Brayden Preuss, the biggest Queenslander in the AFL, was the biggest news to come out of selection for Round 1 of the Toyota AFL premiership,
The 21-year-old ruckman, originally from Townsville and a product of the Gold Coast Suns Academy, will make his AFL debut for North Melbourne against West Coast at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Named at full forward, Preuss will partner Roos ruck veteran Todd Golstein after he was effectively chosen ahead of Majak Daw by coach Brad Scott.
With Jack Bowes named to debut for the Gold Coast Suns against the Brisbane Lions at Metricon Saturday night Queensland will have two first-gamers in the long-awaited first round of the season.
And with Bowes originally from Cairns it is a double win for football in North Queensland and the Suns Academy.
Twenty-two and possibly 23 Queenslanders are set to play this weekend after there was no Queensland representation in Thursday night’s season opener in which Richmond beat Carlton by 43 points.
Ten Queenslanders will play in Q-Clash 13 – Bowes, Alex Sexton, Rory Thompson and Jesse Joyce for the Suns, and new captain Dayne Beams, Dayne Zorko, Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood, Tom Bell and Ben Keays for Brisbane.
Josh Smith and Jesse White will fly the Queensland flag for Collingwood tonight against the Western Bulldogs at the MCG, and the St.Kilda quartet of Nick Riewoldt, David Armitage, Tom Hickey and Sam Gilbert will play against Melbourne at Etihad Saturday afternoon.
It will be Hickey’s 50th game for the Saints after he played 12 games with the Suns in the expansion club’s first two years.
Sydney’s Kurt Tippett and Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon will provide the Queensland interest in tomorrow’s SCG clash, while Lee Spurr and Lachie Weller will play for Fremantle against Geelong and Zac Smith in Perth on Sunday.
Weller was named on the extended Fremantle bench but after playing every game for the Dockers last season is expected to be included in the final side when it is confirmed Friday night.
GWS veteran Sam Reid was named on the Giants extended bench ahead of their clash with the Adelaide Crows at Adelaide Oval Sunday, but he is less likely to survive the final selection cut.
Sydney defender Aliir Aliir will be given another week to recovery fully from pre-season injury woes, while Melbourne ruckman Jake Spencer, considered a chance to partner Max Gawn in the ruck, missed out. He was named as an emergency.
Lions Queenslanders Archie Smith and Liam Dawson also were included in the emergencies.
But it is a weekend that will be highlighted by Preuss’ debut.
Officially listed at 206cm and 109kg, Preuss is among 13 Queenslanders in the 2017 AFL list who are taller than 200cm. And he’s the heaviest.
Zac Smith, beginning his second year at Geelong, is also 206cm but he’s slightly lighter at 105kg.
Others in the 2m group are Collingwood’s Lachy Keeffe (204cm/101kg), Spencer (203cm/105kg), Tippett (202cm/105kg), Andrews (202cm/100kg),Hipwood (202cm/92kg), Richmond’s Shaun Hampson (201cm/104kg), Hickey (201cm/98kg), Archie Smith (201cm/99kg), Dixon (200cm/105kg), Thompson (200cm/100kg) and Adelaide rookie Paul Hunter (200cm/100kg).
Preuss, two years at North without a senior game, was elevated to the club’s senior list at the end of last season and given a two-year contract.
He responded to the vote of confidence with a stellar pre-season in in which club officials say he was one of the Kangaroos;’ most improved players.
Coach Scott said the popular Preuss had become one of North’s hardest workers over his third pre-season.
“From the first day of the off-season he really set about having the best pre-season he’s had to this point in his career. He got himself much fitter than he was last year and he really hasn’t missed a beat,” the Roos coach said.
North list manager Cameron Joyce said Preuss had matured enormously over the summer, starting with an excellent camp in Utah before an eye-catching JLT Community series.
“He’s matured a fair bit and understands what is required .. that’s the big thing,” Joyce said.
“The penny has really dropped, and some of performances have been excellent. He’s earned his chance .. no doubt about that.”
Not for the first time Queensland football people have flashed back to December 2014, when he was taken by North in the AFL rookie draft after effectively being passed over by the Suns, who at the time had a glut of young ruckmen.
At the time Preuss declared frankly “never in a million years – I never saw thing coming”.
“It was about 10am and I was at work, and my boss called me in to have a look at the draft and I saw my name. I never thought I’d have any chance in the world,” he said.
Preuss had played rugby league throughout his junior days, and only took up AFL aged 16 in Year 11 at Kirwan State High in Townsville at the suggestion of some persuasive mates.
“I loved the game right from the start,” he said, having progressed to the Hermit Park Tigers senior side midway through 2012.
So impressive was he that he was invited to join the Suns’ Academy in Townsville before moving to the tourist strip to further his career and winning selection in the State U18 side.
Preuss and Bowes will be the 167th and 168th Queenslanders to play in the VFL/AFL after 11 Queenslanders debuted last year – Josh Wagner, Josh Smith, Aliir, Keays, Joyce, Corey Wagner, Hipwood, Matthew Hammelmann, Reuben William, Archie Smith and Mabior Chol.
By Peter Blucher