HAWTHORN will try to block rival clubs circling New Zealand project player Kurt Heatherley by ramping up contract talks with the athletic defender.
Heatherley is yet to make his AFL debut, but his stocks have risen during a standout VFL season for Box Hill, with his impressive form attracting rivals’ interest.
Hawthorn has been delighted by the international rookie’s progress andAFL.com.au understands the reigning premiers are eager to hurry along negotiations on a new deal.
Despite the lack of senior opportunities to date, Heatherley is understood to be keen to remain at Waverley.
The Hawks could offer Heatherley an upgrade to the senior list, or extend his contract and keep him on the rookie list.
The 193cm former basketballer and rugby player signed with the Hawks as an International Scholarship holder in 2009, and has worked his way up through TAC Cup and VFL Development League ranks.
In his second season at VFL senior level this year, Heatherley has played all 10 games for ladder-leaders Box Hill and been named in the best three times.
The 20-year-old has shown promise as a rebounding defender, but his natural competitiveness has also seen him groomed by the Hawks as a key position prospect.
Hawthorn needs to find replacements for its ageing backline warriors in coming seasons, although Brian Lake (33) is keen to play on next year and Josh Gibson (31) has signed an extension until the end of 2016.
Heatherley played 14 VFL games last season – including the losing Grand Final against Footscray – and appears the next rookie in line to be elevated.
Recruiting and list manager Graham Wright said there was no doubt Heatherley would eventually reach the elite level after the club upgraded him as an international rookie in 2013.
“We think he will certainly play AFL footy, it’s just a matter of how soon,” Wright told the club’s website.
“He’ll develop in the system and I’m sure he’ll come through and play at some stage.”
Heatherley, who hails from Tauranga, 200km south-east of Auckland, is not the only New Zealander on Hawthorn’s list showing promise.
Hulking 197cm key forward prospect Shem-Kalvin Tatupu, from Auckland, booted two goals in his senior VFL debut in Box Hill’s win over Frankston on Saturday.
Story – Travis King