Maverick Weller’s progression from St Kilda Rookie list to leadership group member and 100 plus AFL games

After being selected with pick 20 by St Kilda at the 2014 Rookie Draft Maverick Weller made his club debut in Round 7, 2014 and has been a fixture of the Saints line-up ever since, playing 71 of a possible 74 games, missing two games with injury and one game due to suspension. After playing the last 16 games of the 2014 season in the AFL Weller was elevated onto St Kilda’s primary list at the 2014 National Draft in November 2014. Highlighting the impression he quickly made and how highly rated he was by St Kilda and its playing group Weller was voted into the Saints seven man leadership group in February 2015 despite having played less than 20 AFL games for the club.

Last month at 25 years of age St Kilda forward Weller played his 100th AFL game against Adelaide in a Round 11 Friday night game at the Adelaide Oval on 9 June. Weller played as a negating midfielder for the Saints from 2014 until he was moved during the 2015 season to play as a forward who can apply pressure and also make an impact on the scoreboard. Weller has finished in the top 10 of St Kilda’s best and fairest twice – ninth in 2014 and seventh in 2016.

Although Weller is just 25 years of age, being selected in St Kilda’s leadership group in 2015 was not the first time that he had been voted into an AFL club’s leadership group by his teammates. After an outstanding junior career Weller moved from Burnie, Tasmania to join AFL expansion club, the Gold Coast Suns as a 17 year-old. At 18 years of age Weller was voted into the Gold Coast Suns eight player leadership group in January 2011. Three months later in April 2011 Weller made his AFL debut and he went on to play 28 games in his first two seasons at Gold Coast, but only four games in 2013 after breaking the scapula in his shoulder early in the season. Weller played 32 games during three seasons at Gold Coast performing negating role in all three areas of the ground, defense, midfield and forward line.

After requesting a trade from Gold Coast and then being delisted by the Suns about half a dozen AFL clubs showed interest in recruiting Weller. Weller’s preference was to join St Kilda and he had the opportunity to put his case forward when he trained with the club for three weeks before the 2014 Rookie Draft. On the eve of Weller’s 100th AFL game St Kilda assistant coach Aaron Hamill recalled “Mav rocked up here in pre-season, presented himself in really good condition. So we knew by the way he presented that he was really determined to resurrect his career. He got to work when he got here, embraced the work and really understood that this was his second chance at another club and he wanted to make the most of it. Fast forward three and a half years and he finds himself in the leadership group of an AFL club so it’s a really good story from someone that wasn’t quite sure where it was going to start again for him. There’s been a fair bit go into his first 100 games, so it’s a credit to his effort that’s he’s got here. It’s been on the back of getting his working boots and doing the work; he’s a product of hard work.”1

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On reaching 100 AFL games during his seventh AFL season Weller commented to “It’s incredibly humbling, it’s pretty special and something I will look back and be very proud of once my career is over. I’m very grateful for the opportunity (at the Gold Coast Suns), it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to but it definitely made me a better person and more resilient and it helped my footy. Since coming down here it has been smooth sailing. It’s gone pretty quick, it’s an honour to reach the milestone with the mighty Saints.”2

Maverick Weller was born on 13 February 1992, he grew up in Burnie, Tasmania, the son of Daryn and Judith, he has an older brother Tyson and younger brother Lachlan who has played 39 games for the Fremantle Dockers after making his AFL debut in 2015. Maverick’s parents were fans of the 1986 movie Top Gun in which Tom Cruise starred as Lieutenant Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, which contributed to the choice of name for their second son.

As a 15 year old Maverick played senior football in Tasmania with the Burnie Dockers during 2007. The experience of playing against grown men and competing against players who were bigger than him proved to be valuable. At junior level he was one of the bigger midfielders and he used his body to great effect to win contested possessions.

Weller played three games for Tasmania at the 2007 Under-16 National Championships, averaging 9.7 kicks, 9.3 handballs and 5.0 marks, with a disposal efficiency of 70.2%. In the Official AFL Records Weller was named in Tasmania’s best players in two of his three games.

Weller was a member of the AIS-AFL Academy 2008 intake along with five other Tasmanians including Burnie Dockers teammate Luke Russell. Other members of the intake included Victoria Metro’s Koby Stevens who is a current St Kilda team-mate, Western Australian trio David Swallow, Jack Darling and Mitch Duncan, as well as Steven May from the Northern Territory.

At the 2008 Under-16 National Championships Weller was Tasmania’s captain, playing four games in  the midfield he averaged 13.5 kicks, 14.8 handballs, 4.0 marks, 14.0 contested possessions and 1.3 goals per game with a disposal efficiency of 66.4%. Tasmania won two of their three games to progress to the Grand Final, with the only loss being to the Northern Territory by 34 points. The two states met again in the Grand Final at the MCG in a curtain raiser to the AFL Grand Final between Geelong and Hawthorn, Tasmania won a thrilling contest by four points to win the Division 2 title in what was Maverick’s first game on the MCG. Weller was named in Tasmania’s best four players in all four games including two times as their best player. For his phenomenal carnival Weller was awarded the Alan McLean medal as the best Division 2 player. Weller’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2011 said “He dominated for Tasmania at the 2008 NAB AFL Under-16 Championships, averaging 28 disposals, six tackles, five inside 50s and 181 Champion Data ranking points per game, ranking No. 1 at the carnival in disposals. Weller was a state under-15 high jump champion who has been a long-time classmate of fellow Gold Coast teammate Luke Russell.”3

Weller played two games for Tasmania at the 2008 Under-18 National Championships, averaging 6.0 kicks, 9.5 handballs, and 4.5 marks, with a disposal efficiency of 64.5%. Weller spent 2009 on the sidelines due to an Osteitis pubis injury.

