What’s next for Cairns junior Jarrod Harbrow? Retirement? Another year in the AFL? Or something else.

Submitted by Peter Blucher.

It’s been a tough year for Jarrod Harbrow, as the Cairns junior turned Gold Coast Suns games record-holder ponders what comes next. Retirement? Another year in the AFL? Or something else.

The soon-to-be 33-year-old is already the oldest player on the Suns list, and while he’s been unable to crack it for a regular game in the seniors in recent weeks he’s remained a positively figure playing in the Reserves.

He’s the  sort of player and person desperately needed by a young club like the Suns.

Also complicating things a little, at least from an emotional viewpoint, is the fact that Harbrow is just nine games short of becoming the Suns first 200-game player.

There would be nothing more fitting if he was to claim this once-only place in club history.

If Harbrow was to decide at the end of the season he’s had enough it will be easy. Plaudits and thanks galore. And a heart-felt ‘don’t be a stranger’ message.

But the temptation for coach Stuart Dew and the Suns might be to ‘do a Rischitelli’ with him.

At the end of 2018 Rischitelli, an inaugural signing and key member of the club’s early leadership group, was pondering his future at 32. It was agreed that he would play on in 2019 as a virtual captain of the Reserves side to help develop the club’s younger players.

And while there were no selection guarantees he ended up playing seven more senior games and was an outstanding contributor on and off the field.

Whatever happens, Harbrow will forever be a big part of the Suns history.

It all started on 19 September 2010 when, as a 22-year-old four-year player at the Western Bulldogs announced he was returning home.

A product of the Manundah Hawks and later South Cairns in the North Queensland “capital” while attending Woree State School, he had played 77 games with the Dogs after being drafted as a rookie.

The ever-running left-footer followed Adelaide defender Nathan Bock, Port Adelaide utility Nathan Krakouer, 2010 Brisbane club champion Rischitelli and Hawthorn veteran Campbell Brown in committing to the Suns or their 2011 entry to the AFL.

Only the day before the announcement Harbrow had played his third consecutive preliminary final and his 70th game overall for the Bulldogs, but so highly was he regarded at the ‘Kennel’ that, as much as they were sorry to see him go, he left with the club’s blessing and best wishes.

A key member within the Suns playing group from the outset, he has been a fixture in the side from day one except for injury, posting year-by-year game totals of 22-13-21-22-15-21-18-22-21-13 from 2011-20.

But after signing a one-year contract extension ahead of injury-disrupted preparation to 2021 he missed the first two games this year, and after playing Rounds 3-4-5 he has found himself in the reserves as coach Stuart Dew focusses more on youth.

Club champion in 2018, Harbrow is the club’s all-time leading possession-winner with 3675, ahead of David Swallow (3508), ex-captain Gary Ablett (3393), Touk Miller (2763), Rischitelli (2333) and Dion Prestia (2241). And he’s played in most Suns wins at 48, ahead of Swallow (42), Sam Day (38), Steven May (38), Alex Sexton (37), Tom Lynch (37) and Ablett (35).

Also, too, he is agonizingly close to a milestone that only the elite of the elite among Queenslanders have reached. With 4949 possessions he is two good games away from 5000.

It is a mark that only Michael Voss (6143), Jason Akermanis (5868), Marcus Ashcroft (5848) and Nick Riewoldt (5613) among 185 Queenslanders to have played in the AFL have reached.

Harbrow looked on last weekend as the Suns went down by 50 points to Port at Metricon Stadium, losing highly-rated Queenslander Lachie Weller to a hamstring injury.

Ex-Sun Charlie Dixon had 16 possessions and two goals for Port to maintain a perfect 4-0 win/loss record against his former side, while Aliir Aliir ranked the second best player on the ground behind teammate Ollie Wines by the coaches. He picked up seven votes in the AFLCA Player of the Year Award for his 20 possessions, three contested marks and 12 one-percenters.

Oddly, with Harbrow missing, there were as many members of the very first Suns side playing for Port Adelaide as there were for the Gold Coast. It was Dixon and Trent McKenzie wearing the teal of Port and Swallow and Zac Smith in the red of the Suns.

With skipper Dayne Zorko missing through suspension, Harris Andrews led the Lions as he and fellow Queenslanders Eric Hipwood and Keidean Coleman played their first game at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval.

It was the 25th different ground to host the Brisbane Bears/Lions since they joined the AFL in 1987.

Can you name them? It’s an enormous trivia question.

The Queensland grounds are easy. The Gabba, Metricon Stadium and Cazaly’s Stadium in Cairns. Likewise the NSW stadiums. There is the SCG, Stadium Australia and Sydney Showgrounds.

In SA there’s Football Park and Adelaide Oval, and in WA it’s he WACA, Subiaco and the new Perth Stadium. In Tasmania there’s now Bellerive Oval in Hobart on top of York Park in Launceston to sit alongside Marrara Stadium in Darwin as the only NT venue after the scheduled visit to Alice Springs in Round 12 was cancelled due to Covid issues.

Victoria? Now it gets easier. No prizes for the MCG, Docklands or Geelong’s Kardinia Park, which are still fixtures on the AFL schedule. Or Eureka Stadium in Ballarat.

From the early days there are six grounds no longer used at AFL level _ Carlton’s Princes Park, Collingwood’s Victoria Park, St.Kilda’s Moorabbin Oval, Western Bulldogs’ Whitten Oval, Essendon’s Windy Hill and Waverley Park, formerly an AFL venue now the Hawthorn home.

One more? It was Wellington Stadium in New Zealand, which hosted the Lions against St.Kilda on Anzac Day 2014. In Justin Leppitsch’s sixth game as coach and Darcy Gardiner’s second game the Lions snuck home by three points courtesy of the last goal of the game from Jack Redden fully 15 minutes from the final siren.

Redden,  now at West Coast, led the Lions possession count with 29 and kicked two goals to pick up two Brownlow Medal votes. Leigh Montagna finished with 37 points and two goals for the Saints to take the three votes as Queenslander Tom Hickey, now at Sydney, had 41 ruck hit-outs for StKilda.

Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.

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