The West

Boost for WA s next batch of superstars
Darren Harris, left, with new academy coaches Antoni Grover and Brad Collard at Patersons Stadium. Picture: Mogens Johansen/WA News

WA are preparing to launch an all-out assault on this year's under-18 national championships, and they've brought in some big guns in the coaching department to pave the way.

West Coast premiership assistant Darren Harris has been hired as the State academy coaching mentor, the role vacated by former colleague Tim Gepp, who has returned to the Eagles as an opposition analyst.

Antoni Grover, a 200-game defender with Fremantle, and South Fremantle champion Brad Collard have joined the U18 coaching staff under head coach Michael Pratt, while Sandover medallist Neil Mildenhall has joined the U16 program as an assistant.

This year's championships will take on a different look, with all division one teams playing each other twice in a home-and-away, round-robin format.

It will also mark the first time in three years WA has had a full-strength talent pool to choose from after losing boom teenagers Jaeger O'Meara, Jack Martin and Jesse Hogan to the mini draft in the past two seasons.

The first intake of State U18 players already boasts 11 AIS-AFL scholarship holders - Clem Smith, Sam Bevan, Ryan Lim, Brad Walsh, Matthew Ah Sui, Jermaine Miller-Lewis and Jarrod Pickett (level two), and Callum Ah-Chee, Kade Stewart, Greg Clark and Yestin Eades (level one).

WAFC talent manager Raff Guadagnino said the quality of the coaches added should give the group every chance of claiming the State's first title since 2009.

"This year we are striving to be the best coaching group," he said.

Harris was involved with the academy last year as WA's representative for the Leading Teams program. He said he was excited to get stuck into this season and watch the players develop.

"To have these type of people added to your program just gives it a lot of weight and I know the 18 and 16-year-old players will get a lot of experience out of them," Harris said.

The West Australian

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