Lachie Whitfield was always touted for greatness.
The Greater Western Sydney star is now delivering on the high expectations set upon him when rising the ranks at Mount Martha Junior Football Club on the Mornington Peninsula, a club that has become a breeding ground for top-level AFL talent over the years.
Brett Newman, the father of both Nic and Josh, who captains Frankston in the VFL, coached Lachie throughout his junior career and always knew that the AFL would be Whitfield’s destination.
“I coached him in the under-16s,” said Newman when speaking to The Inner Sanctum.
“He was good, he was very good, a super athlete, whether it was cricket, football, he was an elite runner, he held the beep test record at one stage.
“He loved his footy, everything was going full pace with Lachie, he didn’t hold back. We were incredibly lucky to have him because he was such a great player. He was very team-orientated, a good kid.
“He won every award possible, he used to get up early and train, very dedicated, it was just a habit for him. He trained hard, worked hard, and everything he did was at full pace.
“I think it was just seeing him grow up with my kids, he was so much better than the others that he was just a natural. We all that it would be a natural progression, and because he made under-12’s championship teams, under-15 championship teams, the Larke Medal and I think there’s another medal you can win, Lachie went through winning them all.
“He won every award, we always thought that Lachie was going to be an AFL player. That was not just because he was super, but because he was really dedicated. He didn’t really stray or get with the wrong kids, he always did the right thing and worked really, really hard.”
The likes of fellow #1 selection Jacob Weitering, Hunter Clark, Billy Hartung, Nic Newman and Sam and Tom De Koning have all passed through Ferrero Reserve on their way to the big stage, with the Mounties becoming a footballing factory over a golden era for the club, something Newman was proud to be a part of.
“All of them probably had a similar work ethic. Jacob Weitering I knew very well because he played with my younger son Maverick, so he was always dedicated in a similar way to Lachie.
“We always thought that he’d also become an AFL footballer, we had a great football club down there.
“Even though we had some stars, the mindset of the club gave everyone an equal chance to thrive, and the theme is that they are all talented and worked hard.”
This work ethic held the then-18-year-old Whitfield in good stead, leading to the GIANTS plucking him with Pick #1 in the 2012 AFL Draft. This came as no surprise to anyone with an inclination to footy at the time, not least the man in question.
“They’d hinted at it a few months in the lead-up, but probably a month before the draft they officially told me,” candidly affirmed Whitfield.
“I’m glad they did because I was able to wrap my head around moving to Sydney.
“[The draft] was on the Gold Coast, I remember anticipating it very highly that I was going to be heading to Sydney very soon.
“By the time the draft came around, I was ready to move, I was excited about the prospect of moving to Sydney and playing for a new team at that time.
“It was a fun weekend. We were going out with the other guys who got selected, I think there were five of us who went out for dinner that night, enjoying what was going to be the start of something new.”
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As GWS received an abundance of draft picks in their foundation years in order to make their way in the league, many of the players plying their trade in western Sydney were all of a similar age.
In Whitfield’s first season wearing orange and charcoal in 2013, the average age of the list was 21.4 years, something the ex-Dandenong Stingrays star cherished.
“It felt like a school camp early, because everyone was 18 and 19 years old, spending every day together and going out together on the weekends, we formed a really good bond.
“It is hard moving away from the family at that age, when you’ve had the washing and the cooking done for you your whole life, you get thrown in the deep end as an adult.
“It was a challenge, but it forced me to grow up quickly. I took the challenge on and now I love Sydney and all it has to offer.”
Whitfield will enter his 10th season in the league as one of six players to have stuck with the club since 2013, with Phil Davis, Stephen Coniglio, Toby Greene, Callan Ward, and Nick Haynes all ready and raring to take the AFL’s newest club to the ultimate prize.
After falling at the final hurdle on the last Saturday in September in 2019, the 2018 Kevin Sheedy Medal winner is looking to help lead the club back to the game’s showpiece event, and this time go one step further.
“There is still a handful of players that have been there from the start, and we’ve been able to create a really good bond on and off the field over the last 10 years.
“It’s been great, but it would be topped off nicely with the ultimate success, so we just need to get a flag to really enjoy each other’s company I suppose!
“We’ve spoken about this a little bit recently, with us players being able to really be the first group to win a Grand Final for our footy club.
“In 50 to 100 years, when new players get here to the Giants, and they’re going through the history of the club, we can always be that first group of players to win a Grand Final, so that’s what we’re trying to do this year.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge, we know that it’s going to be tough like it is every year just to even make the finals.
“We’ve been working hard all summer, we’re looking forward to putting it all into place.”
The Giants will open up their season against their crosstown arch-rivals Sydney, in a game that has become must-watch entertainment in recent years.
The two clubs last battled in the elimination final, which showed the best parts of the rivalry in microcosm. A late barrage from the Swans was not enough to usurp the Giants, who prevailed by a solitary point.
A large part of the rivalry in its opening years, Whitfield is hoping that Saturday night’s edition will be yet another cut-throat affair.
“Last year’s final was huge, our first-ever finals win another.
“I couldn’t count them on two hands, there’s a lot of big moments.
“We mark it down early as the game we want to play early in the year.
“It’s not a forced rivalry, it’s a real one I can tell you that for sure. I think over the years that has been proven with how tight the games have been, how physical.
“It’s a great feeling when you win these big derby games, so we’re just going to play our best footy and we know Sydney will play their best, so it’s going to be a tough game, it’s going to be a tight one.”
Whitfield and the Greater Western Sydney will open their 2022 campaign against the Swans on Saturday evening, with the first bounce scheduled for 5:10pm.