THE RAPID rise of Jake Bowey should come as no surprise.
By the end of the diminutive youngster's time at Sandringham Dragons, he had flourished into being one of the NAB League's most dominant and damaging players through his superb game sense and his piercing right-foot kick.
But for Dragons talent manager Mark Wheeler, it's the belief that Bowey has garnered throughout his first six senior appearances for Melbourne that is most reminiscent of his time in the under-18s program.
The son of 85-game St Kilda fan favourite Brett Bowey, the classy half-back built his confidence and his command of games with each moment during his time under Wheeler's guidance at Sandringham.
It's that steady progression that Wheeler now sees Bowey developing at the Demons. If he's enjoyed some critical moments in his first six AFL matches, his seventh will be the biggest yet. A chance to claim a premiership in a Toyota AFL Grand Final.
"He was always one of the most coachable players," Wheeler told AFL.com.au.
"He's just a great young man. We're talking about when I first got there, as a 16-year-old, by the time he leaves he's 18 … his maturity, it just skyrocketed. He comes from great parents, he's very respectful. We asked him to come back and present the jumpers to our under-17s players and there were no qualms. He's just that type of kid.
"I talk to the players and tell them that if they're good footballers, you've got to have a bit of arrogance. But it's more belief than arrogance. What he did start to develop, as he came through our system, was more belief that he belonged.
"He was always 'Bowey's Boy' and he's always lived in that shadow a little bit. His dad was a pretty good player … he's probably still in the shadows of the Bowey name. Now he's just got belief. We always used to talk about what his one-wood was, but Jake's got a few of them. He's got a trick bag. He's got a one-wood, a two-wood and a three-wood."
Bowey comes from good stock. His father, Brett, kicked 78 goals for the Saints. Had he played just 15 more times – or, perhaps, for one more season – the youngster would have been donning St Kilda colours as a father-son pick this year.
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His sister, Hannah, is a member of Collingwood's VFLW program and is seen as a good chance to earn an opportunity on an AFLW list in the coming years. Meanwhile his auntie, Belinda, played more than 350 games and is a club legend for the St Kilda Sharks.
It's now time for Bowey to carve his own path, something he's already started during an impressive first six appearances for Melbourne. A premiership in his seventh match would add to his growing reputation.
"I knew he had the talent, I thought he might just struggle because Melbourne makes you earn it a little bit. But he kicks the ball really well, he covers the ground and he's brave. Those three attributes, you think he gets a game," Wheeler said.
"If you watched him train you knew his kick was above everybody. I've had Lachie Whitfield in my programs and his kick is relevant to that. At that age, he was doing things that others weren't doing. He had this low bullet that had penetration and covered the ground."
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Bowey is likely to keep Melbourne speedster Jayden Hunt out of the Grand Final side on Saturday night, an impressive feat given his experienced teammate had emerged as a consistent performer throughout the side's first 20 games this year.
Hunt's ankle injury in August gave Bowey his chance across half-back, a position he transitioned to throughout pre-season for the Demons after arriving as a predominantly forward-half player during his time with Sandringham. He hasn't given that place back.
His attributes – mainly his precise right-foot kick – made him a natural in that position, something Wheeler identified early in his time with the Dragons. His ability to win the ball, though, also saw him push into the midfield in his bottom-age year.
The combination of his potential, his talent and his versatility saw him recruited to Melbourne with a first-round selection last year, pick No.21, a decision that looks like a shrewd investment nearly 12 months on.
"We actually started him as a half-back. You always do. All of the NAB League programs that I've run, your best players as 17-year-olds come through the half-back line. You look at Hunter Clark and those models, they've all done it," Wheeler said.
"He reads the game so well, he covers the ground so well and he's aggressive when he tackles. He's got that ability. When you flick him forward, he can kick them as a crumber at your feet but also from outside 50m.
"He can lend himself to anything, but I reckon positionally he'll be a long-term replacement for Michael Hibberd. 'Hib' is getting to that age now where he's only got a couple of years left, so I reckon that's an easy transition."