SAM COLLINS wants you to watch the vision.
The mullet-wearing, hard-nosed and handlebar-donned defender loves his life on the Gold Coast and the relative anonymity it often provides him as an AFL footballer. But he was also glad that his performance on Western Bulldogs forward Aaron Naughton last month, which was later brought into question by their coach Luke Beveridge, made him an easy headline for a few days.
Naughton had nine disposals and 3.2 goals at half-time of that clash in Ballarat. He had just three kicks and was held scoreless for the rest of the game. Beveridge, in being asked what had thwarted his key forward's red-hot start, said afterwards: "I've got to be really careful here. He's been so dominant and then there were reasons why he wasn't in the second half. That's all I'll say. We'll do some follow-up."
Collins hopes fans did that follow-up. He knows he, and the Suns, certainly did. In exclusive behind-the-goals vision uncovered by AFL.com.au early the following week, the Gold Coast stopper was shown to physically block and disrupt Naughton's run at the ball at every opportunity. Essendon goalkicking great Matthew Lloyd said the tape was something "every young defender in any competition should watch" and labelled his defending "absolutely outstanding". Needless to say, Collins agreed.
While the week that followed was somewhat of a blur for the club's vice-captain, with Suns coach Stuart Dew later defending his player's performance amid the unusual extra attention, Collins is glad it happened.
"At the end of the day, people want to see players kicking goals. That's completely fine. But it's probably good for the general fan to see the craft that goes into the defensive work as well," Collins told AFL.com.au during the team's recent trip to Darwin.
"Whether you think it's right or wrong, it's something I pride myself on and that's being hard to play against. I wasn't hard to play against in the first quarter of that game. I was just proud of myself to get back to my best and take something away from Aaron.
"I enjoy the defensive craft being highlighted and people respecting what myself and other key backs in the competition have to do every week. Whether they like it or not, it's a physical game and it's a physical brand. We've got to take something away from the opposition with every chance we get."
So, without question, Collins disagreed with Beveridge's point of view. Yes, there were "reasons" why Naughton wasn't as dominant in the second half. He just hopes the vision made clear those reasons were his own improved performance, and not anything untoward.
"Yeah, I think he was wrong in what he said. Absolutely," Collins revealed.
"I get what he was saying and I get where he was coming from, but if you look at my game after quarter-time you'd say it was a pretty complete defensive performance. There needs to be an underlying level of respect for the job that I have and the job that other defenders have in the competition. The more people can see the craft in it and how difficult it can be, the better the game is going to be for it.
"When you're on the last line of defence, everyone knows what the fall-out is when you're not doing your job well and that's goals. That was Aaron Naughton in the first quarter of that game. I think it's refreshing for people to see that it happens and it goes on behind the scenes.
"My job is to make the game difficult for whoever I'm playing on. There's a lot that goes into it and you're easily found out, so it is quite hard to be playing consistent football and consistently fine-tuning your craft every single week depending on who you're playing against."
That craft, as Collins says, has to be adapted with each passing match. Whether it's Aaron Naughton, Tom Hawkins or Nick Larkey – who he kept to just one scoring shot the last time Gold Coast played – there are differences in terms of how the Gold Coast defender prepares for each coming opponent. The adjustments might not be as noticeable to the average punter, but they're just as important.
"Every forward is different, regardless of how similar they are. You might see Nick Larkey and Aaron Naughton as quite similar in that they want to move and they don't want to be physical, but Naughton will run and jump at absolutely everything whereas Larkey wants to be coming back at the ball," Collins said.
"There are fine things that dictate how you play them, as well as how the ball is moved ahead of the play. The Dogs want to chain-out, which is going to mean I'm going to have to be quicker to adjust and it's why Naughton was able to get me early on. I wasn't able to do that.
"How the Roos move it is more kick-mark, so I might have a bit more time to position myself and read the ball. There are always going to be similarities and changes. It's not as if you change your practice during the week, but you've got to have the mindset of what you're trying to take away from your opponent prior to the game."
The fall-out to that Bulldogs game was, rather surprisingly, one of the few times Collins' work has been placed firmly in the spotlight. Now into his fourth season at Gold Coast, the club's spiritual leader hasn't necessarily got the external recognition that the game's more renowned defenders such as Steven May, Darcy Moore and even his Queensland counterpart Harris Andrews have in recent years. But, to him, that's OK.
Yes, the 28-year-old Collins sees himself as being on par with those players. But, no, he doesn't expect there to be a Therabody AFL All-Australian blazer coming his way to acknowledge that standing any time soon.
"I don't think I get the headlines that players like that do, but that's fine by me. It's probably part and parcel of playing for Gold Coast. But I go out there every week and try to do my best and contribute to the team," Collins said.
"I think I've been able to do that this season. I'm sure that, externally, I probably don't get the recognition that I get internally. But that's not what I'm after. I want Stuey to come up and say, 'great game, you played your role for the team'. That's all I'm after. It's been really pleasing this season and hopefully we can keep building on it."
By now, Collins is used to an overall lack of recognition and the frustration that brings. Having missed out on selection at the NAB AFL Draft in 2012, he plied his trade in the VFL for three years with Box Hill before finally Fremantle took a chance on him as a mature-aged recruit at 21. He played 14 games in two years with the Dockers, but was never offered a second contract.
That meant another stint in the VFL, this time with Werribee, with another outstanding campaign resulting in a shock chance with Gold Coast at the age of 24. It's been just the opportunity he needed to resurrect the most unlikely of AFL careers.
He has since played 57 games for the Suns, won a best and fairest for the club in 2020, was promoted to a vice-captaincy post, and added an additional three years to his contract last season that will ensure his future at Metricon Stadium until at least the end of 2025. So, could he have seen all of this coming?
"S--t, no. Not at all," Collins laughed.
"I didn't really ever not have the belief that I was good enough, but I let other people's opinion of me play on my mind too much. It's hard to put it into words. I had the belief, but at the same time I felt like other opinions of me didn't give me the confidence that I should have had in myself at the time.
"People have always said what I'm not good at, but not many people understood or respected what I was good at. Looking back now after the games I've played and the career I've had to this point, in hindsight I was always an AFL-calibre player who just maybe didn't have the opportunity or wasn't given the confidence and education to be the best that I could be based on my strengths.
"It was a lot of, 'these are your weaknesses' and 'you're not good enough'. It was that, rather than, 's--t, you're really physical and strong and you've got a really competitive nature about you'. No one asked how they could get the most out of me, but I've been lucky enough to find that at the Suns."
Now that he's found a home at Metricon Stadium, Collins can't see himself anywhere else. A key pillar in a Suns side that went into their bye week at 6-6, he hopes to be just as significant in the team's push to become the first ever finals-bound outfit in the club's history later this season.
"I really like the anonymity of it all. You can kind of just get in there and go about your business, which I love. Plus, I obviously love my teammates and the whole footy club," Collins said.
"It's a really young group of guys, but we're all on the same path and we understand the opportunity to be the first to play finals which is really exciting. I absolutely love the environment, I love what we have to experience every day in terms of the beach, the Hinterland, the lifestyle. It's really amazing.
"The club itself, it's a really special club to be part of. I think we're all on the same page now and we've got a really complete list that can hopefully propel us to go forward and be the first to play finals."