Sport

Canberra ready for new age of AFL talent, says St Kilda great Aaron Hamill

St Kilda great Aaron Hamill believes the GWS Giants' stronghold in Canberra will unearth a new era of talent and re-establish the capital as an AFL breeding ground.

Hamill has also backed Josh Bruce to be the man to ease the pressure on Nick Riewoldt at St Kilda as he oversees Bruce's transition to the forward line in his role as a Saints assistant coach.

St Kilda great Aaron Hamill has backed the new wave of Canberra talent to shine.
St Kilda great Aaron Hamill has backed the new wave of Canberra talent to shine. Photo: Ray Kennedy

More than 20 years after Hamill and schoolmate Justin Blumfield burst into the AFL, Canberra is rebuilding its reputation for producing players capable of matching the best Australian football talent in Australia.

Giants recruit Jack Steele is set to miss a Canberra homecoming on Saturday, but former Ainslie midfielder Aaron Vandenberg will get his chance at Manuka Oval when he suits up for the Melbourne Demons.

Canberra rookie Aaron vandenBerg made his AFL debut for Melbourne last weekend.
Canberra rookie Aaron vandenBerg made his AFL debut for Melbourne last weekend. Photo: Getty Images

Steele, Vandenberg , Logan Austin (Port Adelaide) and Ivan Soldo (Richmond) ended a five-year drought of ACT talent being drafted into the AFL.

Hamill and Blumfield were taken in 1994 and followed Ainslie junior James Hird.

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"Having the Giants in certainly helps Canberra, there are so many talent scouts out there now that it doesn't matter if you're Tasmania, Canberra or Darwin, they cover the places," Hamill said.

"If there's talent in Canberra, they'll find it. Canberra was a really good place to grow up if you're into your sports because of the facilities.

Canberra junior Josh Bruce has been tasked with taking pressure of St Kilda skipper Nick Reiwoldt.
Canberra junior Josh Bruce has been tasked with taking pressure of St Kilda skipper Nick Reiwoldt. Photo: Getty Images

"It's no secret that there haven't been many players coming out of Canberra ... but I think it's a bit of a coincidence.

"The pathway is in place now and if kids are coming in at a young level. The environment in Canberra is certainly a good one for future AFL players."

Hamill played rugby league, basketball and rugby union as a junior in Canberra, as well as being coached by St Kilda premiership player Kevin "Cowboy" Neale at Tuggeranong.

Carlton took Hamill with pick No. 79 in the draft in 1994 before he was traded to St Kilda at the end of 2000, but the trickle of talent out of Canberra has been slow in the past 10 years.

It is hoped the quartet picked up in last year's draft will open the floodgates for the future, as well as the Giants' 10-year commitment to play games at Manuka Oval.

Bruce joined the Giants three years ago, but switched to St Kilda to establish his career.

The 22-year-old took an early contender for mark of the year in St Kilda's loss to the Giants last weekend and Hamill believes the 196-centimetre forward can form a tag-team with 281-game veteran Riewoldt.

"Josh was drafted as a key back but we identified that Nick Riewoldt needs a fair bit of help and we need another good target up forward," Hamill said.

"One of Josh's biggest strength is his ability to cover the ground so well, he does 15 or 16 kilometres a game and he can go in the ruck as well.

"He's almost like an extra midfielder as well and provides a really solid target and gives us a couple of different options."

Vandenberg made his AFL debut for the Demons last weekend, kicking a goal in their win against the Gold Coast Suns.

The 23-year-old former Royal Australian Mint employee was a shock pick at No. 2 in the rookie draft last year.

"I saw Vandenberg play ... he's certainly got potential," Hamill said.

"It's early days, but he's certainly got something to offer. I don't know much about the other Canberra guys coming through, but I'm sure that will change. Hopefully we can keep breeding more talent."

AFL ROUND TWO

Saturday: GWS Giants v Melbourne Demons at Manuka Oval, 2.10pm. Tickets available at Ticketek.