I’ve spent over half of my life over in Sydney, so I didn’t really get to watch a lot of Wayne’s games growing up.
But I played football with his father, Wayne Snr, who was a brilliant footballer at Central Districts, so I’d come home for holidays and everyone would talk about how much talent young Wayne had and they’d say to me, ‘you should look at him at the Sydney Swans!’
As he progressed, I spoke to a lot of recruiters while I ran the AFL Academy program and the word started to get out that this kid had some serious talent.
Everyone was discussing his ability and the fact he was going to be playing senior footy for Central Districts at some stage, then he got his opportunity and clearly, he hasn’t looked back.
During the times that I came back to Adelaide, my encounters with Wayne were always interesting because he was a very shy and quiet kid. He was respectful and humble also, and I think that’s exactly how he is now, he hasn’t changed a bit.
When the Swans interviewed him before the draft, I organised it through his father and sat in on the chat, and I was so impressed with this kid who had all this talent but he was so humble and so respectful in the way he conducted himself.
It’s a credit to his mother and father for the way he has been brought up. If you ask any recruiter who has met him throughout the journey, they would say the exact same thing.
I spoke to Wayne a lot during his draft year and gave him some advice around what’s required at the top level.
Many people have the talent but don’t get drafted or miss out on getting on a senior AFL list — talent alone won’t seal the deal for you.
I talked to him about the distractions that he may face and certain things that have the potential to derail your ambition. You have to be able to be strong enough when your parents and school teachers aren’t around to be able to give you advice at a particular time.
At the end of the day, there will be decisions that you have to make — whether that be hanging out with mates or going out and carrying on — and those decisions are now up to you.
Of course, there are some things that are out of your control, and unfortunately, Wayne faced that at an early age when he found out that he had an irregular and increased heartbeat.
From my perspective, that issue he went through shows how resilient he is. He grew up in a tough neighbourhood, and not too many make it out of there due to the distractions. Then, you throw in the complications with the heart surgery and it’s incredible to think that he is where he is right now.
He has a tremendous mother and father. He really did the hard yards.
When something happens to your son or your daughter, you automatically think, ‘How is this going to effect the rest of their life?’ Football seems insignificant, but the fact it could be taken away from him does cross your mind.
He’s a super athlete and has the stuff, but was it going to be taken away from him?
It was a touchy time, but thankfully it all worked out in the end. I couldn’t imagine what he and his parents went through.
Now he’s at the Crows, he has an amazing opportunity in front of him. The guys at the football club love being around him, and he clearly loves it there after signing a contract so he’s in a good place with his football.
All the signs are pointing in the right direction, and he and the Crows are a fantastic match. It was a little bit like when I got to Sydney — it started off as the unknown because of where he came from and the circumstances. But he got to the club, fell in love with the people and he hasn’t looked back.
Your footy career and your destiny is in your own hands. It sounds simple, but you either do the work or you don’t. You can cheat the system for two to three years, but eventually the system will find you out if you don’t do the work, and I feel like Wayne already knows that at an early stage.
I saw Eddie Betts compared to him Andrew McLeod which is a massive comparison, and I can see it.
When you watch him, you straight away can see how he glides around like Andy, but Andy is easily in the top three or five best Indigenous AFL players I have ever seen, so the kid has a long way to go.
But I can see where Eddie is coming from because of how smooth Wayne is. Having said that, I want him to become the best Wayne Milera that he can, not the next Andy McLeod.
It’s a nice comparison, but he is building a solid foundation of the player he wants to become. I always talk about the DNA that your mum and dad gave you, and what are you going to do to pursue that even further?
You’re lucky enough to be given the gift from your parents, now roll your sleeves up. In my opinion, this kid will play 200 games at least, and my only disappointment is that he’s not doing it for the Swans!
It’s hard to know what his future role or niche will be with the Crows, but the amount of run, skill and polish that he possesses means that he will become a really crucial link man.
He hits targets, he’s clean and his base is just so solid to work from. Players who run and carry and gain meterage are that important and are worth their weight in gold.
I’ve known the family my whole life which makes me feel even prouder for the kid. I’ve known his father forever, he was a great player at Centrals who could have made it at the top level, but unfortunately he didn’t get the opportunity.
He’s such a great father and he has raised his children the right way. He has given his kids the chance to make the most of an opportunity that he missed out on by telling Wayne what he needs to work on – that advice and guidance is invaluable. I take my hat off to them.
The amount of talent that has come out of the northern suburbs of Adelaide is remarkable. You talk about Gavin Wanganeen, who was the player I looked up to growing up, and we all played for the Salisbury North Football Club.
There’s a big Indigenous population and community there and that’s proven by who has come through.
Eddie Sainsbury went on to play for North, Troy and Shane Bond played for Salisbury, Adam Goodes grew up in Elizabeth which is just up the road from where Gav, myself, and my brother grew up playing.
Wayne is now another to come through and make the sacrifices to play AFL, and now he has that chance.
He’s grabbed it, he’s not letting go, he’s fighting, he’s training hard and he is doing everything right.
It’s a cut-throat industry and if you don’t do the right things, you get thrown out and tossed to the side pretty quickly.
He understands the childhood dream and what is ahead, and to be recognised as a rising star nominee is a credit to him.
RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2017:
Round 1 — Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Round 2 — Ryan Burton (Hawthorn)
Round 3 — Brandan Parfitt (Geelong)
Round 4 — Andrew McGrath (Essendon)
Round 5 — Eric Hipwood (Brisbane)
Round 6 — Caleb Marchbank (Carlton)
Round 7 — Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton)
Round 8 — Tim Taranto (GWS)
Round 9 — Tom Phillips (Collingwood)
Round 10 — Wayne Milera (Adelaide)