Being handed the ruck duties at AFL level isn’t a role SUNS Academy graduate Caleb Graham would have thought he’d receive.
However the towering defender might have to draw on his experience from his junior football career tonight at Metricon Stadium after being named on the Interchange bench for the SUNS Round 4 clash against the Blue.
The absence of captain Jarrod Witts through a serious knee injury has forced the SUNS to get creative with their taller options, with the 20-year-old being thrown in the mix by Senior Coach Stuart Dew to be in the centre of the ground come the opening bounce.
Known by his teammates as ‘Crab’, the Cairns product won’t be daunted by the challenges in just his 11th senior game having shown adaptability right throughout his young career.
A North Queensland boy born and bred; Graham’s football journey began as a five-year-old for the North Cairns Tigers before switching allegiances to the Cairns Saints prior to joining the SUNS Academy as a teenager.
Upon relocating with his family to the Gold Coast, Graham attended Palm Beach Currumbin State High School and was a member of the school’s AFL Excellence program.
He showed there he was bound for big things, earning key roles in both the QAFL with Palm Beach Currumbin Lions and in the NEAFL with the SUNS.
Less than two weeks after his 18th birthday, he was already a two-time QAFL Premiership winner with the Lions.
Graham quickly became known for his versatility and ability to get the job done at both ends of the ground. Not only did he kick a goal in his two QAFL Grand Final appearances, the then 17-year-old found himself going toe-to-toe with former Sydney Swans, St Kilda and Western Bulldogs champion Barry Hall in the 2017 decider.
Hall kicked just the two goals as the Lions prevailed by 53 points with Graham being named in the victors’ best players.
In his draft year, Graham earnt selection for the Under 18 Allies squad where he was deployed as sole ruck, impressing with his physicality and read of the play.
Two strong seasons of NEAFL football with the SUNS during which he shipped roles in attack, defence and in the ruck had Graham primed ahead of the 2018 AFL Draft. His new hometown club snapped him up with Pick 71 – a “surreal, lifelong dream” he stated the morning after.
The experience of playing and training alongside a handful of his new SUNS teammates, as well as his versatility, ensured the transition to senior football was as smooth as possible. He would go on to break through for his first AFL game in Round 21 of the 2019 season – QClash 18 against the Brisbane Lions.
Named at full-back, he picked up 12 disposals and took three marks in his debut before also featuring in the SUNS’ remaining two matches of the 2019 season.
A strong pre-season had Graham in Stuart Dew’s squad for the opening round of 2020, before fighting to re-gain his spot in the senior squad for the SUNS’ final six games of a COVID-affected season.
Having established himself as an imposing member of the SUNS backline in his young career, a new opportunity potentially awaits the 20-year-old in his first game of 2021.
He’s named on the interchange bench and based on his journey to get to the AFL we’re sure he’ll be ready for whatever is thrown his way.