During 2009 the Gold Coast Suns Football Club were able to sign a dozen 17 year olds born between January and April 1992 in preparation for joining the AFL as its 17th club in 2011. Weller was one of the 17 year olds signed by Gold Coast, with other signings including Brandon Matera, Trent McKenzie, Tom Nicholls, Luke Russell, Matt Shaw and Burnie Dockers teammate Luke Russell. Current St Kilda teammate Tom Hickey was signed as a 2010 local talent access selection. After signing Weller and Russell Gold Coast head coach Guy McKenna commented on the Tasmanian duo “Weller will supply some real mid-field grunt, he’s strong over the ball and hard at it. Russell supplies an ability to win the ball and genuine leg speed. Maverick was voted captain of the AIS squad without playing a game which speaks volumes for his leadership abilities. We are delighted Maverick and Luke have agreed to join us and be part of the Gold Coast Football Club journey to AFL in 2011. They will be given every opportunity to develop in to first class players in our program.”4  Weller was recruited from the Burnie Dockers and the Tasmanian Under 18s team. During 2009 Weller and Russell were Year 11 students at Marist Regional College, they both completed their high school education in 2010 at Helensville High School, where AFL Queensland runs a centre of excellence.

Whilst 2011 was the Gold Coast’s first season in the AFL the club fielded a team in the TAC Cup in 2009 and in the VFL during 2010. Due to being an expansion club Gold Coast had a younger list containing considerably less players with AFL experience than is typical for an AFL list. Only 12 players on Gold Coast’s 2011 list had previous AFL experience headlined by Brownlow Medallist and premiership player Gary Ablett who had played 192 games for Geelong from 2002 to 2010, first as a small forward and then as a midfielder. Other experienced players recruited by Gold Coast included Josh Fraser (200 games), Campbell Brown (159 games), Daniel Harris (149), Jared Brennan (119), Nathan Bock (113), Michael Rischitelli (111) and Jarrod Harbrow (70).

After Gold Coast had selected their inaugural leadership group in January 2011 comprised of eight players Gold Coast head coach Guy McKenna commented “We empowered the boys to make the decision and, as we thought they would, they’ve repaid our faith. We quite deliberately ensured the inclusion of a young leadership element by insisting the boys vote for players both above and below the age of 22. The game doesn’t stand still. Although our focus is very much on the 2011 season, we always need to keep one eye to the future. Maverick Weller, Zac Smith and Marc Lock are exceptional young men who will not only add plenty to our group in their new roles, but the experience will be invaluable in terms of exposing them to what it takes to be a true leader at this level.”5 Gold Coast players voted in Gary Ablett has captain, Nathan Bock as vice-captain and Campbell Brown as deputy vice-captain, with Weller along with Rischitelli, Harris, Lock and Smith being leadership group members. Weller at 18 years of age was the youngest member of the leadership group with the two other members under 22 years of age being 20 year-old Smith and 19 year-old Lock who had captained Gold Coast’s VFL team in 2010.

Weller played 17 of a possible 18 games for the Gold Coast in the VFL during 2010, averaging 6.8 kicks, 7.6 handballs, 2.3 marks and 3.0 tackles, with a disposal efficiency of 72.2%.

The profile for Weller in AFL Record Season Guide 2011 said “Made his senior debut with Burnie Dockers in the NTFL as a 15-year-old in 2007 and played in the 2008 Grand Final with Burnie in his second year of senior football.”6 At the start of the 2011 season Weller was 183 centimetres tall and weighed 83 kilograms.

Gold Coast had the bye in Round 1, Weller was an emergency in Round 2 and made his AFL debut at 19 years of age in Round 3, 2011 against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. After being named to make his AFL debut Weller commented “Playing in the AFL is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m really happy – not just for me but for my family who have been there the whole way. I’m trying to keep a lid on the nerves but I’m sure the butterflies will come out at some stage once we get to Melbourne. I was a bit disappointed to miss out last week but I had a few niggles but I’m ready to go. It was a bad loss last week but everyone is pretty upbeat and looking forward to playing the Bulldogs now.”7 On AFL debut Weller had three kicks, nine handballs, and four one percenters. A fortnight later Weller had six kicks, 11 handballs and laid five tackles in the Gold Coast’s first win, a thrilling fightback three point victory against Port Adelaide on the road at Football Park after trailing by 28 points at three quarter-time. Fellow Burnie Dockers recruit Luke Russell kicked a goal at the 26 and a half minute mark of the last quarter to put Gold Coast five points in front, the first time the Suns had led since the 19 minute mark of the first quarter. The last four scores of the game were all behinds – three to Port Adelaide and one for the Gold Coast which resulted in the Suns holding on to record their maiden AFL victory.

After playing three consecutive games Weller was dropped, being named an emergency in Round 6 and Round 8, he was recalled to the AFL for Round 10 after Gold Coast had the bye in Round 9. Weller played five consecutive games in the AFL and kicked his first goal in Round 13 against Hawthorn half-way through the first quarter in a match in his home state Tasmania, at York Park. Weller finished the game with five kicks, 12 handballs and four tackles.

In Round 15 Weller was dropped to the NEAFL, after being named an emergency in Round 17 Weller returned to AFL level in Round 18, he retained his position in the side for the last seven games of the season.

During 2011 Weller played 15 AFL games for Gold Coast, averaging 102 minutes, 5.9 kicks, 7.7 handballs, 2.4 marks and 2.5 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 69.5%. His profile in AFL Prospectus 2012 said “Weller performed a number of run-with roles in the midfield last-season, shadowing the likes of Jimmy Bartel, Sam Mitchell and Ryan Griffen. A defensive player he won 76% of his disposals in the defensive half and ranked equal-10th at the club for intercept possessions.”8 Gold Coast finished last on the ladder out of 17 teams with a record of three wins and 19 losses, the same as 16th placed Port Adelaide, however the Suns percentage of 56.3% was inferior to the Power’s percentage of 64.5%.

