Sport

Easton becomes Wood-be hero of Western Bulldogs

Easton Wood will skipper the Bulldogs in the preliminary final.
Easton Wood will skipper the Bulldogs in the preliminary final. TRACEY NEARMY

OF ALL those 'sons of the 'Scray', for a time there Cal Ward was the favourite.

He was the boy next door - almost literally - having grown up down the road from Whitten Oval in Footscray.

And he'd had red, white and blue blood flowing through his veins as a lifelong supporter.

Coming through the ranks of the Western Jets in the elite TAC Cup under-18 competition as the side's only real creditable draft option that year, he was destined to end up at the Bulldogs.

Ward was still at school when he made his senior debut in 2008, and when he kicked his first goal in that first game his fan club - a huge number of family and friends that had gathered at Docklands - went wild.

Those members of the larger Bulldogs faithful who weren't from the western suburbs and hadn't heard much about him soon discovered that they had an absolute beauty - maybe even a future leader.

The passion he had for the Bulldogs was projected in the way he went into battle for them each week.

Ward from his early days as a Bulldog.
Ward from his early days as a Bulldog.

The club actually drafted six young players in late 2007 - headed by Jarrad Grant with their first selection (at No.4 overall) and Ward, who had been eligible by only a few days, using the pick No.19 they had scored from Richmond in exchange for Jordan McMahon.

Easton Wood (No.43) would also be taken, but like Grant, Queenslander Sam Reid (35), Jarrad Boumann (48) and Guy O'Keefe (63), would be pushed into the background with Ward front and centre.

"The papers love him. Everybody loves him. That's just Cal," Wood told me in 2009 when I was working for one of those "papers" in the west and asked him (tongue- in-cheek) if he and his fellow rookies were tired of Ward getting all the headlines.

Bulldogs fans would barely have known Wood then - he hadn't played a senior game - and for a long while some, including himself, wondered whether he would.

Scott Clayton, then recruiting manager, had taken a punt on him only after seeing him play a bit of school footy for Geelong Grammar.

Wood's dad had competed in the triple jump for New Zealand at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, so athleticism was in his genes, but cricket was his sport - he was a fast bowler with an ambition to play for Victoria.

Stress fractures in his back, however, would put paid to his career in whites before it really got started, so he turned to footy.

Wood shows his commitment to the Bulldogs cause in 2011.
Wood shows his commitment to the Bulldogs cause in 2011.

He was fortunate scouts had been coming to watch his school mate and eventual fellow Dogs draftee O'Keeefe when he caught their eye.

A shoulder reconstruction not long after his drafting was soon followed by a screening for lymphatic cancer after developing a bad infection.

And then just as he finally began to cement a spot in the senior side he suffered a bad hamstring tear. By the end of his sixth season he had managed only 47 games.

Jump ahead to September 2016, and it is Wood who is the last man standing from the Dogs' class of 2007 - and will lead the club into a historic preliminary final tonight at Spotless Stadium .... against his old mate Cal no less.

Ward had been enticed north in 2011 by the lure of a reported $800,000-a-season pay packet, up from about $250,000 at Whitten Oval.

Bulldogs fans were left gutted, but deep down they understood the fledgling Giants had made Ward an offer he couldn't refuse.

Cal Ward at Giants training this week.
Cal Ward at Giants training this week.

Still, the one-time golden boy of the red, white and blue will be an enemy in orange.

As co-captain of the Giants with Phil Davis, it will be a special moment if he is the one to come together with Wood for the symbolic pre-game coin toss.

As stand-in skipper for the injured Robert Murphy, Wood will join a select group of just eight Dogs to have captained them in a preliminary final.

He might yet become just the second behind the great Ted Whitten to be successful, and just the third to lead them in a grand final after Whitten and Charlie Sutton.

Who would have thought?

Topics:  afl 2016, callan ward, easton wood, gws giants, western bulldogs



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