Max Spencer was invited to train with the Gold Coast Suns Academy several times as a youngster ago and didn’t turn up. It was hardly a glowing endorsement of his AFL prospects.
But on Saturday night all will be forgotten and forgiven when Spencer makes his AFL debut for the Suns against Richmond at Metricon Stadium.
Spencer, a first-year rookie elevated to the senior list and named among the emergencies on Thursday, was added to the senior team Friday morning as a replacement for injured co-captain Steven May.
The debut of the 190cm 19-year-old will complete a major turnaround by Spencer, who was given one last invitation by the Academy after he’d started to play well for junior club Palm Beach Currumbin.
Insiders remember how, when he finally arrived at the club, his endurance was a long way short of what is required to play at AFL level.
But he’ll debut as one of the better runners in the Suns team tomorrow night, having worked tirelessly on all parts of his game with Academy coaches Andrew Raines and Aaron Rodgers and more recently development coach and ex-Sydney Swans premiership player Nick Malceski.
“All credit to him – he has worked really hard and has come a long way,” said one Suns person.
Even coach Rodney Eade admitted today Spencer would play “ahead of his time” after May, fellow Queenslander Rory Thompson and Jack Leslie were sidelined by injury, leaving Spencer and 193cm second-gamer Jack Scrimshaw as the two key defenders against the Tigers.
So raw are the young pair that they both still wear braces on their teeth.
Fortuitously, perhaps, for the Suns, Richmond will field a predominantly small forward line, with leading goal-kicker Jack Riewoldt to miss his first AFL game since 2013.
Spencer, a humble, quiet and considered young man who reads the game well such for an inexperienced player, will be the 97th Suns player overall and the 22nd Queenslander.
Local players ahead of him have been Charlie Dixon, Jarrod Harbrow, Karmichael Hunt, Marc Lock, Alik Magin and Zac Smith from the first team, and, in order, Joey Daye (the 33rd Suns player), Rex Liddy ((37), Joel Wilkinson (39), Rory Thompson (40), Tom Hickey (43), Joel Tippett (44), Alex Sexton (51), Josh Hall (52), Jackson Allen (53), Andrew Boston (60), Clay Cameron (62), Andrew Raines (71), Jesse Joyce (85), Jack Bowes (90) and Brad Scheer (94).
Spencer will also be the fifth Suns Academy product to play at AFL level behind Boston, Joyce, Bowes and Scheer.
And he’ll be the third player behind Joyce and Scheer from Palm Beach-Currumbin, a club which not so kindly not so long ago was known as the ‘reptiles’ on the coast.
It seems Spencer has Palm Beach High School head of sport Neil Mackay, a strong and long-time AFL advocate, to thank for the opportunity he will have Saturday night.
In March, in an interview with Gold Coast Suns football writer Tom Boswell, Spencer revealed how a blunt dressing down from Mackay stopped him from throwing away his chance at becoming an AFL player.
As the Bulletin reported, Spencer was in Year 12 in 2014 when he experienced a moment changed the course of his future.
He had obvious talent, wrote Boswell, but his work ethic left much to be desired – partly because he didn’t believe he could make it at the highest level.
Mackay recognised something in him and a straightforward assessment of Spencer’s potential future ignited a fire in the defender that helped him reach his dream of joining an AFL club.
Said Spencer in the interview: “Through high school I just played footy to play with my mates and just for the fun of it.
“But obviously Macca (Mackay) saw a bit of promise in me. He saw I had a chance to develop and a chance to go to the big time.
“He sat me down and said, “I reckon you can do it’ so I said, ‘All right I’ll give it a go’.
“He has believed in me for probably a lot longer than I have believed in myself, to be honest.
“I nearly put it all down to Macca – just through that belief and the opportunities he has given me to perform – to go to the Suns academy and just through the pathways that he has provided.”
Thereafter Spencer represented Queensland for the first time at U18 level before overcoming the disappointment of missing out in the 2015 Draft to ultimately get his chance this year as a rookie.
Spencer, who has averaged 17.4 possessions a game through 14 games with the Suns’ NEAFL team this year after 11 games as a top-up player last year, will grab his own slice of history on debut – he will be the first player to wear jumper #47 for the club.
His late inclusion to the Suns side will make it an extra big weekend for Queensland football, with Jacob Allison to debut for the Brisbane Lions against West Coast in Perth on Sunday.
Spencer and Allison will take to six the number of Queensland AFL debutants this season behind Bowes, Scheer, North Melbourne’s Braydon Preuss and Josh Williams, and Geelong’s Wylie Buzza.
By Peter Blucher.