It’s hard to fathom that in Craig Malone’s debut NEAFL match he played a backup ruckman and spent less than a quarter of total match time on the field.
Fast forward nine years and there are few players who strike a more imposing figure on the football field than the man they call ‘tiny’, who stands at 198cm and 115kg and is one of the best rucks going around in the NEAFL.
In fact, as Malone approaches his 100th NEAFL game on Saturday, it’s important to note he holds the record for most career hit-outs in the NEAFL with an eye-watering 3,082.
To put that into perspective, the player sitting second is Brisbane’s Archie Smith on 2,444, who is also running out for his 100th NEAFL game this weekend.
But the boy from Alexandra Hills came from humble beginnings at Mt Gravatt before his career took an upward trajectory at Redland when he joined the Bombers in 2014.
“I do remember my first NEAFL game, I was the backup ruckman and played about 20 per cent of the game time,” Malone laughs.
It was way back in Round 2, 2011 when Malone played his first game and over the first four years of his NEAFL career, Malone averaged just seven matches.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Malone began to get some continuity in his game.
“I think in those first few years it was a combination of injury and competition for spots which held me back a bit,” Malone told neafl.com.au.
“But I always wanted to play at the highest level I could and test myself against the best players in the competition.”
From 2015 onwards, Malone has only played less than 15 games in a season once, when an ankle injury cut his 2017 campaign short.
His performances keep getting better, too. Malone holds four places in the top 10 leaderboard for most hit-outs in a single game – two coming in 2016 and two more this year.
Malone, who says mentors Graham Henwood at Alexandra Hills and Craig Starcevich through the Queensland state program were key to his development, said focusing on his body work has been key to his success in recent years.
“I had always been taller than most kids my age, but I was a bit skinnier back in the day,” he said.
“I think the last few years I’ve really worked on my body work in the ruck. I don’t have the jump that others do so that’s been the main thing, and then also my follow up work on the ground.”
It’s been a long road to 100 games for Malone but he’s grateful to reach the milestone and be a part of the Redland Football Club. Malone will also share his day with club games record holder Matt Thomson, who will run out for his 200th club appearance for the Bombers.
“It’s something I am really proud of for sure. It’s been a long time coming through all of the injuries and setbacks but is great to reach 100 games, and I get to play it alongside Matt Thomson in his 200th game which is awesome,” Malone said.
“I will keep playing until my legs give out. In terms of NEAFL I want to keep playing as long as I am in form and keep my spot in the team.
“I love playing for Redland, they are an amazing club and the boys are all really great.”
Redland are languishing near the bottom of the ladder and face second-placed Southport on Saturday, but Malone says the belief amongst the group has remained high as they look to cause an upset on home turf.
“The attitude this year has been fantastic,” he said.
“We are big on having that belief in setting ourselves up for the future and ‘Carsey’ (coach Phil Carse) has been great for that.
“He’s obviously come back to the club this year and he’s been brilliant for the team and has great relationships with everyone.
“We definitely think we still have a win left in us and we’re all looking forward to Saturday.”
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