When Lewis Melican walked through the Sydney Swans’ doors, his new teammates expected him to be of a similar standard to most other draftees.
Much like the majority of the country’s best young talent, Melican was expected to be offensively great, possessing attacking skills that led to him being selected in the rookie draft at the end of 2014.
But the reason Melican stood out among his fellow youngsters wasn’t because of a booming left-foot, great aerial prowess or blistering pace, rather it was his ability to do the things most younger players struggle with.
“It’s pretty rare for a kid to come in and do all the defensive stuff like he did straight away,” teammate and close friend Brandon Jack told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“Obviously you get the talented young kids who are so good offensively but ‘Pel’ was one of the quickest to pick up how we work defensively as a team.
“I remember the coaches showing us some edits of his from training and practice matches to highlight his defensive mentality.
“The entire group noticed how easily he adapted after joining the club.”
Injuries affected his first season in the AFL but a strong NEAFL year in his second season meant it didn’t take Melican long to break into the Sydney side in 2017.
The key defender started the year with Sydney’s reserves but was brought into the senior side in Round 5 due to the Swans’ indifferent start to their 2017 campaign.
Despite one hiccup in being sent back to the NEAFL in Round 13, Melican’s form has been top notch since, leading to a Rising Star nomination for his performance on St Kilda star Nick Riewoldt on Saturday night.
The 20-year-old has seemingly come out of the blue to become a mainstay in the Sydney defence, which may have surprised a few, but Jack has witnessed first-hand the extra work Melican put into his third pre-season which propelled his development.
“It’s important to know that he worked bloody hard in the pre-season this year,” Jack added.
“He made the decision to come back up to Sydney three or four weeks earlier than what was required. He continually asked me to go for a kick or a run with him.
“He knew he had to work on his fitness, that was one of things he was told to improve on, and went out of his way to seek out people who were around.
“I would’ve been running with him three times per week and doing kicking sessions almost every day — so he worked as hard as anyone and it’s paying off now.”
Melican identified a need to improve his kicking skills in the off-season and sought out Rhyce Shaw to help. He’s also become a louder presence on the ground — something which he needed to further develop.
Now he’s not afraid to direct veteran defenders like Heath Grundy and Dane Rampe on the field and Jack believes he’s become one of the louder teammates out there.
But while recent success can lead to some young people getting ahead of themselves, this laid-back, country Victorian is staying grounded.
“He’s still the same Lewis Melican and he still comes around and has dinner with James Rose and myself almost every night.
“He’s one that would never let anything get to his head because he’s such a level-headed bloke.”