From the moment Robbie Gray first walked in the doors at Alberton in 2006 he impressed his teammates and coaches.
Hailing from Victoria, the Oakleigh Chargers recruit went about his business working to earn a spot in Port Adelaide’s best 22.
“In his first years at the club you’d just watch him… the stuff he was doing from the very first session was unbelievable,” former Port Adelaide player Paul Stewart told AFLPlayers.com.au, ahead of Gray’s 200th game.
Gray and Stewart were drafted together in 2006, along with Travis Boak, Nathan Krakouer and Justin Westhoff.
As most players do when they get drafted, especially those that move interstate, the Power draftees amalgamated together and formed a small group to support each other through the early days of their careers.
“The first year was a bit different because Robbie was from Victoria and I was from SA… it took a while to click,” Stewart said.
Once they got to know each other though, they formed a bond that’s extended beyond the playing field with Stewart now in a Player Development role at Port Adelaide.
Stewart’s first memories of Gray were that he was quiet and routine.
“He’d order the same thing for lunch every day,” Stewart explained.
“He wouldn’t try different things and he’s a simple foods type operator but once he finds something he likes and that works for him it’s very hard to change it.”
His consistency is something that’s been reflected in football too, Stewart said.
Gray goes to the same lunch spot and does the same thing week in, week out leading into games.
“That’s probably why he’s played such consistent footy over the past six years… it’s why he’s won three consecutive best-and-fairest awards,” Stewart joked.
Gray’s journey to 200 games has been arduous with the forward having to overcome significant, chronic injuries, including a knee reconstruction in 2012.
It was an injury that Stewart believes presented a blessing in disguise.
“The things he did that year off the field and to look after his body and get back to playing footy really relates to how he became one of the best players in the league,” Stewart said.
“Being injured and not being able to play football for the year, you really understand gratitude when that is taken away from you.”
Returning to the field in 2013, Gray changed his jumper number from 17 to 9 to signal his new beginning.
A breakout season in 2014, culminating in his first best-and-fairest and All-Australian selection was followed by two equally impressive seasons in 2015 and 2016 before a cancer diagnosis in 2017 temporarily halted his career.
“To overcome firstly the knee reconstruction but then to also get through his medical concerns and come back and play good footy, to play footy alone, was a great effort,” Stewart said.
With a young family to care for, Gray has moved his focus from football 24/7 to maximising time with his wife and son and growing his off-field endeavours.
Gray has established himself as a publican with his Glenelg pub, The Moseley, being named South Australia’s in 2016 and a barber after opening a boutique store in Norwood a couple of years ago.
Stewart said it was no surprise to see Gray thriving off the field as much as he does on it.
“He’s very switched on and he’s had good people around him during this footy journey to help point him in the right direction.”