BY GUS RIDDER & MAE JAMES
Saturday night’s Grand Final is set to be a career highlight for many of the Western Bulldogs or Melbourne players.
Once upon a time, these football stars were young boys playing with their mates on a Sunday and dreaming of one day making it to the big stage.
10 of these premiership hopefuls were South Metro Junior Football League (SMJFL) stars who started their footballing journeys close to home before making it to the top.
The Western Bulldogs’ 2021 list features two ex-SMJFL legends, with Bailey Smith and Louis Butler both featuring for the side this season and shaping as big parts of the team’s future.
After scoring four goals against Port Adelaide in the preliminary final, Bailey Smith is quickly becoming one of the most mentioned names in football. Smith got his football beginning as an AusKicker, before joining the East Malvern Knights in Under 8s.
In 2013, Smith was already a standout player, winning the under-13 Division 1 Best and Fairest.
In his junior career Smith was dedicated to the SMJFL and played in the Interleague squad and for the Sandringham Dragons where he was the captain.
Smith was picked at No.7 in the 2018 national draft by the Bulldogs and will be playing in his first AFL Grand Final on Saturday night.
Still, Smith stays connected to his roots, sometimes appearing at Knights training sessions which he helps run.
Young defender Louis Butler is still in the early stages of his career but has shown enough talent for the Bulldogs to consider him an important part of their future.
After being drafted in 2019, the 20-year-old Butler’s only game this season was coincidentally against the Bulldogs’ Grand Final opponents Melbourne.
Butler signed a contract extension this season and looks set to add to his 3 career games in 2022.
Before being drafted to the Bulldogs, Butler was a long-time veteran of the SMJFL, featuring for both East Sandringham and Hampton Rovers in an eight-year period as well as featuring in multiple interleague squads.
While at East Sandringham, Butler played an impressive 104 games and kicking 40 goals from Under 9s until Under 16s. He would also play three games in his brief stint with Hampton.
We look forward to watching Butler’s continued development at AFL level in the 2022 season and beyond.
With an impressive 8 ex-SMJFL players featuring on the Melbourne list for 2021, the Demons have quickly become a popular landing spot for our former stars.
Angus Brayshaw, Max Gawn, Ed Langdon, Christian Salem, Jake Bowey and Jayden Hunt have all been important players this season, with Austin Bradtke and Fraser Rosman set to be exciting players for the future.
Before being selected with the third pick in the 2014 AFL Draft and becoming one of the league’s most exciting young players, gun Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw was a dedicated Hampton Rovers boy.
During his SMJFL career, Brayshaw played 54 games for Hampton as well as featuring in multiple interleague games.
Brayshaw’s hardworking attitude and tough style of play has seen him rewarded heavily throughout his 118 games so far. His stunning third place finish in the 2018 Brownlow Medal while not being invited to the event itself was a stand-out highlight in Brayshaw’s young career.
With his signature helmet, Brayshaw has been a consistent force for the Demons this year. Featuring in all 24 possible games this season (including finals), it has been an exciting return for Brayshaw after some injuries in previous seasons.
Brayshaw will line up for his first AFL Grand Final on Saturday night against the Bulldogs and will look to impose himself on the game with his textbook toughness.
Standing at 6’8 ft tall with his distinctive beard, Melbourne captain Max Gawn is currently the best ruckman in the competition.
Named All Australian captain this season following another tremendous year, Gawn has taken his game to yet another high level at the end of this season.
After cementing the minor premiership with a goal after the siren against Geelong in Round 23, Gawn’s finals series so far have showcased why he is one of the top players in the competition. Four third-quarter goals in Melbourne’s Preliminary Final domination of Geelong, and a game-high 5 goals for the match, were part of an absolute masterclass by the five-time All Australian.
Before becoming an elite performer and one of the great cult figures of the AFL, Gawn played his junior football in the SMJFL with Ormond.
Even after being selected with the 34th pick in the AFL draft in 2009, Gawn has returned to his junior club to help motivate the next generation of Ormond players. In past years, Gawn has given back to his old club as a coach with the Under 16 Division 2 sides and has continued to demonstrate a fondness for his junior side.
Gawn will lead the Demons as they look to win their first Grand Final since 1964.
Beginning his career at the Fremantle Dockers in 2015, Ed Langdon moved to the Demons for the 2020 AFL season. Since his move, the versatile winger and half-back has gone from strength-to-strength while considerably improving his game.
After playing every game in an interrupted season, Langdon finished fourth in Melbourne’s best and fairest in 2020. Langdon has produced another high-quality season this year as he looks set to be an integral part of their Grand Final team this weekend.
