When Sam Butler came into the system, he had to adapt quickly.
He didn’t play as much Australian Rules as other – preferring the round ball over the sherrin in his younger days – but when a career at the West Coast Eagles eventuated at the end of 2003, he didn’t take long to get the hang of it, according to former teammate Beau Waters.
“He was a super talent. He hadn’t played much footy when he came into the system but was able to get up to speed pretty quickly,” Waters told Aflplayers.com.au.
“Where I thought I was ahead of him in certain things, it wouldn’t take long for him to surpass me because he hadn’t really done them before – they were mainly things in the gym and he leap-frogged me pretty quickly.”
Butler will feature in his 150th AFL game this weekend 12 years and 42 days after making his debut, the seventh longest wait of any player to reach the milestone. At the end of Waters’ playing career in 2015, the duo had played 120 games each for the Eagles but only 42 of those matches were spent on the ground together due to rampant injury woes throughout their respective careers.
But before their time at the Eagles began following the 2003 draft, Butler and Waters already had a history together on the field.
Hailing from South Australia, the pair played under-16s, under-18s and went to Ireland together as part of the AIS Academy in their junior days.
Waters said there was also a rivalry between them early on before becoming close mates not long after arriving at the Eagles.
“He’s one of the guys you gravitate towards because he always says the right things at the right times” – Waters on Butler
“He was almost like a nemesis to begin with, he was from far north and I’m from far south so it was always West Adelaide versus Central Districts.
“We lived in each other’s pockets to start with. We spent numerous nights at each other’s host families and then we moved in together for 12 to 18 months. It was really handy having someone who was the same age and going through the same things.
“I can outwardly say, he is one of, if not, my best mate in the entire world, he’s just an absolute rock star.
The two frequently trained together and pushed themselves for excellence which Waters believes significantly contributed to the duo slotting into the side early on in their careers and culminating in a premiership medallion in 2006.
While his on-field exploits may not be fully understood in the wider AFL community, Butler has a couple of underrated traits as a player and as a person.
“On field, he’s a fantastic decision-maker. One stat that has always rung true for Sammy is his disposal efficiency. While he hasn’t always gotten the most metres gained, he’s a really astute decision-maker and I think that extends back to his early soccer career where you want to control possession so that’s the way he plays his footy, particularly down back,” Waters said.
“He’s also a selfless team man. If he ever thought someone was genuinely better than him, he’d give them his spot. He’s one of the guys you gravitate towards because he always says the right things at the right times – he’s not always out the front barking but when he speaks you listen.
“Off the field, he’s a really charismatic and lovable bloke around the club.”
Noted for his sarcasm and jokey nature, Butler is one of the club’s rascals which Waters said was evident well before he made it onto the Eagles’ list.
“We were in the under-16s and were driving along in a mini-bus – it’s probably one of those stories where you probably had to be there for it to be funny – but one of the older guys was driving with about 20 kids in it.
“We stopped at a red light at a really busy intersection and Sammy secretly slipped the car into neutral, so the bloke has gone to take off and the mini-bus has just revved it’s absolute guts out and Sammy stood up at the front of the bus and said ‘Butsy yeah, Butsy yeah!’
“He’s used that phrase all across his career and his sisters use it as well, so you knew something mischievous had happened when he said that.”