GWS Giants have arguably the strongest playing list in the AFL and now they’re about to add one of the nation’s premier athletes in former world youth decathlon champion Jake Stein.
The Penrith local represented Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow after becoming the youngest winner of the national decathlon title in 27 years. But a run of injuries and a desire to re-engage with a team sport has the 22-year-old about to take on the sporting challenge of his life at the Giants.
He has played only a handful of Australian rules matches in his life — allowing him to be signed as a category B rookie — and grew up playing soccer in the famed Marconi youth program which produced a host of Socceroos including Paul Okon and Mark Schwarzer.
In an age where many high-profile athletes like Jarryd Hayne, Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt have switched sports seemingly at the drop of a hat, Stein said his was not a snap decision.
“I’ve gone from watching no AFL to watching every game I could possibly watch,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“I’ve always wanted to run, jump, kick and tackle and play. When I stopped playing soccer and concentrated on athletics in 2009 I was very happy. But I gradually started missing being in a team environment. It’s hard flogging it out on your own compared to training with teammates.”
Another draw towards the AFL came from his St Dominic’s Penrith school mate, Essendon key defender Michael Hartley who has provided advice along the way.
“I had a chat to him about playing footy and since then he’s offered plenty of help. He wants me to progress quickly so we can play against each other, it might take a while. He played in the Paul Kelly Cup with me in Year 7 and kept at it and it’s paid off.”
The Bombers connection also came into play when he met four-time premiership coach Kevin Sheedy in 2011 when he was training for the decathlon at the Giants’ Blacktown facility.
Stein was then doing his running training under then GWS high performance manager John Quinn who had spent 10 years with Sheedy at Windy Hill.
Quinn has spent much of the last two years combing the western suburbs of Sydney looking for talent.
“When I came to Essendon many years ago I thought the players were like decathletes who played football,” Quinn said.
“A lot of the training programs I did were based on the running loads for a decathlete. The game has changed since then but I think AFL players like decathletes are all around athletes. At 192cm and 93kg he’s the perfect size but the hardest thing for Jake is the skills and structure of the game, a lot of the defensive play and structures isn’t too dissimilar to soccer. It’s not like he’ll start at the highest level, he will work his way through.”
Stein has already been training under the guidance of former Giants assistant coach Luke Power and current assistant Brad Miller.
“I just want to develop as much as I can,” Stein said.
“I’m under no illusions about how hard it will be to break into a ridiculously talented list. Over the course of the next 18 months I’d like to push for senior selection. 2018 is more realistic but I’m not setting any limits.”