It’s been a rollercoaster ride to 50 AFL games for SUNS vice-captain Sam Collins.

The 26-year-old is set to reach the first major milestone of his career in Geelong this Saturday, but there’s been plenty of ups and downs across his 49-game career to date.

Collins is reaping the rewards of his second footy life on the Gold Coast having now cemented a spot inside the SUNS leadership group, taking out his first Club Champion award in 2020 and being widely esteemed as one of the best key defenders in the AFL.

It’s of little surprise to see Collins taking the reigns as a leader at the SUNS with the towering defender having been a member of the VFL’s Box Hill Hawks’ leadership group at just 19 years old before being drafted to Fremantle with pick 55 in the 2015 national draft.

He made his debut in Round 10 of the following season, playing each of the Dockers remaining games before making just two senior appearances in 2017, taking out Peel Thunder’s Best and Fairest Award in the same season.

A return to Melbourne with VFL outfit Werribee laid the foundations for his return to AFL football, winning Werribee’s Best and Fairest Award and being named in the VFL Team of the Year before linking up with the SUNS as a pre-draft selection at the end of 2018.

Now in his third season at the SUNS, Collins has become an integral member of the SUNS defensive set-up, patrolling from the back, and often lining up against the best key forwards in the AFL – a task he’s admitted is made easier by the daily battles he has with teammate and SUNS leading goalkicker Ben King on the training paddock.

His unwavering commitment to the cause of doing what his SUNS teammates has been noticed in numerous circles within the AFL industry.

In 2020, a career-best season highlighted by an average 7.1 intercept possessions per game – the second-most in the AFL – and 46 intercept marks – enough for a top-five finish – earned him the praise of his peers with nominations for the AFL Players’ Association MVP Award and the Most Courageous Award, as well as an inaugural SUNS Club Champion Award.

A fair indication of Collins’ impact in such a short period with the SUNS, and the esteem he’s held in was locking down the fullback spot in the SUNS Team of the First Decade, presented by Hostplus – a team selected by inaugural and current senior coaches, Guy McKenna and Stuart Dew, SUNS club games record holder, Jarrod Harbrow, Herald Sun journalist Mark Robinson, and Fox Footy commentator and three-time premiership player Alastair Lynch.

Challenges won’t come much tougher than the prospect of facing Cats key forward Tom Hawkins at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but it’s a challenge Collins most certainly won’t back away from.