On an end of season trip to Thailand Weller and Gold Coast teammate Campbell Brown were involved in a fight which received considerable media coverage in Australia. During an interview in June 2016 with the Herald Sun Maverick recalled “I felt hard done by. Campbell said he was sticking up for me. This bloke was giving Campbell an earful, real personal stuff, and Campbell was giving some back. I went over there and said ‘Come on mate let’s go’ and out of nowhere a Thai policeman king hit me. That led to being kicked out of the leadership group.”9

At the end of 2011 Maverick’s parents Daryn and Judith along with his younger brother Lachie moved from Burnie, Tasmania to Gold Coast suburb Burleigh. In early 2012 Maverick commented to Gold Coast Suns TV about his family’s move, ‘’Yeah, its good just like old times, Lachie is playing for the Broadbeach Cats this year, It is good for me having him up here, I am really close with him. Being away from family for a couple of years and now that they’re up here it is going to be really good for me.”

In the opening round of the 2012 season Maverick was an emergency, he played four of the next five games in the AFL, being named an emergency in Round 4. In Round 6 Weller had a then career-high 19 disposals comprised of eight kicks and 11 handballs, he also had five tackles, three inside 50s and a goal assist. Weller was surprisingly dropped for Round 7 and spent eight consecutive games in the NEAFL up until Round 14. Weller returned to the AFL and kept his position in the side for the rest of the season. Weller’s profile in the AFL Record Season Guide 2013 said “Knuckled down in the second half of the season and found a home for himself in the Suns backline. Weller played the final nine games, averaging 14 disposals, and showing the discipline and hard work his coach has been craving.”10

During 2012 Weller played 13 AFL games for the Suns, averaging 114 minutes, 6.4 kicks, 7.7 handballs, 3.6 marks and 2.2 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 77.0%. His profile in AFL Prospectus 2013 said “Weller filled a number of different defensive roles last season, playing on dangerous small forwards as well as running defenders. A good reader of the play, he ranked third at the Suns for intercept possessions from Rounds 15-23, ranking second in points generated from these turnovers.”11

Weller missed Gold Coast’s final pre-season game in 2013 against Melbourne at Southport to be best man at his brother Tyson’s wedding in Tasmania. In Round 1 2013 Weller was named an emergency for Gold Coast’s third consecutive opening game of the season, playing in the NEAFL he injured his shoulder which kept him on the sidelines for seven weeks. Weller returned through the NEAFL in Round 8, after building form and match conditioning at this level he was named an emergency in Round 12 and recalled to the AFL side in Round 14, following the club’s Round 13 bye. Weller had 15 disposals in Round 14 against Adelaide and was dropped, being named an emergency in Round 15 and 16. Weller was recalled to AFL level in Round 17, having 14 disposals against Collingwood followed by 13 disposals against Carlton in Round 18, he was dropped to the NEAFL for Round 19.

After playing five consecutive games in the NEAFL Weller was recalled to the AFL for the final round of 2013 and had a career-high 27 disposals, comprised of a career-high 15 kicks and 12 handballs, he also took a career-high 11 mark in Gold Coast’s 83 point win against Greater Western Sydney at Carrara. It was Gold Coast’s greatest ever winning margin, surpassing their 60 point win against Melbourne in Round 7 that season.

During 2013 Weller played four AFL games for the Suns, averaging 96 minutes, 8.5 kicks, 8.8 handballs, 5.5 marks and 2.8 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 71.0%. Weller predominantly played as a small defender with his opponents including Jeff Garlett and Jamie Elliot.

The profile for Wellar in AFL Record Season Guide 2014 said “The hard-running midfielder broke his scapula in the opening round of the NEAFL last year and did not get back to play at AFL level until Round 14, played four games for the year and struggled for chances in front of the Suns’ lengthy list of midfielders.”12

Late in the 2013 season Weller requested a trade from Gold Coast to another club due to a lack of opportunity at senior level. The day after Weller had a career high 27 disposals in Round 23, 2013 against GWS he was one of five payers delisted by Gold Coast.

Whilst Weller didn’t regret being best man for his brother Tyson’s wedding it did hurt his chances of being selected in the AFL side for Round 1, an early season injury made it difficult to get back into Gold Coast’s best 22. In December 2013 speaking to Maverick commented on missing Gold Coast’s final pre-season game and his early season injury “It probably took myself out of selection in the first round. In the end, I was the first emergency and went and played reserves and 10 minutes into the first quarter I got cleaned up and broke my scapula. That was another unfortunate event and then I just missed the first half of the season.”13

After being delisted by the Gold Coast Suns 21 year-old Weller told Tasmanian newspaper ‘The Examiner’ “I don’t think my skill sets were really appreciated there, so that did play a part (in my decision). I still feel like I have a lot to offer clubs, as I’m still learning the game, so I just need that opportunity. I didn’t come to the Gold Coast thinking I would be traded in two, three or four years, so it wasn’t a mutual decision like that, but I’m not going to play for someone (coach Guy McKenna) that doesn’t want me there, so in the end it was a pretty easy decision.”14 Weller went on to comment about his time with Gold Coast “It was the first opportunity at AFL, so I’ll always be grateful for that. And I’ve made so many lifelong mates, which would have been the only reason I would have stayed, for my mates. But it is a career decision, and I’ve got to look out for myself. The club that will get me will be the club that wants me, and that’s exciting for me, as I want to play for someone who wants me there.”15

About half a dozen AFL clubs showed interest in recruiting Weller who in an interview with radio station SEN in late October 2013 said “I had a really good chat with St Kilda with (list manager) Ameet Bains. That was quite a few weeks ago now, but I had a really good feeling there. My gut feeling (is) it’d be great to go there. But I’m happy to go wherever. As long as the club wants me there, I’ll give my 100 per cent.”

