Club: Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country
Position: Inside Midfielder
TAC Cup statistics
Under 18 National Championships statistics
– Midfielder who thrives in contested situations
– First or second round prospect who is low risk
– Consistent, physical and competitive
– Possesses leadership qualities
– Can rest forward and have an impact
The Bendigo Pioneers haven’t been able to produce as many draftees as other TAC Cup clubs in the last decade, but when they do they have a high success rate of producing big name players.
Joel Selwood, Dustin Martin, Ollie Wines, Jake Stringer and Robbie Tarrant are all quality AFL footballers who have been developed at the Pioneers.
In 2016, Bendigo looks set to provide another highly-rated prospect to the AFL system in contested midfielder Joe Atley.
Joe Atley is the brother of North Melbourne’s Shaun, but he doesn’t share the same free-rolling speed that we regularly witness from the dashing defender.
Joe did start his TAC Cup career in a similar position though, playing 17 games mostly from half-back in 2015 for Bendigo.
The Pioneers appeared content to protect their future star from a full year of hard hits at the stoppages as a bottom age player, knowing he’d get many opportunities to prove his worth through the midfield in 2016.
It gave Atley a chance to develop other areas of his game, from improving disposal and being accountable in defence.
He had a promising season by averaging nearly 18 disposals, coming third in the best and fairest and winning the “most consistent” award.
The Pioneers also gave Atley an opportunity to be part of the leadership group throughout the season, which has led to him being named captain of the club in 2016.
This year has seen Atley develop a reputation of being one of the hardest inside midfielders in the draft.
The Rochester product started the season in outstanding style, being named on Bendigo’s best players list in five of seven games before the National Championships.
Atley started his Vic Country campaign in great fashion despite a loss, gathering 22 disposals, 11 contested possessions and four clearances.
Unfortunately he suffered a concussion which meant he had to miss the rivalry match against Vic Metro at Geelong.
Vic Country had the bye during Round 3 of the Championships, giving Atley the opportunity play a game for the Pioneers.
He produced arguably his most influential game of the season – gathering eight kicks, 18 handballs and 10 tackles to named best for Bendigo.
He was able to return to the Vic Country side for the Etihad Stadium game against South Australia and performed well in the final two games of the tournament.
Atley ended with three consistent performances throughout the Championships, averaging 20.3 disposals, 8.3 contested possessions and 4.3 clearances.
He certainly didn’t hurt his draft chances, but would have liked a breakout, high disposal game.
Since the Championships, Atley has been given the chance to play as the 23rd man for Geelong’s VFL team. He looked right at home in his first game, finding 16 disposals and kicking two goals, but was quiet in the second outing.
He wasn’t given many opportunities to run through the midfield with the likes of Scott Selwood, Josh Caddy, George Horlin-Smith and Darcy Lang in the side, but showed he is capable forward.
It is no secret that Joe Atley produces his best work in contested situations. The midfielder’s first touch is more often than not clean and uses his thick frame to hold position.
He is especially good below his knees, picking up a hit out or loose ball with one touch.
He is more influential when extracting by hand to his teammates, possessing the ability to release the ball quickly to advantage.
Atley loves to let the opposition know that he is in the area, hitting opponents hard whether it be with a tackle or a bump.
When tackled, he stands tall and is difficult to move, sometimes lifting his arms like Joel Selwood to escape the attempt.
He has the ability to rest forward and is strong overhead, often defeating the smaller backmen one on one.
Atley looks like a future leader at AFL level, as justified by being appointed captain of the Pioneers in 2016.
He has a seemingly nonchalant personality off the field, but is vocal is the heat of the battle and lets his actions set the tone in the contest.
Atley is renowned for having few flaws, but there are certainly areas that recruiters would like to see develop.
He is a solid kick in space or behind a mark, but in a contested situation he is prone to slapping the ball on his boot blindly.
That said you can’t doubt him for not knowing his own game, as it is probably a major reason as to why his handball ratio is so high.
There are also question marks on whether he wins enough ball for the role he plays. He averages 21.9 disposals per game for Bendigo this season and has only reached the 30 disposal mark once at TAC Cup level.
For someone who finds themselves around the stoppages most of the time, that average needs to increase past 25.
As stated early, he certainly isn’t as quick as his brother, but that doesn’t mean he is slow. Atley rarely gets an opportunity to showcase speed due to his contested style.
He proved at times during the Championships that he covers the ground well and it will be interesting to find out just how fast he is at the draft combine.
In a draft that is full of midfield options, Joe Atley is unlikely to threaten the top 10 come draft day.
He doesn’t possess the special eye-catching attributes required to be a high draft selection. What he does offer is consistency and the guarantee of knowing what will be produced.
He rarely plays a bad game and always gives 100% effort. At AFL level he’ll be looking to become something in the mould of Ben Cunnington.
He is a low-risk selection, especially if available in the second round of the draft.