In the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round, a homecoming for thrill machine Malcolm Rosas Jr.

On Saturday night, when the bright lights of national TV stations illuminate the first AFL game in Darwin since 2020, two players in particular will put smiles on the faces of home fans and league officials.

Darwin-born Malcolm Rosas Jnr and Joel Jeffrey, the first players recruited by the Gold Coast under a talent pipeline between the club and the Darwin region, will play in front of their home fans for the first time.

“It’s pretty crazy, not many Northern Territory recruits really get a chance to play in front of their hometown crowd, especially in their hometown,” said Rosas Jnr, who will run for the Suns when they face Hawthorn Hawks.

“It’s pretty surreal. I’m excited and ready to go.”

Rosas Jnr (centre, right) will play in front of a home crowd in Darwin on Saturday.(Supplied: Gold Coast Suns)

Rosas Jnr and Jeffrey matured to draft age at a difficult time in the Northern Territory, when, in 2019, the AFL disbanded the Northern Territory Thunder, the only local representative team and the best avenue for territorial youth to call the attention of AFL recruiters.

The Thunder weren’t producing enough draft picks, it was commercially unviable, and “something in the system [was] not right,” the AFL said at the time.

But eyebrows were raised when the team was shut down. How would these young players, some of the most talented but most isolated from typical recruiting halls, get on the radar of AFL clubs?

Malcolm Rosas Jnr kicks the ball playing for the Darwin Buffaloes.
Malcolm Rosas Jr. began playing senior football in the Northern Territory at the age of 16.(Supplied: AFLNT)

A path to the AFL

The AFL’s response was the ‘Gold Coast Suns Academy Zone’, which would give the club first access to prospects it liked from the Darwin region.

“It’s [the pathway] it’s really good for the younger recruits in the Northern Territory, because you don’t really get a lot of exposure from the AFL,” Rosas Jr., who was born in Darwin and split his time between the city and the Central Arnhem Land community of Bulman , said.

“No one [from the Northern Territory] he was recruited the year before me.

Joel Jeffrey runs with the ball playing for Wanderers.
Joel Jeffrey was a dominant junior for the Wanderers.(Supplied: AFLNT / Felicity Elliott)

Rosas Jnr will ride alongside Jeffrey, a teammate with whom he played junior representative football, who is named after his revered father Russell, who played 50 games between St Kilda and Brisbane and is champion of local clubs Wanderers and Palmerston, and his sister Lateesha. , one of the most decorated players in the Northern Territory Football League.

He comes into the game in top form after kicking five goals against the Western Bulldogs last week, a performance that earned him a Rising Star nomination.

Rosas Jnr said he was grateful to be on the Suns with his teammate and have some big-game experience behind him on the field.

In 2018, as a 16-year-old, Rosas Jnr was named among the best players for the Darwin Buffaloes in their one-point loss to the Southern Districts in the Northern Territory Football League grand final.

“That was a special moment… and that was probably my biggest moment playing there,” he remembers.

“It’s probably my favorite [ground] to play

TIO Stadium playing field seen through the gates during the day.
Gold Coast will take on Hawthorn in Darwin on Saturday night.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

During the AFL off-season, which coincides with the rainy season in the Northern Territory Football League competition, Rosas Jnr remains a regular on the Darwin Buffaloes.

Malcolm Rosas Jnr flies high above a pack for a brand.  Photo taken in black and white.
Rosas Jr. lit up soccer ovals growing up in Darwin.(Supplied: AFLNT)

“Buffaloes is home to me. They are my cousins, my close family friends, they all play for them. I always see them,” he said.

“I like it because it’s not really like, ‘Oh, you’re an AFL player.’ It’s more like, ‘That’s the little boy. That’s young Mally Rosas.'”

And it’s in front of his loved ones that Rosas Jnr, after being promoted to the senior team in the fourth round and making an immediate impact by kicking three goals in an upset victory over Carlton, is hoping to put on a show against the Hawks.

“We want to win and I also want to play my part. The goals are just bonuses, but [kicking one] It would be nice,” he said.

“My main focus is just playing my role, playing with my attributes, and hopefully I can put some smiles on the faces of my family and friends, and the fans as well.”

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