Late in the 2013 season Maverick had begun visualisation with sports psychologist and former rugby league player Mark Edmonson, which changed Maverick’s outlook. Weller recalls “I was lost and a friend told me I should go see Mark. He changed my way of thinking. I went from my time at the Suns, where I was really messed up in the way I went about my football. I used to play on the fear of failure. I was playing back pocket and I hadn’t played in that position, and I accepted that, but I struggled a bit. I worked hard, but I had this level of angst about me, I was anxious about anything really. Mark stripped it back to bare bones, really concentrated on my strengths and he realised I was worrying a lot about things I couldn’t control. My last game I played at Gold Coast was the best game I played for the club. I had just started talking to Mark and I had nothing to lose. It was a real pinch-me moment that I can play at this level.”16

Ideally Maverick wanted to join an AFL club as a delisted free agent, however this didn’t eventuate and his next option was the 2014 Rookie Draft, in the lead-up to this draft Weller spent three weeks training with St Kilda. The week before Weller started training at St Kilda the club sacked their head coach Scott Watters on 1 November 2013. Just under a fortnight later Alan Richardson was appointed as St Kilda’s new head coach. Richardson played 114 games for Collingwood predominantly as a half-back, had been head coach of East Burwood in Melbourne’s Eastern Football League in 1999 and 2000 and Richmond’s VFL affiliate club Coburg in 2001 and 2002. Over the next 11 years he was an AFL assistant coach at the Western Bulldogs (2003-05), Collingwood (2006-08), Essendon (2009-10), Carlton (2011-12) and Port Adelaide (2013).

With their second and final selection at the Rookie Draft St Kilda planned to select a player with previous AFL experience and the front-runners were Weller and ruckman Darren Jolly who played over 200 games in total with Melbourne, Sydney and Collingwood. With both players available Weller was selected by St Kilda with pick 20 at the 2014 Rookie Draft as the Saints second selection. At the Rookie Draft the Saints also selected 18 year-old Eli Templeton with pick 3 and international recruit Jason Holmes with pick 36. Templeton played his junior football for the same club as Maverick – the Burnie Dockers.

After being recruited by the Saints at the 2014 Rookie Draft Weller commented to Tasmanian Newspaper ‘The Advocate’ “I’m rapt – it’s a real sense of relief. I’ve been really good up until today, then the nerves started to kick in, but I’m really looking forward to settling down in Melbourne, training hard and putting my best foot forward. They were really good and honest with me the whole time. It’s great for both parties that it’s worked out the way it has, and the club has had a really good trade and draft period –  it’s really exciting times.”17

During the trade and draft period St Kilda traded in four players, Josh Bruce from the GWS Giants, key defender Luke Delaney from North Melbourne, Shane Savage from Hawthorn and ruckman Billy Longer from Brisbane. St Kilda finished 16th in 2013 with a record of five wins and 17 losses, the Saints entered the National draft with three selections in the top twenty including pick three, the club’s earliest selection since recruiting Brendon Goddard with pick 1 in 2002 and the first time St Kilda had three selections in the top 20 since 2001 when they selected Luke Ball at 2, Xavier Clarke at 5 and Nick Dal Santo at 13. At the 2013 National Draft St Kilda selected Jack Billings with pick 3, Luke Dunstan with 18 and Blake Acres with pick 19.

The Templeton and Weller families know each other well which made it easier for both Eli and Maverick to settle in at St Kilda. Maverick commented “I’ve known Eli his whole life –   our parents are really good friends and Peter [Templeton] and my old man Darren played footy together. It will be good to be able to keep each other company and be able to take him under my wing in a sense. It’s always good to know someone, and I already feel like I’ve been a part of the club for so long, I already know everyone and I’m comfortable now.”18

After being selected by St Kilda in the Rookie Draft Weller wasn’t concerned about not being on the primary list and was just focused on matters within his control, commenting to about getting another opportunity in the AFL “I just wanted a foot in the door and I’ll make it work now. It’s just good to get some clarity of where I’m going to be and now the hard work starts and the journey begins.”19

Two days after being drafted Weller and Templeton travelled to Colorado to join their St Kilda teammates in a training camp. Weller commenced the 2014 season in the VFL, and impressed playing a negating role in the midfield. One of St Kilda’s primary list players Nathan Wright broke the fibula in his leg during Round 4. The following week in the VFL Weller had 39 disposals and kicked three goals opposed to Liam Anthony who was on North Melbourne’s AFL list. After Wright was placed on the long-term injury due to his broken leg Weller was promoted to St Kilda’s primary list for the Round 7 game against Hawthorn, he had 11 kicks, five handballs, four marks and a goal assist, Blake Acres made his AFL debut for the Saints in this game. The following week against Carlton Weller was the starting substitute. During Round 9 Weller played his first games against his old club, the Gold Coast Suns and kicked his first goal as a Saint at the 20 minute mark of the last quarter, Weller also had nine kicks, six handballs and laid five tackles. In Round 10 against Collingwood Weller had possession of the ball when he was knocked out in the first 10 seconds of the game by a hip and shoulder from midfielder Steele Sidebottom that made contact with his head. Weller was substituted out of the game with concussion and Sidebottom received a three week suspension for engaging in rough conduct on Weller.

In his 11th game for St Kilda Weller played in his first victory for the club, a 58 point win against Fremantle in Round 18 at Etihad Stadium in one of the biggest upsets of the season. At the end of Round 17 Fremantle had been second on the ladder with a record of 12 wins and four losses whereas St Kilda were on the bottom of the ladder with three wins and 13 losses. Weller performed a tagging role on Nat Fyfe and kept him under control for three quarters, however in the last quarter after the Saints had the game wrapped up Fyfe kicked his only two goals of the game, Fyfe finished the game with 18 disposals, nine less than his season average of 27. Weller had seven kicks, six handballs, four marks, six tackles and a goal assist. Whilst Fyfe still scored a very respectable 102 supercoach points against St Kilda this was his second lowest score in 18 games during 2014.

