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The Age

One star predicts another on rise

Date: 12/09/2001
Words: 814
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 2
Justin Koschitzke already knows who he thinks will win next year's Ansett Rising Star award. Having yesterday claimed this year's prize for himself, the Saints defender wants his housemate, Nick Riewoldt, to keep it between friends.

When he arrived at Moorabbin last summer, Koschitzke came as the highly prized second draft choice, just one spot behind Riewoldt.

Seeing they had so much in common, the pair decided to move in together.

But while Koschitzke's debut season has been like a dream, the teenager breaking into the St Kilda team almost right away, playing 20 of a possible 22 senior games and testing his talent against forwards such as David Schwarz, Josh Fraser and Warren Tredrea, his housemate has had a nightmare year.

After injuring his knee during summer training with the Saints, Riewoldt had two operations before making it back for six games at the end of the season.

It is a story that has taught Koschitzke as much about football as his own quick initiation to the ``emotional rollercoaster" that is life at an AFL club.

``It made me appreciate it all, for sure," Koschitzke said yesterday, after beating West Coast's Daniel Kerr and Essendon utility Mark McVeigh to win the award and a sporting holiday in the United States.

``Nick came to the club flying fit and I had an injury, and then it all worked out the reverse, so to see how quickly it all could get taken away made me think that I had to take everything while it came.

``We were really good for each other; if we were on a high or a low, we'd share it and have a chat about it. It was good to have someone there all of the time."

While their young defender is slowly settling into city life, the Saints are lucky Koschitzke decided to pursue football at all. A couple of years ago, the boy from Brocklesby, north-west of Albury, was so happy at home on his parents' wheat farm that when a letter from the Murray Bushrangers' under-18 team arrived, asking him to train with them, he threw it in the bin.

It was only when his father talked him into giving it a shot that Koschitzke decided the 600-odd kilometres he would have to drive each week would be worth it.

From there, football became his calling. ``I sort of had the attitude that I'd play bush footy all the time," he said. ``It's what dad did and it's what everyone did around home and I was happy with that.

``But then the letter came, saying I had one year left to play under-18s, and I sort of threw it away and thought, `Nah, I won't worry about it'. A couple of days later, my dad came to me and said, `Look, why don't you have a go and see what happens'.

``I just remember turning up at the Bushrangers' first training night and there were a hundred-odd kids there and I was just thinking, `What will happen here?"'

What happened was an outstanding year in which Koschitzke represented his state in the under-18 championships and wound up at StKilda, where he has already seen one coach sacked and survived a turbulent season in which his side won only four matches.

Koschitzke, who turns 19 next week, doesn't hide his shock at the sacking of Malcolm Blight, or his respect for what Grant Thomas did with the team in the weeks that followed. The club's round-22 victory over Hawthorn, he said, was the highlight of his season, as was playing in Stewart Loewe's and Nathan Burke's 300th games in the space of a couple of weeks.

``I've definitely hit it head-on," he said. ``I sort of expected to get eased into it, but a few injuries early on gave me the opportunity to play straight away.

``I didn't have a lot of good form early and then just got the opportunity to keep going and build on it. It's like an emotional rollercoaster, being away from home and trying to get up and play every week."

Koschitzke is the first St Kilda player - and only the third from a Victorian club - to win the award since it was introduced in 1993.

Other winners have included Collingwood captain Nathan Buckley, who won it while with Brisbane in 1993, Hawthorn centre half-forward Nick Holland in 1995, West Coast skipper Ben Cousins in 1996, and Kangaroos premiership player Byron Pickett in 1998.

After runner-up Kerr and third-placed McVeigh, Collingwood's Ryan Lonie, Bomber Danny Jacobs, Western Bulldog Robert Murphy and Fremantle's Adam McPhee also polled votes in yesterday's count.

Essendon forward Dean Rioli won the inaugural Marn Gook award as the most talented emerging indigenous player.

Justin Koschitzke

Born: September 20, 1982

Height: 196cm


AFL debut: 2001

Recruited from: Albury/Murray Under 18s

Games: 20

Goals: 2


1. Justin Koschitzke (St Kilda) 31

2. Daniel Kerr (West Coast) 27

3. Mark McVeigh (Essendon) 23

4. Ryan Lonie (Collingwood) 11

5. Danny Jacobs (Essendon) 11

6. Robert Murphy (W Bulldogs) 1

7. Adam McPhee (Freemantle) 1

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