It speaks volumes of Sam De Koning’s rapid growth this season that when Geelong coach Chris Scott was asked at his weekly press conference whether the 21-year-old would have the job on St.Kilda spearhead Max King this weekend, he didn’t hesitate.
"I think that's likely,' Scott said on Wednesday.
King like De Koning, is young, also 21, but with almost 50 games under his belt already, is well established as one of the leading key forwards in the game.
King controlled the airspace in front of goal in the corresponding fixture last season, taking ten marks and having seven shots on goal. The big Saint's kicking was wayward that day, but his potency was apparent.
De Koning, taken with pick 19 at the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, despite his youthful looks, now stands 204cm and weighs an imposing 101kg.
At least from the outside, he's been a revelation for the Cats in season 2022, playing all seven games after debuting in Round 5 last season against North Melbourne.
He's shown he can play either end, he can play in the middle, and his composure late in games has been a feature. He was swung forward late against Collingwood in Round 3, and if you click on the Instagram post below, it show's how important he was in the Cats' chase down of the Magpies at the MCG that day.
Impressive stuff for someone so young playing with so much responsibility.
And while stats rarely do a defender justice, unless you’re Tom Stewart, De Koning currently sits second among key defenders for contested marks this year and is just one reason Scott has so much confidence in the 21-year-old.
The coach was full of praise for De Koning this week, crediting his work ethic as a key reason for his growth so far this season.
“He's been outstanding,” Scott said.
“I'm really pleased for him because he's worked really hard, as have a lot of our younger players through a horribly interrupted couple of years, to force his way into our team.”
“So, for him to get settled in the position where he made his name as a junior player, incidentally, playing on guys like Max King, it's been really good for him, good validation for our recruiting staff, and crucial for the team.”
Critically, De Koning’s growth has freed up Mark Blicavs, enabling Scott to move the magnets more freely, and providing the side with more flexibility, something we saw to great effect in Canberra last Saturday.
Blicavs was dominant, neutralizing the Giants' size advantage, and ensuring Geelong remain in touch with the top 4.
And now, more and more pundits outside of Geelong are starting to take notice.
“He has been one of the great success stories of the year,” 226 game Demon legend Gary Lyon said on SEN Thursday morning.
“And when you’re talking about NAB Rising Star chances, how he can not be at the pointy end is beyond me.”