Weller played the last 16 games of 2014 in the AFL, averaging 90 minutes, 6.9 kicks, 8.1 handballs, 2.5 marks and 4.6 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 65.3%. Throughout 2014 Weller played as a tagger in the midfield with his opponents including Joel Selwood, Bryce Gibbs, Ryan Griffen & Trent Cotchin. Despite not making his first appearance for the Saints until Round 7 Weller finished ninth in St Kilda’s best and fairest, one vote ahead of James Gwilt in 10th place and four votes behind eighth placed Jack Steven. Weller had at least 17 disposals in a game seven times in 2014 including a season best of 22 against Carlton in Round 16, equalling the seven times he had 17 or more disposals during his 32 games with Gold Coast.

At the 2014 NAB AFL Draft Weller was promoted onto St Kilda’s primary list as a rookie elevation and signed a contract extension with the Saints, St Kilda Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Ameet Bains commented “Since breaking into our senior team in round seven, Maverick has established himself as an integral part of the St Kilda side – he has also become a favourite of our passionate fans. We were delighted to agree to a two-year contract extension with him and to build on our 19 recent signings under the Saints Future Fest campaign.”20  Weller was one of four players from St Kilda’s 2014 Rookie list that were promoted to the 2015 Primary list along with Templeton, Darren Minchington and Cameron Shenton.

In early February 2015 Weller was voted into the St Kilda leadership group despite having played less than 20 AFL games for the club. Weller was one of two new faces in the seven player leadership group along with wingman/half-back Jack Newnes. Five members of the 2014 leadership group retained their positions, captain Nick Riewoldt, along with Leigh Montagna, Sean Dempster, Jarryn Geary and David Armitage. These five players had all played at least 100 AFL games and included three players in their 30’s and two 26 year-olds in Geary and Armitage. Weller and Newnes turned 23 and 22 years of age respectively later in February 2015 and were able to offer a younger perspective to the leadership group which was important given that the Saints were in a rebuilding phase. Weller was also able to draw on his experience from being in the Gold Coast Suns inaugural leadership group. The only departure from the 2014 leadership group was inspirational midfielder Lenny Hayes who retired at the end of the 2014 season after playing 297 games for the Saints and won the best and fairest three times, the equal-fourth most in the history of the football club.

In an interview with Jennifer Phelan for Weller spoke about being selected in the St Kilda leadership group, commenting “I really believe in myself. I just back myself in. I think that and the way I prepare for games is probably something that has resonated with the younger group and maybe put me in a position to be in the leadership group in such a small time. They know I believe in what I think and I believe in them as well.”

After Weller had been selected in St Kilda’s leadership group, assistant coach Adam Kingsley reflected on the time Maverick spent training with the Saints in the lead-up to the 2014 Rookie Draft and the instant impression he made on the club, saying “From day one, he performed. Whatever the activity was, whether it was in the weights room or in the meeting room or on the training track, he made sure his performance was strong. If you do that, you quickly build respect amongst your teammates, irrespective whether you’re at our club or any other. They saw the effort he put in, the results he was getting through that effort, and basically, the coaches were looking around at each other saying, ‘This guy’s got to be on our list, he’s got to be at our footy club’.”21 Kingsley went on to say “True leaders can be hard to find at clubs and when you get them, you’ve got to nurture them and hang onto them as long as you can. The underlying characteristics of Mav Weller now will hold him in great stead for hopefully a long and successful AFL career … and certainly a successful life. He’s still got a long way to go in terms of his football career but he’s taking some really positive steps forward and as long as he continues to prepare and perform as well as he has, he’ll have a long career and will certainly be well respected within the AFL. Good things happen to good people who work hard, and I’m sure he’ll have a lot success.”22

Early in the 2015 season Weller continued in the midfield run with role he had performed throughout 2014. In Round 1 Weller performed a run-with role on Ryan Griffen, having three kicks, 11 handballs, 11 tackles and eight contested possessions whilst restricting Griffen to just 15 disposals in his first game for GWS after controversially leaving the Western Bulldogs whilst he has club captain and being involved in a high profile trade for 19 year-old key forward Tom Boyd from GWS. In Round 2, 2015 Weller played his 50th AFL game at 23 years of age against his old club, the Gold Coast Suns. St Kilda had an upset 28 point win against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium. Weller had 14 kicks, five handballs, four marks, six tackles and eight contested possessions in St Kilda’s victory

On 24 February 2015 Nick Riewoldt’s sister Maddie at just 26 years of age died from Aplastic Anaemia, a rare bone marrow disease. Following Maddie’s death the Riewoldt family founded ‘Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision’ which “aims to raise funds to #fightlikemaddie and find new treatments for Bone Marrow Failure. The Vision aims to ultimately find a cure for the syndromes that affect younger Australians each year.”23 If you would like more information on Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision please click on the link below:

In Round 16, 2015 St Kilda played Maddie’s match against Richmond at Etihad Stadium, Weller kicked a team-high three goals, being the Saints only multiple goalkicker, he also had 12 kicks, eight handballs, five marks, five tackles, and 10 contested possessions – ranked equal second for St Kilda. One of Weller’s three goals against Richmond was nominated for the AFL goal of the week, at a contest between three Richmond players and two Saints in the middle of the ground at the 20 minute mark of the last quarter Maverick gathered the ball, used his pace to burst away, took two bounces and kicked a skilful goal on the run from 50 metres our whilst under pressure from Taylor Hunt. Weller received 44% of the vote to be adjudged goal of the week ahead of Chris Mayne and former teammate Gary Ablett. After trailing by 52 points at three quarter-time St Kilda kicked the only six goals of the final term with the last one being Maverick’s brilliant goal to reduce the final margin to 16 points. Maddie’s match had an attendance of more than 45,000 people and more than $300,000 was raised for Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision.

“In early 2016 Weller hosted the Maverick Weller Charity Event, which raised over $35,000 for three different charities, including Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision.”24 During late June 2016 Weller became an ambassador for Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision.

