There wouldn’t be many new AFL recruits with a higher profile than Johann Wagner.
The winner of reality TV show The Recruit – crowned as the best amateur footballer in the country by all 18 AFL clubs – had the bonus of adjusting to life in the public eye throughout the show’s ten episodes in mid-2014.
“Making new friends isn’t too difficult at footy clubs because we’re all there for the same reason” – Johann Wagner
The 24-year-old committed to a one year contract with Port Adelaide – the club he grew up supporting – after they, along with GWS and the Gold Coast, nominated to select him as a Category B Rookie at the conclusion of the show.
While the South Australian hasn’t had to move houses to accommodate the career change, his transition into the game has had its own challenges.
“I live by myself back home in Adelaide whereas the new draftees come in and are taken under the wing of an older player and housed with them, so the transition has probably been a little bit easier for them,” Wagner says.
“Being of a more mature age, I just need to find my own feet and work my butt off to gain the respect of the players.”
Even with an extra six years on most draftees entering the system, Wagner still had nerves on his first day at the club.
“My first day of training was a bit daunting and I rocked up by myself like it was my first day of work, but it’s going really well and all the players are really welcoming… And I’m 24, so it’s not that hard. Making new friends isn’t too difficult at footy clubs because we’re all there for the same reason.”
— Port Adelaide FC (@PAFC) October 14, 2014
Category B Rookies are generally used by clubs to recruit international players – as such, Wagner will have only 12 months to prove he is worthy of a permanent place on Port’s list.
Having that limited amount of time to make an impression, the Port Lincoln speedster is making every session count and has bonded with another mature-aged recruit returning to the AFL.
Nathan Krakouer was rookie listed by his former club for 2015, having previously retired from football at the end of 2011, and Wagner has warmed to the 26-year-old.
“We’re both mature-aged recruits and roomed together during our Dubai training camp so we got to know each other a fair bit and made a little connection while over there.
“Tommy Jonas is the same age as me but has an older head on his shoulders and has taught me a few things” – Johann Wagner
“I dare say we’ll be playing together in the Port Magpies and are in similar situations being rookies with one-year contracts, so we know we’ll need to work hard.”
Adjusting to the standards set by one of the AFL’s hardest training sides has proved challenging, but Wagner says he’s beginning to understand his body’s limits while giving himself the best opportunity to forge an AFL career.
“It’s been a tough one,” he admits.
“It’s a lot tougher than any pre-season I’ve done back home but I’m enjoying it and learning so much. The coaching staff’s skills and knowledge are never-ending so you just have to trust them.
“Obviously the system I’ve come from isn’t as strenuous as this one so you need to know how far your body can go before it breaks. Like they say, you’re no good injured, so it’s really about managing your body because it’s a tough pre-season.”
Thanks to Port’s meteoric rise in the last couple of seasons, Wagner has plenty of role models at the club to show him the way forward.
“The obvious one would be Travis Boak. He’s unreal and his fitness is through the roof. I don’t know what he was like last year but after seeing him up close this year it looks like he could take his game to another level and blow it out of the park.
“Another guy is Tommy Jonas with his professionalism. He’s the same age as me but has an older head on his shoulders and has taught me a few things.
“They’re teaching me so much and I’m learning something new every day, whether it’s about recovery, time management, or how I should be training.”