When a club takes five live selections into a national draft, their final pick is often a gamble.
Sometimes it’s a mature-aged player they’ve scouted to fill a specific role. Sometimes it’s a kid who hasn’t starred in the junior system but shows potential.
Regardless of the backstory, more often than not that final pick turns out to be a player who doesn’t stay in the AFL system for too long.
Fremantle found themselves in such a situation in 2011 when the clock started on pick No.71, their fifth and final of the draft, and rolled the dice on a skinny kid out of South Australia named Cameron Sutcliffe.
This time, the gamble paid off in spades.
When Sutcliffe arrived with fellow draftees Tom Sheridan, Hayden Crozier, Alex Forster and Lachie Neale, few would have suggested he would be the first to cement a spot in coach Ross Lyon’ side.
Just over two years on not only is he a regular in the best 22, he’s in there because he earned the spot when the club was playing the best football in its 20-year history.
When form half-back Garrick Ibbotson was injured in round 19 last year, the coaching staff asked Sutcliffe, who had been in and out of the side all season, to step into the role and help them seal a top-four finish.
The 22-year-old grabbed the opportunity with both hands and six weeks later was playing in the Dockers’ maiden grand final.
“I suppose you dream of it as a kid but to actually be there with all your mates is an amazing experience,” he said.
“It was obviously a pretty tough day, it’s hard to win. The guys gave it their all, just fell short on the last hurdle.
“Personally I thought it was a great achievement for myself to be playing in a grand final in my second year.
“A lot of people haven’t even played in grand finals at all.
“It was a pretty humbling experience and a great one to have.”
When Sutcliffe lines up against Adelaide tomorrow it will be his 34th game for the Dockers.
Of the 67 players picked before him in the 2011 national draft – three picks were rookie promotions – only 10 have played more games.
Brad Hill became the first in that group to win a premiership medal with Hawthorn last year, but after playing in a WAFL grand final for East Fremantle in his first season and an AFL grand final in his second, Sutcliffe is giving himself every opportunity to join that elite group.
WA Football Hall of Fame member Steve Malaxos coached Sutcliffe at the Sharks and said it didn’t take long into his first season to realise the Dockers may have got away with a draft steal.
“I watched some vision of him playing league at (SANFL club) Woodville-West Torrens and he looked quite good,” he said.
“I did think to myself “I think Freo might have done quite well there”.
“We put him in the league probably slightly prematurely based on form, he wasn’t outstanding in the reserves, but he showed good skills and good decision making.
“He’s very diligent, listens intently and I think in the AFL environment, I could see he would lap up all the information.”
Despite the early accolades Sutcliffe is not foolish enough to believe he can coast now that he’s earned his spot.
He said those that are left of his draft class, Alex Forster was de-listed last year, know much of Fremantle’s improvement has to come from them and they’re doing the hard yards to ensure that happens.
It may have been a recruiter’s gamble, a bit of luck, which landed him at the Dockers, but the steps he takes from now will be anything but.