AFL Draft: walking down Peel Thunder’s memory lane

More than 100 aspiring footy stars will watch the National AFL Draft with anticipation and perhaps a hint of anxiety on Friday night, as they wait to hear their name called.

Peel Thunder has a strong history in the draft, despite being the youngest of the WAFL clubs. Of their 16 national draftees, six were chosen in the first round, three with the second overall pick and two with the fourth overall pick.

With the 2016 draft just over 24 hours away, we take a trip down Peel Thunder’s memory lane.

Brandon Hill – 1998, pick 10, West Coast Eagles

It was a proud day for Peel Thunder when their first ever draftee landed in the top 10 and was selected by home-state club West Coast. Hill was an extremely good defender at the 1998 under 18s championships, which earned him all-Australian honours for the carnival. The Mandurah football product was part of Peel Thunder’s first ever side and while he was delisted after two years of AFL footy, he returned to the Thunder where he played 145 senior games.

A Mandurah Mail article after Brandon Hill became Peel's very first draftee.

A Mandurah Mail article after Brandon Hill became Peel's very first draftee.

Daniel Wells – 2002, pick 2, North Melbourne

A 243-game AFL veteran, Wells is probably the best player to ever be drafted out of Peel Thunder. The dynamic midfielder made an instant impact in North Melbourne’s side, showing the efficient ball use and knack for possession collecting that led to him being the second overall selection behind St Kilda and Essendon legend Brendan Goddard. After swimming in the free agency pool this off-season, Wells has since signed with Collingwood.

Farren Ray – 2003, pick 4, Western Bulldogs

Farren Ray became Peel Thunder’s second top-five pick in as many years when he was chosen by the Bulldogs at pick four. The midfielder/defender played 75 games with the Dogs before being traded to St Kilda where he became a regular fixture in the side playing 130 games. He was delisted in 2015 and signed with North Melbourne, where he played four matches before retiring with 209 games under his belt.

Farren Ray was a top four pick. Photo: Getty Images.

Farren Ray was a top four pick. Photo: Getty Images.

Paul Bower – 2005, pick 20, Carlton

Injuries hindered Peel’s fourth draftee at the AFL level, but Paul Bower still managed to chalk up 70 games across seven seasons with the Blues. As many defensive players do, he struggled in his early years, but 2009 was a breakout for Bower. He took on stronger defensive roles and finished seventh in the club’s best and fairest count. He returned to Peel for a season after he was delisted from the Blues at the end of 2012.

Matt Riggio – 2005, pick 28, North Melbourne

Matt Riggio heard his name called eight picks after teammate Bower, joining the Kangaroos as a second-round selection. The small defender debuted for the side in 2007, where he played the first two rounds of the season. He then returned to North’s VFL side and wasn’t recalled to the seniors until the 2008 season. Since his AFL career came to a close, Riggio has returned to the WAFL where he has picked up two best and fairest awards for Swan Districts and helped the club to a premiership.

Kristin Thornton – 2005, pick 54, Sydney

The third Peel player drafted in 2005, Kristin Thornton was taken by Sydney in the fourth round. Picked up by Sydney in an era of dominance for the club, Thornton didn’t debut until round eight, 2009 after struggling with injuries. He played just eight games with the club before returning to Peel Thunder and taking out the club’s best and fairest in 2011. He was named to Peel Thunder’s 20-year all-star side earlier this month.

Scott Gumbleton – 2006, pick 2, Essendon

Selected with so much promise, Gumbleton’s AFL career was a heart-breaker as injuries restricted him from ever consistently getting on the park. He played 17 of his 35 senior games in 2010, but missed full season in 2008, 2009 and 2011. He was traded to Fremantle in 2013 where he showed promising pre-season form, but injuries led to him retiring midway through the year.

James Hawksley – 2006, pick 38, Brisbane

Chosen in the third round by the Brisbane Lions, defender James Hawksley debuted for the club in round 11, 2008. He went on to play 32 games with the Lions, before being delisted at the end of the 2012 season and returning to the Thunder.

