Matt Rowell poses for a photo during a Gold Coast media opportunity on March 4, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

A LOT has changed for Matt Rowell since he debuted against Port Adelaide four years ago.

On that night at People First Stadium (formerly Heritage Bank Stadium), Rowell ran out in front of no spectators as the COVID-19 pandemic was just days away from shutting down the country.

Against Richmond on Saturday, he'll play at the same ground in front of a full house.

There's been the injuries.

Following best on ground performances in matches two, three and four of his career, Rowell suffered serious shoulder and knee injuries to curtail his progress.

Since returning midway through 2021, he has not missed a beat, entering this year with a streak of 56 consecutive games.

Matt Rowell in action during Gold Coast's match simulation against Brisbane on February 22, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Then there's 'the look'.

What was once a fresh-faced, clean-cut teenager who was always polite but shy around others, Rowell now has an edge.

"It's all changed a bit," Rowell laughed to under his shaggy hair and behind a scruffy goatee.

"You go through different moments, and I wouldn't mind looking back and going, 'What was I doing this year?'

Matt Rowell poses for a photo during Gold Coast's team photo day on February 18, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

"I've gone with a bit of a grizzly look with longer hair and a bit of facial hair.

"Mum's been going at me about the goatee and how it's getting a bit long, so I might have a bit of a shave and clean-up, but this look will be similar.

"You don't just want to have the same all the time. I think change is good – part of the journey."

That journey takes another huge step against the Tigers, with new coach Damien Hardwick set to face his former club.

Rowell, still just 22, is an integral part of Gold Coast's short and long-term future, with his physicality around the contest and desire to succeed.

Matt Rowell in action during Gold Coast's clash against Collingwood in round 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

In 2023, he was second to only Lachie Neale for winning clearances, fourth for contested possessions and laid more tackles than any other player.

Just because Hardwick’s game style is different to that of previous Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew, Rowell said we could expect more of the same from him.

"To be honest, I don't think my role is going to change that much," he said.

"I'll still be on the inside and looking to win those (hard) balls, and that'll be my main role.

"I'll always be trying to work on that spread and getting a bit more ball on the outside, but my strengths are not going to change that much."

Damien Hardwick with his players during Gold Coast's clash with GWS in the 2024 AAMI Community Series. Picture: AFL Photos

And he knows how critical it is to get off on the right foot in Opening Round.

"There's a bit on it," Rowell said.

"You want to start well, it's your first game, there's a bit of hype around 'Dimma' up against his old side.

"For me, whatever game it is, it doesn't change too much. I get out there and do what I always do, and I'll be playing the way I always play.

"I can't wait to get out there."