State coach predicts big role for young Tiger

Vic Country football officials expect Colac’s Cooper Stephens to play a major role during this month’s under-18 national championships despite being a bottom-aged player. PHOTO: Brian Bartlett.

Vic Country football officials say they expect Colac’s Cooper Stephens to be a “major contributor” during this year’s national under-18 championships.

The Colac Tigers junior is one of just seven bottom-aged players in Vic Country’s 38-man squad, which state coach Matt Battistello said showed how highly regarded Stephens was.

Battistello said Stephens would not play in Vic Country’s first game of the AFL Under-18 National Championships against the Allies in Sydney on Saturday, but was likely to feature in the matches following.

“The program’s there to facilitate AFL clubs to narrow their focus on draftable kids, and the 17-year-olds aren’t able to be drafted until next year so for them to make it is outstanding,” he said.

“Cooper’s in that mix and he won’t play this weekend, but form permitting and if he stays fit and healthy, he’ll certainly contribute to the squad, we see him being a major contributor in the national championships.”

Battistello said there was a lot to like about Stephens, who has represented Vic Country at under-15 and under-16 level.

He is in his first season in the TAC Cup with the Geelong Falcons and is part of the team’s leadership group, averaging 16 disposals, 2.8 marks and three tackles from in his four games as the Falcons managed his early-season injuries.

Stephens had his best game in the Falcons’ loss to Gippsland on Sunday.

“I travelled with him for the under-16 nationals last year so I know Cooper quite well,” Battistello said.

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