James Hawksley played 32 games with Brisbane. Photo: Getty Images.

James Hawksley played 32 games with Brisbane. Photo: Getty Images.

Kyle Reimers – 2006, pick 47, Essendon

While controversy surrounded Reimers’ career with the Bombers, his on-field talent was undeniable. His career highlight came in round six of the 2011 season, where he booted eight goals against the Gold Coast Suns in a huge victory for the Bombers. He finished his career with Essendon with 69 goals from 60 games.

Brock O’Brien – 2006, pick 52, Fremantle

O’Brien debuted for Fremantle in the final round of the 2007 season, after a number of Dockers were suspended from the side. His debut match was profound. Despite gathering a modest 16 touches, O’Brien showed plenty of class. But the 52nd pick in the 2006 draft went on to play just three games for Freo before being delisted. He had since become a force in the WAFL with East Fremantle.

Hayden Ballantyne – 2008, pick 21, Fremantle

A fiery forward pocket for the Dockers, Ballantyne has probably filled more headlines than any other Peel draftee. His career at AFL level speaks for itself. He may be a pest for other teams, but he’s played 141 games and booted 221 goals in his time at the Dockers. Ballantyne requested a trade away from the Dockers in 2016, but a deal could not be facilitated. He remains part of Fremantle’s senior list.

Anthony Morabito – 2009, pick 4, Fremantle

Much like Gumbleton, Anthony Morabito’s career is gut-wrenching to look back on. He got off to a flying start in his debut season in 2010, playing 23 of a possible 24 games for the Dockers and earning a rising star nomination. But injuries crippled the star-studded midfielder, as he required three consecutive knee reconstructions, and was delisted by Fremantle at the end of the 2016 season.

Aaron Black – 2009, pick 25, North Melbourne

Peel’s second draftee from 2009, Aaron Black enjoyed a period of success where he was one of the most in-form tall forwards in the AFL in 2013. His ability to kick consistent bags of two or three goals had a big impact on games for the Roos, but since then he has fallen out of favour with selectors. After requesting a trade at the end of 2016, Black found a new home in Geelong. He will hoping to find his form from past seasons.

Aaron Black is eyeing a career resurrection with Geelong. Photo: Getty Images.

Aaron Black is eyeing a career resurrection with Geelong. Photo: Getty Images.

Harley Bennell – 2010, pick 2, Gold Coast Suns

Though off-field issues have kept Bennell from reaching his full potential so far in his career, he is a deadly weapon on the field. He boasts more sheer talent than any of his fellow Peel Thunder draftees, and has the ability to break games apart with his goal sense and disposal efficiency. He debuted for the Gold Coast in 2011, but 2012 was his breakout year. He finished second in the club’s best and fairest behind superstar Gary Ablett Jr. Since being traded to Fremantle a calf injury has seen him unable to play, but if he can put together a successful return, he will be invaluable to the team.

Kamdyn McIntosh – 2012, pick 31, Richmond

If McIntosh didn’t have to deal with a spate of injuries in the early stages of his career, it’s likely we’d be talking about the absolute steal that Richmond picked up at 31. His debut in round one of 2015 was stellar, as he racked up 23 disposals, a goal and a rising star nomination. The 2016 season started out looking like his breakout year, with an impressive game against Collingwood in round two (28 disposals), but unfortunately injury struck again and he missed the remainder of the year. He’ll look to bounce back in 2017.

Josh Schoenfeld – 2015, pick 34, Gold Coast Suns

The latest of the Peel Thunder draftees, Schoenfeld entered the league with high praise on his athletic ability and didn’t disappoint in his four games in 2016. The running defender debuted against Fremantle in round 18, tallying 19 touches in a classy first showing. His running ability separates him from other players around the ground and it will be exciting to watch him grow in the coming years.