IT FELT like a reunion for John Noble.
Having earned his chance on Collingwood's list midway through the 2019 season via the unique pathway provided by the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, Noble didn't quite know what to expect when he arrived at the club.
Making the step up into an AFL environment can be daunting for any young prospect. But doing so halfway through a League campaign as a 22-year-old rookie, having started the season as a third-year player for SANFL side West Adelaide, can make the transition all the more intimidating.
Or so Noble thought. Instead, there waiting to welcome the dashing defender to the Pies on his very first day was someone who would quickly become his partner in crime in the team's backline. But also, someone who he actually knew quite well.
Brayden Maynard had been one of Noble's good friends in primary school, where they both attended Our Lady of Grace in Glengowrie, South Australia. They had always got along, always played footy together at breaks, and probably always would've been friends. That was until Maynard relocated to Victoria for family reasons.
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For more than a decade, they never really heard from each other again. Until, of course, the Pies called Noble's name on that fateful night at Marvel Stadium.
"It was funny, because we hadn't actually seen each other for such a long time," Noble told AFL.com.au.
"It was almost like a reunion after that long. We've spoken a few times about the good old days at OLOG and a couple of mates we both know and the people we still know. It's always a good laugh."
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Having an immediate support base at Collingwood made the transition to AFL football that little bit easier for Noble. It's perhaps one of the many reasons why you can hardly tell the exciting half-back wasn't even on the club's list little more than 16 months ago.
Instead, Noble looks assured in his defensive post with the Pies. Granted the freedom to attack through his speed and ball skills in possession, the youngster has quickly entrenched himself in the club's strongest team.
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Noble played five games in his maiden season with the club, despite not arriving until midway through the year, while he was quickly rewarded for his rapid progress with a two-year contract extension tying him to the Pies until at least 2021.
Such has been his rate of development, Noble is now set to already make the fourth finals appearance of his short career when Collingwood meets Geelong in Saturday night's semi-final at the Gabba.
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"I do feel much better placed in the sense that I took a lot of learnings from last year, as short as it was," Noble said.
"It gave me a lot of perspective on the differences between the home and away season and finals footy. I think carrying that through, even to last week, it certainly matched up again with the pressure and the standard and the different style of game that you have to adjust to."
Noble's style of play, with his daring run from the backline, reflects the confidence of a player who has quickly won the trust of his teammates. But it's also a confidence that has been built by those around him.
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Maynard has been an obvious mentor for Noble since he arrived at the club and is someone who the youngster describes as 'his big brother', while Jack Crisp was the first to take Noble under his wing at Collingwood and has become one of his closest friends.
Jeremy Howe, in a non-playing role since his season-ending knee injury sustained in June, has been a key figure in Noble's development throughout this year, while backline coach Matthew Boyd is another big supporter of his.
Those figures have helped propel Noble to an even better second season in the AFL system, where he has featured in 16 of the club's 18 games to become a reliable mainstay in its backline.
"The most important thing about those guys is that they're there for you as people more than anything," Noble said.
"I couldn't speak highly enough of the club and the backline group in particular. We're a team within a team and that stands on and off the field.
"The support that's around me and everyone at this club is amazing and that certainly feeds the confidence of an individual to perform and to get to the level that you need to in order to play in the AFL and particularly in finals."
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But if being reunited with Maynard was the first thing on Noble's agenda when he arrived at Collingwood, the next item to tick off coincidentally happens to be the scheduling of yet another reunion. This time, one with his father.
Should the Pies cause another finals upset and defeat Geelong on Saturday night, the next obstacle on its way to the premiership would be Brisbane in a preliminary final – where his dad, David, is the club's head of football.
Needless to say, it's a scenario that has already crossed the youngster's mind.
"It's there … it's definitely there," Noble laughed.
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"But it's one of those external talking points. I'm more focused on getting the job done this week, then hopefully we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
"It would be amazing to get there, but we've got a big job to do this week. It's going to be a good challenge."