Under-18s NSW-ACT Rams squad members, from left, Jedd Clothier, Lachlan Harper, Sam Jensen and Liam Flaherty at Giants Academy training at Phillip Oval. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Five footballers are a step closer to their AFL dream after being selected in the NSW-ACT under 18 Rams squad to play in the 2012 National Under-18 Championship.
Jack Baker, Jed Clothier, Liam Flaherty, Lachlan Harper and Sam Jenson are all members of Canberra's Greater Western Sydney Giants Academy, and will this weekend train in Albury with the Rams squad.
The Championship is the highest level of junior football, and used by AFL clubs to spot their future stars.
''All the kids who are drafted [to AFL clubs] basically come out of these championships,'' Academy manager Lachlan Buszard said. ''One hundred and fifty kids per year get put on AFL lists, and probably 130 of them come out of these Championships, the others are over-agers and found in local leagues.''
There are a few ''over-agers'' at the Championship, under a rule which allows each of the seven teams to select two. It is designed to help players who have come to the sport late or been affected by injury.
Eastlake's Liam Flaherty, 18, is a benefactor of the rule after he tore a hamstring playing cricket in 2010. Flaherty's selection was a vindication of all the work the key position forward had put into his recovery.
''Having the injury made me work a bit harder to get back to full fitness,'' Flaherty said. ''It kept me out for about seven months.''
Midfielder Sam Jenson, 17, was ''pretty stoked'' when he received an email on Monday saying he was in the squad. He has already played in Queanbeyan's NEAFL side, which he thinks will help to achieve his goal of playing in the AFL.
''Playing well [for the] Rams is doing everything you can to get to that goal,'' Jenson said. ''It will be tough, that's for sure [but NEAFL has] definitely helped me with the bigger bodies and the speed of the game.''
Belconnen midfielders Jed Clothier and Lachlan Harper, and key defender Jack Baker, have also made the squad. Clothier, 17, is too young to nominate for the national draft this year, but when he becomes eligible Essendon will have first dibs on him, under a scholarship scheme which has since been halted.
Harper, who trained in the pre-season with the GWS senior side, and Baker, who has captained the Giants' Academy team, are both eligible for the draft, and will also be looking to catch the eye of as many AFL recruiters as they can.
To be one of the 80 footballers invited to the prestigious draft camp, each player needs to be nominated by three clubs.