In a historic night for Tasmanian football, three of the state's prospects have been selected in the first round of the AFL draft.
Picked up by the GWS Giants at pick 17, Launceston's James Leake joined Tasmanian State League teammate Colby McKercher, who was selected by North Melbourne at pick two, before Western Bulldogs swooped on Ryley Sanders with pick six.
McKercher's pick-two selection makes him the highest from the state's football pathway, with only Tasmanian-born Nick Riewoldt, who later moved to Queensland, drafted at number one.
"I had an inkling that it might be North Melbourne but it's a huge surprise to be in the blue and white," McKercher said.
"I'm super excited, they've got a super exciting list and obviously Clarko has come along, so the future is bright and I'm keen to be a part of it."
While there are some similarities, the trio have taken different paths to the national competition.
Leake's draft stocks rose dramatically this season through performances at either end of the ground with the Tasmania Devils.
Having played in Launceston's 2022 TSL premiership as a defender, the former St Patrick's College student assumed that position for the Allies before showing promise in attack for the Devils.
He kicked 12 goals across three matches in a crucial patch for their season, enjoying the role of a swingman.
AFL talent ambassador Kevin Sheehan praised Leake's "uncanny ability", while former St Kilda star Leigh Montagna wondered where the Giants will play him next year.
"They're stacked in their back half with all their talent already, do they think he's an intercept-defender type, someone like a Tom Doedee who can do that role, or do they think he's someone that can add a bit of class to their front half?" he asked.
Speaking about his TSL premiership win at 16 years of age, Leake thanked some of his senior teammates.
"I had loads of senior role models, playing under and with dudes like Jackson Thurlow, Mitch Thorp and Jobi Harper, who all have good experience at senior level," he said.
"They took me under their wing and really looked after me so I'm very grateful for them."
While Leake was considered one of the draft's biggest bolters, his fellow Tasmanian top-10 selections had been touted as potential high draft picks for many seasons.
Both McKercher and Sanders made their TSL debuts at a young age and impressed on the national stage as bottom-aged players - selected in the AFL Academy two years in a row.
Since 2022, they have been playing their football either side of Bass Strait, with former North Launceston player Sanders relocating to Victoria to take up a scholarship at Melbourne Grammar.
Joining the Sandringham Dragons, he won two Talent League premierships and became a friendly on-field rival to McKercher, Leake and the Devils before the trio linked up for the Allies at the under-18 national championships.
That is where Sanders took his game to another level, winning the Larke Medal for the competition's best player as he averaged 35.5 disposals at an incredible 80.4 per cent efficiency.
"I had a good inkling from my manager Nick Gieschen that if I was there, I could potentially end up at the Doggies," Sanders said.
"I'm just so stoked to be there and they've got so many good players that I'll be able to learn off."
Sheehan described him as the "ultra-pro" due to his strong preparation, while Ablett said he "buys himself those extra few moments to distribute and make good decisions".
McKercher's major individual highlight came from the Talent League, becoming the second Tasmanian in as many years to win the Morrish Medal after Carlton's Lachlan Cowan achieved the honour in 2022.
Sheehan described McKercher as "dazzling and dynamic" and said he has "all the tricks in the book" and that he "loves watching him play".
Fellow draft expert Michael Ablett added: "He could play on a wing, he could start half-forward, potentially a bit like [Harry] Sheezel, he could start across half-back and use those foot skills but he'll fit in with that Kangaroos side that they're continuing to build."
The dynamic midfielder will have a familiar face at the Kangaroos, with North Launceston's Tarryn Thomas also on North Melbourne's list, while Sanders will be working with Tasmanian veteran defender Liam Jones.
Alongside McKercher's five potential trips to Tasmania next year, Leake will have the opportunity to play in front of friends and family when the Giants travel to Launceston for a match against Hawthorn at UTAS Stadium.
The trio were all invited to attend the draft's first night at Marvel Stadium.
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