AFL Round 5 wrap

By Peter Blucher 

Corey Wagner is nothing if not persistent. He’s been in and out of the AFL system since 24 November 2015. Or, more accurately, in and out and in and out … and now in again.

The one-time Sandgate and Aspley junior and Brisbane Lions Academy member was rewarded last Friday with a place in football history when he became the first player in AFL history to play for North Melbourne, Melbourne and Fremantle.

It was his 20th AFL game and came 1,329 days after his 19th game and 2,708 days or seven-plus years after he was drafted on 25 November 2015.

The now 26-year-old, grandson of Queensland Football Hall of Famer Gary Wagner, son of one-time Brisbane Bears trialist Scott Wagner, and younger brother of ex-Melbourne player Josh Wagner made what was effectively his third AFL debut for Fremantle against Gold Coast at Norwood Oval.

Wearing a predominantly black stealth jumper, he acquitted himself well with 12 possessions playing across half back as the Dockers kicked seven of the last nine goals to come from 23 points down in the third quarter to win by 10 points.

Fittingly, parents Scott and Lisa, brother Josh and fiancée Michaela Caione were on hand to watch and enjoy what was a wonderful first AFL Gather Round, when all nine games were played in South Australia.

If Wagner looked a little out of practice singing the Dockers song, it’s not entirely surprising because it was only the third win of his AFL career. He had one at North, one at Melbourne and now has one at Fremantle.

He’s already had a couple of other big wins this year, having bought a house just outside Fremantle and confirmed that he and Melbourne girl Michaela will be married in January next year.

It’s been a marathon journey for Wagner, whose career took an unexpected turn when he was effectively rejected by the Lions in the 2015 Draft. It was the first year of live trading on Academy and father/son players, and when North bid on him at pick #41 the Lions elected not to match it.

Having already drafted John Schache (#2), Eric Hipwood (#14), Ben Keays (#24) and Rhys Mathieson (#39), they chose to keep their last pick and took Sam Skinner at what became #47.

As always, it’s a fascinating exercise to look back at the draft. Among players taken after Wagner at #43 and still playing in the AFL were Blake Hardwick (#44), Bailey Williams (#48), Jack Silvagni (#53), Sam Collins (#55), Jordan Dawson (#56), Ryan Gardner (#59), Sam Menegola (#66) and Nathan Broad (#67).

And to further emphasise the hidden gems often picked up in the rookie draft, the ‘second chance draft’ that year included Tom Papley (#14), Darcy Macpherson at (#21), Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (#22), Daniel Lloyd (#26), Mabior Chol (#30), Dan Houston (#45) and Hugh Greenwood (#48).

Wagner, originally drafted as a wingman/small forward, debuted in Round 13 in 2016. To put his journey into perspective, Brisbane’s Eric Hipwood debuted on the same weekend. And despite missing 12 months with a knee reconstruction Hipwood has played 132 games.

Wagner played eight games at North in 2016-17 for a 1-7 record only to be delisted at the end of the 2017. He played in 2018 with Casey, Melbourne’s VFL affiliate club, and was thrown a career lifeline by the Demons via the newly introduced pre-season supplementary selection option. He played 11 AFL games in 2019 – including the last six of the year and was 1-10 in Melbourne colours.

The Covid season of 2020 restricted Wagner to little football, and when he was delisted in October 2020 it looked for all money like his career was done.

But two outstanding seasons with Port Melbourne in the VFL changed all that, and last October he had an interview with Fremantle recruiting boss David Walls, son of ex-Brisbane coach Robert Walls.

It was nothing new. Walls had interviewed Wagner ahead of the 2015 draft and had followed his career closely. He lived what he saw after Port coach Adam Skrobalak moved Wagner to half back in the second half of the 2022 season.

The highly respected Walls explained: “We lost a bit of depth in the Trade Period, and we were aware of Carey and always had him in the back of our mind. We’ve got real faith that he can play a role for us. We watched him at Port Melbourne and when he went to half back, I thought his back half of the year was phenomenal. His ball use improved, he used his speed and just backed himself in.”

Fremantle high performance coach Phil Merriman had spent 2020 working with Wagner at Melbourne and vouched for his professionalism and athletic prowess. Walls didn’t need any more convincing.

“It’s incredible to think of him at 18 and then at 25 in terms of his maturity,” Walls said. “I just thought he had a great perspective on life. He’d gone out and worked and was really well-rounded and desperate to play AFL. Meeting him was the clincher. That’s when we thought he would be a great one to bring in.”

It was initially thought Wagner might get a chance as a rookie, but after industry scuttlebutt suggested other clubs were circling Walls left nothing to chance. He nabbed him with pick #57 in the National Draft.

The 182cm blonde, who is living proof of the value of a lot of hard work, made an immediate impression. In January was pencilled into the side for Round 1 before a hamstring injury at training meant he had to wait until Round 5 for the Dockers, finalists last year, to get his chance.

He became the third Queenslander to play for Fremantle after 120-gamer Lee Spurr and Lachie Weller (now at Gold Coast), and is wearing the #34 jumper worn by Spurr, a Redland junior who made a belated entry to the AFL in 2012 after a stellar career with Central Districts.

Wagner is just the eighth Queenslander to have played by three AFL clubs.

Heading this list are two four-club players – Ben Hudson (Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, Brisbane, Collingwood) and Tom Hickey (Gold Coast, St.Kilda, West Coast, Sydney).

The other three-clubbers are Richard Murrie (Footscray, Geelong, Richmond), Trevor Spencer (Essendon, Melbourne, Geelong), Trent Knobel (Brisbane, StKilda, Richmond), Mal Michael (Collingwood, Brisbane, Essendon) and Andrew Raines (Richmond, Brisbane, Gold Coast).

In other standout Queensland performances from Round 5 Eric Hipwood kicked four goals two, while o with 10 marks, two goal assists and 13 score involvements as Brisbane posted their second-highest score under coach Chris Fagan in a 75-point romp against North Melbourne at Mt.Barker. He received six coaches votes while Dayne Zorko’s 22 possessions, one goal and 10 score involvements earned him three votes.

Charlie Dixon (15 possessions, 14 hit-outs) and Aliir Aliir (11 possessions – all intercept possessions) were important contributors to Port Adelaide’s brave win over the Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval, with Aliir receiving three coaches votes.

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