A new era will on Saturday begin for the QBE Sydney Swans Academy’s under-18s team when it takes on on the Tasmania Devils in an interstate competition featuring the top draft-age talent in the country.

The Academy will play five games in the AFL’s expanded NAB League, which now includes teams from Victoria, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, NSW/ACT and Queensland.

The new competition will see the Swans Academy team competing against elite Victorian under-18 teams for the first time, giving them the best opportunity to display their talents on the national stage. 

The Academy will play Tasmania at Blacktown International Sportspark from 9:30am on Saturday, and the match will be live streamed on the NAB League app which is available for free download.

Games will follow against the GWS Giants Academy, then Victorian teams the Sandringham Dragons, Murray Bushrangers and Geelong Falcons.

Sam Thorne, who has been in the Swans Academy since he was 11 years old, will lead the under-18s on to the field on Saturday.

Academy General Manager Chris Smith says it’s the first time the Academy has appointed a captain.

“We think it’s fitting that as we join this new elite League, we start a new tradition and appoint a captain of our under-18s group. Sam is a stand-out leader and an exceptional player who all the boys look up to,’’ Smith said.

“Sam lives in the Illawarra nearly two hours south of Sydney and over the years he’s had to spend countless hours travelling to and from training, but he never misses a session. He embodies everything we admire in our Academy players.

“There is strong camaraderie in the group. Most of them have been in the Academy for seven or eight years and they’re very coachable, so they’re looking forward to taking on the challenge of this new competition together."

In the past two years the Academy’s under-18s team has competed in a national Academy Series against teams from the GWS Giants, Gold Coast Suns, Brisbane Lions, NT and Tasmania, losing only one match - to Tasmania in 2018 - during that time.

It was a strong competition but the players didn’t get the chance to test themselves against Victoria’s most talented players.

Academy head coach Jared Crouch says being part of the new under-18s competition will be a fantastic opportunity for the Swans Academy players.

“The Victorian under-18s teams are traditionally considered the strongest in the country, so we’re excited about the opportunity to develop our players in that environment,’’ Crouch said.

“The new competition format will allow recruiters from AFL clubs to compare ‘apples with apples’ and make it easier for them to accurately assess our players.’’

He says this year’s Academy under-18s squad is big in numbers and talent, and there has been tough competition for spots in the team.

He believes they will represent the Swans with distinction. 

“Our boys are hard at the footy and love the contest. We emphasise that even though they’re playing in front of AFL recruiters, our attitude is always team-first,’’ Crouch said.

“We impress upon them that there’s no individual success without team success, and experience has shown us that the boys who play selfless football are most often those who do well.

“It’s a new competition so we’re keeping our expectations simple, only asking the boys to go out and compete to the best of their ability and enjoy playing with their mates. 

“We’re really looking forward to getting started this weekend.’’ 

Following the Academy’s five games in the NAB League, the best players from NSW-ACT, Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory will be chosen for the Allies team to play in the National Under-18s Championships against teams from Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia in July. 

The QBE Sydney Swans Academy 25-player squad for Saturday’s game against the Tasmania Devils is:

Luke Parks (jumper no 3), Reed van Huisstede (4), Harry Maguire (5), Callum Nash (6), Braeden Campbell (7), Samuel Thorne (9), Jackson Barling (10), Aidan Watling (11), Nicholas Brewer (12), Thomas Baxter (14), Harrison Parker (15), Lachlan Swaney (16), Pierce Roseby (17), Jordan Adams (20), Zac Youlten (21), Max Geddes (22), Errol Gulden (23), Marc Sheather (27), Noah Casalini (28), Thomas Tyson (29), Kyle Martin (33), Kyle McKellar (37), Jacob Dol (38), Joshua Rayner (39), Samuel Gaden (40) 

The QBE Sydney Swans Academy’s NAB League fixture is:

  • Saturday, March 30, Swans Academy v Tasmanian Devils, Blacktown International Sportspark, 9:30am
  • Saturday, April 6, GWS Giants Academy v Swans Academy , Manuka Oval, Canberra, 11am
  • Saturday, April 13, Sandringham Dragons v Swans Academy, Trevor Barker Oval, Melbourne, 1:15pm
  • Saturday, April 27, Swans Academy v Murray Bushrangers, Blacktown International Sportspark, 10:45am
  • Sunday, May 5, Geelong Falcons v Swans Academy, Ikon Park, Melbourne, 11:30am