By ZACHARY GATES - sydneyswans.com.au
Hamish Ellem was running around for the Grafton Tigers in 2017 and on Sunday will pull on the red and white as the Sydney Swans chase NEAFL Grand Final glory.
The QBE Sydney Swans Academy star has carved out a breakthrough year, making the move from Grafton as a 16-year-old and joining AFL stars in Sydney.
But while 17-year-old Ellem has enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2018, the up-and-coming ruckman-forward is on the verge of “the best experience of my life”.
Sydney will face the Southport Sharks in a fight for the flag at Fankhauser Reserve on the Gold Coast on Sunday afternoon, a game Ellem cannot wait to sink his teeth into.
“It’ll be awesome. I’ve never played anything like this before, so it’s an honour to be in this position,” Ellem said.
“I’m not too stressed because I’m just trying to think of it like it’s another game of footy, but it’s got a bit of writing on it.”
While Ellem made his NEAFL debut for the Swans at just 16 as Sydney met the Aspley Hornets at the SCG in Round 5, the young gun was one of the biggest on the ground.
He towers at 193 centimetres and tips the scales at 101 kilograms, making him heavier than bulldozing Sydney ruckman Darcy Cameron despite being 11 centimetres shorter.
Ellem made an instant impact in red and white, collecting 13 touches and two goals and buoying Sydney in the forward line and ruck as the Swans fell to a one-point loss to the Hornets.
He again impressed as the Swans booked their ticket to the Grand Final in a 56-point preliminary final victory over the Canberra Demons, booting a goal and starring in the ruck and as a forward at Blacktown International Sportspark last Saturday.
Ellem is among a host of Academy youngsters to have topped up the Swans’ NEAFL side this season.
A record 16 Academy players helped Sydney to victory over the Gold Coast Suns in the last round of the home-and-away season, with a sprinkling of AFL-listed talent rounding out the side.
Swans development coaches Tadhg Kennelly and Jeremy Laidler have simple advice for Ellem as he sets his sights on the Grand Final.
“They’ve just said to use my body and size and then just get off my man and play how I’m supposed to play as a big player,” Ellem said.
“My strengths are my body-on-body work and I’ve got a bit of speed as well. I’m trying to make them my biggest assets going into this game.”
History is against the Swans on the eve of the Grand Final.
They have fallen short in all four season deciders they’ve qualified for since the NEAFL launched in 2011.
Sydney finished the 2017 regular season in first place on the ladder but fell to a three-point loss to the Brisbane Lions in the big dance at the SCG.
While Ellem wasn’t around in previous years to compare this year’s Grand Final lead-up, he says the Swans are preparing well as they strive for premiership success.
“I feel there’s a lot of energy and focus,” Ellem said.
“There’s a mindset that ‘Right, we’ve got to do this’, and I think every player in the side understands what we’ve got to do.
“We’re all very excited and are ready to go.”
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