Submitted by Peter Blucher.
Jarrod Harbrow walked into the Gold Coast Suns team hotel in Melbourne this week and ‘the place just lit up’.
So said teammate Zac Smith. It was one retiring Queenslander to another and it said it all, identifying the enormous regard in which Harbrow is held by his clubmates.
“Everyone at the club looks up to him so much. He’s put everything into the club over the last 11 years and has been such a good leader he deserves all the accolades that are coming his way,” Smith said of his long-time mate.
Harbrow, separated from his teammates in recent weeks after the team escaped the south-east Covid Queensland lockdown to base themselves in Melbourne, is set to exit the AFL this weekend.
Covid restrictions permitting, the 33-year-old running defender will play his 192nd and last game with the Suns against the Sydney Swans at Marvel Stadium on Saturday. It will be his 262nd AFL game overall.
His farewell game will cap a career with the Suns which began alongside Smith in the club’s first game in the AFL in 2011.
Having played 70 games with the Western Bulldogs from 2007-10 Harbrow was the first Queenslander to join the expansion club and has been a standout on and off the field throughout a wonderful career.
His move ‘home’ n 2011 was the second leg of a two-fold demonstration of his love for his family and his home state.
Born in Cairns to an Indigenous Australian mother and a Caucasian father from Mooroopna, near Shepparton, in Victoria, he had grown up in Cairns before a family emergency.
Harbrow was 13 when older brother Marc was diagnosed with leukemia. He moved with his family to Townsville in the fight against the deadly disease, donating his bone marrow to help what has been a life-saving mission for the long-time AFLQ favorite.
The family united in cause again three years later when they moved to Mooroopna, believing a season with the Murray Bushrangers in the TAC Cup would bolster the younger Harbrow’s draft prospects.
It didn’t quite work out when he was overlooked in the 2006 national draft despite playing well for Queensland at the under 18 national championships, but a few weeks later he got his chance when taken by the Bulldogs with selection #27 in the rookie draft.
Among 131 first-time draftees that year, Harbrow was the 104th player taken.
Fifteen years on he will exit football having played more AFL games than all but eight of them. Even pick #1 Bryce Gibbs, a 258-gamer at Carlton and Adelaide, played fewer games.
Joel Selwood, drafted at #7, heads the Class of 2006 games list with 330 games from 304-gamer Jack Riewoldt, taken at #13, and 303-gamer Travis Boak, taken at #5.
Others ahead of Harbrow are #26 Shane Edwards (265), #37 Todd Goldstein (272), #40 Josh Kennedy of Sydney (279), #41 Tom Hawkins (298) and retired selection #71 Justin Westhoff (280).
Others from the Harbrow draft year still listed with AFL clubs are #12 James Frawley (241), #42 Bachar Houli (232), #48 David Mackay (247) and #55 Robbie Gray (252), plus rookie pick #58 Jarryn Geary (207). And it won’t surprise if Frawley, Houli, Mackay and Geary follow Harbrow into retirement this year.
Oddly, Harbrow debuted in the same game as Edwards when the Dogs met the Tigers at the MCG in round 4 2007. Fellow Queenslander Tom Williams, who would go on to play 85 games in an injury-plagued career that ended in 2014, debuted in the same game.
In a fairytale world the Suns would love nothing more than to arrange a guard of honour comprising each of his Suns teammates for the retiring Harbrow on Saturday.
But for obvious reasons it would be logistic impossibility. Because among the other 129 Suns players Harbrow has played with all but five. And he could pick up four of them this week.
Current players Rory Atkins, Malcolm Rosas, Joel Jeffrey and Jacob Townsend, players #127-130 on the all-time list after joining the Suns this year, will be hoping to share Harbrow’s final game.
That would leave Leigh Osborne, who played one game with the Suns in 2013, as the odd man out. It was Round 22 when Harbrow was sidelined by illness.
Going into his final game, Harbrow is not only the Suns games record-holder. He also leads the club in all-time possessions (3675) and wins (48). He will take a lead of 10 career possessions over David Swallow into Saturday’s farewell.
Also, he will go into the record books ranked seventh in AFL games played all-time by ex-rookies, behind only Matthew Boyd (292), Dean Cox (290), Stephen Milne and Michael Firrito (275), Aaron Sandilands (271) and James McDonald (264)
Harbrow’s pending retirement will give him more time to devote to the business he operates in tandem with his brother – Harbrow Mentoring. Located in far north Queensland and the Gold Coast, it is an organisation which provides a holistic range of programs to young people centred on Mentoring, Leadership and Sports Development.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.