In 2012 Lachlan Weller playing for Queensland replicated his older brother Maverick’s feat four years earlier in winning the Alan McLean medal as the best player in Division 2 at the under 16 National Championships. Fremantle selected Lachie with pick 13 at the 2014 National Draft. Having moved to the Gold Coast with his parents when he was 15 years old whilst Maverick was playing for the Gold Coast Lachie was part of the Gold Coast Suns academy, however he hadn’t spent enough time living in Gold Coast’s zone to meet the eligibility requirements to enable Gold Coast to choose him with an academy selection at the National Draft. Speaking to in October 2014 Lachie commented “My brother Mav’s been a massive influence, he is someone I go to straight away, whether it is football or life in general.”

In Lachie’s second AFL game for Fremantle Maverick played for opposing team St Kilda in Round 19 2015 at Etihad Stadium. Maverick had 16 disposals whilst Lachie started as the substitute and had seven disposals in 33% game-time during Fremantle’s 33 point win.

Maverick played 20 AFL games in 2015, averaging 104 minutes, 8.2 kicks, 8.8 handballs, 3.4 marks and 5.0 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 69.2%. Weller missed two games in 2015, Round 4 with a calf injury and Round 10 due to being suspended for striking Brisbane Lions forward Rohan Bewick. Weller kicked multiple goals four times with a season best of three goals in Round 16 against Essendon. The profile for Weller in AFL Prospectus 2016 said “Weller started the season as a tagger in the midfield. He was then moved into the forward line, where he impacted the scoreboard scoring 11.2 in a seven match period. He rated above average for tackles and pressure acts per game, ranking third at the club in both categories behind David Armitage and Jack Steven.”25

At the 2015 St Kilda best and fairest Weller received the Lenny Hayes Player Trademark award, senior coach Alan Richardson commented to “Mav has been acknowledged by his peers as the player who consistently puts the team in front of himself. He plays with real aggression, providing enormous energy to the group.”26

During 2015 Weller ranked fifth at St Kilda for handballs and contested possessions, third for tackles and equal fourth for goals with Jack Lonie and Luke Dunstan on 12, six behind the third ranked Jack Sinclair.

The profile for Weller in AFL Record Season Guide 2016 said “Newly appointed to the leadership group, the former Sun took his game to another level in 2015 by adding variety to his skills set. Played multiple roles, starting the season as a tagger before moving to the forward line, where he kicked 12 goals.”27

In December 2015 Weller signed a two-year contract extension with St Kilda until the end of 2018 and commented “There is a real buzz around St Kilda at the moment and I’m stoked to be able to extend my commitment to the club. I see some real promise and excitement around the Saints and I’m looking forward to helping our young group continue to improve.”28

St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson was full of praise for Maverick and the impact he made during his first two years at St Kilda, commenting “In his two years so far, Maverick has proven himself to be an integral part of our team and we are delighted to have him commit to a two-year contract extension. Maverick is an impressive player and strong character, proven by his rise from the rookie list to the leadership group in less than 12 months.”29

In December 2015 Weller elaborated on comments he made about Gold Coast and their head coach Guy McKenna shortly after leaving the club, saying “I was just asked a question – how I felt about my last year at the Gold Coast Suns. I just didn’t enjoy it, just because of injury, I was a bit out of form and that sort of stuff. There was nothing spiteful towards Guy. I’ve got the utmost respect for him, and the club as well. They gave me the shot to live my AFL dream and I’m very grateful for that. [The story] was sort of a bit bended, and it is what it is.”30

Weller continued playing as a forward in 2016 and was named in St Kilda’s best players in their 29 point win against Collingwood at MCG in Round 3. Weller had 11 kicks, eight handballs, took six marks, two marks inside 50 and kicked an equal team-high three goals – all from set-shots.

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In an extensive article published in the Herald Sun on 1 July 2016 Weller spoke about his career to date as well as the impact visualisation has had in changing his mindset. Aware that some people reading the article might consider him arrogant or self-absorbed Maverick commented “I don’t care, I only care what my inner circle thinks and that’s my family, my friends, my footy club, my coach. They know what I’m like. I care about kids and I care about the club and I’m driven. I don’t really care what other people think. Some people don’t get it right. Some people just talk about themselves. All I know is this works for me. A lot of people might think ‘what’s he doing’, but I don’t care.”31

During the interview Weller spoke about the difference being positive had made, saying “The power of thinking you’ve got it before you’ve got it. That vision I wrote in 2013. I was 21. I didn’t have anything to my name and now I’ve set myself up. I went from being delisted, having nothing really, and I’ve just bought my third house, have found my best mate in Sammie (girlfriend) and I’ve started giving back to charities.”32

Weller was one of St Kilda’s best players in their three point upset win against Geelong In Round 14 at Etihad Stadium, having nine kicks, 10 handballs, seven marks, an equal team-high six tackles, four inside 50’s, 15 pressure acts, two goal assists and kicked two goals.

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In Round 17 against Melbourne Weller received the first Brownlow Medal votes of his career in his 84th AFL game. Weller received the two votes for his performance with nine kicks, seven handballs, six marks including a game-high four contested marks and kicked three goals to set new career-highs in the latter two categories.

Against the Western Bulldogs in Round 18 Weller had a season-high 22 disposals comprised of 13 kicks and nine handballs in the upset 15 point victory at Etihad Stadium. Weller also had eight marks, an equal team-high five inside 50s, a game-high four contested marks and kicked a goal. Weller’s four contested marks was a new career-high and in fact the first time he had taken multiple contested marks in a game. Contested marking became a strength of Weller’s late in the 2016 season and in all three games from Round 19 to Round 21 Weller took two contested marks in each game. Amazingly after taking only 15 contested marks during his first 84 games Weller took a total of 10 contested marks in his next four games.

