The things they teach you in the AFL that they hide from you in the under-14s. Trent Rivers arrived at Melbourne with the same idea any teenager would have when presented with a chance to play in the big league. He just wanted to get a kick.
“I thought if I just run run run forward, I’m going to get the ball eventually,” he said. “But it’s pretty much been the opposite. The more I’ve defended, the more I seem to find the ball. It’s what the coaches and players harp on about. Troy Chaplin’s been instilling that in me from day one, and I’m finally getting a good grasp of it, and I’m reaping the reward.”
Trent Rivers runs down the Giants’ Tom Green.Credit:Getty Images
Rivers hasn’t sworn to stay out of goal-kicking range for good. He kicked two vital goals in a decisive game against GWS last year and another against Adelaide a fortnight ago. “It’s nice to kick a goal here and there,” he said. “Obviously, it’s one of the fun parts of footy. But I’ll just play my role. If I get picked every week on the half-back line, I’m not complaining.”
This year, he has. He’s a fixture in the meanest backline in the competition. You could say they’ve put the D into the Dees.
It coalesces around Steven May and Jake Lever. “Their direction and voices from behind set me up,” Rivers said. “They see the game so well, and they put me in positions where I’ll win the ball. Playing under their leadership, it’s grown my game out of sight.”
Rivers scarcely has had time to draw breath these last two years. It began in a moment in which he couldn’t. On New Year’s Eve 2018, he came down with simultaneous attacks of glandular fever and tonsillitis. In the hospital waiting room, he asked his father to see if he could hurry things up.
Rivers debuted against Carlton in 2020.Credit:Getty Images.
“I was finding it hard to breathe,” he said. “I couldn’t get air flow. I’ve got naturally pretty big tonsils. They were at the point where they were literally hitting against each other at the back of my throat.”
Staff acted quickly, but glandular fever is a bugger. Rivers lost 7 kilgograms and could not get off the couch for two months. “With glandular fever, you’re not allowed to elevate your heart rate,” he said. “The risk is chronic fatigue.” WA thought highly enough of him as a footballer to take him on the under-18 camps anyway as a spectator.
Rivers crash-coursed his way to match fitness playing games for the East Fremantle Colts. Then came the draft. Rivers’ mind was open to a move. “Being from WA, you’ve got to wrap your head around it pretty early that it’s a possibility,” he said. “I was told the Eagles and Dockers didn’t have picks in my draft range.”
He thought he was going to Queensland; both the Lions and Suns had shown keen interest. “Then I got a call on the morning of the second day of the draft saying that if I’m there at Melbourne’s pick, they’re going to take me,” he said. They did, at No 32.
Rivers (centre) celebrates a goal kicked by good friend Oskar Baker.Credit:Getty Images
With him came the No.3 pick, Luke Jackson. The pair grew up five minutes apart and played with and against each other from age 12. Now they live together under the roof of Mark and Deborah Brayshaw, father of three AFL footballers including new teammate Angus. The other two play for the Perth clubs. Perhaps they’re all awaiting a swap.
Completing the Demons’ draft booty at No.12 last year was another teenager, Kysaiah Pickett. You may have heard of him.
Rivers arrived with a dirty secret. He grew up a West Coast supporter, and on preliminary final day 2018 celebrated riotously the Eagles’ smashing of Melbourne. Tactfully, he has not mentioned this to anyone at the club.
West Coast fans celebrate their thumping of Melbourne in the 2018 preliminary final. Trent Rivers was an Eagles fan then.Credit:Joe Armao.
He got the Demons on the rebound. Not that he was much bothered about the psyche of the club when he first landed. It was his own mind that was whirling. “New city, new surroundings, new people, whole new environment,” he said. “I didn’t really think too much about the club as a whole. I just sat there and thought: this is really cool.”
Rivers is what was once called a nice size. He’s also a born footballer. This struck Max Gawn early. “He’s a footballer, he’s definitely not an athlete,” the captain said this week. “He’s back with me in some of the time trials.”
Last year, footy’s strangest, worked for Rivers in a particular way. “I started to understand how good the boys were when we went into the hubs,” he said. “You were forced to spend time with people you wouldn’t normally spend time with. That was really good, personally. I was able to build a lot of really strong bonds with players. That’s run into this year.”
On-field, it was May and Lever. Away from the ground, Rivers and Oskar Baker grew close.
Rivers epitomises Melbourne this year in that it has all come in a headlong rush. He and they remind themselves that it is still only half a season. “I try not to think too far ahead,” he said. “Every week, we play our game, then re-set to 0.0. That keeps us very accountable.”
For himself, he says he feels “very privileged”. “Firstly, it’s just fun. Playing footy at the top level, it’s what you dream of,” he said. “To be winning games and getting a touch here and there, I’m just really enjoying my footy at the moment.”
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