Cooper Stephens and Sam De Koning are in the early stages of their careers after being selected by Geelong in the first round of the 2019 national draft.
They like many of their younger teammates have benefitted from being surrounded by their senior teammates and coaches during the hub this year, and both are already showing signs that they have the ability to develop into very good AFL footballers.
“We were really pleased with the way that those two players coped with hub life and that’s not easy, but they both really thrived and were able to spend even more time than normal with the senior players around them and the coaches working on their individual development,” Recruiting and List Manager Stephen Wells told AFL Trade Radio.
Taken with Geelong's first selection in last year's draft, Stephens' talent and character stood out this year.
“Cooper spent some time in the scratch matches and training sessions we had playing in the midfield and also a bit in defence.
“(He) demonstrated exactly what we thought he showed in his years at the Geelong Falcons in that he is a terrific runner, (and) he is very safe and sure with his ball handling.”
“I would be surprised if he didn’t get his chance next year as he is developing well.”
Captain Joel Selwood ‘really likes that he is a self-motivator’.
“He will get up and want to get to work, he’s a great listener, he is a thinker of the game and he has got a bug to be the best possible player that he can be,” Selwood said.
Taken three picks after Stephens with selection 19 in last year’s national draft, De Koning may take a bit more time to develop his 200cm frame, but he has shown this year that he has the qualities to develop into a versatile AFL footballer.
“It was a terrific year for Sam in that he had to spend a lot of time rucking against some very experienced people in those scratch matches we had as well as playing key forward and key back,” Wells said.
“Our coaches are very excited about Sam. I think he demonstrated the versatility we hoped he would, all be it in a first-year player.”
Similar to Stephens, Wells would not have been surprised if De Koning had received an AFL call up during his rookie season, but it was a hard team to crack for the first-year Cat.
“A bit the same for him with Harry Taylor and Lachie Henderson, and up forward being pretty stable there weren’t those opportunities for him to get a game now, but we are hopeful he does very soon.”
The retirement of Taylor could present De Koning with a better chance of making his debut.
De Koning helped Taylor prepare for finals and it was when the two lined up a training that Harry started to believe it was time to hang up the boots.
"I remember doing some work with Sam De Koning, one of our up and coming stars and at training, he prepared really well to help me for a few weeks in doing a lot of work to prepare as if he was Tom Lynch, so I had someone to play on at training like that," Taylor said.
"We did a few drills after training one day and I knew pretty well then that it is going to be pretty hard for me to keep trying to play against these guys at 18, 19, fit and firing and (De Koning) is going to be a star."