Reported by Max Laughton
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ESSENDON has finalised its list for 2017, signing its VFL vice-captain Ben McNiece as a category B rookie.

The 178cm defender was eligible for the special categorisation because his mother was born in India.

McNiece becomes the Bombers’ inaugural Next Generation Academy player. The 24-year-old has been a member of the club’s VFL side for the past two seasons, finishing third in the team’s Best and Fairest count in 2016.

“I’m extremely grateful for the chance to be part of an elite football environment and to work under senior coach, John Worsfold,” McNiece told the club website.

“This is such a wonderful opportunity for me to realise my dream of playing senior football, and to be able to do what I love on a full time basis is a huge honour.

“I’m looking forward to putting in the hard work and hopefully that gives me every chance to play at the elite level next season.”

Essendon list and recruiting manager Adrian Dodoro praised McNiece’s skill-set.

“Ben’s addition provides us with another small defensive option. (He) has an elite left kick, and he has a super competitive nature which allows him to win a lot of contested possessions,” Dodoro said.

“He has shown he is capable of shutting down some of the state league’s best small forwards and will continue to play an important role for us this season.”