Nestled 211 km north of Melbourne is a town with a population of roughly 10,000 people.
Benalla has been the home to a few AFL footballers in its time but more recently the likes of Brisbane’s Tom Rockliff and North Melbourne’s Jarrad Waite have called the country town home.
Add to that Carlton’s latest Rising Star nominee and the town will have a stake in the AFL system for another generation.
Caleb Marchbank received the nomination after his 21-disposal effort in the Blues win against Sydney on Saturday.
Hailing from Benalla, the 20-year-old had regular contact with the former Lions skipper when he returned home during the off-season.
“Caleb is obviously a fair bit younger than me but my cousins Harry and Charlie Morrison grew up with him — Harry’s on Hawthorn’s list now — so I always stayed in contact,” Rockliff told Aflplayers.com.au.
“He comes from a really good family — my brother and Caleb’s old man did a fair bit of work together in the trade industry as well.
“Every time I went home I tried to catch up with him and Harry, the two of them always had the ambition of getting drafted, so I’d invite them down to have a kick with me particularly when it’s the off-season and it’s hard to find people to have a kick or train with you.
“It was good for me but I think they got something out of it as well.”
When Marchbank was drafted by the Giants with pick six in the 2014 draft, Rockliff knew the challenges the teenager would face moving from a small country town to an interstate city and made sure to make himself available to talk through any issues.
“I spoke to him a few times about adapting to life away from home,” Rockliff added.
“Being from country Victoria, it’s quite a big change. I was lucky that I went to Brisbane which is a country-type city, it’s not as hectic as what Sydney would’ve been.
“I tried to talk through my experiences and what worked best to take his mind off what your mates are doing back home.
“He probably didn’t settle as well as he would’ve liked so the move back to Victoria has been really good for him and I think he’s starting to thrive in that role down back for the Blues. He’ll only go from strength to strength.”
Rockliff credits the families and volunteers that keep the sport scene thriving in Benalla for the amount of talent coming out of the area in recent years. And it’s not just quality talent making it to the elite level, with Marchbank also fitting the bill as a person.
“He’s a great fella. He’s probably a little bit shy at first but when you get to know him, he’s a great bloke who you’d enjoy spending time with,” Rockliff said.
“He’s a very generous young guy. There’s a lot of similarities between Caleb and Harry, they’re pretty quiet but once they get comfortable they’ll come out of their shell and their personalities blossom.”
And while Marchbank continues to improve as his confidence grows each week, Rockliff — who is yet to play in an AFL match against the Benalla youngster — doesn’t want the key defender to excel against the Lions when the two meet in Round 18.
“I don’t think he’d say much on the field. I might throw a little bit his way just to get him off his game so we can get the result.”