Jake Spencer will surely be an advocate for the old saying ‘good things come to those who wait”.
Spencer has waited 10 years for a chance to play senior AFL football on a regular basis, and finally it has arrived.
The big Melbourne ruckman will play his 37th game AFL game and his first in 494 days on Saturday following the serious hamstring injury to the Demons’ All-Australian follower Max Gawn.
And with Gawn not expected to return until at least Round 15 following surgery Spencer is in line for his most concerted run at AFL level.
The first Townsville product to play in the AFL, Spencer was claimed by Melbourne in the 2008 AFL Rookie Draft and debuted in 2009.
Confronted by serious injury several times and more recently finding his pathway to the senior team blocked by the imposing Gawn, he has never played more than eight senior games in a season.
His senior games tally on a year by year basis in a career at Melbourne which started in 2009 reads 0-6-2-0-8-8-5-7-0. And on Saturday he will add a ‘1’ for 2017 to that list.
Much admired at Melbourne for his persistence and his willingness to accept a back-up role, he has done remarkably well to last so long in the AFL system without consolidating a regular senior spot.
It was 30 August 2015 that Spencer last played AFL football against Fremantle in Perth.
He had six hit-outs and two possessions in a 54-point Fremantle win in which the heavyweight ruck battle between Gawn and Dockers giant Aaron Sandilands saw the home big man out-point Gawn43-30 in hit-outs.
Such has been Spencer’s prolonged absence from senior ranks that only 10 of 22 Demons teammates from that game will run out against Sandilands and Fremantle at the MCG Saturday.
They will be Jeff Garlett, Neville Jetta, Nathan Jones, Tom McDonald, Alex Neal-Bullen, Christian Salem, Billy Stretch, Jack Viney, Bernie Vince and Jack Watts.
Missing from that side are Daniel Cross (retired), Lynden Dunn (now at Collingwood), Colin Garland (injured), Gawn, Jack Grimes (de-listed), Jesse Hogan (suspended), Jeremy Howe (now at Collingwood), Matt Jones (delisted), Oscar McDonald (omitted), Viv Michie (delisted) and Ben Newton (delisted).
The 11 new faces to the Melbourne side from Spencer’s last game will be Jake Melksham, Jayden Hunt, Sam Frost, Clayton Oliver, Dean Kent, Sam Weideman, James Harmes, Christian Petracca, Dom Tyson, Mitch Hannan and Tom Bugg.
Melksham (Essendon), Tyson and Bugg (GWS) were at other AFL clubs last time Spencer played.
Spencer, an emergency for the first three rounds of the 2017 Toyota AFL season, faces the biggest test of his AFL career against Sandilands, who had 42 hit-outs last week as Fremantle pulled off the upset the season against the Western Bulldogs, the reigning premiers.
It will be the third time Spencer has played against Sandilands, but the first time he will confront the four-time All-Australian for a full game as opposing first rucks.
In his only other meeting with Sandilands in 2013 the 211cm Fremantle giant was injured early.
Remarkably, Spencer’s inclusion in the Melbourne side for the Eastern AFL bonanza means there will be three ruckmen from northern Queensland in senior AFL sides this weekend.
He joins fellow Townsville product Braydon Preuss, who will play his fourth game for North Melbourne against the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium in the historic first Good Friday game, and Rockhampton product Zac Smith, who will play for Geelong against Hawthorn at the MCG Monday.
In other Queensland-related AFL selection news for Round 4:-
- Rory Thompson will miss Gold Coast’s clash with Carlton at Etihad Saturday with a quad strain.
- Sam Reid has retained his spot in the GWS team to play Port Adelaide in Canberra Saturday.
- Claye Beams is in line for his first game of the season after being included in the extended 25-man Brisbane squad for Sunday’s Gabba clash with Richmond.
- Kilda midfielder David Armitage is on track to return from injury against Collingwood at Etihad Sunday. He, too, was included on an extended bench squad subject to final selection but will play if he gets through final training.
- Corey Wagner was named an emergency for the North side against the Bulldogs.
In the opening game of the Easter round Thursday night, Aliir Aliir had nine possessions, three marks and a game-high 12 one-percenters as the Sydney Swans suffered a 26-point loss to West Coast in Perth.
By Peter Blucher