Draft steals set to shape the AFL finals

Too small. Too slow. Average foot skills. Lacking agility.

The likes of Caleb Daniel, Nick Smith, Corey Enright and Shane Mumford had their share of doubters when they first pursued their AFL dreams.

Now they shape as some of the most important players in the finals, and among the best draft steals of the modern era.

There is perhaps no better story of a player overcoming his perceived weaknesses than the diminutive Daniel, who has quickly become one of the best young footballers in the competition.

The 168cm Western Bulldogs midfielder is the smallest player in the AFL but more than makes up for it with his class, tenacity and ball-winning ability.

Runner-up for the Rising Star award, Daniel has played 22 games this year and become a central part of the Dogs’ slick midfield.

The 20-year-old was taken at pick 46 in the 2014 draft but could easily have been selected much earlier if he had a few more centimetres to his name.

“I can’t control it. So I’ve always thought I’ve had nothing to lose by putting my head over the ball and cracking in,” Daniel told the AFL players’ website last year.

“Being small doesn’t dawn on me when I’m out there on the ground – I like to think I play big.”

Arguably the player of the finals so far, versatile Bulldogs midfielder Liam Picken was taken as a mature-aged rookie in 2009.

Picken tops a list of quality Dogs who slipped through to the rookie draft, including onballer Luke Dahlhaus, playmaker Jason Johannisen and All-Australian Matthew Boyd.

Geelong’s best draft steal dates all the way back to 1999, when they nabbed Corey Enright at pick 47.

The Cats took a punt on the relatively-unknown South Australian after seeing videos of him playing for Port Adelaide’s under-18 side in the SANFL.

It paid off handsomely, with the six-time All-Australian becoming one of the best half-backs of his generation and helping the Cats to three premierships.

The Cats had another win when they took former steeplechaser Mark Blicavs in the 2012 rookie draft.

Influential big man Shane Mumford was dismissed by scouts as lacking the agility required for a modern-day ruckman before he was taken by Geelong as a rookie selection in 2008.

A premiership star at Sydney in 2012, Mumford now shapes as a key player for the Giants and stands out as a late pick on a list dominated by talented first-rounders.

Sydney have benefited from academy picks and a cost of living allowance which helped them to land the competition’s biggest star in Lance Franklin.

But the Swans have also thrown in some astute drafting.

Overlooked in the 2007 draft, Nick Smith was taken by Sydney as a rookie selection and has since become one of the game’s most reliable small defenders, earning All-Australian selection in 2014.

Partner-in-crime Dane Rampe spent three years playing in the seconds in Melbourne and Sydney before the Swans took him in the 2013 rookie draft.

Rampe has since cemented his place in the Swans’ best 22 and was named in a back pocket in this year’s All-Australian team.

The Swans also picked up co-captain Kieren Jack in the 2006 rookie draft and stole gun onballer Luke Parker at pick 40 in 2010.

THE DRAFT STEALS WHO WILL SHAPE THE AFL FINALS

GEELONG

Corey Enright (pick 47, 1999)

Mark Blicavs (rookie pick, 2012)

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY

Shane Mumford (rookie pick, 2008 – ex-Geelong/Sydney)

SYDNEY

Kieren Jack (rookie pick, 2006)

Nick Smith (rookie pick, 2007)

Luke Parker (pick 40, 2010)

Dane Rampe (rookie pick, 2013)

WESTERN BULLDOGS

Caleb Daniel (pick 46, 2014)

Liam Picken (rookie pick, 2009)

Luke Dahlhaus (rookie pick, 2011)

* All Offers and Promotions posted in this article excludes NSW residents.
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