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The Sydney Morning Herald

Stevens ready to make some noise

Author: Richard Hinds
Date: 06/03/2002
Words: 893
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 34
After a slow start to his Swans career, Scott Stevens could be the bolter in the Sydney attack this season, writes Richard Hinds.

So far, Scott Stevens has not told Tony Lockett that he used to have his poster on his bedroom wall when he was a kid back in Kellerberrin, a small town in the West Australian wheat belt about 21/2 hours drive from Perth.

So far, Stevens hasn't said very much of a personal nature to Lockett at all. That is partly because Lockett was only a part-time coach in Stevens's first two years with the Sydney Swans. But it is also because it has taken the 20-year-old most of those two years to become comfortable and confident in his new surroundings.

Now, in the past month, Stevens has found that sense of belonging in the only way a footballer really can. He has proven to his teammates and coaches, and most importantly to himself, that he has something to offer on match day.

While most of the attention during the Swans' practice match against Essendon and first two pre-season competition games centred on Lockett and high-profile recruit Barry Hall, Stevens has been the surprise success story in the Sydney attack.

Surprising, that is, for those who had begun to wonder if the lightly-built forward the Swans' first selection in the 1999 national draft and the 21st pick overall was ever going to have the physique or the ability to make an impression at the top level.

Having failed to play a senior game in his first two years at the club, Stevens admits he had begun to have doubts himself. ``Definitely having been around that long and not having made my debut, that was starting to piss me off," he said. ``I'm out of contract at the end of this year and you start to wonder if it's going to happen."

It has not happened yet. But after kicking four goals against Collingwood in the first round and two goals and five behinds against the Kangaroos last week, Stevens's senior debut now seems much closer than it did at the end of last year.

``He's definitely put himself in the mix for round one," coach Rodney Eade said. ``He really worked hard over the summer and we'd been hoping that would pay off for him. Now he's given himself a real chance, which is very pleasing."

After playing most of last year with the Swans' Victorian Football League associate Port Melbourne, Stevens said he took counsel from his father, who had played senior football for Perth before a knee injury ruined his career at 19. His advice was to work harder on his fitness, get out in front of the pack during training sessions and give himself every chance.

Yet when Hall was recruited, then Lockett made his comeback, Stevens could have been forgiven for thinking his own chances of breaking into the team had been diminished. It is not that Stevens plays a similar key position role as either Hall or Lockett. But with that high-profile pair dominating the goal square, he would be competing with others such as Michael O'Loughlin, Adam Goodes and Matthew Nicks for a spot on the flanks.

``It did enter my head," Stevens said of the effect Hall and Lockett would have on his chances. ``But I talked a bit with [defender] Andrew Schauble and he said he doesn't worry about who else is there. He just says he looks at the position and wins it. I've tried to have that mind-set."

Eade says it was not so much the presence of Hall and Lockett but the dilemma of where to play Stevens that was his greatest concern about the young forward. Stevens did not seem robust enough for a key position or athletic enough for a flank, yet his natural instincts have come to the fore in the pre-season.

``He just knows how to get into position to find the ball," he says. ``I remember something Leigh Matthews said to me which was, `If they're good enough, you'll always find a spot for them', and that might be the case."

Stevens's relatively slow emergence is understandable. Although he has put on eight kilograms since he arrived in Sydney, he would like to add at least four more. And in Perth he had played only schoolboy and colts football, meaning his initial games for the Swans seconds were his first against men.

Now he is starting to prove he can cope in top company. One of his opponents last week was Kangaroos defender Jason McCartney, not the most fashionable defender in the AFL, but one who always provides a tough physical contest.

Seemingly at home on the field, Stevens's confidence off it has also risen. ``It's been really good for my motivation," he said of his start to the season. ``I really feel a lot more confident like I'm part of it."

Though still not quite confident enough yet to mention that poster to Lockett. ``Nah, I haven't told him that," Stevens said. ``I'm a bit nervous."

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