Before being drafted with the 54th pick in the 2014 AFL Draft, Langdon had an extensive junior footballing career in the SMJFL. Starting with Prahran JFC as a 13-year-old, Langdon would play 39 games for the SMJFL club, in addition to a single game for East Malvern. In his 40 SMJFL games, he would also kick an impressive 52 goals.
Like many of his teammates, this will be Langdon’s first taste of an AFL Grand Final.
Mid-sized Defender Christian Salem was among Melbourne’s best performers in season 2021.
The 26-year-old’s continued growth as one of the league’s premier rebounding defenders saw him commit to a new 5-year contract with the Dees this season.
The classy left footer averaged 25 disposals a game for the season and was one of seven Demons named in the initial 40-man AFL All Australian Squad.
Before finding success across half-back at AFL level, Salem was a goal machine for the Hampton Rovers as a junior. Between the ages of 13 and 15, Salem scored a whopping 101 goals in just 29 games at SMJFL level.
It’s easy to see why Salem was a first round pick in the 2013 AFL Draft.
This will be the first Grand Final for Salem, with his precise delivery and transition from defence shaping as a crucial part of the Demons game plan.
Melbourne’s first selection in last year’s draft has been one of the feel-good stories of the 2021 AFL Season.
After making his debut in Round 20, Jake Bowey has not missed a game so far. He now looks set to play in a Grand Final in just his seventh game of AFL football.
In all six of his games so far, The Demons have emerged victorious.
Standing at just 176 centimetres tall, the diminutive Bowey has proven to be an essential part of this Melbourne side. In Round 22, just Bowey’s third career game, he collected a Rising Star Nomination for an impressive 18 disposal, six-mark performance in a win against Adelaide.
Bowey is no stranger to finals success, winning multiple premierships with the Highett Bulldogs during his SMJFL career. Coached by Jake’s father, former AFL player Brett “Bowser” Bowey, the Highett Under-11s in 2013 and Under-12s in 2014 both saw Grand Final victories.
Bowey will look to continue the success of his SMJFL days this Saturday and be a part of another premiership side.
Lightning quick Dee, Jayden Hunt, will look to overcome an ongoing ankle issue to be in the frame for a Grand Final recall.
After requiring surgery following Melbourne’s Round 21 win over West Coast, Hunt is yet to play again this year. After narrowly missing out on the Preliminary Final, Hunt will look to cause Melbourne Coach Simon Goodwin another selection headache this week.
Known for his trademark headband and electric pace, Hunt played 34 games for East Sandringham and another 10 for Hampton Rovers in his SMJFL days.
With obvious talent showcased in his junior career, Hunt was selected with the 57th pick of the 2013 draft despite not playing any football at under 18 level. After a string of injuries early in his AFL career, Hunt has developed into a household name and was recognised as Melbourne’s best young player in 2016 and was named as a member of the 22under22 team in 2017.
All eyes will be on the team-list this week to see if Hunt can add to his 88 career games.
After joining Melbourne as a Category B rookie in 2018, 204cm ruck prospect Austin Bradtke is yet to feature at senior level for the Demons.
Seen as a long-term project at AFL level, Bradtke was a highly rated junior basketball player who decided to commit to football later in his teen years. Now 21 years old, Bradtke has consistently improved his game and shown significant promise at VFL level.
While basketball was a significant part of his junior sporting career, Bradtke also starred for East Sandringham from a very young age. Bradtke played for the Zebs from Under 9s until Under 15s, playing a total of 107 games and kicking 52 goals.
We look forward to watching the continued development of Austin at AFL level and hope to see him make his debut soon!
Taken at Pick 34 in last year’s AFL draft, 19-year-old Fraser Rosman looks set to be an important part of Melbourne’s future.
While he hasn’t made his senior debut yet, the versatile wingman has shown he has all the physical tools to succeed at AFL level. With extra height compared to many that play his position, the 194cm Rosman excelled in the 2020 AFL Draft Combine, with a second-place finish in the 2km time trial and a tenth-place finish in the 20 metre sprint.
Rosman was a key member of many East Malvern sides during his time in the SMJFL. From Under 9s to Under 13s, Rosman would accumulate 73 games for the Knights and kick 22 goals.
Rosman also had a highly successful time at Wesley College while playing at APS level.
Like Austin Bradtke, we can’t wait to see more of Fraser throughout the rest of his career and look forward to watching him debut in 2022!
All of us at the SMJFL want to congratulate our former players ahead of the Grand Final this Saturday. While not all of them will be playing in the game itself, it’s a great achievement for all 10 of our ex-SMJFL legends to be a part of these teams and we wish them all the best for the rest of their careers!