It’s been an interesting month of football for Gold Coast’s Caleb Graham.
Just a few weeks ago the SUNS Academy product was toiling away in VFL practice games trying to win a spot back in the AFL team as a key defender.
Fast forward to now and Graham is serving as the club’s primary ruckman in the wake of injuries to captain Jarrod Witts, Zac Smith, Matt Conroy and Sam Day.
It’s a role Graham has some familiarity with as a junior, but the 194cm SUNS utility has also cast the net wide with the resources available to him inside the club.
He says some of his biggest supporters and sounding boards have been Witts and SUNS specialist coach Kurt Tippett, who himself has played 178 AFL games as a ruck-forward.
“I talk to Tippo week in, week out, we do reviews together, do previews together and he talks to me during quarter time half time, all those breaks,” Graham said.
“And then Wittsy unfortunately went down but the Monday after, he was in at the club and gave me a bit of a pep talk, said if I needed anything let me know.
“He’s given me a few pointers and has come to a few of my reviews - the support has been awesome and I can’t thank those guys enough for what they’ve done.”
Graham said it was a credit to Witts’ character to see him shelve his own disappointment and instead invest time in helping the young SUN improve his ruck craft.
“He's our captain for a reason,” Graham said.
“He's extremely selfless, you see it on the field, you see it in the way he talks – that’s just how he is.
“He obviously isn't going to be playing for an extended period of time but for him to just put that aside and straightaway come to me and see if I needed anything, it's just a testament to his character and it is quite inspiring.”
It’s been a challenge coming up against some of the biggest men in the country, but something the Cairns product has fully embraced.
Comparing it to riding a bike, Graham says the fundamentals of the ruck craft he learnt as a junior remain the same, but his largest challenge is learning how to adapt his game to compete against opponents often a lot taller and heavier than himself.
“They are a lot bigger than 18-year-olds – they’re genuine 200 centimetre, 100 kilo guys so they're very hard to move,” Graham said.
“But I feel I've got my strength which is my agility and my speed.
“I find little holes in what they do and ways I can cause headaches for them, and just compete hard and make sure it's not easy for them.”
He said his approach was to “play smarter” as an undersized ruck.
“If it's a poor bounce and it goes to their side you need to really try to read it off the hand and try to help your midfielders,” he said.
“Around the ground at ball-ups it’s making sure that I don’t get engaged with bodywork.
“Obviously I’m not going to move the big guys and they move me pretty easily so I’ve just got to make up for it with late bumps, smart bumps, jump over them and just try to beat them in the way I can.
“You learn during the game what works for this guy, what you can take away from him, and sometimes it just comes to making it really predictable for our mids and making sure that the ball doesn't go over the back where they're doing anything flash out of the middle.”
Graham is preparing to resume ruck duties against Sydney this week alongside Chris Burgess if Zac Smith, who is set to retGraham turning to skipper for guidanceurn to play in some capacity this week, is given more time to prepare for an AFL workload.
The match against the Swans gets underway at 1:45pm on Saturday at Metricon Stadium.