AFL recruiters doubted if he would make it, but tomorrow Benalla's Tom Rockliff will bring up his 100th game when his Brisbane Lions take on Collingwood.OLIVER CAFFREY August 15, 2014 3:10am
Tom Rockliff and Tallygaroopna-raised Steele Sidebottom celebrate after the Murray Bushrangers won the TAC Cup premiership in 2008.
Recruiters doubted whether Tom Rockliff would play one senior game.
Tomorrow night, the Goulburn Valley Football League product will make his 100th AFL appearance when the Brisbane Lions take on Collingwood at the MCG.
Now vice-captain of the Lions and one of the league’s premier midfielders, Rockliff’s story is one of determination and perseverance .
Despite winning the Murray Bushrangers’ best-and-fairest in the 2008 premiership season, Rockliff was overlooked by every club at the National Draft in November that year.
But rather than feeling sorry for himself, the Benalla product did everything he could to put himself right in the eye of recruiters.
The Lions selected him at pick five in the pre-season draft the following month.
‘‘I’ve always had the self-belief and been a confident sort of fella, so I always felt like I would get picked up eventually,’’ Rockliff, 24, said.
‘‘When the opportunity arose at Brisbane I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to get up there.
‘‘To bring up 100 games now is something I’ll look back on when I’m finished, but for now I’m just focused on improving with this young group.’’
Rockliff made his debut against tomorrow’s opposition at the same venue in round 18, 2009.
The Lions were beaten soundly by the Magpies that night after leading at half-time in Rockliff’s only game that season.
Brisbane went on to reach the semi-finals that year under rookie coach Michael Voss.
Plenty has changed on and off the field at the Gabba since.
‘‘I had a really good first year at the footy club, I got the one taste in my first game against Collingwood, but I went away and got my fitness levels up to a higher level,’’ Rockliff said.
‘‘In the few years since then it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, but we’re building really well at the footy club from where we’ve come from.’’
While the Lions plummeted down the ladder in 2010, Rockliff enjoyed a breakout season, as he played 19 games and received a Rising Star nomination.
But it was the following year where he stamped his mark as a future star of the competition.
The Lions won just four games, but Rockliff won the club best-and-fairest and averaged 27.7 disposals across his 20 games.
He has quickly gone from being a younger member of the group to being marked as the Lions’ next captain.
This season Rockliff is averaging 31.3 possessions a game and racked up a career-high 47 in the Lions’ thumping of Queensland rival Gold Coast Suns in round 18.
New coach Justin Leppitsch has had a huge influence on Rockliff.
‘‘He’s been massive ever since he got here; as soon he got the job, he was on the phone to all the boys because he couldn’t meet up with us all because it was the off-season,’’ Rockliff said.
‘‘He has brought a real country environment to the footy club, where we’ll go to his house for dinner and we’ll grab coffees with him to chat about a few things; he’s created a really good vibe, which is so important in Queensland.’’
His home club Benalla is proof of just how quickly things can turn around.
The Saints were GVFL wooden spooners two years, but are presently undefeated premiership favourites heading into the final three games of the season.
Rockliff said he was proud of Benalla’s rise and still kept close tabs on the club with close mate James ‘‘Crusha’’ Dalton and two cousins Charlie and Harry Morrison heavily involved.
‘‘(Coach) Luke Morgan has been doing a great job with the group, and guys like Will Martiniello are back at the club now doing really well, so it’s great to see them doing as well as they are,’’ Rockliff said.
‘‘There’s been a bit of banter between me and Patty Wearden around the club, who’s obviously a Kyabram boy.
‘‘It’s been a bit journey, there’s been some hard work done by Mum and Dad to get me to this point, along with the support of people in Benalla and I’ll be forever in debt to them.’’
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