Connor Rozee ahead of his 100th AFL match at Port Adelaide on July 25, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

BEFORE Connor Rozee became a John Cahill Medallist, before he was measured up for the first of what could be many All-Australian blazers, and long before he became one of the best midfielders in the AFL, Josh Carr saw a glimpse of the future.

Back in 2018, Rozee was one of a handful of exceptionally talented teenagers that guided South Australia to that year's under-18 national title. Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine both produced better championships than Rozee and would be named in the All-Australian team, along with Jackson Hately and Jez McLennan.

Connor Rozee, Jackson Hately, Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine in 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

Rozee would eventually find his way to Port Adelaide with pick No.5 in the Draft that year, but only after a stunning finals series for North Adelaide - who were coached by Carr - that led them to their first SANFL premiership in 27 years and solidified his standing to recruiters dotted around Adelaide Oval that September.

Despite defeating Woodville-West Torrens in the preliminary final, North Adelaide faced a nervous wait at the start of Grand Final week after it was discovered they had fielded a 19th man on the ground early in the fourth quarter. It was only after a marathon five-hour tribunal hearing that the Roosters were fined and docked premiership points for the following season, but cleared to play in the Grand Final.

Connor Rozee in North Adelaide colours ahead of the 2018 AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

At the time, Carr was in the third of four seasons in charge at Prospect Oval having played in Port Adelaide's one and only AFL premiership in 2004, the high point of a 207-game career across 11 seasons for the Power and Fremantle.

Rozee was his youngest player and the one with the brightest future. But if not for a twist of fate, his young star may not have even played in that pivotal finals campaign at all.

"I remember when Connor was part of our 16s, he was always talented and you could tell back then that he was going to be a player," Carr, now a Port Adelaide assistant coach, recalled at Alberton this week ahead of Rozee's 100th AFL game.

"He played with us before the (u-18) championships and played some good footy at half-forward. Then he went to the championships and didn't have a great championships. The truth is I was close to dropping him going into the finals because he was struggling as a half-forward. Then a position opened up in defence. He was too talented to not play. We picked him there and he had an outstanding finals series from there."

Now in his fifth season at the top level, Rozee has transformed from a star of the future to a star of the present in just 12 months. The move from the half-forward flank to midfield in round five last season not only resulted in a maiden best and fairest, All-Australian selection and a top-five finish in the AFLCA Champion Player of the Year Award, it also catapulted Rozee towards superstardom.

The quietly spoken, humble guy from the country has learned to cope with the heightened attention, both in public and in the media, through the guidance of Port Adelaide champion Travis Boak.


The veteran has lived and breathed almost everything Rozee is experiencing, or will in the future; the pressure of being a top pick (they were selected at the same pick, 12 years apart), life in a two-team town and rising in performance with the rising expectations.

"He has just been enormous for me," Rozee told at Alberton ahead of Showdown 54.

"Dealing with pressure, separating footy and life, you name it, Trav pretty much has everything under control and understands exactly where he is at. More than anyone I've met, he just understands how to cope with this lifestyle. And also being a leader of our football club, (he) is a great person to talk to. He is very open and shares his knowledge. I couldn't have asked for a better role model to help me out in the last few years.

Travis Boak celebrates a goal with Connor Rozee in the game between Port Adelaide and Sydney on June 26, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"In the last year or so with football becoming so overwhelming at times, he has been massive on separating who I am as a person and who I am as a footballer, drawing a line at the end of the day to leave things at work. It is a struggle when you go home and read things on social media, whether they are loving you or slamming you. I think that's a great message for everyone playing AFL. It is a weird life, being spoken about and having people stop you in the street. Having that life balance is key."

Unlike North Melbourne midfielder Tarryn Thomas, who was taken three picks after Rozee in that 2018 Draft and has played under six different coaches including two caretakers, Rozee has had just Ken Hinkley to guide him across his first five seasons in the AFL. In that time, Rozee has noticed a shift in his senior coach, who has continued evolve and discover the right levers to pull with all his players.

"He was quite stern and knew what he wanted from his players, and didn't budge on that," Rozee says.

Ken Hinkley and Connor Rozee after Port Adelaide's win over the Western Bulldogs in R13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"He has become really strong with his relationships in the last couple of years, especially with the younger guys. He is almost a father figure for a lot of the boys now. I think him understanding us outside of football, and not just as football players, has made it easier for him to develop relationships. We have a lot of trust him that he has our best interest at heart."

Despite growing up in South Australia, Rozee and his family were St Kilda supporters before he landed at Alberton. Despite hopes he would be picked up by the Saints, who had pick No.4 in his draft year but ended up selecting Max King, Rozee says his first 99 games have panned out even better than he hoped.

"It feels quick," he says. "I don't think I've missed many games.

"When I realised it was going to be a Showdown, I thought that's pretty cool. If I could pick a game, it would be this game. It means family can come, which is cool, but it is a great rivalry, and the intensity of the game is awesome," Rozee said.

"A lot my mates had to move away (after the draft), so to stay home has been enormous. All my mates can come to the games. Small things that you don't think about. Guys come over here and they don't know a single person. It has worked out really well."