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SUNS Male Academy: Draft Prospects

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 29:  Connor Budarick of the Allies runs with the ball during the AFL U18 Championships match between the Allies and South Australia at GMHBA Stadium on June 29, 2018 in Geelong, Australia.  (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Media/Getty Images)

After taking out the Division 2 title in the NAB League, it’s no surprise that the Gold Coast SUNS U18 Male Academy is well-represented in the initial 50-player Allies squad announced on Thursday. The SUNS had a total of eight inclusions, who are touted as potential draft prospects later in the year. 

Connor Budarick

After captaining the SUNS to the Division 2 title, the small inside midfielder also won the division medal for player of the series after impressively polling in each game.

Budarick topped the NAB League for tackles, finished third in inside 50s and eighth in overall disposals, with his ability to play in the midfield, rotate through the forward line and also line up as a half-back impressing many throughout the series. Academy Head Coach Andrew Raines, said Budarick’s leadership and courage was admirable.

“Connor’s a tough player whose courage and leadership has really helped the team throughout the series. He’s got elite skills and is a great kick off his left and right foot and is a tackling machine,” Raines told SUNS Media.

Hewago ‘Ace’ Paul Oea

The Papua New Guinean is freakishly quick with elite pressure and tackling skills. Currently on an international rookie scholarship, Oea is already listed to the Gold Coast SUNS and has been developing his game through the NAB League. The midfielder is versatile and often swung forward to act as a pressure player. 

Academy Head Coach Andrew Raines, said ‘Ace’ enjoyed an impressive series and possesses dangerous offensive run.

“Ace has been really solid for us through the midfield. He’s had a great series and provides great offensive run for the team. He’s lightning quick and provides plenty of run and carry as well as tackling pressure,” Raines said.

Ashton Crossley 

Another member of the SUNS’ on-ball brigade, the inside midfielder is a contested ball specialist who has quick hands and great game sense. Given the role of vice-captain for the U18 Male Academy, the ball magnet finished third in the NAB League for handballs and averaged 24 disposals a game. Crossley, the younger brother of SUNS forward Brayden, needs to improve his endurance before being considered elite, but will be a mouth-watering prospect for many teams if he does.

Josh Gore

A crafty forward with great goal sense, Gore was responsible for kicking the sealing goal in the SUNS Academy win against the Greater Western Victorian Rebels, and averaged two goals per game. Gore was the leading goal-kicker for the U18 Male Academy and is a creative and enjoyable forward to watch with great hands and marking ability. Gore displays plenty of confidence and attitude and often gets under the skin of his opponents, which only improves his game further.

Matt Conroy 

The number one ruckman for the SUNS Academy, Conroy averaged 20 hitouts, including an impressive 34 in the last round of the series. The versatile big man possesses a great vertical leap and closing speed, despite his 199cm frame, and can be a dangerous forward when given the opportunity. Academy Head Coach Andrew Raines said Conroy also showed great leadership skills throughout the series. 

“Matt’s been a really great voice for us through the midfield and his tap work is one of his best assets. As one of the top-agers in the Academy, he’s shown strong leadership skills along with our captains. He has really great closing speed and an impressive leap on him,” Raines said.

Dirk Koenen

Another 19-year-old Academy squad member, Koenen is a consistent member of the Gold Coast SUNS NEAFL team and shows great composure and maturity with ball in hand. The intercepting defender plays his best off half-back and his ability to hit targets makes him a strong prospect for teams looking to bolster their defensive stocks.

Notable Mentions: Alex Davies, Jack Johnston, Max Pescud, Rhys Nicholls