MATT Rowell is a "footy nerd", but as the former No.1 draft pick prepares to enter his third AFL season, Gold Coast midfield ace Touk Miller has noticed a difference in the youngster's preparation.
Rowell took the football community by storm early in 2020, being judged best afield to earn three Brownlow Medal votes in his second, third and fourth career games.
Everyone was buzzing about the red-haired contested ball-winning bull.
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Before quarter-time in his fifth game things changed though, as he was helped from GMHBA Stadium with a shoulder injury that would result in a reconstruction and no further action that season.
With expectations high heading into 2021, quietly-spoken Rowell's season was again cut short, this time before the first change in the opening round against West Coast.
He hobbled off with a knee injury that would see him miss three months of the season.
The 20-year-old returned to play the final 11 games of 2021 and was more solid than spectacular as he found his feet again after a year away from the game.
Now, with 2022 on the horizon, Rowell's Therabody AFL All-Australian teammate Miller says he's seen a big change in the prodigious talent.
"He's healthy, that's the main thing, and he's probably got a bit more maturity about him," Miller told AFL.com.au.
"That's not to say he wasn't mature in his past but going into his third year I think he's had more opportunities to develop his off-field stuff in terms of how to prepare your body, how to prepare yourself.
"It's not all guns blazing 24/7. He's learning how to take a rest when you need it, how to perform and go hard when you need to.
"I think he's getting that balance a lot better."
Rowell has not missed a beat since the Suns returned on November 22, building on the continuity he began to develop at the backend of last season.
With Hugh Greenwood's departure to North Melbourne, the Suns' midfield is in for some change, with Miller, Rowell, his best mate Noah Anderson and co-captain David Swallow set to be at the coalface.
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Jack Bowes is also training with the midfielders after spending most of his career at half-back.
Miller said Rowell still had plenty of room for improvement in balancing his preparation but had loved what he'd seen.
"He's always going to be a footy nerd, all the boys will tell you that, and he loves that side of it," he said.
"It's just about how his balance with his body and how to prepare himself best for the right time, so not peaking before Christmas or not overloading your body from overtraining incessantly.
"It's probably better than being lazy, but for him and the team, if he can get that balance right and keep himself healthy and consistent for the year, we'll get the most out of him.
"Between him and Noah, honestly who knows what can happen with them.
"It gives me spine tingles to be honest with you, I just think they're that good."