Big man boost: Hawthorn weighs up ruck option in mid-season draft

Hawthorn remains open to shoring up their ruck stocks in next week’s mid-season draft despite AFL clubs expecting them to target Box Hill defender James Blanck, who is developing at a rapid rate in the VFL.

The Hawks are considering a number of players, including former Brisbane Lions tall Connor Ballenden, who is playing in the SANFL after his three-game career with the Lions finished in 2021.

Blanck received an AFL exemption to be part of the draft pool of 211 players being considered in next week’s draft, while Ballenden, who turned 23 in March, was one of 14 players invited to undergo a medical at the request of clubs ahead of the draft.

Now playing in the SANFL, Connor Ballenden is one of the former AFL players clubs are considering in the mid-season draft.Credit:Getty Images

Blanck is under the Hawks’ noses at Box Hill, as was Jai Newcombe before he was plucked in last year’s mid-season draft. The midfielder has been outstanding in 2022 and is a considered a real chance to win this year’s AFL Rising Star.

Ballenden is the most ready-made ruck in the draft, with other ruck options including the Sandringham Dragons’ Max Ramsden, East Fremantle’s Brynne Teakle, Frankston’s Liam Reidy, and Murray Bushrangers’ Toby Murray needing time to develop in similar fashion to the seven young ruckmen selected in last year’s mid-season draft.

Collingwood’s Aiden Begg is the only one of those seven to play in the AFL so far, with his opportunity arising when Brodie Grundy was injured.

Hawthorn have been without skipper Ben McEvoy for most of the season after he suffered a neck injury at training, while Max Lynch will miss with concussion after suffering a series of unfortunate mishaps during his first season at the Hawks. Ned Reeves is still a chance to prove his fitness for the upcoming match against the Gold Coast, but Mitchell is considering alternatives if he does not come up.

If Ballenden was chosen he would be a chance to step into the Hawks’ line-up if their shortage remained, however the club will take a long-term view of their selection, which currently stands at six.

Essendon is set to make a selection in the mid-season draft after Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti’s shock retirement opened up a spot. They have a selection after West Coast and North Melbourne and could be interested in tall midfielder Jai Culley if he was still available.

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Industry sources said the Bombers, who landed Will Snelling via a mid-season draft, have also been one of four clubs, including the Cats, who have shown some interest in Northern Bullants defender Mutaz El Nour.

El Nour has created excitement with his performances in the VFL for the Bullants, who have a good program in place for emerging talent. South Australians Josh Carmichael and Jacob Bauer are also rated highly, with several clubs also speaking to Western Australia’s Wade Derksen ahead of the draft.

The mid-season draft was re-introduced in 2019, with Richmond’s Marlion Pickett playing in a premiership on debut after the Tigers selected him in that year’s mid-season draft.

At this stage, 15 clubs are expected to have spots available if they opt to choose a player, with Melbourne, Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs unlikely to take part.

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