By Peter Blucher
On 25 November 2016 Jack Payne watched three good mates from the Brisbane Lions Academy get drafted to the AFL. Jacob Allison went from Aspley to the Lions, Declan Watson from Aspley to North Melbourne and Elliot Himmelberg from Redland to Adelaide.
That was the clincher for the multi-talented Noosa 17-year-old, who had forged a hugely promising career in shot put and dabbled in rugby union before joining the Academy.
He decided he wanted to do likewise. To play at the highest level in the AFL.
As Payne has often said, he was inspired by the pathway of Allison, Watson and Himmelberg, and the lure of a sport he’d shown no real interest in as a youngster.
“I never really followed AFL as a junior – I just played a couple of games with school,” he said.
But what Payne labelled “mucking around” with football at St. Andrew’s Anglican College on the Sunshine Coast was enough to catch the eye of the Lions talent scouts. It earned him a spot in the Lions Academy and set him on the same pathway as Allison, Watson and Himmelberg
Five years after he’d won age-group gold medals in shot put and discus at the Queensland Little Athletics Championships at QE2 Stadium he quit athletics and committed himself to the AFL. After playing in the Lions’ 2017 NEAFL premiership as an Academy player he was drafted with pick #54 in the National Draft.
Now a further six years on it is looking very much like Payne made a smart decision.
Last Saturday he put in the best performance of his now 33-game career in a 21-point win over the GWS Giants in Canberra, shutting down former No.1 draft pick Jesse Hogan completely, and taking a career-best five intercept marks in a career-best nine intercept possessions.
He also had two score involvements and kicked the ball at 91% efficiency and was rewarded with his first four votes in AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award. Indeed, there was an argument to say he was the second-best player on the ground behind Brisbane’s seven-goal hero Charlie Cameron.
So, Payne will play his seventh AFL game in a row as the Lions host Fremantle at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon – another career-best and testament to his hard work and persistence.
Prior to this season the powerhouse key defender has been in and out of the side more often than he would like. He played one game, three games and one game in three blocks in 2020, followed by 3-6-1 in 2021 and 3-4-5 in 2002.
But, already with five finals behind him, he finished each season in the top side and hasn’t missed this year, making the most of an extended opportunity that opened to him following the Lions loss of key defender Marcus Adams.
Payne was one of three Queenslanders to poll in the prestigious AFLCA Player of the Year Award as both Queensland AFL sides won for the first time this year in Round 6.
Charlie Cameron polled the maximum 10 votes in the Lions win over the Giants when he kicked a career-best seven goals, becoming just the ninth Queenslander to kick seven or more goals in an AFL game.
Jason Dunstall is a runaway leader of this group, having kicked seven or more no less than 52 times, while Nick Riewoldt is the only other multiple with four bags of seven goals and three bags of nine.
David Hale is next best, having once kicked eight for North Melbourne in his 99th game in 2008.
Five other Queenslanders have one seven-goal haul – Charlie Dixon, Kurt Tippett, Michael Voss, Daniel Merrett and Dale Woodhall.
Now with 20 goals in six games this year after a 6-4-7 run in Rounds 4-5-6, Cameron is third on the Coleman Medal leader board behind only Geelong’s Jeremy Cameron (27) and Carlton’s Charlie Curnow (21).
His seven-goal spree also saw him jump the injured Dixon into fifth spot on the all-time AFL goal-kicking list with 321, ahead of Dixon (319) and behind only Dunstall (1254), Riewoldt (718), Jason Akermanis (421) and Tippett (325).
Gold Coast’s Lachie Weller, is enjoying a brilliant return to football after a year off with a knee reconstruction, received seven votes in the Suns win over North Melbourne. He had 28 possessions and nine score involvements to rank equal second in the voting, behind Noah Anderson (9) and equal with Ben King (7).
Also in Round 6, young Richmond pair Noah Cumberland and Samson Ryan had a massive thrill playing in the Anzac Day Eve game against Melbourne in front of an MCG crowd of 83,985 people on Monday night.
And although the Tigers lost by 18 points, both showed plenty. Cumberland kicked three goals in the first quarter to spark his side, while Samson, in only his sixth game, had a career-best 10 possessions and a career-best six marks (two contested marks) to go with 11 hit-outs.
Jack Bowes continued to consolidate his place in the Geelong side with 19 possessions in their big win over Sydney, while Fremantle’s Corey Wagner, set to play his first game at the Gabba against the Lions on Saturday, had a career-best 18 possessions in his side’s 49-point loss to the Bulldogs. Oskar Baker had 15 possessions and 413 metres gained for the Dogs.
Aliir Aliir enhanced his reputations as one of the best intercept defenders in the competition, dominating yet again as Port Adelaide made it three wins in a row.