By: JESS WEBSTER
Round 17 Rising Star Nominee: Daniel Henderson
An honest conversation with Aspley coach John Blair earlier this year may prove to be the turning point in Daniel Henderson’s career.
The teenage defender is no stranger to senior football, having made his NEAFL debut back in 2013 for the Brisbane Lions at age 16.
He has since played in two NEAFL Grand Finals – in his debut season for the Lions over his future club Aspley, before the Hornets lost to NT Thunder in the season decider last year.
Although he has continued to notch up games and experience at senior level, it was a frank reality check from Blair in Round 6 which made the 19-year-old approach his football differently.
“When we played Canberra down there (Manuka Oval) we had a bit of a chat,” Henderson recalled.
“I was going alright at that stage – getting 10 touches and defending OK - and he said, ‘what are you in the team for? Are you a lock-down defender and your opponent doesn’t get any goals, or are you a 25-disposal, running half-back?’
“I sort of had to think to myself, ‘well what am I in the team for?’ He pretty much said, 'there are plenty of other guys I can put in your spot'.
“I realised I had to pull my finger out and have a crack.”
Henderson has since taken his game to new heights, establishing himself as an integral part of the Hornets’ back six where has been named among their best players in four of his past five games.
His latest effort in the Hornets’ upset 19-point win over NT Thunder in Darwin on Saturday night has earned the former Brisbane Lions Academy member the Round 17 NEAFL Rising Star nomination.
Henderson, a former Queensland Under-18s representative, said his overall confidence as a senior player has grown since joining the club last year.
“It’s taught me to be a bit harder at the footy and to try and hold my own, and to grow up a little bit I suppose,” he said.
“’Blairy’ (coach John Blair) has taught me to not only defend well, but to get on my bike and run off and make an impact, instead of waiting for all the other senior blokes to do it for me.
“I think it comes down to having that respect from everyone at the club, and earning it by playing good footy - which I think is starting to happen for me.
“I feel like I’m getting a lot better at being a senior player, and hopefully cementing my spot.”
Aspley maintained equal second on the ladder with four rounds remaining after their win over NT last week.
Henderson said the playing group is feeling positive at this stage of the season as the Hornets aim for a fourth consecutive Grand Final berth.
“Earlier in the week we knew what we had to do to stop them. I think everyone was just switched on and after the game, it was like we’d won a Grand Final, to be honest," he said.
“We were just so rapt we were able to play a four-quarter game. Everyone was just so relieved – we want that second spot so badly.
“Last year we had a bit of a slump around the same time. I think our slump has gone, and we’re on the rise. Hopefully we can bring that form into finals and get a win.”
The Rising Star is awarded to the most promising young talent in the NEAFL competition.
Nominees must be under the age of 21 and played less than 20 senior games (excluding games as AFL top-up players) at the start of the 2016 season.
Keep track of all the 2016 nominees and watch their individual highlights on our dedicated Rising Star page here.
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