By Peter Blucher.
Jake Spencer will be desperately hoping this weekend to salvage something from a year of AFL frustration.
Spencer, without a game at the highest level since 30 August 2015, will turn out for the Casey Scorpions in Sunday’s VFL grand final against Footscray at Etihad Stadium.
Stuck behind All-Australian ruckman Max Gawn with the Demons, Spencer has been a driving force in a Casey side that topped the home-and-away VFL ladder with a 14-4 win/loss record this year.
He’s played a career-high 16 VFL games in 2016, including Casey’s 70-point qualifying final win over fourth-placed Footscray and their 42-point preliminary final win over third-placed Williamstown.
In his ninth year in the AFL system after joining Melbourne via the 2008 Rookie Draft, Spencer, who will turn 27 next week, has played just 36 AFL games.
He didn’t play at all at AFL level in 2008, 2011 and 2016, and has a career-high single season AFL games tally of eight in 2012 and 2013.
But the 203cm ex-Townsville colossus is highly valued by the Demons, who gave him a contract extension for 2017 in May this year when he was an unrestricted free agent.
According to Melbourne Football Manager Josh Mahoney, Spencer has improved his marking and ruck craft this year while playing an important part in Casey’s midfield dominance of the VFL.
And although Gawn’s outstanding form and his injury-free run meant there hasn’t been a need to play his understudy in the AFL, having Spencer to apply pressure on Gawn and work with him at training has been important.
The knowledge that he was there if needed has been important, Mahoney said.
Aside from his 36 AFL games, the VFL grand final will be his first and the biggest game of Spencer’s unusual career.
He’ll be joined in the Casey side by ex-Labrador midfielder Matt Jones, who has played 61 AFL games with the Demons over the last four years, including 10 this year.
Ex-Gold Coast Suns defender Jack Hutchins will also play for Casey, while ex-Brisbane Lions captain Jed Adcock will play the last game of his illustrious career with Footscray.