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Smith loving Cats' culture

Ben Guthrie - AFL Media  March 5, 2016 1:20 PM

AFL 2015 Training - Geelong 141215

Zac Smith is loving his time at Geelong

When a young kid comes into the Geelong footy club, they know the expectations

THE PROSPECT of playing within the framework of an established culture at Geelong was a significant factor in Zac Smith's move from Gold Coast to the Cats. 

The Queensland native was part of the Suns' inaugural 2009 TAC Cup team (the only other player still on the list is Rory Thompson) and had been one of the club's poster boys right through until its inception into the AFL in 2011.

Setting up the Suns from scratch had its challenges and the 205cm ruckman said he and his inexperienced teammates struggled to grasp the concept of what was required of a professional athlete in the early years.

The off-field misdemeanours, centering on the departed Harley Bennell and Charlie Dixon's troubles, point to the difficult nature of having every youngster toe the line.

At Geelong, a club founded in 1859, those expectations are already ingrained, according to Smith.

"That was a big thing for me coming down. The culture has been established, particularly over the last 10-12 years," Smith told AFL.com.au.

"When a young kid comes into the Geelong footy club, they know the expectations.

"That's one thing at the Suns we struggled to shape. I know they're heading in the right direction, but they've still got a bit of work to do.

"Culture, at any club, is the No.1 thing you want to get right."

He also decided a change of environment was needed after falling behind Tom Nicholls in the pecking order at the Suns.

Smith played 11 games under coach Rodney Eade and spent the other half of the year in the NEAFL. He said the last three years had been tough, particularly trying to find continuity after fighting his way back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear and a serious ankle injury.

The decision for the Biloela local (located in Central Queensland) to leave his home state, after 65 games in five seasons at Gold Coast, was not made lightly.

"12 months ago I wasn't at all thinking about changing clubs," Smith said.

"But one thing I've learnt in life is that you don't really know what's around the corner.

"I got thinking later in the season whether a change of clubs was an option for me and as soon as Geelong showed a bit of interest, and I met with the club, I saw how great it was down there and I was pretty keen to move down."

The mobile big man has settled into his life at the Cattery and says from day one he knew he was "at home".

Smith's ability to sky above the opposition ruckman and use deft taps to his teammates' advantage was one of the highlights of Geelong's narrow eight-point loss to Collingwood last Friday night.

The 26-year-old finished the game as one of the Cats' better players with 13 disposals, 15 hit-outs and a long-range Supergoal.

"It's been a really good atmosphere around the club since I've been there," Smith said.

"That's the environment I wanted to be around and the pre-season was really solid, but it's been really good for me."

Smith understands he is no certainty to hold down the No.1 ruck spot at Geelong, but he believes he and Rhys Stanley can work in tandem and become a force.

"It's going to take a bit of time and a few more games to get in sync, but I think we can do a fair bit of damage this year," Smith said of his partnership with Stanley.

"All the talls at the club are really versatile and I think we can work the opposition ruckmen in the competition over.

"I just need to believe in myself a little bit more and know I have the ability to be a dominant ruckman in the AFL."

Smith and Stanley will get another chance to work on their chemistry against the unproven Sam Michael and Shaun McKernan in Saturday's NAB Challenge clash against Essendon in Shepparton.

"It will be a good opportunity to really fine-tune the way Rhys and I play together and I think tomorrow we could be a really good advantage for Geelong in the midfield," Smith said.