Weller was one of eight St Kilda players to play 22 games in 2016, he averaged 102 minutes, 8.1 kicks, 8.2 handballs, 3.9 marks and 3.8 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 66.3%. Weller ranked fourth for goals at St Kilda with 24, and fifth for contested possessions, score involvements and tackles and equal sixth for goal assists. Weller finished seventh in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 117 votes, only 10 votes behind Leigh Montagna in fourth place and 15 votes ahead of Tom Hickey in eighth place. Highlighting how consistently Weller performed the role he was asked to by the Saints he polled best and fairest votes in 20 of his 22 games during 2016.

The profile for Weller in AFL Prospectus 2017 said “Weller had a breakout season, playing every game for the first time in his career. Moving into a mid-forward role, he rated above average for AFL Rating points, disposals, contested possessions, score involvements, pressure points and tackles. The Saints scored a goal from 32% of Weller’s kicks into the forward 50 – the fourth-best percentage of the 131 players to record at least 50 of these kicks.”33

Weller’s profile in AFL Record Season 2017 said “The forward’s value to the team goes beyond his disposal count. His speed makes him dangerous and he can kick a long goal. A leader at the club despite his relatively young age. Weller is also adept at marking overhead, which adds another dimension to the Saints’ forward line.”34

At the start of the 2017 season St Kilda had four players on its list that were 30 years of age or older – Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Sean Dempster & Sam Gilbert, these players were known as the ‘four elders’. St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson told “Before that vote, Montagna, Riewoldt, Gilbert and Dempster got up and said ‘Don’t vote for us, we’re out. Time for you blokes to drive it. We think you’re ready’.”35 Weller was one of five players from the 2016 leadership group that were selected again in 2017 along with – Geary,  Armitage, Steven and Jack Newnes. The eight member leadership group were completed by three new additions – Sebastian Ross, Dylan Roberton and Josh Bruce.

During Weller’s first three seasons at St Kilda the club had improved significantly, finishing last in 2014 with four wins, 14th in 2015 with six wins and a draw and ninth in 2016 with 12 wins, only percentage behind eighth placed North Melbourne.

After Round 5, 2017 St Kilda had a record of two wins and three losses to be 11th on the ladder. Due to having a poor record on the road St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson addressed the Saints leadership group shortly before the club’s Round 6 game against Hawthorn in Tasmania and stressed the importance of returning to Melbourne with the four premiership points. In his regular Monday night appearance on Fox Footy program ‘AFL 360’ two days after the victory Richardson said “It was a message of it’s not going to happen unless you blokes get it done, unless you blokes inspire your teammates, unless you blokes instruct and basically get it done.” With the Saints leaders showing the way St Kilda dominated from start to finish and defeated Hawthorn by 75 points, ending the Hawks 19 game winning streak at York Park, with the previous loss having been in Round 5, 2012.  Weller was one of St Kilda’s best players, having a career-high 28 disposals comprised of 11 kicks and 17 handballs, he also had seven marks, six inside 50’s and kicked two goals straight. Seven of St Kilda’s eight leadership group members played against the Hawks with the exception being David Armitage who missed with a groin injury. St Kilda’s seven leadership group members that played certainly delivered what coach Richardson wanted, having 186 disposals and kicking seven goals between them.

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Due to an ankle injury Weller missed the 23 point Round 7 win against GWS in a Friday night game at Etihad Stadium, he made his return in the following week’s 19 point win against Carlton at the same venue which improved St Kilda’s record to five wins and three losses to be sixth on the ladder.

In Round 12 at 25 years of age Maverick played his 100th AFL game against Adelaide in a Friday night game at Adelaide Oval. Throughout his three and a half seasons at St Kilda Alan Richardson has been the head coach, Weller spoke about the influence Richardson has had on him “I connect really well with the coach Alan Richardson; he’s been a massive influence on my career so far. He’s really instilled a lot of belief in me. When I showed up I didn’t have a lot of belief in my footy and wasn’t enjoying it as much. He’s definitely got the best out of me, we’ve got a great relationship, as he does with a lot of the boys. He saw a position for me up in the forward line and right now I’m really enjoying my footy and think I’m suited to that role so it’s going well.”36

When asked during an interview on on the eve of his 100th game to describe his leadership style Weller responded “I have got a bit of a hard edge, I demand a fair bit of the boys, at the same time I am quite approachable, early days that I was in the leadership group I took a keen eye to the youngsters and I knew some of the challenges they were facing week to week in playing AFL footy and dealing with confidence, trying to capture and still play the way you did when you were a kid.” When asked ‘What’s been some of the highlights from your first 100 games?’ Maverick responded “It is probably just the players I’ve played with, I was lucky enough to play with Gary Ablett who is arguably one of the greatest to ever play the game, and then I come down here and you’ve got future club hall of famers like Jack Steven running around and arguably the best centre-half forward in the game in Nick Riewoldt. I’ve really enjoyed playing with those blokes and growing as a player as well.”

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In Round 15 St Kilda defeated Fremantle at Domain Stadium by nine points after trailing by 16 points at quarter time, and three points at the 24 minute mark of the last quarter. It was the third time Maverick had played an AFL game against his younger brother Lachie, St Kilda lost the first encounter but have won the past two.

St Kilda’s next encounter, the Round 16 game against Richmond on Saturday July 8 at Etihad Stadium will also involve a family battle with St Kilda’s Nick Riewoldt playing against his cousin Jack’s side in Maddie’s match 2017 to support ‘Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision’, a charity that Maverick is an ambassador for. Nick Riewoldt spoke to about Maddie’s match 2017 and the special jumper that St Kilda will be wearing to mark the occasion, commenting “It is an amazing gesture from the club, I think it is the first time the red stripe hasn’t appeared, so we have replaced the red with purple for Maddie’s match, purple being Maddie’s favourite colour and the colour of Maddie Riewoldt’s vision, so a really great gesture and one that I hope the Saints fans really like.”

