The end of the season can’t come quick enough for ten clubs missing out on the AFL Finals Series – except for one.
St. Kilda can consider itself desperately unlucky not to be part of the September action, finishing with 12 wins and ninth position on the ladder, missing out on the finals on percentage only.
The Saints are by far the most improved team in the competition, and gun forward and TIV Carpentry student Josh Bruce is one of the major reasons why.
In a sanitised era of AFL Football, very few players in the modern game command the cult following of players from days gone by. Eddie Betts of the Crows?? Absolutely. Luke Breust from the Hawks?? Yep. Josh Bruce of the Saints?? Without question.
It seems somewhat of an oxymoron however, that a player with a cult following can apparently fly under the radar, but that is exactly what Josh Bruce appears to do, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Easy going and laid back on the surface, but fiercely driven and competitive within, Bruce has become an enigma among fans during his three seasons with the Saints.
Now with 67-games and 92-goals under his belt, Bruce looks at home on the AFL stage, and with Nick Riewoldt in the twilight of his career Bruce is primed to replace one of the all-time legends of the game as the number one forward at St. Kilda.
Born and raised in Canberra, the path to stardom has not been a traditional one for Bruce, who admits that growing up outside of Victoria had its challenges with respect to making the cut in the AFL.
“I started playing footy in Canberra when I was about six – just trying to emulate what my three older brothers were doing really,” Bruce says matter-of-factly.
“The issue was that at some of the schools I attended, you had to play a sport for the school, and they didn’t offer AFL as an option,” he adds.
So what does a young man with the aspiration of making the big time do when he can’t even follow his passion at school? For Bruce, the solution was remarkably simple.
“I started to undertake Rowing in the summer months,” Bruce says.
“It enabled me to develop a really strong aerobic base which has obviously been really beneficial for my football,” he adds, with a seemingly unknowing touch of genius.
Josh Bruce not only epitomises the skill set and physical attributes recruiting staff look for in the modern day AFL footballer, he takes them to another level altogether.
Already blessed with an immense amount of natural ability, Bruce possesses an enormous aerobic engine, lightning off-the-mark speed for a man of his size, outstanding hands, uncanny goal sense and a work-rate that can leave practically any defender in his wake.
Add to that a brutal defensive mindset that often eludes talented forwards and durability that almost defies belief since joining the Saints, and dare I say it, you’ve almost got the perfect template for the modern day prototype footballer.
Despite being part of Greater Western Sydney’s inaugural squad, Bruce admits to not setting the world on fire during his time with the Giants, and highlights a breakout TAC Under 18 campaign as the predominant reason he was noticed as a junior.
“It all happened pretty quickly really,” he says.
“I played up forward in the TAC Cup and was lucky enough to kick the most goals in the carnival and make All-Australian, so that’s what probably put me on the map from an AFL perspective,” Bruce adds.
As expected, St. Kilda was just one of a number of clubs queuing up for the enigmatic forward, and were quick to act when the opportunity presented itself to pinch Bruce from the talent stacked Giants.
Bruce’s career has more than flourished since joining the Saints in 2014, and importantly he attributes being sent back to the VFL (as a defender) in the same season as the defining moment in his career.
“I got dropped as a back-man after a loss to Geelong,” he recalls vividly.
“I went back and did my time in the VFL and then finally got another chance as a forward at senior level,” he adds.
“I remember coming back in (to the seniors) and not kicking a goal in my first game, but then I kicked three against Gold Coast the following week which gave me the confidence that perhaps I belonged at the level.”
From that moment on Josh Bruce and the Saints have never looked back.
In 2015, Bruce led St. Kilda’s goal kicking with 50 goals, finishing 10th in the Coleman medal and 8th in St. Kilda’s Best and Fairest.
He was unbelievably unlucky not to have made the All-Australian side last year, and has continued on in 2016 with another solid season despite the extra attention he was always going to receive from opposition teams.
“It’s definitely been a lot harder this year,” he says honestly.
“I’m starting to get a lot more attention from opposition teams, but from my perspective I just want to play my role for the team, learn as much as I can from Rooey (Nick Riewoldt) and Aaron Hamill (St Kilda Forward coach) and contribute in any way I can,” he adds selflessly.
Josh Bruce is now firmly entrenched in TIV’s Certificate III Carpentry program, along with nine of his St. Kilda teammates.
Although they have only just recently commenced the program, Bruce is a clear natural leader of the group, and along with Sam Gilbert and Maverick Weller, act as TIV Ambassadors on behalf of the St. Kilda Football Club.
Sean Clinch, Bruce’s trainer in the program thus far, noticed his talent and leadership right from the outset.
“Josh is a terrific bloke – a real leader of the group,” Clinch says.
“He is a real team player, but then again they all are.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Sammy Gilbert who has played 170-odd games and multiple Grand Finals, or the youngest rookie of the group, it is clear that they are all in it for each other,” he adds with conviction.
All I can say is look out AFL in 2017 – the Saints are coming, fast, and if Josh Bruce isn’t already a household name, come and see me in twelve months’ time, for there is no greater certainty in Football.
Author: Aaron Lord
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