Bombers and kicking two goals against the Lions.

Taking him out of the game takes away a clearance beast, but the Bulldogs midfield has shown itself adaptable and deep across 2021.

Will Drew return to Tom Liberatore in a tagging role? (Photo: Western Bulldogs)

Jack Macrae could be set to equal Tom Mitchell’s record for games with 30 or more disposals. Is he the man to focus on instead?

Macrae probably draws game style comparisons to Drew in and under, though Drew is undoubtedly the harder-nosed tackle machine of the two. Liberatore has that similar hard edge, and could be a better match.

Liberatore’s ability to push forward might prove a concern for Hinkley. If Drew is confined to the backline too often, his pressure will be missing particularly in forward half stoppages.

Is it possible to tag Marcus Bontempelli? It’s a question all of the other 17 coaches wish they knew the answer to.

Regardless of the decision, in his first preliminary final, Willem Drew’s contested pressure might be more essential to victory than it seems.

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About Alex Catalano 257 Articles
Alex is a studying journalist from Melbourne with an obsession for all things Aussie rules, and a commitment to providing equal coverage and recognition to women's sport. A sport all-rounder, Alex reports on Aussie rules, football, basketball, netball, cricket and esports.

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