From the NRL Cradle to AFL Premiership Glory

Kieren Jack boy and man

This pair of images from the Daily Telegraph’s award-winning photographer Phil Hillard were taken 22 years apart. They are both at the SCG, the first is when Jack was just 11 years old and leading West Pennant Hills Public School to victory in the Paul Kelly Cup.

The second was his final game in the AFL, the round 23 win over St Kilda. The kicking style is almost identical and in the second image resulted in a goal which ignited the Swans faithful.

Neil Cordy profiles the nomination of Kieren Jack to the AFL NSW Hall of Fame:


If Tony Lockett was the first Swans player to draw the admiration of Sydney’s rugby league fans it was Kieren Jack who cemented Plugger’s inroads into NRL heartland. League followers loved Lockett’s aggression, intimidation and goal scoring talent and Jack turned them on to the game’s skill, speed and courage.

Rugby League fans first knew Kieren as Garry Jack’s son, the Balmain, NSW and Kangaroos champion full back.

Initially Kieren and his brothers Rhys and Brandon (also a Swans player) headed down the same path playing Rugby League but when Plugger booted the Swans into the 1996 grand final Kieren’s head was turned.

“It was the 96’ Swans team which first caught my interest when I was about nine”, Jack said.

“I wasn’t playing Aussie Rules but having a successful team in Sydney, that was the first thing that attracted me to the game. It was Sydney’s team and we were going to follow them.”

His early interest turned into something more substantial when he reached grade five at West Pennant Hills Public School.

“The Paul Kelly Cup started that year and we were one of the first teams to play,” Jack said.

“I think there were only 50 or 60 teams. Now there’s a couple of thousand competing. It was a simple competition and very smart. It got kids involved in footy who otherwise wouldn’t be. We had a mixed bag of players, there were only a couple of Aussie Rules players, the rest were mostly Rugby Union, Rugby League and Soccer players.

“We made the grand final on the SCG and won it. The following year I signed up for our local team Westbrook in the junior comp. Our school played in the Paul Kelly Cup again the next year, this time with about 150 teams and we won the grand final again. We went back to back. We were the first dynasty in the Paul Kelly Cup!”

The same year he was picked to represent NSW Primary Schools and the balance between League and Rules started to swing.

“That was when I fell in love with footy,” Jack said. “I continued to play League and AFL until I was 15 and then made my choice, and it was a pretty easy decision to be honest. I loved AFL, the atmosphere, the skills and the fitness. The size issue wasn’t a big factor but it was part of the decision especially when other kids were growing much faster. I didn’t want to keep getting smacked around, footy had more space to run.”

Soon Kieren was off to high school at Oakhill College in Castle Hill and changing football clubs as well.

“Pennant Hills was the breeding ground to go onto senior football,” Jack said. “It had produced so many AFL players over the years; Lenny Hayes, Mark and Jarrad McVeigh, Stephan Carey & Nick Potter. It was a great club environment and full of amazing people.”

Just when things were progressing nicely Kieren’s ambitions hit a snag, he missed out on state selection for the under 15s. It was a body blow.

“All of my hopes and dreams simply were sucked right out of me,” Jack said.  “I asked for some feedback about why I missed out and that was when I was told I was too small to play to play the game. I was told footy was moving in a different direction and that you needed to be a certain athletic size to play it and the small players were getting weeded out.”

It was the first real setback Kieren had faced but he soon discovered resources he didn’t realise he had.

“I used that setback to drive me,” Jack said. “I’d run every day and when I hit that pain barrier I’d say to myself I’m not too small and I can do this. I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me I couldn’t make it.”

Kieren’s teens were a pivotal period of time in his career as he battled between ambition and self-doubt. During this time his coaches played a critical role.

“There were three who stood out,” Jack said.

“Greg Barnes coached me in grade six for the Paul Kelly Cup and up until the age of 15 at Pennant Hills. He gave me enormous support and confidence to back myself. Mick Clift had a big influence at the Redbacks, he took me under his wing and was always talking to me. He was very good with people”.

“Then there was Rod Carter after that at State level. I remember coming off the bench in the under 16s, I did a couple of good things and then he threw me into the middle. He could see things in me others couldn’t and he was huge. He backed me and told me what I needed to do to get better. When I got to my late teens I had real confidence in my ability and he was the main reason why.”

Jack was Rookie listed by the Swans in 2005 and given the number 48, it was an early indication he was still a long way from senior football. He lived with the reserves coach at the time and another NSW AFL product Brett Allison and his wife Neita which proved critical in setting the foundation needed to take the next step.

He played the 2006 season in the reserves and made his debut in round six the following year.

After starting out as a tagger he began to win his own ball and had a breakout season in 2010 winning the Bob Skilton Medal.

Two years later he kicked two vital goals in the grand final including the one which drew them level with Hawthorn in the last quarter.

