The West

Royals leg-up good for game
East Perth ruckman Paul Johnson says the club alignment system is a positive for the WAFL and players. Picture: Ben Crabtree/WA News

Ruck star Paul Johnson says he is already seeing youngsters blossom under the AFL alignment at East Perth and is confident the model will rejuvenate rather than kill off the WAFL.

The 29-year-old is entering his third season at the Royals and first under the new alignment system that will see a host of West Coast players running out for the league side each weekend.

Johnson has extensive knowledge of the inner workings of AFL-aligned clubs.

He won a premiership with VFL affiliate Sandringham in 2005 while on Melbourne's list.

Newly-appointed WA Football Commission chief operating officer Nick Sautner was also a member of that premiership side, with Sandringham and the Demons the first two Victorian clubs to form an alignment.

Johnson also represented Box Hill while on Hawthorn's list in 2011 before his 70-game AFL career ended. He said the model worked successfully.

"To tell you the truth, a lot of the boys were a little bit sceptical of it all, all the guys that haven't been on the system or through the system before," he said.

"A couple of those guys did find they wanted to leave and they have left. But those who have stayed around, I look at the young guys and where else would you rather be to learn from some of these players that we've had playing with us?

"We've had (Will) Schofield, (Sam) Butler here on the weekend. We've got Jaymie Graham as a coach, Adam Selwood as a coach and Daniel Pratt. Some of these guys have been absolute superstars of the AFL and they're coming down and spending time with these young kids who have aspirations of playing AFL.

"If you were to go and throw it in and play with a Perth or a Swan Districts, you're not going to have that input from AFL players and it makes it very hard.

"A lot of the young kids are getting coached like AFL footballers and they're playing for East Perth.

"It's a very positive outcome."

Johnson predicted that Eagles players returning from injury or inexperienced draftees would not automatically play for East Perth's league side, as per the mantra at Sandringham.

"What worked well with the Sandringham and Melbourne alignment was if you didn't deserve to play Sandringham firsts, you started in the seconds," he said. "They'd only play if they deserved a game."

Johnson said there was no agreement for him to play a restricted number of games in 2014 to make room for West Coast's extensive list of talls. However, the Simpson medallist said he did expect to get thrown around the field to accommodate the likes of Callum Sinclair, Fraser McInnes and Brant Colledge.

"An AFL player needs to be able to play in more than one position," he said. "It's a great opportunity to be able to move them around. (Coach) Brian Dawson said there'll be times when you'll be asked to go back, you'll be playing forward and you'll be playing midfield or in the ruck."

The West Australian

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