(PHOTO: Tim Murdoch)
The Northern Knights continued to play a critical role in the reset of the Northern Blues Football Club in 2016.
As one Knight-come-Blue stalwart in Brent Bransgrove came to the end of his career, a number of former Knights broke through the ranks to play pivotal roles at VFL and Development level.
The season saw 11 past or present Knights run out in the VFL, including AFL draft prospects Mason Blakey and Matthew Perry.
It follows on from the VFL debuts of recent graduates Kye Declase, Bailey Jordan and Sam Peet, while three ex-Knights – Bransgrove, Tim Totevski and vice-captain Zach Ballard – formed part of the leadership group.
The much-improved Daman Aujla, Sean Bolger and Carlton’s Dylan Buckley were the others to figure in senior action for the Blues, while Jake Bradley was one of five current Knights to play in the Development League.
Northern Knights Talent Manager Rhy Gieschen mentioned the importance of the two clubs continuing to find ways to strengthen the alignment and assist the squads in their footballing development.
“Garry and I will continue to look at new ways to increase opportunities to align the two programs. I think its important to treat each player on a case-by-case basis,” Gieschen said.
“It might be a case of a Blakey that a player is ready to step straight into senior football and have an immediate impact, or it might be the case of a 19 year old player training with the group for a period of time to prepare them for senior football.”
— Northern Blues FC (@NBluesFC) July 16, 2016
Gieschen said the experience of VFL football which Blakey and Perry were rewarded with presented valuable steps in their development as footballers and their AFL draft hopes.
“For Matt, the plan was always to expose him to VFL football as a 19-year-old player,” Gieschen said.
“We felt he was ready in Round 7 for him to play for the Blues and he showed he could handle himself against bigger bodies and a faster, more physical brand of football.
“We felt that Mason was ready for a new challenge towards the back end of the year after he showed what he could do at TAC level, with his fourth placing in the Morrish Medal.
— Northern Blues FC (@NBluesFC) August 22, 2016
“We wanted to show the AFL clubs that Mason was ready for senior football and were really grateful that the Northern Blues gave him the opportunity straight away.”
The sides also combined for a junior clinic for budding northern suburb footballers in June with Peet joined by the Knights’ Jamison Shea, while the teams had a shared training session in July.
Gieschen said the Blues had just a small glimpse of the talent on offer at Preston City Oval this season, which would help with a potential new influx of youth over the off-season.
“Hopefully we can get a number of our players drafted and rookie-listed in November, however I think Northern Blues fans should be really excited about the next group of Knights players moving onto VFL football,” Gieschen said.
“There is some real talent that graduated our program this year, but also some really quality young men.
“The likes of the Paterson twins – Ben and Sam – spring to mind: they played 10 games of TAC Cup but also featured in the Northern Blues Development side in Round 21 and both featured in the best players.”