PETER Ladhams has had two significant wake-up calls in his journey from a dreadlocked and laconic junior footballer to a valuable AFL ruck/forward who runs out each week with the word 'combative' at the front of his mind.
The first came in 2016 when his manager told him to call Sydney recruiter Kinnear Beatson for some feedback on what he needed to do to be drafted. He was told he needed to switch on, train hard, and be professional.
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It was advice that registered with the laidback Ladhams and he knew when he slid to the NAB AFL Rookie Draft before joining the Power that it was time to work on his application.
"It was a bit of a wake-up call to get that critique from someone like that and as hard as it was to hear, it was good to hear," Ladhams told AFL.com.au.
"I thought it was all going to happen, I was going to get drafted and it would all be sweet. But after that and falling to the Rookie Draft, that's when I tried to switch on and work on that professionalism.
"I'm still that laidback person, but I've had to develop when to switch on and switch off.
"In training and games you've got to be a competitor and then after games you can relax. I think I've got that balance now, it just took me a while at the start."
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Port Adelaide captain Tom Jonas and vice-captain Hamish Hartlett are the two players Ladhams has watched most when improving his training standards as he heads into his fifth season.
Development coach and Power premiership player Chad Cornes also runs a 'big boys group' at training where there is no shortage of healthy competition when working on contested marking and ruck work.
Ladhams' work was rewarded last season when he broke into the team in round seven to replace injured ruckman Scott Lycett and then held his spot for six weeks, eventually working in tandem with Lycett.
He showed an ability to have an impact in several facets of the game, winning hit-outs, following up at ground level and winning clearances, and working into space to rack up disposals, topping 20 possessions in back-to-back games in rounds 7-8.
Then came the second significant wake-up call in his evolution as a footballer – a breach of the AFL's COVID-19 protocols that landed him a three-week suspension and saw the Power fined $25,000.
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"I was disappointed in myself and disappointed to let my teammates down," said Ladhams, who hosted teammate Dan Houston and guests at his house after Port's round 10 win against the Western Bulldogs.
"I was playing good footy up to that stage as well, so it was pretty disappointing … I probably put myself first before the team, which wasn't ideal.
"But I was proud about how I went about it after that and I earnt the respect back of the lads and was able to play the last few rounds of the season.
"It made me reflect and realise I had to be more professional and think first before you do things."
Ladhams, 23, says he has matured since the incident and he shapes as a key member of a Power team that coach Ken Hinkley says is "ready" to win the premiership in 2021.
He has added size and strength to his 202cm frame this pre-season and continued to build his fitness base to fulfil his goal of being a combative forward who is also an extra midfielder when playing in the ruck.
The 'extra midfielder' aspect of his game has come naturally after playing in the role before a 20cm growth spurt during his under-16 year. But like his professionalism, being a combative footballer has taken work.
It's one of the last things he'll talk to Cornes and forwards coach Nathan Bassett about before running out, and it’s a focus of his game reviews, when he is given a tick or a cross for his combativeness. In 2020, there were mostly ticks.
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"I was probably a bit timid in the first few years going for those big marks or crunching packs … it's something I've definitely worked on," he said.
"We have that word, combative, and that's the one word I use.
"They drill that into me before games to keep me switched on and fight everything and make a contest where you can.
"Most of the games last year I reckon I was pretty combative, so it's definitely improved."