Personally, I'd love to see what McNeice and or McKenna can bring to the table from half back for the next JLT. I hope both of them start making a case for best 22 in the second half of the year, because 2018 is going to be wide open for them to stamp a claim.
However, it won't take many backline injuries to get down to needing to play McKenna and promoting McNiece, so if we are playing well enough and need replacements, McKenna as well as the rookies McKernan, Long and McNiece could be playing firsts football regardless.
It is a little bit of an anomaly, partly brought about by the returning 10, that 3 of our rookies are ahead of maybe half a dozen or so of our senior listed players, which brings them into senior contention (LTI's dependant) given the average number of players in a team who play in the firsts each year.
Um, what? If our full list is fit I don't think any of our rookies are in our first 30 players picked. Sure, a couple may be ahead of guys drafted in the last two years, but that is pretty standard if any of your rookies are mature. I assume two you refer to are Long and McKernan, but who is the third? McNeice? Given we've literally got about 8 players contending for his role that have played JLT, I'm not sure why you would think that about him. It certainly won't be Draper or Eades!
I think there could be a case for McKernan, Long and McNiece being ahead of "half a dozen senior listed players".
McNiece is untried so I acknowledge this is a bit speculative at the moment, but he is mature, nimble, quick enough and has good foot skills, which makes him more ready than the newer players and some not so new, and given his job would be looking after the smallest, quickest, nimblest forwards, I would argue we have question marks over our main options for this role - and these are Bags, McGrath and Walla. Bags is in the box seat for this role, albeit still coming into form, McG is coming along nicely but is still finding his way as a senior player which is to be expected, and Walla has been too suspect in the air to play the last line in defence.
I put the three ahead of Clarke, Redman, Morgan, Jerrett, Mutch, Ridley and even Bellchambers. This isn't to say Bellchambers won't come good in games for the first time in years as we proceed into the season, but given it has been a while - he gets a question mark, given with a fit Leuey you just wouldn't play him unless he could find 2013 form.
McKernan offers more mobility and versatility than TBC, has more ruck experience than Stewart and provides some physical presence. Long offers pace and agility and these qualities may put him ahead of some bigger bodied players given we have more depth in that type. The main reason the three come into contention is they all have qualities we are lacking depth in to varying degrees.
Even if the 3 rookies are not better than Howlett, Hocking, Bird and Myers, they might sneak past some of them because these guys are behind in line to Watson, Heppell, Zerrett, Parish, Kelly and BJ and the rookies could provide better team balance than some of these guys might be able to.
In years gone by we have had more players who have been less match ready on the rookie list IMO - and we wouldn't normally have so many players who can play inside on the list, who mostly don't possess a lot of pace.
So with most sides playing around 32 to 37 players a year it is quite likely Smack and Jake, and maybe Ben, will play AFL this year.