By Peter Blucher.
Josh Wagner laughed his way through his first Gatorade shower deep in the bowels of the MCG on Sunday, trying desperately to sing the word of the Melbourne club song and content in the knowledge that he belongs in the AFL.
In just his second AFL game, the 21-year-old former Sandgate and Aspley star had 24 possessions as the resurgent Demons posted a brilliant 35-point win over Collingwood at the MCG.
It was like a story out of Boys’ Own Annual as Wagner played a starring role across half back in front of 47,588 people at the home of football against arguably the most famous club in the competition.
Happily, parents Scott and Lisa and grandfather Gary, a Queensland Hall of Famer, were among the crowd as the elevated rookie went a long way towards confirming a bright future at the highest level.
Unfortunately, brother Corey, on the playing list at North Melbourne, was playing for Werribee in the VFL at the same time so he missed the occasion.
On a day the family will never forget, shortly after the siren Wagner shared a big ‘high 10’ in the middle of the ground with Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn, who lives nearby in Melbourne and has become a close friend of the blonde Queenslander.
He then shared the obligatory Gatorade shower for first-time winners with debutant Jayden Hunt before collecting a giant pat on the back from admiring Melbourne teammates, coach Paul Roos and coach-in-waiting Simon Goodwin.
Wagner, who had eight possessions on debut against North a week earlier, had 13 kicks, 11 handballs, six marks, five tackles and two contested marks, and a 71% disposal efficiency.
He showed great composure across half back and was ranked fourth best for the Demons in the AFL website match report behind Gawn, Jack Viney and Josh Watts.
He even polled votes in the Channel 7 and Age Player of the Year award.
Having been elevated from the rookie list to the senior list for his debut in Round 3 Wagner is guaranteed a minimum eight weeks of senior selection eligibility.
But with Jake Melksham, suspended as part of the Essendon drugs scandal, off the scene for the entire season the opportunity is there for Wagner to cement a place in the senior group.
Already, though, he has a place in Queensland football history.
Among 150 Queenslanders to debut in the VFL/AFL since full statistics were kept for the first time in 1974 only four have had 24 possessions in a game more quickly than Wagner.
Obviously, they were players who reached this mark on debut. They were:-
Darren Carlson – the ex-Southport wingman, among the first ‘locals’ to graduate to the senior ranks of the Brisbane Bears, had 26 possessions on debut as a 20-year-old against Sydney at Carrara in Round 11 1987.
Stephen Lawrence – Son of a former South African Test cricketer, the former Mt.Gravatt junior had 24 possessions and kicked five goals on debut as a 19-year-old for Hawthorn against North Melbourne at the MCG in Round 5 1988. He is not to be confused with Steven Lawrence, who played with Brisbane and St.Kilda and is the son of ex-St.Kilda champion Barry Lawrence.
Steve McLuckie – A Surfers Paradise junior turned Southport senior player had 25 possessions and kicked four goals on debut for the Bears against Collingwood at Victoria Park in Round 2 1992. He was 19.
Michael Voss – The Morningside junior turned future Brisbane Lions superstar had 26 possessions on debut for the Bears 11 days beyond his 17th birthday against Fitzroy at Princes Park in Round 18 1992. He remains the youngest ever Brisbane player.
And while it is folly to compare players from different eras who play in entirely different roles it is not insignificant that only Voss on the Queensland top 10 games list had a 24-possession game any quicker than Wagner.
Among others in the top 10, Jason Akermanis didn’t have 24 possessions in a game until his 21st game, Marcus Ashcroft was 19 and Scott McIvor nine.
Nick Riewoldt was 39 games and Gavin Crosisca 33, and Jason Dunstall had to wait until his 106th game to reach this mark. He did so only five times in his magnificent 269-game career.
Mal Michael, David Hale and Max Hudghton, who rank 7th, 8th and 9th on the Queensland games list with 238, 237 and 234 games respectively, never had 24 possessions in a game.
Among players ranked 11th-20th on the Queensland games list, Jarrod Harbrow was 30 games to a 24-possession haul, and Michael Osborne and Sam Gilbert were each 43 games.
Mitch Hahn had 24 possessions only three times in his 181 games, Matthew Kennedy three in 180, Brett Voss three in 170, Ben Hudson once in 168 games (in his 130th), Clint Bizzell four in 163, Che Cockatoo-Collins five in 160 and Dan Merrett one in 184.
For the statistically minded, Ricky Petterd, like Wagner, had 24 possessions in his 2nd game.
Twelve other Queenslanders reached this mark or better in 10 games or less – Brendan Whitecross had 29 possessions in his 3rd game, Adam Oxley 33 in his 4th game, Josh Thomas 28 in his 4th, David Wearne had 26 in his 4th, Gary Shaw had 27 in his 5th, Dayne Zorko had 24 in his 5th game, Clay Beams had 25 in his 6th game, Dayne Beams had 25 in his 8th game, Cockatoo-Collins 24 in his 8th game, McIvor 26 in his 9th, Courtenay Dempsey 25 in his 9th, and Josh Drummond 26 in his 10th.