By JESS WEBSTER
Photo: Sydney Swans Academy.
For the past five weeks, Sydney has certainly lived up to its powerhouse status in the NEAFL.
The barnstorming Swans have won each match against Canberra, Sydney University, Gold Coast and the GIANTS by an average of 122 points, and kicked an average of 21 goals per game.
With such dominance and a healthy supply of AFL-listed talent at their disposal, it might surprise you to learn the Swans’ leading goalkicker over this period has been 17-year-old academy member, Sam Wicks.
It’s been a remarkable response from a teenage midfielder and forward, after Wicks was unlucky to miss out on selection for the National Under-18 Allies squad despite being one of Sydney’s most consistent performers in the Academy Series.
He made his NEAFL debut for Sydney in Round 7, and has kicked nine goals in four appearances since.
His latest performance against the GIANTS last week – with 15 disposals and four goals – has earned the young gun the Round 11 NEAFL Rising Star nomination.
But Wicks’ ability to burst on to the NEAFL scene in the past month is no surprise, however, to Sydney Swans Academy manager, Chris Smith, who said it’s a testament to his character.
“The NEAFL Rising Star nomination is a well-deserving acknowledgement of Sam’s efforts so far in 2017,” he said.
“He was one of our most consistent players throughout the nationals and his performance was sadly overlooked for Allies selection.
“To his credit, and testament to his character, Sam did not dwell on his non-selection and chose to make the most of his NEAFL opportunities, as well as senior games with the Manly Football Club, where he has had a considerable impact in each and every game.”
A Manly Bombers junior since under-8s level, Wicks was also an inaugural member of the Swans Academy, and has been involved with the club since he was 10.
He made his AFL Sydney Premier Division debut for Manly last year, earning an AFL Sydney Rising Star nomination at just 16.
Wicks said the Swans Academy has contributed greatly to his development, and he is relishing the opportunity to play senior football with the club in the NEAFL.
“The Swans Academy has been amazing for me, in particular Chris and (coach) Jared Crouch,” he said.
“Jared has really helped me come a long as a footballer. He’s been really good in giving me open feedback, like watching vision of games and always telling me how I can improve and get better.
“I’m definitely feeling more comfortable at (NEAFL) level each week. It’s a big step up but I’m enjoying it.”
Although Wicks thinks it’s “a bit weird” to be able to call the likes of Kurt Tippett as one of his teammates, the promising talent said playing alongside a raft of AFL-listed talent each week makes him more determined to reach the elite level.
“It definitely makes me more determined to succeed,” he said.
“Those boys, in particular the leaders, they have been really good in seeking me out and helping me with what to do on the field. They are great leaders.
“The goal for me is just to maintain my spot in the NEAFL and improve each week, make the adjustment to the higher standard and hopefully play some good footy.”
According to Smith, Wicks’ emergence as a rising star is inspirational to other young footballers, and he believes the best is yet to come.
“Sam is a great example to our entire Academy squad of the attitude required when overcoming setbacks and disappointments,” he said.
“Sam has a bright future, as his football talent equally matches his professionalism and determination.”
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 Academy players) at the start of the 2017 season.
Keep track of all of our 2017 nominees here.
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