GEELONG recruit Tyson Stengle hasn't played an AFL game in more than 18 months, but the livewire forward has emerged as a genuine chance to come straight into Chris Scott's round one side.
After playing two games for Richmond and 14 more for Adelaide, Stengle found his way out of the AFL system last March due to a series of high-profile off-field indiscretions.
But after booting 44 goals to help lead Woodville-West Torrens to a second consecutive SANFL premiership last season, Stengle earned another opportunity when the Cats beat the interest of rival clubs to sign him to a two-year deal in November.
AFL.com.au understand Stengle met with Essendon and Collingwood expressed interest in him, but his close relationship with Shaun Grigg and Eddie Betts – who are both now members of Geelong's coaching panel – helped new list manager Andrew Mackie secure the small forward.
The Cats didn’t have a spot on their list to select Stengle at the mid-season rookie draft and wanted to see him perform in big games in the SANFL. When the South Australian kicked nine goals in the finals series, including three in the Grand Final win over Glenelg, the Cats decided to pounce.
The 23-year-old arrived at GMHBA Stadium as a delisted free agent in November and has quickly impressed the football department with his desire to make the most of his AFL lifeline.
He has completed almost all of the pre-season program and those inside the Cattery are starting to plan for the goalsneak to slot into an attack that contains Coleman Medal winners Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.
Stengle is living not far from the club with Brandan Parfitt and Quinton Narkle and has settled into life in Geelong, with Eddie and Anna Betts helping make the transition as smooth as possible.
Grigg became close with Stengle when they crossed paths at Richmond and remained in contact with him when he moved back to South Australia. It was Grigg and Betts who vouched for his character when Stephen Wells decided he wanted him on the list.
"Once you've got Tyson's trust, he really opens up and he's a great young man who is still learning his way. He's only 23 years of age and he's gone through a fair bit in his life as well, so to come into a new environment, he's fitted in really well," Grigg told AFL.com.au this week.
"Training well on the track helps that connection and earning the respect of not only his teammates and coaches, but Geelong staff as well. The challenge is on Tyson to get the work done, put his best foot forward and put his hand up for round one."
Geelong isn’t just looking for a small forward who can kick goals – even though they need one when you consider Brad Close led the way with 15 goals in 2021 – it wants a selfless player who will run and chase when the ball is going out the other way and in dispute.
"What he brings to the table is he's an electric small forward who puts on pressure as well. That's one thing that's a staple to his game. We've seen that in the past as well and he's got a thirst for that, which is crucial as a small forward in this day and age," Grigg added.
"He's also got the finishing skills which we've seen in his short career as well. We've got some dangerous key forwards obviously in Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron, so we think if he can get himself fit and in form, he could be dangerous around those guys."
With less than 50 days between now and Geelong's opening game of the season against Essendon at the MCG, Stengle needs to continue doing what he's been doing. But all signs point to a round one return.