Isiah Winder, Connor Blakely handed rookie lifelines while former Harvey Bull Hamish Free to head east

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Carly LadenSouth Western Times
Connor Blakely of the Dockers during the match between the Fremantle Dockers and the GWS Giants at Optus Stadium on March 28, 2021.
Camera IconConnor Blakely of the Dockers during the match between the Fremantle Dockers and the GWS Giants at Optus Stadium on March 28, 2021. Credit: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos

Two AFL players who were previously delisted from their respective clubs have been given lifelines while a mature-aged former Harvey Bull has been given an opportunity to make the big stage.

Three players with ties to the South West region were selected during the AFL’s Rookie Draft on Wednesday.

Former Eaton Boomer Isiah Winder was redrafted to remain at the Eagles’ nest with their first pick at No.2 after he was previously delisted from the club at the end of their horror 2022 season.

Despite Winder and teammate Zane Trew both falling victim to the club’s list cull, the pair were tasked with proving their worth as they continued training with the Eagles.

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Winder made six appearances for the Eagles in 2022, with his best performance being the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous round clash against GWS, when he kicked a game-high three goals for the match.

After being delisted from the Fremantle Dockers, Bunbury’s Connor Blakely was handed another AFL lifeline with the Gold Coast Suns taking him at pick seven.

The big-bodied midfielder was delisted after 78 games in eight seasons for the Dockers, having fallen out of favour after Justin Longmuir took over as coach ahead of the 2020 season.

After signing a three-year extension in 2019, Blakely played 18 games under Longmuir but none in 2022.

The 26-year-old told The West Australian last month he was happy to move away from WA regardless of whether he got an AFL lifeline in a bid to make a clean start.

“I’ll be happy to go anywhere. I’ll go to Tasmania if they were to start a new team,” he said.

A career-best WAFL season paid dividends for former Harvey Bull Hamish Free, with the South Fremantle ruckman being picked at No. 19 by North Melbourne.

The mature-aged recruit’s rise has been remarkable, considering he was playing country footy for Harvey Bulls in the South West league two years ago where he won the club’s best-and-fairest award.

He’s never been part of any State teams and only came on to the draft radar this year amid a career-best season in the WAFL.

“It’s definitely not the stock-standard journey at all, but that’s kind of the beauty of it I guess,” Free said.

“I’ve done it the long way and I don’t think many, if any, would have expected it but we’re here now so I’m looking forward to cracking in and getting to work.”

Free was the only West Aussie picked up in the rookie draft with East Fremantle utility Jed Hagan and silky skilled Claremont half-back Sam Gilbey among the surprise snubs.

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