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Fremantle’s Next Generation Academy continues to bear fruit with exciting duo Isaiah Butters and Leno Thomas signing on as Category B rookies.
As neither player was selected in the 2019 NAB AFL National Draft, Fremantle were able to automatically add the pair to their Category B rookies list ahead of Friday’s rookie draft.
They join fellow NGA graduate, and no.9 pick in the 2019 draft, Liam Henry at Freo.
Fremantle now have four NGA players on their list. Freo signed Jason Carter as a Category B rookie in 2018 and he went on to play two games in his debut season.
Butters is a general forward who hails from Halls Creek, about 2800km north-east of Perth.
The 18-year-old is quick, has an innate goal sense and is known to fly for a big mark.
Thomas is a defender who hails from Warmun, about 3,000km north-east of Perth.
While he can play at both ends of the ground, he impressed in a switch to defence for Claremont in 2018. He ranked fourth for intercept marks in the WAFL colts competition and placed third in the Tigers’ best and fairest.
Both Butters and Thomas played pivotal roles in Claremont’s colts premiership season.
Butters kicked four goals in Claremont’s five-point Grand Final win against Peel Thunder, but it was Thomas who stole the show with a goal-saving, and game-saving, smother in the final moments of the clash.
While Butters and Thomas would have been disappointed to go unselected in the National Draft, Next Generation Academy coach Tendai Mzungu said he was delighted to see the pair land at Freo.
“We’re very fortunate to get both boys through as Category B rookies,” Mzungu said.
“Unfortunately for them, they were overlooked in the National Draft but we do have, through our NGA, the ability to sign them as Category B rookies.
“Jason Carter was a Category B last year as our first NGA player and to get Leno and Isaiah, as well as Liam Henry on Wednesday at pick no.9 - that’s really exciting and it’s great for the academy.”
Butters boarded with Henry at Christchurch and is a co-creator of their successful Indigenous themed tie business, Tied to Culture.
English is a second language for Thomas, who started learning the language when he commenced schooling with Clontarf in Perth as a 13-year-old.
Mzungu praised both players for adapting to city life as they focused on developing their football careers.
“It’s great to see these boys, on a football and personal level, work through the challenges and show the resilience and the hard work that they’ve put in,” Mzungu said.
“I’m really proud and happy for them, it’s great for our academy program and we hope that from here, it grows for other kids who see them as examples.
“Having four NGA graduates at Fremantle is certainly an endorsement of the hard work that we do put in with these kids. It also shows the return that they’ve given to me, as their coach, and to all their teachers and their WAFL coaches.
“I think everyone will be very proud of the journey they’ve made so far.”