Nick Maxwell can recall the moment a fresh-faced Heath Shaw walked through the doors of the then-Lexus Centre after he was taken with pick No.48 in the 2003 national draft.
“He wasn’t exactly an athletic specimen and he was very cheeky,” former Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell told AFLPlayers.com.au ahead of Shaw’s 300th game this weekend.
Picked 16 selections after his cousin Brayden (son of of premiership captain and Norm Smith Medallist Tony Shaw), Shaw joined his older sibling Rhyce at the AFL’s biggest club.
Despite being the son of former captain Ray Shaw and belonging to one of football’s most famous families, the youngest Shaw came in with limited expectations.
He was made to wait until Round 17 in his first season for his AFL debut but he left such an impression he would go on to play the final six games of the 2004 season and become a regular in Collingwood’s back six.
Maxwell said Shaw went about things his own way from day one and had to learn how to fit in to the structures at Collingwood, taking time to adjust to the rigors of AFL.
But perceptions changed when he ran onto Docklands Stadium for the first time.
Shaw had played in the VFL the day before but was a late call-up for the Magpies’ game against St Kilda, completing a rare feat of playing two matches in the one weekend.
“When he was at AFL level, he saw the game well. His skills were good and he fit in really easily,” Maxwell said.
Despite possessing natural talent, Maxwell said Shaw’s professionalism early in his career was sub-par.
Entering his second pre-season, Shaw returned to training with skinfolds (a calliper test designed to measure body fat percentage) measuring 104.
Collingwood’s goal was to have its players at 55.
At almost double the club’s desired figure, Shaw learnt professionalism the hard way but Maxwell said it wasn’t to the detriment of his footballing nous.
The two were known to have heated discussions in-game, famously arguing in the 2013 elimination final, which would be Shaw’s final game in the black and white.
But Maxwell said those stoushes were only ever about a desire to win.
“He was one of my favourite players to play with,” he said.
“We were just so competitive and to have someone who wants to win all the time, every contest and every game, was something that meant a lot to me.”
After Collingwood’s loss to Port Adelaide, Shaw was traded to the GWS Giants in exchange for midfielder Taylor Adams – a move that Maxwell said has skyrocketed the trajectory of Shaw’s career.
“I think Heath always saw himself as a Collingwood player for life and when the potential trade came up, it shocked him but it’s been great for him,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell believes the move allowed Shaw to reflect on the type of player he wanted to become and the legacy he wanted to leave behind when his AFL career eventually came to an end.
Joining the Giants in their third year in the competition, Shaw was one of the more experienced players in the group, forcing the defender to quickly develop his leadership skills – something Maxwell saw first-hand in his role with GWS as a leadership coach.
Shaw relished the opportunity of being a senior figure at the club, winning the Giants’ best-and-fairest in 2015 and being named in the All-Australian team twice (2015 and 2016).
The accolades that Shaw has since received have come as no surprise to Maxwell.
“He’s always been that type of player and now he’s getting the rewards he’s deserved,” he said.
Leadership didn’t come naturally to Shaw but as he’s grown to be more mature so have his skills and temperament.
“He’s someone who drives high standards and wants to win but he doesn’t let his frustration come into the change rooms too often anymore,” Maxwell said.
“He took on an element of wanting to help teach the younger guys at the Giants as well and it shows.”
Playing side by side in Collingwood’s team for the better part of nine seasons, Maxwell has seen a side to Shaw that few would know.
“He’s hilarious and the life of the party but he’s also incredibly caring and generous,” he said.
“He’s the type of guy who always looks out for his family, friends and the people he cares about.”
Knowing each other for such a long period of time, it’s hard to narrow down a memory that typifies their friendship but Maxwell said the 2010 premiership is one they’ll always be able to reflect on.
“The premiership is something we’ll always be able to reflect on but if you ask Heath the only thing he’ll want to talk about is the ‘smother of the millennium’ – those are his words!”
If you asked Maxwell in 2004 if he thought Shaw would reach 300 AFL games, his answer is simple: “Not a chance!”
“As I said before, the key reason would’ve been his professionalism, it was something he really lacked,” he said.
“To his credit, as he developed as a person and as a footballer, you started to see the other side of him and now look at the level he’s got himself to.”