Young Suns star rewarded for dominant display
Gold Coast Suns players arrived at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night to a table of personalised letters from fans.
With no supporters physically allowed to attend the game, the Suns at least wanted them there in spirit.
"It was pretty cool," midfielder Matt Rowell said.
"My letter just said, 'We can't be there to support you, but we know you'll put in a performance to make the fans proud and just go out there and give it your all'."
Rowell could not have given much more as he led the Suns to victory against West Coast in just his second AFL game.
The best player on the ground, Rowell logged 171 SuperCoach ranking points - the most of any 18-year-old in at least 12 years.
Coach Stuart Dew broke the unsurprising news to the Suns playing group on Monday that Rowell had earned the Round 2 NAB Rising Star nomination.
"I was happy with my performance so I thought that I might have been in with a shot but it was nice to get told the news by Stuey in front of my teammates," Rowell said.
Likened to Michael Voss, Rowell has been labelled a "man child" by AFL legend Leigh Matthews given his power and strength in the contest and ability to break tackles.
The 2019 No. 1 draft pick is listed at 78kg - but that was before a summer in the gym which was followed up with many more long hours of weights during football's hiatus.
"I just kept doing my gym and focusing on skills and just trying to become a better player," Rowell said.
"One of my strengths has been to use my strength in the midfield, but I'm always working on it."
Rowell is still enjoying what teammates tease is an "easy" life with best mate Noah Anderson at the home of Suns' chief executive Mark Evans.
Those letter-writing fans would be hoping Rowell pens something of his own soon - a contract extension beyond 2021.
But, for now, Evans has not been too pushy on that around the house.
"He's not like that at home. He's pretty chilled out," Rowell said.
"But I couldn't be happier, to be honest. I'm loving it up here, loving the lifestyle and loving my footy."
Going to enjoy watching Rowell for the next 15 years. #youngbull— Joel Selwood (@joelselwood14) June 13, 2020
Champion Data ranks Rowell's breakout match as the best ever by an 18-year-old, eclipsing the 166 ranking points recorded by Toby Greene in 2012.
Rowell amassed 171 ranking points against the Eagles, 25 more than the third-ranked 18-year-old James Aish (146) and 30 more than Sam Walsh's best match (141) in his debut campaign.
The tough on-baller kicked his first AFL goal late in the first half of Saturday's game, finishing a chain of handballs on the run with Eagles star Tim Kelly in hot pursuit.
Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney said the 18-year-old was the "most influential player on the ground" as Rowell finished with seven tackles, five clearances and two goals in the 44-point win.
"When the Suns were in a bit of a hole he's the one that turned things around," Cooney said on AFL Nation.
The Oakleigh Chargers product amassed 171 KFC SuperCoach points for inspiring his side to its first win since Round 4 last season.
Rowell told Fox Footy his family would have been "jumping off the couch" in Melbourne watching his first AFL victory.
"It's an amazing feeling. For the past three weeks since coming back we have talked about having belief in each other and we really showed it out there," he said.
"The boys are so pumped and we really enjoyed being out there tonight.
"We knew we were coming up against a high-class midfield. We just couldn't wait for the challenge."
Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew said Rowell's readiness reminded him of Sydney star Luke Parker, who he rated an AFL talent soon after his arrival at the Swans.
"We're not surprised. I think I'll get sick of saying it but we love that we have got him," Dew said.
"He just loves footy. He'll eat up anything that you give him in terms of footy. He just wants to impact the game for the team.
"If you go back to both Matt and Noah (Anderson's) speech before the draft, he was a little bit aware he was coming to us and talked about coming here to make an impact for the team.
"We all love that he's so humble. The work he puts in is pretty special."
A raging favourite to win this year's Rising Star, Dew said Rowell's ability to match West Coast's vaunted midfield was impressive.
"We started him in the centre bounce. It wasn't a gesture to get him into the game. We thought he could influence from the start," he said.
Earliest game in a career that an @AFL player has had 25+ disp, 2+ goals, 10+ con poss, 5+ clearances & 5+ tackles— Swamp (@sirswampthing) June 13, 2020
2 - MATT ROWELL
3 - Luke Dunstan, Ollie Wines
5 - Jimmy Bartel
7 - Allen Christensen
10 - Michael Barlow
@GoldCoastSUNS #AFLSunsEagles @AFL
"Matt Rowell is a star player and he would have played virtually every game with us if we had him... And not only played, but helped us win as well"— Telstra AFL Trade Radio (@traderadio) October 9, 2019
- Stephen Wells re: Rowell#AFLTrade
Originally published as Young Suns star rewarded for dominant display