Sam Collins’ return to the Peter Jackson VFL after two years in the AFL saw the Werribee defender produce his finest season of football and earn a second chance at the elite level.
The 24-year-old was signed by Gold Coast under the AFL’s Special Assistance rules during the AFL Trade Period after playing 18 stellar games as an intercept-marking specialist this year, joining Tigers teammate Josh Corbett at the Suns for 2019.
194cm Collins ranked first in the VFL in 2018 for total marks (averaging 11 per game) and contested marks (3.5) as well as ranking second at Werribee in total rebound-50s (four) and third in disposals (21), claiming VFL Team of the Year honours, equal-third place in J.J. Liston Trophy voting and Werribee’s best-and-fairest award.
He was previously drafted to Fremantle from the Box Hill Hawks with pick no.55 in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft but was delisted after making 14 AFL appearances across 2016-17.
“I thought I had a really consistent season last year in the WAFL, but I think the way I played this year was a bit of an improvement on that,” Collins said at the recent Victorian State Combine. “I think I just impacted games more playing in a floating third tall defender role.
“I had a bit more input into the game plan and how we wanted to defend. That played into my hands, as our pressure on the ball meant I was able to roll off opponents and mark the ball.
“I thought my leadership was good and it was important to me that I continued to build on that. Ross Lyon and the coaches at Fremantle taught me a lot about the game plan and the particulars of what happens when X, Y and Z happens; that knowledge has made me a better footballer and was something I was able to impart on everyone else (at the Tigers).”
Such leadership shows how Collins has developed since first missing out at the drafts in 2012 as an 18-year-old with the Oakleigh Chargers, when he “probably wasn’t the player” he has turned out to be.
Gold Coast’s likely replacement for departed co-captain Steven May said there were still aspects of his game that he’s working on, but that his 2018 season demonstrated the impact he can have on matches from the back line.
“There was always a bit of a knock on my speed and that’s something I worked really hard on over last pre-season,” Collins said. “I’d still like to continue working on that and my agility, but overall I shed a few kilos this year and was able to cover the ground well.
“I hadn’t played in the VFL for two years, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to come in, but I felt comfortable and felt like I was able to impact games.
“I just wanted to play good footy and believe in myself. It was more about getting back to the enjoyment of what footy is all about.”