Big week for Archie Smith. By Peter Blucher
It’s been a huge week for Archie Smith. A 21st birthday, elevation to the Brisbane Lions senior list and now a pending AFL debut.
The basketball convert, in his third year as a Lions rookie, was last night named in a 25-man Lions squad for Sunday’s crunch game against Essendon at Etihad Stadium.
With first-choice ruckman Stefan Martin under an injury cloud, the Friday training session ahead of final selection will determine whether Smith debuts under the roof at Etihad.
But the good news for Smith is that, having been elevated to the senior list on the day of his 21st birthday on Tuesday, will almost certainly play at senior level before the season it out.
Rarely, if ever, is a rookie elevated without being given an opportunity. And after a three-year apprenticeship in which he has taken enormous strides it would be a fitting reward.
Smith, the 201cm son of former Chicago Bulls (NBA) and Brisbane Bullets (NBL) star Andre Moore, was a junior representative basketball teammate of recent first-round NBA draftees Dante Exum and Ben Simmons, whose fathers Cecil Exum and Dave Simmons played against Moore in the NBL.
Smith had been targeted for a possible college basketball stint in the United States but after he was spotted by Lions scouts at a basketball tournament in 2012 was tempted to try football in 2013.
Although he initially went into it primarily to help build his fitness for basketball he quickly fell in love with the Australian game.
With an outstanding vertical leap and supreme athleticism, he did enough in his first season with the Queensland U18 side and the Lions Reserves to earn a rookie spot at the Gabba.
Ironically, if things had turned out a little differently he could have been wearing the red and black of Essendon on Sunday instead of the maroon, gold and blue of Brisbane.
The Bombers had a real liking for the teenage giant heading into the 2013 National Draft, and tossed up whether to take him or South Australian Orazio Fantasia, or one other player, with their last pick at No.55.
They opted for Fantasia, who has consolidated himself in the top side this year and this week won the NAB AFL Rising Star nomination. But Bombers insiders will tell you it was a close call.
Only Brisbane’s right to priority list Smith as a rookie saw them get him ahead of Essendon, who would have taken him in the Rookie Draft. Instead they opted for Gold Coaster Fraser Thurlow only to delist him after one season.
Smith, who made huge strides in the second half of the 2015 NEAFL season, has been a regular standout in the NEAFL this year, invariably saving his best for AFL opposition.
If he is included in the Lions side for Sunday he would be the 38th Queenslander to play in the AFL this season and the 10th debutant.
In other Queensland selection news ahead of Round 18:-
- Daniel Merrett, ill last week, will return to the Lions side for the bottom of the ladder clash with Essendon, while fellow Queenslander Liam Dawson, who hasn’t been seen at AFL level since Round 6, was also included on the extended bench. He will anxiously await final selection along with Reuben William, but Matthew Hammelmann will definitely play after being named in the starting 18.
- After a long-awaited return to the Hawthorn side last weekend Brendan Whitecross is poised to retain his place for Sunday’s MCG clash with Richmond. He was named on the extended bench squad last night but after an excellent showing in the pressure-cooker win over Sydney last week is tipped to play in Sam Mitchell’s 300th
- Sam Michael, former Lion turn Bomber, may find himself playing against his former club after being named on the extended Essendon bench. And with tall backman James Gwilt ruled out with injury Michael, who made his Essendon debut as a ruckman two weeks ago, could be called in to deputise in defence.
- Corey Wagner was omitted from the North side after four games at senior level. He and fellow Queenslander Joel Tippett were named as emergencies for the Kangaroos’ must-win Friday night clash with Collingwood at Etihad Stadium.
- Charlie Dixon is set for spell on the sideline after Port Adelaide confirmed his ankle injury needs a rest. He’ll miss Sunday’s Adelaide Oval clash with the GWS Giants, who bracketed Sam Reid among their bench squad.
- Sydney retained exciting young defender Aliir Aliir for what will be his fifth AFL game against Carlton at the SCG on Saturday. And after the Swans dumped long-time fullback Ted Richards and chose not to recall regular defender Jeremy Laidler Aliir is set for an even more prominent role in the back half.
- Josh Wagner, a late inclusion for Melbourne last week after a two-match injury layoff, retained his spot for Saturday afternoon’s Perth clash with West Coast.