By Peter Blucher. Brendan Whitecross, the forgotten warrior of Queensland’s AFL family, will get a belated chance to reignite his premiership dream following a recall to the Hawthorn side last night.
After being a senior emergency five times this year the 26-year-old utility player will play his first game since Round 6 last year in tonight’s blockbuster against the Sydney Swans at the SCG.
It will be 432 days since his last game at AFL level in Round 6 last year, when Hawthorn suffered a shock loss to Greater Western Sydney.
Whitecross has literally bashed the selection door down with a string of standout performances with Box Hill in the VFL, and was included as coach Alastair Clarkson made three changes to the side that beat Port Adelaide last week.
He also included Angus Litherland and Jonathan O’Rourke after losing Liam Shiels and Daniel Howe to injury and dropped Billy Hartung.
In news from the Sydney camp ahead of what shapes as the match of the season, John Longmire made only one change to the side that flogged Geelong in Geelong last week. He recalled Ben McGlynn at the expense of James Rose.
But all Queensland eyes will be on the No.11 of Hawthorn, whose career has been hijacked by two knee reconstructions in recent years.
Going into the 2012 finals the one-time Kedron junior and Zillmere senior player was an automatic pick in the Hawthorn side. And at 22 he had the football world at his feet.
If you’d known then that Hawthorn would win the next three flags you’d lay any odds that Whitecross would be part of at least one of them. And most likely all three.
But it all went horribly wrong in the opening minutes of the 2012 qualifying final against Collingwood when he blew out his knee.
Worse was to come when, after returning to senior ranks in Round 14 of 2013, he did his knee again in the preliminary final against Geelong.
Since his first knee blowout he’s played 16 senior games in almost four years. He played 12 games in 2013, none in 2014 and four in 2015.
For anyone that would be a bitter pill to swallow, but after he’d played 72 games in his first four years in the AFL system it is positively unpalatable.
Now, at last, after 25 games in the VFL in 2015-16, he’s got a chance to convince coach Clarkson that he should be part of the Hawks’ bid for a fourth consecutive flag.
Said Hawthorn football boss Chris Fagan last night: “It’s exciting for Brendan to finally get his opportunity this season. He’s been in good form at Box Hill and deserves his chance.”
Whitecross, a free agent at the end of last season, attracted interest from several rival clubs, including Brisbane, but chose to stick with the club that had stuck by him through his injuries.
A triumph for sheer persistence, he told the Hawthorn website last night he was “very excited” by his senior recall.
“I was only saying to a couple of coaches yesterday it feels like Christmas in July. It’s good to be back. No better game to come back I don’t think than a Thursday night game, top-of-the-table clash. I’m pretty pumped to be back out here.”
It will be the first time Hawthorn and Sydney have met at the SCG since 2012. The stakes are massive. If the Hawks win, they will move two games clear at the top of the ladder. But a Swans victory could also see them jump back to the top of the ladder.
Queensland interest in the Sydney camp will focus on Aliir Aliir, who will play his fourth game and two in a row for the first time.
He held his spot ahead of Jeremy Laidler after an outstanding performance against Geelong and will now be given a chance to consolidate his spot in the top Sydney line-up for the run to the finals.
Whitecross will be the 37th Queenslander to play at AFL level this year – equal to the number of last year with seven rounds minus one game still to come.
The most number of Queenslanders to play in a single season was 46 in 2012. There were 43 in 2011 and 42 in 2013. The average over the past 10 years has been 38.6.
The eight Queenslanders in the AFL system this year who are yet to play at the top level apart from Whitecross are Wylie Buzza (Geelong), Mabior Chol (Richmond), Paul Hunter (Adelaide), Brayden Preuss (North), Archie Smith (Brisbane), Jake Spencer (Melbourne), Joel Tippett (North) and Matt Uebergang (Fremantle).