SANFL – West Adelaide FC: Great players and the mid-season draft effects



I was pretty much alone when I left the hotel.  A visit to Melbourne from Adelaide was reasonably frequent, but better for it being a match day.  As I walked towards the MCG, I was soon joined by others, small groups at first, but by the time the ground came into view, I was part of a ritual, a large throng of club colours, footy noises, anticipation and that great pre-match feeling shared by us all on game day.


It used to be much the same in Adelaide in the heyday of the SANFL.  More than 50,000 would attend the four games, mostly at small suburban grounds which now get an occasional one-off guernsey hosting a pre-season AFL game.  That’s how my team, West Adelaide, had Richmond Oval (yes, correct) upgraded with new goalposts, team benches and assorted improvements, to be suitable for the privileged AFL players for just a few hours.


It’s not like that now. Westies (the Bloods) play in front of crowds of about 2,000, often less, sometimes more, but 2,000 loyal supporters just the same as the crowd entering the MCG that day, perhaps more so than most. I watched a game at Port Melbourne’s ground last year, similar in many ways, but different really.  That reminded me of the first time I set foot on the hallowed MCG turf, before a Bloods Foxtel Cup game a few years ago, coincidentally against Port Melbourne. We were coached by Andrew Collins, his old mate Gary Ayres was coaching the Borough and in a tenuous link, Tom Langford played for both clubs. I still have the video.  We were rank outsiders, very much patronised by the TV commentators until they eventually realised we could play.  We won by plenty and won the whole thing.  $100 grand prizemoney, most of which helped us to stave off insolvency.


We’re a strange club, Westies.  We won a premiership only four years ago, but the previous one was 32 years before that, in 1983, with one of the all-time great sides in SANFL history. As I sat down before the game, I mentally selected a side of West juniors that would be as good, if not better, than any State League club in Australia has produced. The defence would be in good shape, with Ben Rutten at full-back, with Tyson Edwards next to him, helped out by Beau Waters.  Geelong Brownlow Medallist Bernie Smith would have a back flank, St Kilda’s Sam Fisher at CHB, perhaps Rory Laird on the other flank. Where to fit Hamish Hartlett, Byron Schammer, and Hawthorn premiership player Robert Day.  Tony Modra would hold down full-forward, helped out by Jason Porplyzia, Scott Welsh, Matthew Nicks, Bruce Lindner. The first ruck group might struggle, Shaun Rehn, Mark Ricciuto and Adam Cooney, with Mark Mickan helping out.  All West juniors. Very old-timers might remember or have read about Jack Dyer’s ‘the most talented player I‘ve see’, Jack Broadstock.


Then there are those I couldn’t claim, those who played their first senior football games with Westies. A bloke named Patrick Dangerfield, Brad Crouch, Nick Stevens, Dom Cassisi, Robbie Gray and others. Even Mitch Robinson, a Tasmanian I think, played for West’s juniors. There’s a bit of talent and history there.  Perhaps there’s more to come from Izak Rankine, Aaron Francis, Riley Bonner and others coming through.


But it’s not like that for the Bloods now.  We struggled to win a game in the first half of the season.  Six of our premiership side were drafted, so not much success since then. At least we still had some very good players. Midfielder Kaine Stevens, forward Jono Beech, defender Tom Keough, a few others and a speedy, but small wingman and an on-baller who was a gem for us, so there was hope.


Then there was the mid-season draft.


The State League clubs were given a few platitudes and that was it.  The time and cost of bringing players through from junior ranks counted for nothing, no compensation at all. To State league loyalists, it was a hopeless exercise complaining, or talking about AFL arrogance, because who can deny a young player their opportunity?  A little bit of thought and understanding by the AFL bulldozer would have been nice, though. We weren’t holding our breath.


The mid-season draft. Only a dozen or so were selected, but amazingly two of them were from West Adelaide, the bottom team in the SANFL, that small, speedy wingman and that gem of a midfielder. I enjoyed watching John Noble and Will Snelling making the most of their chance, was rapt for them and wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Enough reminiscing, the game started and it was a beauty, showcasing all the skills of AFL football, in front of a knowledgeable crowd.  A tight finish, a day well spent. I realised that when they call out the No 1 pick of the 2020 draft, it will possibly be ‘Player No 645789, Riley Thilthorpe’.


‘West Adelaide’.


Back home, Westies only won one more game and finished bottom. Only Bloods’ supporters cared.



