YOUNG EAGLE: Jarrod Brander at West Coast training. Photo: WEST COAST EAGLES

By MITCH RODD

WENTWORTH football export Jarrod Brander has the perfect role model for his game right in front of him.

The 18-year-old said he is learning a lot from West Coast teammate Jack Darling, who is taking the AFL by storm at the moment.

Both possess great stamina and running power for players of their size, and their contested marking is a feature of their game.

While Brander still has a way to go to reach the physical physique of the 25-year-old, the former Wentworth junior has impressed so far at Western Australian Football League (WAFL) level.

Playing for West Coast’s affiliate East Perth, the former GWS Giants Academy member has averaged 15 disposals and nearly seven marks per game over seven matches, as well as kicking 10 goals.

With Darling and two-time Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy firing, finding a place for Brander in the Eagles forward line may be tough for coach Adam Simpson. The Eagles’ first pick in last year’s AFL draft, however, was named amongst an extended squad for last weekend’s match against Hawthorn at the MCG, which means an AFL debut could be right around the corner.

It would make Brander the third AFL debutant from Sunraysia this season. Pick 10 in last year’s draft Lochie O’Brien has played seven games for Carlton since coming into the side, while Kobe Mutch now has three games under his belt in his second year at Essendon.

Brander told Mildura Weekly this week that he is happy to bide his time until he gets an opportunity at AFL level.

“Watching those guys (Kennedy and Darling) every week has been a great learning experience, both at training and in games,” he said.

“I’m happy to bide my time and hopefully get some more form under my belt. The big boys are all playing pretty well, and I think it would be a matter of team balance as well. They wouldn’t want to go too top heavy.

“I didn’t know much about the WAFL before I came across but it’s a good competition. We’re 4-3 after eight rounds and we’ve been playing some reasonable footy at the moment.

“I don’t think too many people expected us (West Coast) to be in the position we’re in, but the boys aren’t getting ahead of themselves. Everyone is pretty level headed.”

Brander made the move to Perth sixth months ago to train and play with the team he supported growing up. He said he has been made to feel welcome at the club, although it was “a bit weird” sitting next to players he idolised.

“I used to watch Nic Natinui and now, because he wears number nine and I wear number 10, I sit next to him in every meeting. It’s a bit surreal,” he said.

“I’m about sixth months in and I’ve been loving it over here. I’m lucky to be living with a really good host family which I think has made it a bit easier on Mum and Dad knowing that I’m being looked after.

“I’m not sure what he was like before this year but Jack Darling’s leadership has been really good. The way he looks after you and asks how it’s going at WAFL has been great. He and Adrian Hickmont, who is my mentor at the club, have taken me under their wings.

“We’ve really worked on trying to improve my contested marking and really putting an emphasis on my running power.

“I see some of the stuff he (Darling) does in terms of getting separation from his opponents and using his power to keep hitting contests. My strengths are very similar to his so I take a lot of notice of what he does.”