Joel Jeffrey’s eye-catching game in Round 10 earned him a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination this week – but there is a deeper reason why the match will stay with him throughout his career.
The Gold Coast SUNS athlete’s performance was an act of mental strength, resilience and family pride.
Jeffrey was met with personal tragedy leading into the Western Bulldogs clash, with the sudden passing of his niece in the Northern Territory.
The Club left it to the player himself to determine if he was fit to play on Saturday, but when SUNS Head Coach Stuart Dew approached him, the 20-year-old was firm in his response.
The fact that the five-goal haul from the proud Woolwonga man from the Larrakia Nation coincided with Sir Doug Nicholls round resonates even more.
“I am mentally ready and I have something to play for,” Jeffrey said.
“I went out there and played a good game and I got my family ‘in smiles’ – which was a great feeling for me.
“I love playing for family and that Is why I love playing the game. I went out there, did it for her and my family members.”
The care for his family goes both ways with the 20-year-old receiving calls from his father, former AFL footballer Russel Jeffrey, every day this week in the lead in to the blockbuster week of football in the Northern Territory.
The opportunity to play on TIO Stadium this weekend in front of family and friends is a moment not lost on Jeffrey.
“It’s a childhood dream that’s for sure, growing up and playing on that field – to play an AFL game on that ground is very special for me and my family,” he said.
“They’re stoked to have the game up there – dad said yesterday he can’t wait to watch the boys live.
“The boys have been asking how’s the weather – dad said it got below 20 on the weekend so he said it was jumper material,” he joked.
Jeffrey is excited to be part of the SUNS contingent bringing the elite game to the Northern Territory and hopes his AFL success so far can inspire the talent coming through the ranks.
“I’m looking forward to getting around the young fellas, I want to pave a pathway for them,” he said, “…hopefully one day it can open their eyes and they can follow in my footsteps.
“I didn’t have the start [to the season] I’d like but I got back into the AFL side two weeks ago, I put my foot down, put my hand up to stay in the AFL side.
“Hopefully I can keep playing consistent footy.”
Further sealing the career-defining game on Saturday, Jeffrey was nominated for a Goal of the Year for his third major – an ambitious attempt over his shoulder.
His creativity in front of goal is something he has been harnessing since his junior days in Darwin, with Jeffrey hopeful of showcasing that talent and quick thinking on TIO Stadium at the weekend.