AFTER more than 18 months of anticipation, Richmond unleashed giant project ruckman Mate Colina in the VFL on Wednesday night.
The category B rookie played nearly three quarters in the Tigers' 37-point loss to Werribee under lights at the Swinburne Centre, splitting his time between the ruck and full forward with Samson Ryan.
Colina showed glimpses of the athleticism that has many inside Punt Road very excited in his first proper game since he stopped playing football at 14 to concentrate on basketball.
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Richmond signed Colina to its rookie list in late 2020, but allowed him to complete his time at the University of Hawaii where he played division one basketball in Honolulu.
The 23-year-old returned from the United States late last month following graduation, after spending four years playing for the Rainbow Warriors in the NCAA's Big West Conference.
Standing 213cm, Colina could become the tallest player to ever play an AFL game, overtaking current record holders, Fremantle great Aaron Sandilands and Collingwood's Mason Cox, who are both 211cm.
It is not the first time the Tigers have attempted to transform a basketballer with a family link to the club into a footballer.
Before Ivan Soldo became a premiership ruckman, he played basketball and soccer growing up, only to be convinced by his cousin – Ivan Maric – that he had a future in AFL.
Colina also has strong family ties to Richmond through his cousin, Noah Balta, who has been recalled for Thursday night’s clash against Port Adelaide after overcoming a hamstring strain.
The pair grew up on the same street and played together at the Doutta Stars in the Essendon District Football League.
It is understood that Colina was a quality underage player in the western suburbs, producing enough to earn a spot in the Calder Cannons program.
Many at Punt Road are bullish about Colina's prospects of developing into a quality AFL player, with some leaving an 8v8 game in the Sydney hub last year convinced he can make it at the highest level.
While Colina didn’t set the world on fire on Wednesday night, the Victorian now has the opportunity to play an extended block of games in the second half of 2022 and build towards an AFL debut.
The Tigers also unveiled mid-season recruit Jacob Bauer against Werribee.
The 20-year-old produced an impressive showing first up, kicking three goals after being selected with pick No.10 last Wednesday, following an eye-catching start to the SANFL season with North Adelaide.