Hot Sun a Rising Star
Gold Coast ruckman Tom Nicholls is the round 16 NAB AFL Rising Star
Gold Coast ruckman Tom Nicholls is the round 16 NAB AFL Rising Star nomination
IT WAS fitting that on a weekend where the AFL celebrates the contribution of many different cultural backgrounds, a player of Fijian heritage claimed the Multicultural Round NAB AFL Rising Star nomination.
Gold Coast ruckman Tom Nicholls was one of the Suns' best in the loss to Richmond in Cairns, single handedly taking on the more experienced combination of Ivan Maric and Tyrone Vickery.
"It's a fair coincidence as mum was born in Fiji and dad in Australia, so it's great to get the rising star nomination but it came as a bit of a surprise though as I thought I was too old," Nicholls told AFL.com.au.
The 21-year-old racked up 18 touches, six marks and 25 hit-outs in 85 per cent game time.
However, the opportunities to show what he can do at AFL level had been few and far between.
Debuting in round eight of the Suns' inaugural season in 2011, Nicholls didn't see senior action again until round 10 this year.
The reason for his extended absence from the team was simple.
"It's been a journey the last three years but I was inconsistent with my form, injuries and training, so I probably wasn't ready in my first two years at the club," Nicholls said.
"There were a couple of opportunities last year that I thought might come my way but didn't, so they were hard pills to swallow.
"I'm now training harder and doing those little 'one percenters' off the field, so that's helping my performance on the field but I still know I've got a long way to go."
The trading of Tom Hickey to St Kilda and injuries to the Suns' ruck division in 2013 have given Nicholls a greater responsibility that he's embraced.
It's an achievement coach Guy McKenna greatly admires.
"Tom has done an outstanding job in the absence of Charlie Dixon and Zac Smith. Despite the pair missing with injury, Tom has well and truly deserved his spot in the senior side and has continued to improve game after game," McKenna said.
"Over the past three seasons Tom has been developing his game to the point where he can now compete against some of the most seasoned AFL ruckman and that's a credit to him and our development coaches."
One seasoned ruckman he's yet to encounter is fellow Fijian flyer and West Coast superstar Nic Naitanui, and Nicholls can't wait for round 19 to do just that.
"I've always been a big fan of his and when I was 15 or 16 and he was coming through the Draft Combine I sent him a message on MySpace," Nicholls laughed.
"Nic is a great bloke, he sent me a message back."