IT WAS a tall, lanky teenager that caught the eye of Brisbane's Academy team.

Camped deep inside the goalsquare at full-forward, marking everything within reach and adding another five goals to his tally, the Lions thought they might have something to work with when they first laid eyes on Harris Andrews.

Only the club's recruiters thought they had uncovered the competition's next budding key forward to add to their rebuilding side. Not the next Alex Rance.

Such has been Andrews' remarkable run of form to start this interrupted 2020 season – and indeed after his stellar 2019 campaign as well – comparisons with Rance have become inevitable.

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However, given the trajectory of Andrews' rapid rise, many within the competition now believe the young Lion can even eclipse the defensive feats of Rance – a player widely considered the best defender of his generation.

And many believe he can do it as soon as this year.

Could I have predicted this? Probably not

- Brisbane's Academy operations manager Luke Curran

If you were to normalise Andrews' numbers this season, extrapolating them by 25 per cent to account for the reduced game time in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown period, then you can make a compelling case for that argument.

Champion Data notes that Andrews is averaging 8.2 intercept possessions per game this season (normalised to 10.3 per game), 10.4 spoils (normalised to 13.0) and has a one-on-one loss percentage of just 11 per cent.

In all three key statistical categories, his normalised numbers are bettering Rance's best season in Richmond's 2017 premiership year. And by some distance. 

 

Alex Rance 2017

Harris Andrews 2020 normalised*

Intercept Possessions

9.4

10.3

Intercept Marks

3.2

3.0

Spoils

8.4

13.0

One-on-one loss rate

15%

11%

AFL Player Ratings

14.0

16.0

Andrews is also conceding just 0.57 goals per opponent, having kept the dangerous Charlie Dixon – fresh off a six-goal haul the week prior – to just six disposals and no goals in last Saturday night's victory over Port Adelaide.

This statistical measurement also stacks up against Rance, who conceded 0.88 goals per opponent in his fantastic 2017 campaign.

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Not bad for a spindly young forward, who the Lions had targeted as a player that might be able to crack into a team that was severely lacking in key-position options in attack at the time.

"We thought he fit a few categories as a tall marking forward, with his size and marking ability," Brisbane's Academy and NEAFL operations manager Luke Curran told AFL.com.au.

"We trained him as a forward over the summer (of 2013/14) and for the start of the following year in the Queensland under 18s program, he was a forward.

"It wasn't until after the nationals that we threw him back in a Queensland game against a TAC Cup team. He took a heap of marks and he basically won the game for us, so we thought he might be able to play back as well.

"But certainly, when he got drafted and in his first pre-season with the Lions … he was training as a forward."

Having been named at full-back in five successive Virgin Australia AFL All Australian sides, Rance's absence last year due to a ruptured ACL opened the door for Andrews to take his place in that illustrious team.

It's a position that Andrews, still only 23 years of age, will now have a firm handle on for much of the next decade.

At 201cm, Andrews has the reach and wingspan to get his fist to almost every aerial ball. He also has the mobility, athleticism and an innate sense to read the play that makes him such an assured interceptor across half-back.

Those natural qualities are reflected in his footy. Just ask the players he has effectively blanketed so far this year.

Through five games this season, the young Lion has had seven direct match-ups (Champion Data notes a 'direct match-up' as having spent a minimum of 40 minutes on that player). He has held three of them goalless and is yet to concede multiple goals to any.

Harris Andrews Matchups 2020

Minutes

Goals Conceded

Rd 1 v J. Patton

83

1

Rd 2 v M. Taberner

59

1

Rd 2 v R. Lobb

45

0

Rd 3 v J.J. Kennedy

90

1

Rd 4 v E. Himmelberg

50

0

Rd 4 v B. Frampton

47

1

Rd 5 v C. Dixon

100

0

He thwarted Dixon last week and will now turn his attentions to Geelong spearhead Tom Hawkins this week, as Brisbane prepares for a crucial clash with Chris Scott's side at the SCG on Thursday night.

Given his exploits as that gangly teenager playing as a lead-up forward with Aspley, analysing Andrews' ascent to the game's best defender therefore begs the question … how did this happen?

"He'd played club footy and, in his own words, he thought he was an average club player," Curran said.

"He was reasonably mobile for his size and when he joined our program and over that pre-season, his work ethic and his thirst for knowledge … he didn't waste that opportunity.

"He was very committed and had a really good work ethic and trained hard. He wanted to get better. That was a good combination to go with what we were seeing when he played his club games."

A young Harris Andrews tackled by Jeremy Finlayson in the 2014 U18 Championships. Picture: AFL Photos

That work ethic has since been rewarded with Andrews' promotion to vice-captain of Brisbane. On Saturday night, he skippered the side in the absence of the injured Dayne Zorko.

Seeing him toss the coin, then produce such a starring performance on one of the game's best forwards, is no longer a surprise to Brisbane fans. However, to those that first identified his talents back in late-2013, predicting such an occurrence was out of the question.

Andrews is a long way from the player who kicked more than 80 goals in his final season of junior footy with Aspley. And the Lions are better for it.

"Could I have predicted this? Probably not," Curran laughed.

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"We only had him in our program for 12 months, so we just thought if he played a few state games in his 18th year and maybe in the nationals then that would be a good result for his first year in the program.

"We were hopeful that he might progress in his 18th year and be a late draft choice, but once he played some good games in the second half of the year we thought he'd probably get snapped up.

"We just thought, 'he won't be coming back as a 19-year-old'. We actually had that as our back-up plan."