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About Lee Harradine

West Adelaide Life Member and Past President. Cricket and travel tragic. Author of 'Flags, Spoons & Knives' an insider's view of the West Adelaide Football Club.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Keep fighting the good fight Lee, that’s a fine crop of juniors your Westies have fostered. And Jeff Bray has probably got Sam Fisher covered, while Don Roach on a forward flank could go a bit too. You may even have claims to Mark Williams.

  2. Great read Lethal, thank you for posting

  3. Westies sure have had some fine players over the years. Swish’s comments relating Jeff Bray ring true. Bray was an extremely versatile “down the guts player”, excelling at full back, centre half back, centre half forward and full forward in the fifties and sixties. When Jack Oatey coached the Bloods (from ’57 to ’60) he often started Bray in defense and swung him into attack in the final quarter to kick 3 or 4 goals. Bray was a fireman and was big and strong. Another player worth mentioning was Paul Garnett, brilliant across half forward and also capable of excelling across half back.

    When you think of West Adelaide, the name Neil Kerley always comes up. Another versatile player and motivator of young men. In ’61, Newly appointed coach Kerley gained his first premiership . Then in ’62 West fell just short by going under to Port Adelaide by 3 points in a very memorable Grand Final. The club then sacked him as coach and appointed Doug Thomas as the new coach.Kerley, years later returned to the club for 2 more coaching stints, delivering a flag, on the back of the brilliance of Bruce Lindner (centre half forward), in ’83.

    In the meantime, Doug Thomas, although never coaching a West Adelaide premiership continued to play great footy for his beloved Westies, mainly at full back, but sometimes as a “traffic cop style” centre half forward. After retiring as a player Thomas moved into management where many believed he was West Adelaide.

    I could go, like the ABBA song, “On and on and on”, but by now you get the picture.. Oh and it’s wonderful what medical science is doing for Westies’ last premiership coach (2015)Mark Mickan.

    Westies, like all the other clubs, are behind the eight ball as the AFL continually pinch their promising juniors and have to compete against the Power and Crows seconds.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Lee. It would’ve cost the AFL very little to show state league clubs the slightest bit of respect in the mid season draft shemozzle. And to allow the narrative to run “look at these feeder clubs being selfish in wanting to deny a young player an opportunity” was grossly unfair. So much of the junior development effort within SANFL clubs goes to getting those kids an AFL opportunity which comes at great cost. If the AFL was to be a respectful custodian of the game they would have considered interests more broadly and, if they still decided to go ahead, ensured compensation was more than just a maximum of 50% of the sign-on fee or whatever insulting solution they ended up with. They basically ended your and South’s seasons overnight without a second glance. Will continue to put my money into my SANFL and local club – the AFL can shove it!

  5. Great read Lee

  6. Mark Duffett says

    I’m with you, Dave.

    Though it pains to admit it, I’ve thought for some years that a fantasy contest between AFL-listed players according to their state league club allegiances would be won by West Adelaide. In an alternate universe where the AFL never existed, the early 90s Blood ‘n’ Tars side featuring Rehn, Ricciuto, Lindner, Mickan and Modra would have been something to behold.

  7. Richard Smith says

    I have good memories of the Blood and Tars, in 1973 I was selected to play in a “representative” West Adelaide mini-league team. Players were drawn from all the mini-league teams that played that year. We trained at Richmond Oval. I vaguely remember riding my bike to the ground.
    It was the first time I played on team with Michael Aish. Did you know he also played for West Adelaide? Does mini league in 1973, make you a past player?
    I went on to play with him for the next 5 years at high school and he, of course, went on to greater heights after that.

  8. Lee Harradine says

    Spot on, Swish. I wasn’t sure how Jeff was rated in Victoria. He made our Team of the Centuries easily. Correct about Don Roach and Mark Williams.

    Currently, there’s also Rhys Stanley, Chris Burgess, Kaiden Brand, etc.

  9. Lee love your passion for the bloods, while like all true Sanfl followers detested the mid season draft I was pleasantly surprised at the opportunities,Will Snelling and John Noble have received ,at the v least the bloody afl can provide decent financial reimbursement

  10. Daryl Schramm says

    Great read. Great comments. An exercise for you Swish. 9 SANFL teams of juniors as Lee was “mentally selecting” in the article. I reckon West, Port and Norwood would be top 3. Lets say last 50 years.

  11. bruce cameron says

    Agree wholeheartedly with Rulebook. The SANFL needs to push relentlessly for appropriate compensation.
    Go Bloods!

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