CLUB: Dandenong Stingrays/ Haileybury/ VIC Country
POSITION: Inside Midfielder
PICK RANGE: 1-3
- AFL Ready
– Has the developed body to impact in his first year
- High Ceiling
– Gives the impression there is still plenty more to come
– Has the ability to turn a game on its head
Luke Davies-Uniacke, or UDL as we like to call him, was a player always on the radar when entering season 2017. A solid bottom age season and Vic Country representation had him in the reckoning of the top ten, but he is now one of the short priced favourites to be the first name called out.
The big bodied midfielder couldn’t have began his top age campaign in much better fashion, earning a best on ground performance in Round 1 of the TAC Cup against Gippsland with 30 disposals, before continuing that outstanding form against senior players for the AFL Academy and also Haileybury. By that stage, he had probably done enough to be regarded a guaranteed single figure draft selection, although the Championships presented an opportunity to further establish a growing reputation.
He sparked more No.1 selection discussions with a dominant performance in Vic Country’s opening game against the Allies, having an enormous impact in amassing 34 disposals. He looked a genuine Larke Medal chance, but would find the going a bit tougher in the next three games. While still having occasions of brilliance, he would go missing in patches and his lack of influence would generally be replicated on the Vic Country scoreboard. Davies-Uniacke would miss out on All Australian selection, but finish the carnival with solid averages of 21.8 disposals, 7.75 contested possessions and three clearances.
He continued to play well when representing Dandenong and his school, but exploded back into No.1 pick focus with a match defining performance against Eastern at Victoria Park. With the Stingrays down by 50 points at half time, “UDL” was instrumental in turning the game and securing his team the unlikeliest of wins. He would collect a remarkable 33 disposals and 21 contested possessions, but it was the way he lifted his output in the moment and demanded the ball with the game on the line. Everyone who saw that performance live left the ground feeling comfortable of his potential No.1 status.
WHY PICK HIM?
Luke Davies-Uniacke is one of the best midfielders in the pool and despite possessing a larger body, he has a very high ceiling. He is another inside midfielder with size who has a few more tricks up his sleeve than just beasting the opposition. He has time in traffic, is calm and can shimmy his body out of trouble. When tackled he is able to get his arms free and high with strength to release, while his evasive hands can quickly get an opponent out of position to create more options. He is quicker than he immediately looks and is capable of exploding from a stoppage, creating space and kicking long with a penetrating right leg toward goal or inside 50.
There is enough flexibility to suggest he has the skill set to rest forward at the next level too. He spent plenty of time deep forward for both Vic Country and Dandenong, mostly as a marking target. He is a dangerous proposition one on one, using smart body positioning to gain an aerial advantage. He was involved in a fascinating little battle with Max Dreher in the Round 13 clash and refused to let the competitive Knight relish minor victories. He isn’t a “kick a bag” type, but can certainly make his presence known I50 with sharp stints in between midfield rotations.
The most exciting element he proved in his game late in the season was that ability to lift his team and carry it across the line in adverse situations. Spirited match changers are rare and usually only come in the form of superstars like Martin, Selwood, Hodge and Dangerfield, but UDL might just have that knack to change the momentum of a match.
THE QUESTION MARKS?
When you are a guaranteed top three draft prospect, finding true flaws in your game can be a difficult task. While some clubs believe he has the greatest potential to become a star at AFL level of the top midfield prospects, there is also the feeling he could disappoint and is a greater risk than the likes of Rayner or Dow. These aren’t concerns great enough to create a slide on draft night, but there was a period from the middle of the Champs to just before the TAC Cup finals where clubs were reassessing their thoughts. Thankfully that Elimination Final performance came at the perfect time, reminding everyone of his great start to the season and what he had to offer. There is still that craving from recruiters wanting to see more complete games, but I suspect it will come more consistently once settled in an AFL environment and the “missing” moments dissipate.
There is a great opportunity for the likes of Brisbane, Fremantle and Carlton to select a midfielder you can build a side around and Luke Davies-Uniacke will be one of them. He has the inside ability, physicality and potential star qualities that developing clubs are after with early draft selections. The two interstate teams have a tough decision to make and can’t afford to get it wrong, while Carlton and North Melbourne have the luxury of waiting to see what slides through. Whatever the final outcome, you can guarantee the club that ends up with Davies-Uniacke we be ecstatic to have the young man on board.