In 2013 he was promoted to co-captain alongside fellow Pennant Hills player Jarrad McVeigh. Remarkably he played the entire season with virtually no training after being struck down by glandular fever before Christmas. His amazing effort earned him All Australian honours.

His last game was in round 23 last year against St Kilda. Appropriately it was at the SCG where he had played 22 years earlier in the Paul Kelly Cup.

“It’s gone really quickly,” Jack said. “It brings a smile to my face when I walk past a field with the four posts up. “I couldn’t find footy posts growing up, I would run around parks and kick at light posts, soccer goals and rugby league posts that’s all I had”.

“The success and growth of the footy in Sydney and this state is something that makes me really happy”.






As it did when Sydney won in 2012, this year the premiership will feature New South Welshmen.  But the question is, how many?

Today though, presents an opportune time to reflect on the best performances by New South Wales players in some VFL/AFL grand finals.

1. Lenny Hayes (Pennant Hills) – St Kilda v Collingwood, 2010 (drawn grand final)

Lenny Hayes produced the greatest grand final performance from a New South Wales player when he starred in the 2010 drawn grand final.

In the process, Hayes received the honour of being the first player from NSW to win the Norm Smith Medal “ a clear winner by six votes over the next best player.

The statistics confirm Hayes’ dominance in this match, as he was the leading possession winner on the ground with 32, as well as racking up a game-high 12 tackles.

2. Tom ˜Tomahawk” Hawkins (Finley) Geelong v Collingwood, 2011

The high rating for Tom Hawkins is due to his momentum stealing second half in the 2011 decider.

Every time Collingwood gained the momentum in the third quarter of this grand final, Hawkins kicked a goal to keep his Geelong team in the contest. The match see-sawed as a contest until Hawkin’s third goal in the quarter put the Cats up by eight points, and from that point onwards Geelong seized control of the match.

The marks that Hawkins took in the last quarter had the commentators in raptures. “He’s playing out of his skin, Tom Hawkins,” said commentator Anthony Hudson after Hawkins took a strong contested mark in the last quarter.

Just a few minutes later, Hawkins took a one-handed mark while fending off his opponent with his other hand. “Hawkins again, oh this is amazing, who is this man?” Hudson said.

3. Chris Laird (Paddington) – South Melbourne v Collingwood, 1918

Chris Laird has generally been overlooked as a great grand final player due to the passing of time since the 1918 grand final, yet he kicked one of the most important goals in grand final history.

If the VFL had awarded a best on ground medal back in the 1918 grand final then the Sydney recruit would have been in line to take that award.

He kicked the winning goal for the red and whites against Collingwood with just 30 seconds remaining in the match, and was also the equal top goal scorer in the match with three goals to his name.

Without Laird’s final goal, Collingwood would have most likely won this match, so Laird’s influence could not have been more pronounced.

4. Gordon Strang (East Albury) – Richmond v Carlton, 1932

The Sporting Globe’s W.S. “Jumbo” Sharland listed Gordon Strang as Richmond’s best player in the grand final of 1932 as a result of his dominance in marking contests.

This high rating was also backed up by the report in The Age, which wrote “One of the most outstanding was G. Strang, who was unbeatable in the aerial duels, and who pulled down sixteen marks.”

To put this feat in perspective, no one player since the 1990 grand final has taken this many marks in a grand final. For his aerial dominance alone, Strang deserves his spot as one of New South Wale’s best grand final performers.

5. Jarrad McVeigh (Pennant Hills) – Sydney v Hawthorn, 2012

The 2012 AFL grand final is the high point in Australian football history for New South Wales.

For starters, it legitimised the 2005 grand final victory as being more than just a flash in the pan moment. The players recruited from Sydney football clubs such as Kieren Jack and Lewis Roberts-Thomson also had a significant role in the match.

Furthermore, important history was created when Craig Bird became the first player to achieve premiership success after being recruited directly from a mid-northern NSW club (Nelson Bay).

Yet there was one New South Welshmen who, more than any other, led the way in the 2012 grand final – Jarrad McVeigh.

McVeigh accrued 21 disposals, laid nine tackles and, most importantly, kicked two goals. One of those goals was scored while he was matched up against Cyril Rioli and the other, when Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell gave away a 50-metre penalty during the third quarter, became the turning point in the match.

The ultimate team player, McVeigh had as many as 36 pressure acts against the opposition as well. The football purists say one-percenters, pressure acts, tackles and smothers win you football matches.

McVeigh’s performance in the 2012 grand final was one for the football purist.

The other players considered were Brett Kirk (for his role in the 2005 grand final for Sydney), Bert Clay (pictured – the 1944 ruckman for Fitzroy), Lewis Roberts-Thomson (the 2005 and 2012 premiership player from the North Shore), Frank Gumbleton (for his role in the 1975 grand final for North Melbourne) and Leo Barry (2005 premiership defender for Sydney from Deniliquin).

In this case, they fell just outside the top five.

Article, courtesy of Miles Wilks