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Dockers rook'n'roll into showdown with Crows

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Almost every footy fan will have, at some stage, been emailed a Powerpoint presentation of Fremantle's drafting ineptness.

Trading Andrew McLeod for Chris Groom. Giving Jeff Farmer away for Phil Gilbert. And so on.

And every one of them will likely have enjoyed a chuckle. Even Freo fans. It's the only reaction you could possibly have.

No one will have received an email outlining the Dockers' success with the rookie list. Such an email doesn't exist.

But maybe it should.

Of the 22 Fremantle players picked to take on an equally rookie-laden Crows side in tonight's first semi-final in Adelaide, eight of them debuted off the Dockers rookie list, including giant ruckman Aaron Sandilands, creative defender Paul Duffield and midfield grunt-workers Ryan Crowley, Matt de Boer and Michael Barlow.


A ninth, Zac Dawson, got his second AFL chance as a rookie at St Kilda, after being delisted by Hawthorn.

Each of the 16 established clubs in the competition have enjoyed notable success with the rookie list - across town West Coast snared once-in-a-generation ruckman Dean Cox and star midfielder Matt Priddis - but the Dockers have needed it much more than most.

Of the 25 players selected by Fremantle in national drafts between 2001 and 2007, including six first-round selections, only five are still at the club: David Mundy, Garrick Ibbotson, Chris Mayne, Kepler Bradley and Ryan Crowley (and Crowley was delisted, then rookie-listed).

Former Fremantle recruiting manager Phil Smart, now general manager of football at Swan Districts, was around for all the Dockers' drafting adventures - good and bad - from the club's inception in 1994 until 2009.

He was there when recruiting staff argued passionately for a 211-centimetre Sandilands experiment which has since returned two All-Australia jumpers, the debate about whether to offer Crowley a gig in the second-chance saloon and the 2008 punt on a chubby kid named Clancee Pearce.

This week he gave a retrospective scouting report on all seven of "his" rookies who will take the field tonight.

Aaron Sandilands (No. 33, 2002 rookie draft)
"Aaron was probably a bit uncoordinated and still growing into his body and he'd also had some stress fractures in his back. To be honest, there was some pretty spirited debate about whether we should even rookie him - there was a question about whether a player of that size was the way footy was going. But it was a lot like with Matthew Burton. Big guys take longer to develop and you've just got to be patient."

Paul Duffield (No. 10, 2004 rookie draft)
"Paul was a really well credentialled junior player who was unlucky not to be taken in the national draft. He needed to put some more size on and be a bit harder at the contested ball but he was a nice kick and a hard worker. There would have been questions around his pace but he made good decisions and when you are a smart player, you can get around that." 

Ryan Crowley (No. 55, 2002 national draft - then No. 39, 2005 rookie draft)
"It's a bit ironic given Ryan developed into a tagger but when he was first drafted he was entirely a one-way player - and it was all offensive. He was always an elite runner, not fast but with great endurance. He'd fallen out of favour with the match committee before he was delisted and had played a fair bit of his footy after first being drafted with the Subi reserves. It took a bit of convincing for him to get another chance and I'm really happy its worked out." 

Matt de Boer (No. 19, 2009 rookie draft)
"He was always very competitive and hard at the ball. His kicking needed some work - and it's still not the best part of his game. But every player has strengths and weaknesses and you knew he was going to put the work into improving it." 

Clancee Pearce (No. 48, 2009 rookie draft)
"Clancee always carried a bit of extra condition and for him a big part of it was whether he was prepared to make the right choices in terms of lifestyle and diet. Full credit to him and the match committee that he did that and has had such success this year. We probably expected him to play quite a few games for us at Swans this season but I doubt the Dockers have even considered dropping him once."

Michael Barlow (No. 12, 2010 rookie draft)
"I was there when Michael was picked up but he was really [recruitment general manager] Brad Lloyd's selection. It's a great credit to Brad that he was able to identify someone like Michael, who had such an immediate impact at AFL level."

Alex Silvagni (No. 24, 2010 rookie draft)
"One of the Victorian scouts Dave McMullen pushed really hard for him. Dave had actually pushed for him for a while and [Alex] had been overlooked, so that's another one where you are really glad to see the guy succeed when given the chance."

The evolution of the rookie system has been one of the AFL's more compelling background stories since its inception in 1997.

From an emergency back-up option in the event of an injury crisis, it has become an integral part of every club's recruiting strategy.

The first ever elevated rookie, Collingwood's Mal Michael, eventually moved to Brisbane and became a triple-premiership full-back.

Rookies, once barely on the cusp of earning the national minimum wage - the AFL Players' Association's Ian Prendergast was paid $12,000 as a rookie at Carlton in 2002 - will earn a base salary of almost $50,000 by 2014 under the AFL's new collective bargaining agreement.

Prendergast confirmed this week that, while the AFLPA had pushed for the rookie draft to be absorbed by the national draft, the AFL had decided the current system would remain in place.

In days gone by a recruiter could stash a player away - even one as enormous as Sandilands - and rely on a network of contacts to advise if another club tried to muscle in on the scouting action.

Now, with video footage of every level of the game so readily available, scouts can stay at home and study potential recruits in secrecy.

Still, the rookie list is likely to continue to churn out hidden gems because, as Smart notes, drafting is an art that revolves around taking a player where you think you can get him.

Sometimes it doesn't work, like when the Dockers were dead-keen on rookie-listing South Fremantle's Clint Jones but St Kilda swooped first.

Other times it succeeds spectacularly.

"If you think you can get a player in the rookie draft, no matter how highly you rate him, then you'll probably give it a go because it allows you to look at other options in the national draft," Smart said.

"It's a bit like when we took Nat Fyfe in the national draft at Freo. We rated him a top-five talent but we were confident he would still be around for our second pick at No. 20.

"That meant we could take Anthony Morabito, who we didn't think would be around at No. 20, with our No. 4 pick."

Rookie list products playing this weekend:
Fremantle - Michael Barlow, Ryan Crowley, Zac Dawson, Matt de Boer, Paul Duffield, Clancy Pearce, Aaron Sandilands, Alex Silvagni, Lee Spurr.
Adelaide - Ian Callinan, Michael Doughty, Ricky Henderson, Sam Jacobs, Jared Petrenko, Jason Porplyzia, Ben Rutten, Luke Thompson, Matthew Wright.
West Coast - Dean Cox, Quinten Lynch, Matt Priddis.
Collingwood - Jarryd Blair, Darren Jolly, Harry O'Brien, Alan Toovey, Sharrod Wellingham.

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