It hasn't taken long for Werribee recruit Jade Cleeland to earn senior selection, but the process of getting him to the club in the first place was a little more involved.
The 22-year-old will make his debut for the Tigers against Essendon on Saturday after signing with the club earlier this year, but Werribee football manager Mark Stone – formerly the club’s recruiting manager – had his eye on the former Murray Bushranger and Wangaratta Magpie shortly after the 2015 season.
“One of our former players, Daniel Boyle, is a Wangaratta resident, and he said there’s a kid up here who, with some coaching, could be a really good potential player for a VFL team,” Stone recalls.
Along with current recruiting manager Ange Cristoforo, Stone approached Cleeland about the possibility of doing a pre-season at Werribee, but Cleeland opted for another year with the Magpies while he finished his plumbing apprenticeship.
Twelve months on, having successfully lured Cleeland to Avalon Airport Oval on the second attempt, Stone is excited about his potential as a key-position player.
“Those needle-in-the haystack-type players, they’re great when you find them, especially when they’ve got some ability and they’re coachable,” says Stone.
“I think he’s very adaptable to different positions. He has played some ruck and some defence as a junior. He’s one of those prototypes people could look at and say, ‘This kid might have something to offer at the higher level.’”
While Cleeland’s 194cm, 96kg frame has the potential to be an asset in any area of the ground, the club will primarily look to use him as a key forward who helps out in the ruck.
Senior coach John Lamont says the transition to VFL football has presented a big learning curve for Cleeland but that he has earned his call-up on the back of a strong pre-season.
“He’s been pretty consistent at development league level and deserves an opportunity,” says Lamont.
“His hands have been really good at times. He can clunk a mark. He’s still learning about leading patterns and working in with the other forwards, but he’s certainly had a positive preseason and made a positive impact in the games he’s played thus far.”
Cleeland will run out for Werribee at 2pm on Saturday at the North Melbourne Recreation Reserve.