By MYLES STEDMAN
Have you ever wondered who is a distant second behind Darren Ewing in NEAFL career goals? That’d be the Southport Sharks’ Josh Baxter.
Currently on 226 snags, Baxter has a fair way to go before he gets anywhere near Ewing’s 611, but the 31-year-old is still confident he can close the gap.
“Give me six to 12 months and I’ll get there,” Baxter laughed, when asked by neafl.com.au what sort of chance he was to own the record.
All-time league goals leader is probably a bridge too far, but is one box of very few which will go un-ticked in the Southport forward’s glittering football career, as he crosses off 100 NEAFL games this week.
Baxter has received an unjust lack of attention given how long and strong his NEAFL career has been, as one of few candles burning brightly each week for a club that has enjoyed a scarce amount of success in recent seasons.
One of few to still be playing after making his debut in the league’s opening week in Round 1, 2011, the prolific forward is enjoying his team’s change of fortunes this season, which he has contributed to prominently.
“It means a lot because I didn’t know if I’d actually get here,” Baxter said of his impending milestone.
“It was always sitting in the back of my mind how great it would be to reach 100 games, I’ve never reached it at any of the clubs I’ve played with. I’ve won a premiership, I’ve won a league goal-kicking award, it was just a box I hadn’t ticked.
“A couple of years ago, my body was pretty tired and sore and work was getting a bit much. I didn’t know if I’d be able to last another year even, and now I’ve got two, so it does mean a lot to me, especially with a club with so much history.
“To see how we were going last year to this year, it’s really special to me.”
Making the season all the more sweeter is the low years, which Baxter has ridden through with the club prior to 2018.
After spending two years out of the NEAFL with the Labrador Tigers in the QAFL, Baxter got a taste of winning football, enabling him to help shape what he believes to be the most important aspect of a successful club.
“I’ve been in three premierships in football, and the culture you have the years you win a flag, you can’t mimic it, and you can’t teach it – it’s either there or it’s not,” Baxter said.
“This year is pretty special compared to last year, the turnaround has been South Pole to North Pole in terms of that culture, so things are definitely heading in the right direction, and it’s a great feeling around the club.
“It’s great to see us back up where it should be.”
A member of the Gold Coast-based club since the NEAFL’s inception, Baxter has seen the competition go through a lot of change, making the fact he’s been able to stay fresh and highly productive into his 30s a major accomplishment.
“The game’s changed where you’re not just a stay-at-home forward any more, you’ve really go to flush out and be like a second or third wing, or help out the midfield, there’s a lot more running and a lot less goal opportunities,” he said.
“It’s been good to see how (the NEAFL) has developed and grown, and it’s been good to develop and grow as a player and keep with it. I’ve definitely had to change my game from the way I’ve started.”
Harking back to the Sharks’ success, this season may be the last opportunity he gets to tick his “ultimate box” and win a NEAFL premiership.
“We just want to finish off the year doing exactly what we did last weekend against Canberra,” an acutely focused Baxter said when asked how the task might be accomplished.
“We did everything right, we brought our best stuff, we stuck to our structures and our game plan, and we know now we can match it with the best. We just need to turn up with that best stuff and we know the rest will take care of itself.
“We’ve got a great bunch of blokes ready to crack in, a great coaching staff, everything’s set up, we just need to tick all the boxes.”
Southport will take on Aspley at Graham Rd on Saturday afternoon.
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