By Peter Blucher
Josh Thomas played his 82nd AFL game for Collingwood on Friday night. And it was an 82nd game that probably meant more to him than any other 82nd game in history.
Why? Because it was his 50th consecutive game in what is effectively part two of an AFL career which was stunningly halted in February 2015 when he tested positive to a prohibited substance.
Suspended for two years, the former Morningside and Redland product paid a high price for a bad mistake before putting together the perfect response.
Having worked his way back into the Collingwood side in Round 15 2017, he hasn’t missed a game in a feat matched by only two Collingwood teammates – Steele Sidebottom and Tom Phillips.
And while the now 27-year-old midfielder/forward can never get back the two years of football he sacrificed, he has at least proven to himself and those who supported him through the tough times that he belongs in the AFL.
Ninth in the Collingwood best & fairest in their grand final year of 2018, Thomas has put together an odd career since being drafted with selection #75 in the 2009 AFL Draft.
Odd? In 10 years on the Collingwood list he has not played a game in five of them.
Dogged by foot injuries early in his career, he did not play in 2010-11-12, and after 19 games in 2013 and 13 games in 2014 to reach a career total of 32 games on 29 August 2014.
Then, he waited 1038 days for his 33rd game on 2 July 2017, and added nine games to his tally in 2017 followed by a perfect 26 last year and an unbroken 15 this year.
So, on a year-by-year basis, his career reads 0-0-0-19-13-0-0-9-26-15. Total: 82.
So, while Thomas’ 15 possessions in Collingwood’s disappointing Round 16 loss to Hawthorn last Friday night won’t go down as one of his best games it will forever be a night he remembers fondly.
In other Queensland news from Round 16, Brisbane vice-captain Harris Andrews continued his push for an All-Australian jumper in arguably the Lions’ best win under coach Chris Fagan.
Andrews was near-impassable as the Lions jumped the fancied GWS Giants at the Sydney Showgrounds and didn’t look like losing at any stage.
He had 11 possessions, seven marks and 15 one-percenters to rank fourth in the coach’s votes behind teammates Lachie Neale, Lincoln McCarthy and Hugh McCluggage.
In the same game, skipper Dayne Zorko continued his good form, too, with 26 disposals and eight tackles, Charlie Cameron had eight disposals and a goal, and Eric Hipwood, injured early, showing terrific fighting qualities to play on and provide a valuable target up forward with eight disposals and a goal.
In the GWS side, Sam Reid had 13 possessions as he finished on the losing side against Brisbane for the first time since 2012.
At other clubs, Brayden Preuss stepped into the big shoes of Max Gawn at Melbourne and had a fine day in their narrow win over Carlton, collecting 14 possessions and 44 hit-outs.
Sydney’s Aliir Aliir, too, found himself in the ruck deputising for the injured Callum Sinclair and had a huge game in the Swans loss to Essendon. With 17 possessions and 21 hit-outs, he was rated the second-best player on the ground by the coaches behind Essendon’s David Zahakaris.
Tom Hickey further consolidated his place in the West Coast side in partnership with Nic Naitanui when he had 11 possessions, 24 hit-outs, five tackles and two goals as they belted Fremantle in the WA derby.
Lachie Weller (23 possessions), Jesse Joyce (22) and Jarrod Harbrow (19) were among the better players for the Gold Coast Suns in their heavy loss to Richmond. Mabior Chol had 10 possessions and a goal for the Tigers.