During the careers of Nick and Jack Riewoldt the Saints and Tigers have not made the AFL finals in the same season. The closest this has been to occurring was 2008 when St Kilda finished fourth and Richmond missed the finals by one place, finishing ninth two points behind Collingwood in eighth place. The result of the two games that bookend the remainder of St Kilda’s season against Richmond will play a pivotal role in determining if St Kilda make the eight as well as Richmond’s final ladder position.

After Round 15 St Kilda are eighth on the ladder with eight wins, six losses and a percentage of 98.8%, the three teams from fifth to seventh in Port Adelaide, Melbourne and West Coast are also on eight wins, whilst Sydney and the Western Bulldogs each have seven wins to be ninth and 10th respectively, Essendon are 11th with six wins. Seven of St Kilda’s last eight games of 2017 are against teams that are fourth to 11th on the ladder, the only team in this bracket that they don’t play are the reigning premiers, the Western Bulldogs, they play Richmond twice – in Round 16 and Round 23, and play every other side in this bracket once. St Kilda are attempting to make the finals for the first time since 2011 and whilst they only have one game against an opponent that is more than a game behind them in the 17th placed North Melbourne in Round 22 the club’s destiny is well and truly in their one hands given that they play most of their rivals for a finals spot during the run home.

Up until the end of Round 15 Weller has played 13 of a possible 14 games, averaging 84.7% game-time, 8.6 kicks, 8.5 handballs, 4.5 marks and 3.2 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 68.6%. Weller ranks fourth at St Kilda for inside 50’s, fifth for marks inside 50 and sixth for goals. Over his past seven games from Round 8 to Round 15, 2017 kicking at goal has been a major weakness for Maverick, kicking two goals, 11 behinds to have a season tally of nine goals and 18 behinds, far more inaccurate than in 2016 when he kicked 24 goals, 19 behinds.

In an interview on SEN program ‘Crunch time’ on 17 June 2017 Weller was asked ‘how would you assess your year’, he responded “I have had a few challenges this year, I probably haven’t been at my best, the conversation with myself is that I just keep backing the method, that is going to come right. I am training as hard as I ever have, my mind’s good. I have had a few injuries, a few knocks but all players sort of have that. I have probably been a bit off with that pressure and just finishing off my work as well, my set shot kicking as probably let myself down this year.” He went on to say “I have had an ankle injury the last six weeks which is limiting my time out on the ground, but it is more than that, it is probably just over complicating things and over-thinking things.”

When speaking about meditation on ‘Crunch time’ Weller commented “I’m not right into the spiritual thing, for me, I am quite energetic and I just find that it (meditation) calms me down a little bit before a game of footy. A few of the younger boys maybe struggling with adapting to AFL and the pressure and all that sort of scrutiny they do come and ask me about it all, it is a massive space at the moment in professional sport, if you look at most professional sports there are a lot of psychologists around, there’s growing scrutiny on the players and you have to be able to deal with that each week and be able to perform, and still enjoy your footy, that is the most important thing.”

Whilst his first stint at an AFL club didn’t go the way he planned and ender after only 32 games in three seasons at expansion club the Gold Coast Suns when Maverick Weller was delisted he was quickly able to win respect when given a second opportunity on an AFL list, with St Kilda initially as a rookie, and just months after being elevated onto the primary list was voted into the Saints leadership group.

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Since making his St Kilda debut in Round 7, 2014 Weller has been extremely durable to play 71 of a possible 74 games. In his first 103 AFL games Maverick Weller has averaged 7.5 kicks, 8.2 handballs 3.4 marks, 3.7 tackles and 2.1 inside 50s per game. Putting Maverick’s achievement of reaching 100 AFL games last month into perspective, only 17.4% of VFL/AFL players have reached 100 games during the 120 year history of the competition and the average number of career games per player is 48.

Of the 10 players recruited by St Kilda between the 2013 and 2014 seasons comprised of three at the National Draft, four in trades and three at the Rookie Draft, Weller has played the most games for the Saints just after the half-way point of their fourth season at the club and is one of five players in this group to reach 50 games for the Saints along with Josh Bruce (66 games), Luke Dunstan (63), Shane Savage (59) and Jack Billings (56). Other 2013 recruits Billy Longer and Blake Acres have played 44 and 38 games for St Kilda respectively. Having played nine games for Brisbane before joining the Saints Longer played his 50th AFL game in the same game that Maverick reached 100 AFL games. Jason Holmes became the first American born player to play AFL in 2015 and has played five games in his AFL career to date, whilst two of the 2013 recruits have been delisted, Eli Templeton and Luke Delaney. Needing another 29 games to reach 100 games for the Saints it is possible that Maverick could achieve this milestone late in his fifth season at the club in 2018 and join a group of 123 players that have reached this milestone with St Kilda. A major goal is to play finals football with St Kilda which the club is right in the mix to achieve this season.

Maverick is one of two players in St Kilda’s eight man leadership group that commenced their career with the Saints on the club’s Rookie list along with captain Jarryn Geary, the progression these two players have made strongly reinforces that at St Kilda players will be rewarded for their hard work and diligence and judged on their performances rather than how they were initially recruited to the club.

After the low-point of being delisted by Gold Coast at the end of the 2013 season Maverick Weller simplified things by focussing on matters within his control and backed himself in to make the most of his second opportunity on an AFL list for the St Kilda Football Club. Maverick’s strengths during his 103 game AFL career to date have been his pressure, ability to curtail his opponent, leadership and speed. From the time Maverick made his St Kilda debut in Round 7, 2014 he has been a fixture in the club’s best 22, predominantly playing a negating role Maverick has consistently performed the role asked of him by the St Kilda match committee to twice finish in the top 10 of the St Kilda best and fairest and has won the respect of St Kilda and it’s playing group.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777



3 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2011, 6th edition, page 159.



6 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2011, page 263


8 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2012, 7th edition, page 164


10 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2013, page 169

11 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2013, 8th edition, page 180

12 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2014, page 303













25 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2016, 11th edition, page 324.


27 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2016, page 301






33 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2017, 12th edition, page 326

34 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2017, page 301



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