Confessions of an AFL talent spy

What’s in the WAFL?




AT around about this time every year it starts happening…knocks on the door, texts, emails, faxes, Twitter and Facebook messages… From list managers, volunteer talent spotters, forward scouts, football operations managers, development coaches, CEOs, COOs, marketing managers, senior coaches, footy writers, TV sports presenters and people. All similar. “G’day mate…anything in the WAFL I should know about?”


It had its beginnings in the early 1990s when, one Saturday morning, I found myself in the lift at a city hotel in Perth. I had no choice but to listen to the conversation between the other two occupants.


“What brings you to Perth?”


“I’m doing some work for Carlton. I’ve come over to have a look at a young bloke playing for Swan Districts.”


“Oh yeah, what do you know about him? What position does he play? How big is he? Is he a left footer or a right footer?”



I liked the sound of that bloke’s job. Getting flown across the country, put up in a nice hotel and, best of all, no homework. Turns out I got the job, but they come to me. No planes, no hotels but plenty of homework. The money’s good but.


Generally I’m looking at mature-age talent running around at senior level in the WAFL but some I’ll mention here are traditional WA 18s draft fodder. So what was in the WAFL in 2017 that could make the move into the AFL?




Tim Kelly (South Fremantle): He is 23-years-old, made his league debut for South in 2013, has played 93 games and gets better every year. His specialty is clearances, he hits them hard, handles the ball well and gets great penetration. Kelly added something in 2017 when he kicked 26 goals. Runner up in the Sandover Medal this year.




Liam Ryan (Subiaco): Definitely the most exciting player in the WAFL…maybe the nation. A small forward who kicked 73 goals for the year. His high marking is breathtaking and his kicking for goal is clinical. If an AFL coaching group couldn’t harness his talents into something useful at the top level then maybe they should look at doing something else.




Aaron Naughton (Peel): It was a bit sad and mystifying that he couldn’t get a game in Peel’s grand final team. Named in the All-Australian 18s team, Naughton played seven league games for the Thunder and looked at home in key roles in defence and attack. He’s strong in the air and kicks well, and it’s easy to imagine him slotting into an AFL team next year.


Sam Taylor (Swan Districts): Another All-Australian 18s selection, he played seven league games for Swan this year and looked composed in the finals. He’s big and strong and could fit neatly into a key defensive position.




Haiden Schloithe (South Fremantle): Spent time on the Fremantle rookie list without making a lot of progress but really blossomed this year, winning the Sandover Medal and South’s fairest and best award. He has played 108 league games and made an important adjustment in 2017 by limiting his tendency to look for high contact and instead relying on his high skill level. Kicked 27 goals for the year. There’s a lot to like about him.


Scott Jones (East Perth): Big and bulky, he somehow forced a place in the East Perth line-up already packed with big men from the Eagles list. Showed a great capacity to take pack marks and, as the year went on, to kick a few goals. He will get better.


Cody Ninyette (Perth): Scrawny forward who kicked 28 goals for the season including seven in Perth’s last game – against East Perth. Has the vital ingredients of skill and speed.




Matthew Parker (South Fremantle, right): Made his league debut as a 21-year-old this year and has played just seven games. An impressive mover with raw talent. Someone might take a punt.


Bailey Banfield (Claremont): Youngster who missed out on last year’s draft but enjoyed a strong WAFL season winning the fairest and best award at the Tigers. Good sized midfielder who seems to get to the right places.




Liam Baker (Subiaco): Recruiters probably baulk at his size. A WA 18s rep in 2016, he played 13 league games for Subiaco this year and kicked 19 goals including three in the preliminary final. He is clever and courageous.


Matt Guelfi (Claremont): Another considered unlucky to miss out last year. Had a good season for the Tigers and kicked 20 goals. Good at getting the ball at stoppages and that’s useful.




Gordon Narrier (Perth): Glorious mover who might need to be a bit stronger when the pressure is on… but hey isn’t that what AFL clubs do for young players? Potential gem.


Both WA AFL clubs shredded a load of players this year but the only one I see being picked up in the draft or rookie draft is Fremantle’s Sam Collins. He won Peel’s fairest and best award and his leadership in defence was just wonderful whenever I saw him play. Something he was doing didn’t impress the Dockers – maybe he can take inspiration from Sam Menegola.


And to conclude, here’s a bit more of Liam Ryan (all photos by Les Everett)…



About Les Everett

A Footy Almanac veteran, Les Everett is the author of Gravel Rash: 100 Years of Goldfields Football and Fremantle Dockers: An Illustrated History. He is the WAFL correspondent and uses the money he makes from that role to pay for his expensive websites and and fund the extravagant Vin Maskell at


  1. Terrific pen pix Les. I saw a fair bit of Sam Taylor at Swan Districts. You captured him perfectly. Strong and composed. Many kids are overawed or overmatched when they go from Colts to League in one step. I saw him debut on a very rainy day and he handled the heavy conditions and big bodies with aplomb. As you saw his Elimination Final game against West Perth was a gem. Definite 100+ game AFL player and looks like he could play AFL as soon as he builds up his body strength a bit more.
    I generally don’t pay much attention to opposition players unless they are really outstanding. Liam Ryan is a rare talent as you say. Reminded me of Ashley Sampi with his marking and smarts (better kick than Sampi – and hopefully without the personal baggage). Only question is whether he could fit into a team style at AFL level where he won’t be able to mark over packs as easily.
    The WAFL’s win over the VFL in Melbourne during the season hopefully elevated recruiters regard for our local comp.
    As the Dockers finished below the Eagles this year I believe you are hosting the annual WA book launch BBQ again. The recruiter fees will come in handy with feeding the multitude.

  2. Looking forward to cross-checking on Friday!

  3. John Butler says

    Great insights as always Les.

    Will be keeping an eye out for these names.


  4. Thanks P, J & J.

    Yes, it will be interesting to see how many the recruiters get right…

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