The GWS Giants Academy system is closing in on its next big breakthrough – a western Sydney graduate in the AFL.
The academy was established in 2011 and has already had some success with a gradual increase in the players drafted each year.
But Giants Academy manager Jason Saddington said that “western Sydney kids getting into AFL lists is that last piece of the puzzle”.
“The local talent and local competitions aren’t as strong as they are in other places around Australia where you see good kids coming through,” he said.
“It’s been a pretty slow build but we think we’re getting closer to (a western Sydney academy draftee).
“I think some of the boys like Nick Shipley, Kieren Briggs, Connor Owen-Auburn and even James Peatling are showing that they’re more than capable of playing at this level and playing well.”
Owen-Auburn is a 19-year-old from St Clair and has been in the program since his family moved back to Sydney from the Northern Territory in 2012.
Alongside Shipley from Camden and Briggs from Carlingford, both 18, the trio will be hoping to be selected in the 2017 AFL draft class.
Peatling, 17, from Toongabbie will be looking towards next season’s draft.
Saddington said all the boys played well throughout the under-18s academy series, where the Giants claimed three wins from their five games.
“They’re developing their footy really well,” he said.
“They’ve done some hard work through the academy for a few years now and I think we’re pretty close to seeing some kids come from region this year.
“But the aim is to consistently produce players year in, year out from western Sydney.”
The Giants Academy take players from across NSW with 10 regional centres of excellence established in Blacktown for western Sydney, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Griffith, Broken Hill, Albury, Deniliquin, Wentworth and the south coast.
Saddington, a 142-game AFL veteran with the Sydney Swans and Carlton, has been involved with the Academy since late 2014.
He said the academy has been successful, sending several players to the AFL, as well as producing better quality players for the North Eastern AFL and community competitions.
“Being associated with an AFL club and brand, it gives them something to really look ahead to and gives them a clear defined pathway,” he said.
“We hope to continue to produce more footballers for the second-tier competitions as well and really build that depth of talent. Eventually it leads to better coaches and administrators in all areas of footy in our academy zone.”