NOAH BALTING TOWARDS THE DRAFT

BY TIM MILLER

There’s a reason why Noah Balta is going to be one of the hottest prospects in November’s National Draft.

Not many 194cm 18-year olds record a 20m sprint time of 2.98 seconds or a beep test of 13.4 - but it’s not just the Calder Cannons star’s elite athletic ability that has him touted as a potential top-20 draft pick in six months’ time.

Balta’s versatility makes him a vital weapon for the Cannons and has him in the frame for Vic Metro ahead of the NAB AFL Under 18 Championships.

Balta’s outstanding vertical leap and endurance allow him to thrive as an undersized ruckman, while his strong contested marking makes him a lethal target up forward.

He’s even played as a key defender at times in his AFL Academy games so far this season, but Balta’s preference is to have as much midfield time as possible.

“I prefer the ruck or ruck-rover, anywhere in the middle,” Balta told the Cannons’ Pathway to the Top radio program.

“I’d like to say that I can play back, but if I get thrown there I’m just trying to play my role the best I can, just play on my man.”

With former Geelong and Essendon ruckman John Barnes as a mentor throughout 2015, a season which culminated in premiership success for Balta’s Essendon Doutta Stars’ Under-16 side, his undoubted talent has been in safe hands.

The Bombers’ 2000 premiership big man has played a key role in the key-position prospect’s rise to the top of the draft crop.

“My uncle played for the Essendon Under-19s, so they met there, him [Barnes] and [Dustin] Fletcher,” Balta said.

“He told me to go with ‘Barnesy’ for a kick… so he goes and teaches me a bit of this and a bit of that, to get me into shape.

“In the 2015 season, before that Grand Final, he just did little things that would improve my skills, we’d go for a kick down at Essendon Doutta Stars.

“He gave me a couple of tips that helped him when he played in the higher levels.”

Balta has been exposed to the physicality of senior football, having made his debut for the Stars’ senior side last year.

The experience, under the watchful eye of senior coach and another Essendon legend in Dean Wallis, was a learning curve.

“Senior footy really changes your mindset and the way you see the game,” Balta said.

“All the bigger bodies are there crunching everyone. You want to adapt to that early.

“You’ve just got to get used to the physicality of it, which I love in the game, so it kind of benefitted me in that way.”

A superb display in the Stars’ Under-16 EDFL Grand Final triumph saw the then 16-year old Balta rise onto the draft radar and after he backed it up with an outstanding 2016 season as a Cannons bottom-age player, booting 18 goals from eight games.

Those statistics were rewarded with a late selection in the NAB AFL Academy squad for the 2017 season.

With possible Vic Metro duties to juggle alongside Cannons games when the Under-18 Championships begin in June, Balta is certainly going to have his hands full in the coming months.

“Whatever game comes up next, I’ll just make sure I prepare for it properly and recover well for the week after,” Balta said.

“I’ll just condition myself to be ready if I make the Vic Metro squad, for those finals, and at the end of the year, the MCG game [the Grand Final curtain-raiser] with the Academy.”

Pathway to the Top airs 5-6pm on Wednesdays on North West FM 98.9. To listen, visit northwestfm.org




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