JOEL Jeffrey was born into Australian football.

Barely a week after he entered the world in 2002, Jeffrey sat in the premiership cup won by Palmerston in the Northern Territory Football League – a team coached by his father, Russell.

"As soon as he could crawl, he was pushing a footy around," Russell Jeffrey told

"And once he could get up on his feet, he was kicking it around.

Joel Jeffrey celebrates a goal for Gold Coast against the Western Bulldogs in R10, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"He's always had a footy in his hands and he's never waned in his love of the game and his dedication to it.

"His brothers played, his sister played. We were never short of footies."

On Saturday night, like fellow Territorian Mal Rosas jnr, Jeffrey gets to live out a childhood dream when playing at TIO Stadium, a ground he's played on his whole career, in front of his family and friends for Gold Coast against Hawthorn.

Gold Coast Suns players Joel Jeffrey, Jy Farrar, Sean Lemmens, Mal Rosas jnr and Izak Rankine help launch the club's Sir Doug Nicholls Round guernsey on May 12, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

The 20-year-old did not have to look far for inspiration when growing up.

Russell is a Northern Territory legend, being named in the NT Team of the Century after winning premierships as a player and coach and representing NT on 24 occasions.

He played 50 VFL/AFL games for St Kilda and the Brisbane Bears from 1987-1992 before settling in the Top End in the mid-1990s.

The second youngest of six children, Joel said he "idolised" his father growing up.

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"He's the one that put me on the right path to play AFL," he said.

"He's been a big influence, and so has mum (Kim), and I can't thank them enough."

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NAB AFL Rising Star: Joel Jeffrey stars in round 10

Watch the highlights and find out why Joel Jeffrey gets the NAB AFL Rising Star in round 10

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Joel was the typical son of a player/coach, at his father's feet in changerooms, and even more regularly, in the backyard with his siblings.

They'd spend hours on the family's five-acre property in Darwin, initially using trees as goalposts before Russell succumbed and bought some PVC piping to act as the big sticks.

A bit narrower than real goalposts, to improve their accuracy, he joked.

Russell is humble and quietly spoken, but even over a phone call you can hear the pride in his voice when talking about Joel or any of his children.

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"He showed almost immediately that he had this natural ability, with both hand and foot," he said of Joel.

"It's all the little scrimmages and games with his brothers in the backyard, that's where he's refined his skills.

"They'd have fun, they'd show off to each other, and without even knowing they're learning tricks.

Joel Jeffrey made his debut for the Suns last season. Picture: AFL Photos

"There were a few blues, I had to get in between them a few times, but that's just boys being boys. It was definitely good fun watching them."

Joel progressed through the ranks, winning best and fairests at his club Wanderers as an under-12 and under-14 and dominating at junior level.

He then had a huge growth spurt – he's now listed as 192cm – taking him from a classy on-baller to a strong marking forward.

Former North Melbourne premiership player Shannon Motlop coached Joel in the under-16 Flying Boomerangs team (made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) and then in the NTFL Premier League for Wanderers.

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He is also family friends with the Jeffreys.

"You could tell he was going to be a star," Motlop said.

"An 18-year-old taking contested marks in senior footy and slotting four goals a game stands out."

That form at NTFL level had Jeffrey on the national radar, and once Darwin was added to Gold Coast's Academy region as part of a 2019 assistance package, the Suns had their eyes fixed on him.

Joel Jeffrey kicks the ball during the 2020 Northern Academy Series match between Gold Coast and Brisbane on August 16, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Rosas jnr was pre-listed immediately ahead of the 2020 season, and Jeffrey 12 months later when he was eligible.

"My initial thought was, 'What if they don't pick him, what if they don't want him?'" Russell Jeffrey said.

"Once I spoke to (national recruiting manager) Kall Burns and the like at the Suns, while they couldn't say they were going to get him, they were dropping hints they had some genuine interest.

"I can't speak more highly of Gold Coast Suns, they're an awesome club.

"For a club that's been in the comp for 10 years, what they do to support Joel and the family is fantastic. I have full confidence in that club looking after his best interests."

The Gold Coast Suns celebrate against the Western Bulldogs in round 10, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

It took Joel a little while to get his debut last year, and even that had a speedbump. He was selected to play Melbourne in round 20 at Metricon Stadium, but just hours before the match, teams were whisked away with a COVID-19 outbreak in Queensland.

The match was played at Marvel Stadium the following day, leaving Russell and Kim "shattered" to miss their son's first game.

Now they get that chance to watch him live, fresh off five goals and a NAB AFL Rising Star Award nomination against the Western Bulldogs.

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Russell said he didn't get a minute's sleep before Joel returned to the senior team two weeks ago against Fremantle, so anxious was he to see him do well, but this time is different – maybe.

"When he was growing up and was a standout, there was big expectations on him," he said.

"I really tried to temper those expectations. It was hard because he kept producing.

Joel Jeffrey and Hayden Young compete for the ball during Gold Coast's clash against Fremantle in round nine, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"From now it's week-to-week. He's in a great environment, a learning environment, and you'd expect he's going to get better.

"I'm nervous this week because he had a standout game last week, is he going to back it up? I'm sure he'll go out and try his best, but you've got an opposition to worry about.

"You can't help but get excited, though.

"They know that oval. To play in front of friends and family and locals is huge.

"We've got people coming from everywhere to watch this game.

"From a parent's point of view, to go to the oval you've been at forever and watch your son play ... I don't know if it gets any better than that."