AFL: The complexity behind Izak Rankine’s return to Adelaide Crows

Izak Rankine’s new bleached blonde hairdo didn’t surprise anyone who knows him.

It’s a small glimpse of the quiet confidence – not to be confused with arrogance – that oozes through this talented, charismatic and popular young man.

Despite all the hype around Rankine as a top AFL prospect during his teenage years, he’s been somewhat off Broadway since as a Gold Coast footballer.

It all came to an abrupt end earlier this month when it became clear the 22-year-old wanted to return home to South Australia to play for the Crows, the team he grew up supporting and supporting. idolizing.

Rankine made it official on Tuesday, when he requested a trade from Adelaide.

There were mixed reactions to the news, starting with obvious disappointment and even anger at the Suns, regarding eccentric chairman Tony Cochrane.

Cochrane and co-captain Touk Miller both referenced the amount of work Gold Coast put in to help Rankine overcome his early injury struggles, but also to develop him as a player and a person.

There is angst over not seeing the fruits of that labor, beyond the classy striker’s 2022 season, which included 29 goals and a personal-best 10th-place finish in the Suns’ club champion award. .

But with that disappointment comes excitement in other quarters, including from Rankine’s family, the Crows and West Adelaide who guided him in his youth.

There is also some apprehension.

Rankine had what can only be described as a difficult upbringing, including but not limited to his parents, Ronald and Kerry, separating.

His relationship with his father is complicated and there were periods before he was drafted that oscillated between living at home or with his older brother Matt, one of six siblings.

Rankine took on additional responsibilities and West Adelaide and Henley High School, particularly Ben Kane, who ran the school’s football academy, did their part to ensure there was structure in his life.

“I was happy he was drafted out of South Australia,” Rankine’s West Adelaide League coach Gavin Colville told News Corp.

“I thought he would definitely benefit from being out of the Adelaide Aquarium, so I think that was a good thing.

“All my contacts with Izak tell me he’s had really strong support on the Gold Coast and it’s been a really good experience for him…I just hope it works out for him, because it’s a very good boy.”

AFL scouts who spoke to News Corp on condition of anonymity echoed Colville’s sentiments that the interstate move was for the best.

Rankine conducted pre-draft interviews with his father and others on his own. In the solos, he too talked about how good it would be for him to get out of Adelaide.

A talent scout left an interview for Rankine thinking his father would have a hard time for his son to leave.

Former Suns football boss Jon Haines was heavily involved in Rankine’s first three seasons in the AFL system before leaving the club at the end of last year.

They did their due diligence before the draft, then invested more once he became a Gold Coast player.

Rival scouts knew there was a risk of going home with Rankine, but believed the Suns’ streak of picks in the 2018 draft — Nos. 2, 3 and 7 — meant he was absolutely worth a shot. grace on talent alone.

“Once we selected it, we just wanted to understand as much as possible,” Haines said.

“Like everything, understanding a person’s background and situation makes it easier to help, whether individually or as a club, and that was our goal.

“There was a lot of time and energy put into this, but it was welcomed and educational on both sides.

“We learned as much about ourselves and what we needed to do to support our players, as much as we learned about Izak.”

Gold Coast’s overall approach with Rankine was to surround him with positivity, and Haines saw “enormous” personal growth in him.

Rankine has often spoken to the Suns about wanting to use his profile as an AFL footballer to make a difference in the Indigenous community.

THE TALENT

Ex-Crow Jason Porplyzia, who was previously West Adelaide’s talent manager, still fondly recalls an Under-16 game where Rankine scored all six goals for the team and had almost as many behinds .

Colville’s most vivid memory is of a stint during Rankine’s draft year, when he ridiculed 159-game AFL defender Jasper Pittard, who was playing in Port Adelaide reserves that that day.

Rankine charged over the Sherrin and left Pittard in his dust before scoring a goal, although the defender was in a decent position to get him out of bounds.

“To see someone of Pittard’s quality being taken to school by Izak was amazing – he was too fast for him,” Colville said.

“Izak has the ability to run with the ball, just as fast as he does without it. It just looked ridiculously easy… nobody else would have scored a goal from that.

Then, of course, there was Rankine’s game-winning performance against Victoria Metro for the South Australia Under-18 team.

The child prodigy scored three of his five goals before halfway through the first quarter, including a bizarre mid-air finish, to help the South Australians coached by Tony Bamford wow the Victorians.

“He’s definitely one out of the box. You don’t get a lot of such talented players in a number of different sports – he was a great basketball player as well,” Bamford said.

“We didn’t have to do anything from a skill-building perspective because he was already more skilled than half the guys who played in the AFL.

“It was just a matter of making sure he played a part in the team, which he did very well for us.”

Haines, Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew and co. also have a habit of shaking their heads at Rankine’s natural gifts, from practice to games.

THE PERSON

His teammates, young and old, have always been drawn to Rankine, whom Porplyzia calls “carefree” and a little cheeky.

“I think he’s kind of in the limelight. He likes the wait,” said Porplyzia, who played 130 games for the Crows from 2006 to 2014.

“He certainly did when he was a kid. He loved playing in the big games and the big moments – he thrives on that stuff.

“There’s a bit of glare about him.”

There are few concerns about how Rankine will handle the heightened expectations and attention as an Adelaide footballer, given that off-field issues never seemed to bother him when playing.

His ability to ‘disconnect’ from football has also impressed Colville, a quality he believes will stand him in good stead throughout his AFL career.

Haines was also impressed with Rankine’s adaptability and infectious personality.

“He had a shyness (when he first arrived) but also an energy and a charisma that kind of contradicted that shyness,” Haines said.

“It didn’t take him long to adapt to the environment and build relationships with people and staff in particular. He adapted quite quickly to the environment.

THE FUTURE

Rankine has yet to publicly respond to his trade request, but much of the attention elsewhere has so far focused on his salary.

Cochrane even used the phrase “money talks” in a farewell clip to Rankine.

Some outlets are confident he will receive somewhere in the $800,000 per season, while others have it closer to $700,000.

Gold Coast’s long-term offer was worth about $650,000 a year. Either way, Rankine will be generously rewarded.

There have been glimpses this year of the player he could become, but both Bamford and Porplyzia hope the Crows use him more in midfield.

They think he can turn into a Shai Bolton or Connor Rozee-type player who starts forward but influences play with bursts in midfield.

“I even said it to the Gold Coast two years ago,” Bamford said.

“I said, ‘If you want more Izak; you have to give him a sniff around the ball”.

“Don’t leave him as a small forward, because it’s like leaving a Porsche on the main street, where you can only go 60 km per hour. Put him on the highway and let him go.

The biggest unknown is how this situation unfolds off the pitch.

The hope is that Adelaide is fully prepared for the complexities that could and are likely to arise. But Rankine reconnecting with family and friends is also seen as a big positive.

Either way, the general consensus is that the 22-year-old version of Rankine will be much better equipped to deal with any potential challenges.

“There’s no question about it,” Haines said.

“He’s had four years in the system, been in a really good program and he understands the AFL industry.

“He’s as prepared as he can be to go back to this football-crazed city and the anticipation that’s going to come, with the kind of noise that’s going to be around the trade.

“He will be ready for it and I hope he can handle it very well.”

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Sharon D. Cole