Sam Collins is well versed in the art of understatement.
With 118 marks to his name at an incredible average of just under 11 per game, the Werribee key defender leads the VFL in both total marks and marks per game with daylight back to the rest of the competition.
The numbers reflects a dominant first season in defence in the “big W” in spite of his side’s struggles at times, but Collins remains humble when pressed on the subject.
“I think I’m playing some pretty good footy,” he says casually.
“I feel pretty comfortable with the guys around me in the team and the structures, so that helps.
“I’ve been able to play to my strengths a bit more this year, I feel pretty free and mobile out on the ground, and I’ve been able to provide some guidance to those around me and try to structure things up a bit through my previous experience, so I think that’s worked.”
Collins’ best-on-ground performance in last weekend’s hard-fought loss to Geelong, in which he collected 21 disposals and took a whopping 14 marks – six of which were contested – while lined up on Cats big man Wylie Buzza shows just how good his “pretty good” can be.
Just as valuable, though, have been the leadership skills he has brought with him from his two years in the AFL system with Fremantle. Along with fellow high-profile defensive recruit and former AFL-lister Nick Coughlan, he has become a central figure in providing direction and organisation down back, a role he is relishing.
“It’s been really good,” Collins says of his new responsibilities.
“I think a lot of the guys probably look to me and ‘Coggo’ purely because of where we’ve come from, but it’s been really good for me to be involved in that leadership and communicate with the coaches about where we can improve and communicate with the players about what we need to be.
“It’s good for my development, but I think the guys are really buying into it as well. They’re always asking me questions, and they want to improve as well.”
Just 11 games into his Werribee career, Collins already has the air of a storied veteran, and with good reason; in addition to his two years at the Dockers, the 24-year-old previously spent three seasons with the Box Hill Hawks and played 38 senior games, meaning Sunday’s clash with Collingwood will mark the mini milestone of a 50th VFL match.
His strong eastern suburbs connection – he was a Donvale Football Club junior and played TAC Cup football with the Oakleigh Chargers prior to joining the Hawks – and new role with Southbank-based financial brokers Interlease meant his decision to sign with the VFL’s western-most club in his return to the competition was a big one.
But despite his new side’s initial lack of success in the first year of its return to standalone status, Collins says he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m really happy with the decision I’ve made,” he says.
“It wasn’t one that was easy for me, but it was a really important decision and one I’m really proud I’ve made.
“The position Werribee is in is really unique, there’s a really good culture at the club, and the playing group has really bought in and wants to develop and improve.
“I’d have loved us to be sitting first on the ladder, but there are definitely a lot of things going on at Werribee that are making me a better player and that I’m really going to benefit from in the long run.”
Collins gives particular credit to senior coach John Lamont for helping him make the challenging transition from full-time footballer to now having to balance his football commitments alongside full-time work.
“I was still studying while I was at Box Hill, so to come out of the AFL and have a full-time job and be playing VFL footy was a really big change for me, and ‘JL’ has been really supportive of that.
“He understands that whole need to balance your life. That’s probably the biggest impact John has had on me, but with the footy, he’s really taken on some of the things I’ve had to say about game plans and where we can improve as a club, and he’s really given me the confidence to play to my strengths and take the game on a bit.”
For all the challenges his departure from the Dockers has entailed, Collins acknowledges he is “having a ball” with his renewed focus on a career in finance, so much so that – in combination with the disappointment of not being retaken at last year’s draft – it had him wondering if he had the desire to play AFL football again.
But just past the halfway mark of season 2018, he again has his sights set on a second stint at the highest level, and he credits his experience at Werribee with helping re-ignite the flame.
“If you had have asked me at the end of the draft last year when I didn’t get picked up, I was almost at that stage where I was having doubts about whether it was for me,” he says.
“But after playing some good footy, speaking to John and getting used to how things are now, getting back in there is on the cards.”
Despite all the hype he is generating, Collins knows there are no guarantees. Fortunately for the Werribee faithful, his presence at Avalon Airport Oval is no mere means to an end, and he is committed to continuing down his current path should another AFL opportunity not eventuate.
“For me, it’s just about playing the best footy I can,” he says.
“If that’s playing VFL for the next few years, then that’s playing VFL for the next few years.
“You can only play footy for a certain period of time, so I just want to be playing the highest level I can and enjoying it.
“As long as I’m doing that, I’ll be playing VFL footy and getting the most out of myself and hopefully bringing some others along for the ride.”
In the immediate term, that process may not include a finals berth, but Collins is nonetheless committed to making every post a winner and – starting with the Pies on Sunday – making a statement to the rest of the competition that Werribee is not a team to be taken lightly.
“The pressure valve is kind off a bit from a team point of view, but I’d love to see us really start to press teams and get a few wins on the board,” he says.
“If we can’t make finals, I’d love to at least interrupt some other team’s finals hopes.
“I don’t think we’re throwing in the towel just yet.”