I first met Jack over a decade ago through our involvement with the Murray Bushrangers in the TAC Cup (now known as the NAB League). Although he was living in Melbourne at the time, attending boarding school at Caulfield Grammar, he would join us on game day.
He was a bit on the outer when he first arrived but his football traits shone through. He came to the ‘Bushies’ with a big reputation but he worked incredibly hard. In his first game for the Bushies he kicked five or six goals – it was a pretty big entrance!
‘Ziebs’ was humble and reserved when he joined our club. From our time together there, I would never have expected him to one day go on to captain an AFL club. Looking back now I think it’s more because he didn’t train with us that he sat back, but on the field he helped lead us to a junior premiership.
We were both lucky enough to be drafted to North Melbourne together in 2008 – Ziebs with their first overall pick (No.9) and myself with their second (No.27).
I remember before we were going through the club for the first time we organised to meet at a petrol station around the corner from Arden Street so that we could walk through the doors together.
We were really lucky in that sense, we were never alone. It’s been that way the whole time and we’ve been best mates ever since.
Ziebs and I had different starts to our careers. It’s fair to say he was quite unfit when he first arrived at North.
We had a time trial in the early days and I remember (then coach) Dean Laidley saying to Jack that he just had to get through the 3km and it didn’t matter what time he ran but that the club could work with it.
Ziebs almost finished dead last and ‘Laids’ gave him a spray in front of the whole group – it was quite the introduction to the AFL.
We helped each other settle into life at North Melbourne and we were lucky to have each other’s support. Ziebs had lived out of home for a few years having experienced life as a boarder and I was quite naïve in that sense.
He looked after me with everything that comes with living out of home and I would repay the favour by driving him around because he was only 17.
That’s how our friendship started and it’s grown from there, especially in the past few years as we’ve become senior players.
Our friendship started off like every draftee – we just wanted to get games of footy.
At the start of our careers we’d both get in trouble for trying to kick the footy to each other all the time.
It’s changed now, we’re a lot harder on each other and it’s water off a ducks back.
We’re able to be brutally honest and provide constructive feedback without changing our friendship.
Ziebs is your typical lad. He loves hanging out with his mates and is always doing something or catching up with someone.
But, he’s got a softer side too.
His favourite actor is Hilary Duff and I remember when we first became mates how he’d told me the only concert that he’d ever attended was hers. I couldn’t believe it!
On the field he’s this big, tough footballer but away from that he’s got a nurturing and playful side to him.
Often the commentators say how lucky he is to have reached 200 games because of the way he plays footy and the severe injuries he’s had but I don’t see it like that.
Ziebs is the type of guy who will try and push through anything to help his teammates and that’s been on show the whole way through his career from under-18s to being appointed captain at North Melbourne.
When he was appointed captain in 2017, he was still quite young but he has grown significantly in his role.
That development has been on show in the past two weeks as we’ve faced adversity on and off the field. He has the ability to handle situations based on the needs of the individual player and every decision he makes is with the playing group front of mind and to support them.
At times, his team-first approach would come as a detriment to his own football because he plays selfless footy but it’s something that has driven our culture and standards around the club. When the captain is doing it, whether it’s playing in defence, as a forward or being a tagger, no one else is complaining when they have to play that role because of Ziebs’ mindset.
There are countless memories that we’ve shared together but the ones that are front of mind were when we reached preliminary finals together. When the siren sounds in those moments you’re looking for each other because you’ve had that relationship for the entirety of your career and you want to celebrate that success together.
On a personal note, missing significant periods of football in the past two years has been incredibly challenging for me and I’ve got no doubt in my mind that if Ziebs wasn’t by my side supporting me I wouldn’t be playing AFL football right now.
His support through that time and his advice is something I’ll be forever grateful for.
Ziebs has never asked for anything in return, his nature is just selfless.