Queenslanders in the AFL: Rounds 16-17

By Peter Blucher.

Saturday afternoon 2 April 2011 at the Gabba. On centre wing, Stanley Street side of the ground, Michael Rischitelli kicked on the bounce to Jared Brennan. He gathered beautifully and went by hand to Brandon Matera, who chipped inside the 50m zone to Charlie Dixon in space. Turning and running towards goal, Dixon stepped beautifully around Carlton’s Jeremy Laidler, ran to the edge of the goalsquare at the main scoreboard end and banged home the Gold Coast Suns’ first AFL goal.

It was a moment in Queensland AFL history, iced perfectly by ex-Brisbane coach Robert Walls in commentary when he forecast that Dixon, a fresh-faced boy from Cairns, would ‘terrorise’ opponents in the AFL for the next decade.

He was right. And on Saturday, 12 and a half years later, Dixon will play his 200th game for Port Adelaide against the Gold Coast at Adelaide Oval. The former Cairns basketballer will be the 15th Queenslander to post 200 games and, two and a half months short of his 33rd birthday, the oldest.

Among the first batch of Suns signings as a 17-year-old in 2008, Dixon carries little resemblance today to the young man who wrote himself into history. A lot of tattoos, a beard, a receding hairline, a mountain of muscle and a snarling look are all new.

And instead of the #23 Suns jumper he wore for five years and 65 games at the Gold Coast he’ll carry the #22 Power jumper he’s worn since following original Suns assistant-coach Ken Hinkley to Port Adelaide in 2016.

But it will be one very proud Queenslander who shares his 200th game with two other teammates in the Suns’ first side. He’ll play against his long-time mate David Swallow, who will play his 213th game in the red and yellow #24, and alongside Trent McKenzie, in his 160th AFL game in the teal-colored Power #18.

The trio shared the same stretch of the original players’ locker room at Carrara, Dixon and Swallow side by side, and after the final siren on Saturday there will be a shared moment of reflection and celebratory handshakes all round. With Hinkley too.

It will be a family affair, with his parents Gordon and Helen, brother Jesse and his wife Steph, and sister Mollie and her fiancée Gus in Adelaide for the celebration. They’ve put together a video that will be played by Hinkley in the Friday team meeting.

And running out with the man of the moment will be his niece and nephew – four-year-old Florence and George, who will turn seven tomorrow (Friday). He’s getting old and sentimental is the big fella – it was his idea to include his brother’s children.

Also in Adelaide are a bunch of mates from the Gold Coast, including ex-Labrador player Todd Grayson, who played with the Suns squad in the pre-AFL days, and ex-Adelaide/Gold Coast AFL player Nathan Bock, who also played in the Suns’ first game.

Having survived an horrific broken leg in 2019 that could have ended his career, Dixon has got better with age, finishing second in the 2020 Coleman Medal and winning All-Australian selection.

Enjoying a run in the ruck in his later years, he’s been a side beneficiary of the good form this year of Todd Marshall and Jeremy Finlayson, which has meant he’s longer had to be the sole target in the Port forward line.

Still, he will go battered and bruised into his 200th, with his customary load of strapping after a string of injuries this year. A torn PCL, a hip-flexor and a couple of bad corkies last week.

But enjoying life in Adelaide and still a potent weapon for the opposition defence, he’s committed to playing a 14th AFL season in 2024.

And if there’s any romance in football he’ll have a good one against the Suns on Saturday, and pull in another one of his trade-mark one-handed marks, that have featured on the Power website this week. And perhaps he’ll kick the first Port goal.

Initially a reluctant convert to AFL football, the 200cm power forward is fifth on the Queensland AFL goal-kicking list with 328, having recently passed Kurt Tippett’s 325. Ahead of him are Jason Dunstall (1254), Nick Riewoldt (718), Jason Akermanis (421) and Charlie Cameron (338).

Dunstall was the first Queenslander to 200 games in 1994, when Dixon was just four, and was followed by Scott McIvor and Gavin Crosisca on consecutive weeks in 1997, Marcus Ashcroft (1999), Michael Voss (2003), Akermanis (2004), Mal Michael (2006), Max Hudghton (2007), Riewoldt (2011), David Hale (2014), Daniel Merrett (2016), Jarrod Harbrow (2017), Sam Gilbert (2018) and Dayne Zorko (2021).

This group have a 7-7 win/loss record in their 200th games, although Dixon will be looking to reverse the recent trend in which the last four have had to accept a loss in their double-century game.

In 200th game highlights, Dunstall kicked five goals in a big Hawthorn win at Waverley and, Crosisca, who averaged 16 possessions a game and kicked 64 goals across his 246-game career, had 28 possessions, a goal and polled two Brownlow Medal vote in a 10-point Collingwood win over Essendon in front of 50,944 at the MCG – the biggest crowd for a Queenslander’s 200th game.

Michael had a mixed day in his 200th against the Swans at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney – he had a career-best 20 possessions and polled one of five career Brownlow votes in a 57-point Brisbane loss. Akermanis had 20 possessions and kicked three goals in front of a crowd of 50,0003 at Docklands as Brisbane beat Essendon.

With Voss, Ashcroft and Akermanis the youngest Queensland 200-gamers at 27, Dixon will knock Zorko off the oldest 200-gamer list.

But first and foremost his focus will be on helping joint ladder leaders Port extend their club record 12-game winning streak against the Suns.

They are coming off a four-point goal-after-the-siren win over Essendon last week, in which Dixon had 13 possessions, four contested marks – twice as many as anyone else – one goal and eight hit-outs, and fellow Queenslander Aliir Aliir did his All-Australian hopes no harm with a solid game in defence.

In other Queensland highlights from Round 16, Will Ashcroft picked up five votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award for his 27 possessions in Brisbane’s record 81-point Gabba win over Richmond. Keidean Coleman had a season-high 23 possessions, Eric Hipwood kicked two goals for 12 in the last four weeks and Harris Andrews was his usual outstanding self in defence.

Jack Payne kept Richmond ace Jack Riewoldt goalless in perhaps his last game at the Gabba, underlining his importance to the Brisbane defence, and in Jaspa Fletcher continued his eye-catching start to his career with 18 possessions 13 on debut and 12 in game two.

Lachie Weller had 14 possessions as the Gold Coast Suns’ disappointed a near-record Carrara crowd of 22,483 with a 78-point hiding at the hands of Collingwood. It was the third-biggest crowd on the tourist strip all-time behind 24,032 for the Suns v Magpies in 2014 and 23,302 for the same teams in 2011.

And Adelaide’s Ben Keays had 29 possessions and kicked two goals to earn three votes from the coaches in his side’s 66-point win over North Melbourne at Adelaide Oval. Bailey Scott was North’s No.2 possession-winner with 24 and a goal in a continuation of his excellent season.

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