The SFNL have an exciting opportunity for senior players this year as they announce their Senior Development Squad. In conjunction with the St Kilda Football Club, the 10 week program will aim to not only further develop and enhance player skills, fitness and education, but will also aim to give players a taste of what an elite level program might look like. With the help of AFL legend Nick Dal Santo and St Kilda FC AFLW Coach Peta Searle, the program will have a heavy involvement from the Saints and will make use of the great facilities at RSEA Park.
SFNL CEO Lee Hartman was effusive in his praise of the St Kilda Football Club and was excited by the program's potential to have a positive impact on the league and its players, saying “It’s great and we’ve got a great relationship with the Saints and being on-site here at RSEA Park, it’s not only their home but it’s our home as well and to have this up and running with them, it’s a fantastic opportunity for our league.” Similarly, the involvement of Dal Santo and Searle is a huge boost to the program, with Hartman noting “to have the support of the Saints and to have Nick and Peta on board I think lends credence to the program and it’s something I'm sure will be sought after.” Being the only senior league to be working with an AFL club on a program such as this would suggest his comments are on the money.
St Kilda great Dal Santo was similarly buoyant about the program’s potential, saying “it’s a great initiative from the league to give so many the opportunity to further their career… Worst case scenario is they’re going to be better players and people off the back of this 10 week program. Best case is they may well end up getting drafted.” Given that AFL recruiters are no longer focused solely on youth and are taking more and more chances on mature age players, this rings true. “Recruiters are now looking at a broader spectrum of players with the successes [of guys like Sam Mitchell or Callum Wilkie].... If you’re a good player and have the right characteristics, they don’t care where you’re from [so it’s great to try] to assist in some small way to [help] in maybe getting someone an opportunity.”
When it comes to the makeup of the squad, the fact it is for both men and women is a key strength and AFLW Coach Searle was excited by the its potential saying “It’s a real direct link into AFLW, you’re always looking everywhere for talent.... and with more teams on the horizon there’s always opportunities for mature age people to be drafted into the AFLW.”
To be eligible for the program, clubs must nominate players to the SFNL, who will then use a testing day to narrow it down to a squad of 25 men and 20 women for selection for the inaugural season of the program. However, Hartman sees this is an annual program, meaning that missing out this year is not the end of an opportunity to get a taste of an AFL environment.