COLLINGWOOD runner Tom Phillips – one of the AFL's most improved players in 2018 – expects to sign a contract extension by mid-January.
Both parties are keen to strengthen their commitment to one another and that prospect excites the 22-year-old as he enters the final year of a two-year contract.
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"My manager (Alex McDonald) is working through that in conjunction with the club and I'd say something will get done in the next few weeks," Phillips told AFL.com.au after the Magpies broke for a three-week holiday for the festive season.
"I'll let that play out, but at the moment it looks pretty positive."
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The rising Phillips is in a good position to negotiate a new deal.
The hard-running left-footer produced a breakout 2018 in which he became one of the AFL's most prolific wingmen and at one point appeared in the mix for an All Australian berth, averaging 25.5 possessions (7.7 contested) and a club-high 441 metres gained, and contributing 15 goals.
In three seasons he has accumulated 50 games, being among just seven Magpies to figure in all 26 games this year, reaching his half-century in the Grand Final loss to West Coast.
A champion steeplechase and cross-country runner at junior level, Phillips demonstrated his hunger to help the Magpies go one better by winning the 2km time trial and proving once again he is the club's endurance king – a title he has held in each of his four pre-seasons at the club. Not surprisingly, he backs himself to outrun any direct opponent.
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The former Beverley Hills and Warrandyte junior star has come a long way since being overlooked for the 2014 NAB Draft, after which he was retained by TAC Cup team Oakleigh Chargers as an over-age player – and he flourished.
Though proud of his journey, Phillips is far from content. He is determined to eventually become more of an inside midfielder – and he can envision it.
"I feel pretty comfortable in that wing/half-forward role but I'm pretty keen to keep exploring opportunities to improve," he said.
"We've clearly got a very strong midfield and I'm happy to play wherever the coaches want me, but down the track I'd love to gradually push into that midfield group.
"I hold some of the traits that make a good inside midfielder; I just need to keep building up my body, keep working at contested ball and keep maturing.
"I want to step up incrementally, not try to take too many steps at a time. In the meantime I'll just keep chipping away at my game and hopefully become an expert at my craft."
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This patience for an on-ball role is a virtue given the Pies have added returning star Dayne Beams to their talent-laden engine room. Phillips is relishing the opportunity to rub shoulders with another elite playmaker.
"It's great to have 'Beamsy' back in the black and white. He's a bit of a father figure who has a lot of knowledge and wisdom in that midfield area, so he's good to learn from," he said.
"He's just a workhorse. He's not overly vocal but he leads in his own way through actions – through the way he trains and the way he cracks in for the ball. You learn quite a bit from Beamsy just from watching him."
Phillips is also learning a great deal away from footy. A media and communications student who co-hosts a podcast called The Boardroom, he has also combined his passion for travel and humanitarian issues to become a goodwill ambassador for World Vision.
A deep thinker, Phillips likes to challenge himself, and that includes stepping outside his comfort zone to travel to "unpredictable" places.
Two years ago he and his father Anthony participated in Run India to support the education of disadvantaged Indian children. This off-season Phillips visited a refugee camp in the east African nation of Rwanda.
Now the worldly wingman is raising awareness for World Vision's Lost Toy Store at Melbourne Central which, until December 23, will display children's toys recovered from emergency response zones around the world.
"The perspective I gain helps me grow as a footy player and as a human, and it helps me be better to the people in my life," Phillips said.
The Rwanda trip also helped Phillips deal with the disappointment of the Grand Final loss.
"It definitely takes your mind off it, remembering that at the end of the day it's just a game and that 14,000 people struggling with life in a refugee camp is more important in the grand scheme of things," he said.
"It would be great to win a premiership, and hopefully we can go a step further next year, but experiences overseas are priceless with the people you meet. It enhances my motivation to come back and give it all I've got for the footy season because I realise how lucky we are to be elite athletes in Australia."