Ryan Clarke celebrates a goal during Sydney's win over St Kilda in round 15, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

IT ALL started with Jack Sinclair.

John Longmire needed a way to shut down the St Kilda star and the Sydney coach turned to someone who had been withering on the vine in the VFL for the best part of two seasons.

Ryan Clarke had played only five AFL games since round 18, 2020 – all five as the medi-sub, activated only twice – before the Saints headed to the SCG in round 15 this year.

The 25-year-old held Sinclair, who is on track for a maiden Trevor Barker Award and All-Australian blazer this year, to a season-low 17 disposals and 300 metres gained, well below his season average of 27.7 possessions and 514.7 metres.

Ryan Clarke spoils Jack Sinclair during Sydney's win over St Kilda in round 15, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

After being the unused sub the following week against Essendon, Clarke returned in round 17 to play as a defensive forward on Western Bulldogs' star Bailey Dale, restricting the 2021 All Australian defender to 16 disposals and 361 metres gained, well short of his season averages (26.6 and 575.7 metres).

Since then, Clarke has tagged Fremantle half-back Jordan Clark, Adelaide boom recruit Jordan Dawson, North Melbourne accumulator Aaron Hall and Rising Star favourite Nick Daicos in Sunday's win over Collingwood.

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After playing 24 games across his first two seasons in the Harbour City but just three in 2021, Clarke has breathed life into his career in the past two months, playing eight games in a row for the first time since his final season at North Melbourne in 2019.

"It was pretty doom and a pretty dark place playing in the twos for a year and a half," Clarke told AFL.com.au on Sunday. "I'm very happy to be able to get back in.

"I played a bit of a tagging role in the midfield a few years ago and then he (Longmire) just popped the question about Sinclair about two months ago. I was just toey to get in the team. I hadn't played in a year and a half before that.

"All the forwards have really helped me out. I've really enjoyed the last two months."

Ryan Clarke's tagging triumphs




Disposals Conceded

R15 v StK

Jack Sinclair



R17 v WB

Bailey Dale



R18 v Frem

Jordan Clark



R19 v Adel

Brodie Smith




Jordan Dawson



R20 v GWS

Harry Himmelberg



R21 v NM

Aaron Hall



R22 v Coll

Nick Daicos



Clarke went straight to Daicos at the opening bounce at the SCG on Sunday and spent a chunk of the day tagging the teenage sensation. Magpies coach Craig McRae later conceded he had to move the 19-year-old around the ground to break the tag, with Clarke preventing Daicos from having a major say in the outcome of the match.

"It's obviously a very challenging role," Clarke said.

"He is a superstar. For someone who has only played 20 games, his composure with the footy, he is an absolute gun. I played on him when he was playing at half-back and played more as a defensive forward today."


When you think of Sydney, you think of Lance Franklin, Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills, the poster boys who lure the masses to the SCG in this NRL heartland.

You don't think of players like Clarke, but the 25-year-old is happy to fly under the radar and simply be part of the senior side again. And he won't quickly forget the feeling of spending his weekends in the reserves.

"I played so much twos footy," he said. "I'm just enjoying being in the team, so I'm just taking it one week at a time."

The Victorian has loved his time in Sydney, even when selection hasn't gone his way, and has never lost sight of the fact he's paid to do what he always wanted to do as a kid playing for Rowville in Melbourne's east.

"I just have always enjoyed footy," he said. "When you look back, kicking a footy around for a job is great. It could be a lot worse. It's not too bad.

"All the boys (got) around me throughout the two years (out of the side), and I'm really thankful for that."

While he has found a way to land a new role in Sydney's best 22, Clarke is yet to sign a new deal for 2023 and beyond. He isn't thinking that far ahead just yet but wants to remain in red and white next season.

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"I love the club and ... I'd love to be here next year," he said. "It's a great environment and a great community here. I love everyone at the club."

If Clarke keeps nailing his role, the new contract should take care of itself.

And he might even have a premiership medal around his neck by the end of September.