A six-pack of Western Jets stars have been selected in the final Vic Metro squad to take part in the 2018 NAB AFL under-18 national championships.
The competition will begin on Saturday with the Big V crossing the Nullarbor to face Western Australia in the opener at the new Optus Stadium in Perth.
The high representation of Jets in the squad is a reflection of long-term dedication to the development of this talented crop of players and the TAC Cup form of the side, which is sitting third with six wins from eight matches.
Understandably, Jets coach Torin Baker is a happy man.
“It’s a reflection that the region is developing good talent,” he said.
“It’s hotly contested [getting into the Vic Metro squad], so now it’s over to those players to produce their best.
“We’d expect there will be a bit of rotation across those four games, but some of our boys may play all four.”
Daly Andrews is the bolter out of the Jets’ pack.
Andrews, a Werribee Districts product with an athletics background, worked his way on to the radar of the Jets in the second half of his bottom-age season, but it didn’t take long for the wingman to impress.
“We saw him play a bit of local footy in the middle of last year and invited him to a July game,” Baker said. “From that we just thought we’ve got to get him in straight away.
“He had an excellent pre-season … and his first few games on the wing, in particular, caught the eyes of the selectors.”
Xavier O’Halloran, out of St Bernard’s, is held in the highest regard at the Jets and has taken his game to another level since taking on the captaincy this season.
“He provides a lot for us and is our best-performed player to date,” Baker said.
“Hopefully, he gets multiple opportunities at the championships because I think his form is equal to other inside mids in the competition.”
Stefan Radovanovic, another gun youngster out of the Keilor football factory, has produced the most standout games for the Jets this season and is the reigning club best-and-fairest.
The midfielder enters the championships under an injury cloud though after hurting a shoulder on Saturday.
“When he has played with us, he’s been very good,” Baker said.
Zak Butters played what could be his last game for the Jets on Saturday.
The boy from Darley will play for Vic Metro and immediately go in for shoulder surgery in order to be ready for an AFL pre-season should he be drafted.
“He’s someone that has just given himself every opportunity to make the Vic Metro team for a start and hopefully from there an AFL career,” Baker said.
“His shoulder popped out in November, but it was deemed that he could play this season with some rehab. He’s done that and he’s got through quite well, but in order to be right for an AFL pre-season, he should have surgery in July and that allows him some recovery time.”
Buku Khamis, a St Albans product, takes on Vic Metro duty in the midst of the best form of his TAC Cup career. Khamis has been a dominant force aerially down in defence for the Jets and an efficient user of the ball.
“He can play as that key defender or even third tall defender,” Baker said. “His marking is his strength and he’s a really nice kick of the footy.”
Emerson Jeka is the only bottom-ager of the six Jets chosen. The talented key position player from Altona Juniors has long been earmarked as a player to watch.
“Anyone who stands 198 centimetres and has his athleticism is something people are going to take note of,” Baker said.
“He had an excellent under-16s championships last year, but most bottom-agers only play a game [with Vic Metro under-18] to get a taste of it. So I think for Emerson, if he got one game out of the championships, that would be a good result for him.”