SFFC's Pickett stars in Australian win

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 10:14 AM

AT AN indoor athletics training track in late November last year, Jarrod Pickett paused, took position, steadied then bolted.

The West Australian, who is a member of the AIS-AFL Academy's level one squad, was in Canberra for a week-long camp at the Australian Institute of Sport headquarters. It was testing morning and it was time for the 20m sprint for the 16-year-old's group.

Pickett's run was over almost before it began, completing it in 2.85 seconds. He thought he could go faster.

It was the quickest result of any player at the camp, including the level two squad, who are hoping to be drafted this year (level one players are eligible for the draft in 2014.) Go back to last year's NAB AFL Draft Combine and only one player (Adam Saad, 2.81 seconds) beat Pickett's time.

Pickett's speed was on show on Saturday, when he starred in the level one Academy's 43-point win over New Zealand at Wellington Stadium.

The indigenous South Fremantle player, a close friend of recent Fremantle recruit Josh Simpson, booted four goals – three in the first term – and created several others to be judged best afield.

"The first nine minutes of the game there wasn't a goal scored and it was an arm wrestle before he broke it apart with three goals in seven minutes," said Kevin Sheehan, the AFL's national talent manager.

"His brilliant pace gave the Australians a lead at quarter-time and really from then it was about a 40-point break the whole way.

"But he was a shining light with his breakaway speed, his great contested ball winning, his clearances and his work up forward and through the midfield. He was a standout."

To provide a more even contest, the New Zealand side was made an open-age squad. Despite its slow start in the first term, the home side closed the game with more scoring shots than the Australians, losing 7.16 (58) to the visitors' 16.5 (101).

Pickett won an award for his performance from the coaching panel, as did Nicholas Coughlan, a key tall prospect from Albury. Coughlan kicked two goals for Australia, and impressed with his marking and reading of the play.

Captain Lachlan Weller also shone, the midfielder's poise helping set the standard early in the contest. The win was celebrated on Australia Day, a moment Sheehan said would stick with the players.

"If there's anyone who didn't believe that some of these boys didn't want to play for their country as Australian Rules footballers, they only had to see them in that huddle with the coaches, like Glen Jakovich, Mick O'Loughlin, Chris Johnson and Brad Johnson, singing the national anthem with enormous gusto," Sheehan said.

It was not only the Australians who were out to show their wares. Khan Haretuku, from Frankston in the VFL but raised in New Zealand, took the eye.

"He would have taken a dozen marks. He really pushed himself up in front of AFL clubs who were watching the game," Sheehan said.

And Shem Tatupu, who Hawthorn has committed to drafting as an international rookie at the end of this season, showed why the Hawks were so pleased to recruit the former rugby player.

"Shem was exceptional. For a boy who's had three years of footy, but maybe only six games a year of AFL while still playing rugby, he did some fantastic things up forward," Sheehan said.

"He has real presence with the contested ball in the air. He reads it so early and you can see him get into great position early. He kicked the goal of the day when he dodged a few, gave a great big 'don't argue' and snapped the goal over his shoulder."

Australian U17 7.1 9.2 14.3 16.5 (101)
New Zealand 0.1 1.10 3.12 7.16 (58)


GOALS
Australia:
Pickett 4, Watchman 2, Coughlan 2, Hammelmann 2, McGrath, Griffiths, Dawson, Miller-Lewis, Lamb, Bower
New Zealand: Tatupu 2, Clark 2, Christensen, Harris, Haretuku

BEST
Australia:
Pickett, Coughlan, Weller, McGrath, Smith, Lever, Duggan
New Zealand: Haretuku, Tatupu, Crighton, Miller, Riddell