Harrison Jones didn’t expect to even be a 2019 NAB AFL Draft prospect earlier this year, but the Calder Cannons key forward knew everything had changed when he ran onto the MCG in June.
It wasn’t just that the 18-year-old had been catapulted into Vic Metro’s starting forward line for the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships.
It was also because Jones felt almost instantly at home on the biggest stage in Australian football during Metro’s first match of the Championships, booting a goal and leading his Vic Country opponents up and down the ground with strong running for a 194cm target.
Having made his NAB League debut and played seven games for Calder in the back half of his bottom-age 2018 season, the Gisborne Rookies (Riddell District FL) product showed even more exciting glimpses in 2019.
Jones averaged 12 disposals, three marks and five hitouts per game in eight matches for the Cannons and saved some of his best form for the national-level Championships, announcing himself to AFL recruiters as a big-game player ahead of November 27-28’s draft.
“I didn’t even see myself getting drafted at the start of this year; I wasn’t really expecting any of this to happen,” Jones said at the recent NAB AFL Draft Combine, where he finished among the top five NAB League players for both the 20m sprint and the endurance-based Yo-Yo Test.
“I was thinking it’d just be a big year at school and that I’d hopefully play a couple of games for the Cannons, but I never expected to play four games for Metro and have my footy take off as it has.
“We got beaten (in the opening Championships match), but I thought to myself afterwards: ‘That was awesome. I really want to get drafted now, to play at the MCG again.’ That was probably the moment for me.
“I don’t think I’m arrogant, but I do like playing in big games and competitive games. I thrive off that and try to play the best I can.”
Much of Jones’ appeal to AFL clubs likely lies in the upside to his game should he become part of an elite-level environment. While his remarkable athletic traits for a tall player have stood out in patches, Jones came into his top-age year still balancing the demands of football with playing cricket.
That clash of priorities as well as some late-season injury niggles meant his body didn’t allow him to find top form as Calder won two NAB League finals, but Jones was soon focused on a new goal that had only crystallised in the previous months.
“I tried to get really fit during the summer holidays, but apart from that it’s just all seemed to happen this year,” he said.
“I had a pretty busy pre-season with cricket on as well and I didn’t play a match for footy until the first (NAB League) round, because I was focused on cricket and my body was just sore.
“I then worked a lot on my kicking and my target-hitting in the early half of the season, with a lot of running to keep my fitness and endurance up.
“My main goal became to make the Vic Metro squad. When I made that, I realised maybe I did have a chance of getting drafted, so that’s become the priority since.”
NAB LEAGUE ‘FAST FIVE’ QUESTIONS
Most influential person on your football at Calder:
“There’s a volunteer named ‘Pops’ and he’s been there for ages. Everyone loves him. I think he’s a real culture-builder for the Cannons and he inspires everyone. He’s always working hard and helping others and he’s just an awesome person to be around.”
Most valuable lesson learned in the NAB League:
“Just don’t get complacent and don’t think things are going to happen. Keep working hard and always try to be better.”
Teammate you’ve most enjoyed sharing the NAB League journey with:
“Jake Sutton is my best mate from high school and Sam Ramsay has been my mate since we were really young. It’s been good to experience it with those two.”
Most difficult NAB League opponent:
“I played against Fischer McAsey (Sandringham Dragons) in the first round this year and he took it to me a bit. He played really well that game running off half-back. He’s probably the most influential player I’ve played on.”
Most memorable NAB League moment:
“My first game as a bottom-ager (Round 9, 2018). I wasn’t really expecting it to happen, but an opportunity came up in the ruck. It was a draw with the Gippsland Power and that was probably the most memorable game I’ve played in.”