Sydney young gun Ben Ronke was a late bloomer in his junior career, but he didn’t take long to announce himself once he hit the big stage.
After missing out on selection for the Calder Cannons in his bottom-aged year, he was able to force his way in for the following season after some outstanding form in the VAFA.
Zach Guthrie was a teammate of Ronke’s at the Cannons in 2016 and he says the Swans forward was turning heads from the outset.
“I think it was Round 1 against the Eastern Ranges, he got it at halfback, took three or four bounces and kicked a goal at half forward,” Guthrie told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“You looked at him making a play like that and just said ‘wow.’ I think that actually made it onto Almost Footy Legends on the Footy Show that week, so it was a pretty special play.
“When he did special things like that, it probably did make you scratch your head a bit and wonder how he didn’t make some of those Cannons squads along the way.”
After a steady start to his AFL career, kicking two goals on debut and working tirelessly the following week, Ronke exploded last Friday night and grabbed the attention of the football world.
With Lance Franklin still missing through injury, he booted seven goals and laid ten tackles against the Hawks in a match-winning performance that earned him the Round 8 Rising Star nomination.
While the stunning display was a surprise to many, Guthrie saw plenty that he recognised from their season together in the TAC Cup.
“He was a goalkicking mid at the Cannons so he’s able to hit the scoreboard, which he’s obviously been doing [in the AFL],” Guthrie said.
“He was lightning quick, and he’s always been pretty strong and good in traffic. I have seen a few of his good traits translating already which is a pretty positive sign for him.”
But to see all of those traits come together in such a big way was a bit of a shock, even to Guthrie.
“I was watching the game and I think he kicked four first-quarter goals, and I was like ‘wow, that’s a pretty great start to a game,’” he said.
“It’s amazing for any young player to be able to put together a performance like that.”
After both being selected in the 2017 Rookie Draft, the former teammates only had to wait a year to go head-to-head.
Ronke made his debut in Round 6 when the Swans travelled to Geelong, and despite suffering a tough loss Guthrie was pleased to see his mate perform well.
“I saw the team line-ups on that Thursday night and saw that he was picked for his debut. I was really happy for him, to see him get the opportunity, and I think he did pretty well.”
And with Ronke now firmly in the national spotlight, Guthrie says he’ll continue to root for the young Swan as they both find their feet at the top level.
“I really enjoyed being able to play with him during that year and getting to know him,” Guthrie said.
“He’s a great person and a great player to play with. Hopefully he can keep building.”
After a historic performance against the Hawks at the MCG, Ronke looks to be firmly entrenched in the Sydney lineup.
And as the Swans look to mount another finals charge, the days of struggling to crack the Calder Cannons squad are well and truly behind him.
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2018
Round 1 — RILEY BONNER
Round 2 — TOM DOEDEE
Round 3 — SAM MURRAY
Round 4 — JAIDYN STEPHENSON
Round 5 — BEN LONG
Round 6 — JAKE WATERMAN
Round 7 — JACK HENRY
Round 8 — BEN RONKE