Rising Star -- Former Bilambil Jet makes mark at St Kilda
HE has been playing Aussie Rules for just six years, but former %Bilambil Jets rugby league fullback Sam Gilbert is already making his mark on the sport.
Gilbert, picked up by St Kilda in the 2005 AFL draft, won the prestigious AFL Rising Star award this week for his round-16 performance against Hawthorn.
The win puts him in the running to take out the 2007 rising star title not bad for a young guy who until a few years ago %only thought of St George% Illawarra when someone mentioned the Saints.
Gilbert is still pinching himself about the win after an impressive performance at the Telstra Dome last Saturday in which he finished with 22 possessions, including 12 marks. "I'm ju st loving it," he said.
"I reckon it is everything I %expected and more. All the supporters make you feel pretty good to be part of a team that is really starting to come through."
And St Kilda is full of praise for the 20-year-old too little wonder since the last Saint to gain a Rising Star nomination was Raphael Clarke back in 2005.
St Kilda coach Ross Lyon sees the future of the AFL when he watches the tall defender play. "He's where the game is going, he's six foot two or three, he's quick, he's athletic, competes well and has a raking left-foot kick," Lyon said. "Like all young players, Sammy is working on his consistency." That's something Gilbert clearly recognises in comments which echo his coach.
"What is next for me after this? Well I just want some consistency.
"Even this year I have been having a good game and then a not-so-good game. I am working on my consistency," he said.
Gilbert switched from the Jets to the Coolangatta-Tweed Blues at the age of 14, deciding he would be better suited to Australian Rules. The move paid major dividends for the youngster, whose grandfather and great-grandfather had both played league for St George.
"I started late in Queensland, but I feel like I've been playing forever now and I don't think starting late makes much of a difference," he said. "There were no real reasons I switched I had a good mate who was playing Aussie Rules and I lived right next to the oval. "I just went down and had a kick and a bit of a train. I said I will have a season, and luckily enough found a few good mates there as well and stuck at it."
After coming to the notice of selectors in his junior days, Gilbert ended up playing in a premiership for the Southport Sharks in the top Queensland league.
Having played just two games in his debut season in the AFL, Gilbert has cemented his senior spot this year, playing every one of the last 12 games since round five, and has no regrets in having made the change from league to rules.
"I don't miss playing league I love playing AFL," he said.
"I found it really different at first, but I am struggling to remember the difference between being involved in the two sports.
"I still have a lot of mates playing league up there on the Tweed they are playing for Seagulls, Cudgen and South Tweed. My mates fly down to watch me play when they can, but they watch me on TV every week and then they ring me and let me know how I am going." One mate who understands just what it is like to be playing football at the highest level is Anthony Watts, playing league for Cronulla.
"I played pretty much all my %junior football at Bilambil with him," Gilbert said.
He says there's just one drawback to living and playing in Melbourne the weather.
"It's been freezing here," Gilbert said. "I just keep buying jumpers."