Former Sun Jack Leslie will be returning to play local football just weeks after being named in the VFL Team of the Year.
Leslie joined Williamstown after being delisted by the Gold Coast Suns at the end of 2019. While he wasn’t able to play any games for the club due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the 2020 season, he would end up running out in the blue and gold eight times.
The 26-year-old departs to return to his local club Sale, taking up an assistant coaching role.
A country boy at heart, Leslie had always had the intention of playing games for the mighty Magpies even in 2021.
“I ended up getting three [games] in [with Sale],” he told The Inner Sanctum.
“I played Round 1 for Sale because they started a week before the VFL. Then there were two weeks where we had the bye, so I played down at Sale.
“It was good, they’re my local club from juniors and my brother plays for Sale as well. It was good to play a couple of games with them.”
Leslie would get the chance to play alongside brother Will in those three matches across the season. He’ll have greater opportunity to join him on the field (and coach him) come 2022.
They share similar skillsets, Leslie admits. The old blood being thicker than water adage won’t stop him from treating him like any other player though.
[Will] is pretty much off the half back, he’s pretty good at the run and carry,” he said.
“Sometimes he goes in the midfield as well… he’s pretty much everywhere. He’s played key position back at times but he’s a little bit shorter than me and a little bit lighter.
“I did give him a couple [of sprays] one time, we had a bit of an argument. It was pretty funny.”
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Leslie was named in the VFL Team of the Year after an impressive season playing as a key defender, blanketing the best tall forwards all year round.
In the shortened season he averaged 11 disposals and six marks. His best performance came against Geelong, finishing with 18 disposals, 12 marks, and helping to keep the dominant Josh Jenkins to just two goals.
While the Gulls would lose that game, it went to show the strength of their defensive line up.Embed from Getty Images
As he departs to head back home, Leslie reflected on what the selection means to him. It was no easy feat making the three hour journey to Downer Oval twice a week, once for training and once for games.
“For me personally, it’s a bit of reward for the effort I’ve put in for the year sort of thing,” he said.
“I was putting all my trust in my coaches and they’d put [that trust] me to make sure I was doing everything right. Now I let my football do the talking, I suppose.
“Aside from that, being able to play my game was a result of the team. We had a really good midfield putting on the pressure… we had some pretty good defenders around us too, the back six were pretty good, especially Charlie [Dean] and Harry [Macreadie] and Grizz [Jake Greiser] and a couple of the other boys.
“That was the biggest thing, being able to play my game as a result of the team playing well.”
One of the trademarks of Williamstown’s 2021 VFL season was the impregnable back six. Opposition forward lines became a fortress, guarded by some of the best defenders in the competition.
The Gulls only gave up 563 points, for an average of 62.5 per game. This was behind only Footscray (57.5 points conceded per game) and Casey (54.5 points conceded per game)
Leslie leaves the VFL knowing that he helped build something special in that defensive group.
“We were pretty close,” he said.
“As a defensive group, we had a goal of being the best defensive group in the competition for the whole year. In terms of all the statistics, we were. Scores per inside 50 and that kind of thing, we were the best team by a fair bit.
“That was pretty much how many inside 50s a team had to get against us to score.
“That was our plan, we were really tight out on the field. We knew if anybody was out, whoever would be coming in to replace him would do his job well. It’s something that we were all pretty proud of at the end of the year.”Embed from Getty Images
Before it was announced that the VFL season would be ending effective immediately, the Gulls were set to play in their 15th consecutive finals series.
Since the move into the VFL era, they’ve been one of the most successful standalone clubs in the league alongside Port Melbourne. They most recently won the premiership in 2015.
It left a bitter taste in the defender’s mouth, an unfortunate ending to an already challenging year.
“To be honest, I was kind of pissed off the season was finished,” Leslie admitted.
“We’d just started to hit our straps… we were probably ready to go and challenge a fair few teams. I was kind of just annoyed that the season was over and that was it.
“You charge everything up for this year, and with everything like lockdowns and just how sporadic the season was for us, to get in a good position… we thought we started playing some really good footy. We were confident we were going to start beating teams pretty easily.
“We had a couple of good close games… but we always just thought we were still going to be building, we were going to play finals and go really well.
“For it to all come to an end it was kind of flattening, but now it’s just time to reset.”
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