Lions keep the faith

WAYDE Mills has time on his side and enough versatility to become a regular first-choice selection for the Brisbane Lions.

That's the opinion of Lions assistant coach, Justin Leppitsch, and former assistant, Shaun Rehn.

Mills, drafted by Brisbane in 2005, is regarded as a long-term prospect for the AFL club.

And he would want to be: Mills has played just 16 games in his fourth year in the AFL system.

The hulking 20-year-old from Lennox Head was wallowing in the reserves but finally got a guernsey with the seniors on Saturday and played a bit role in the Lions' gutsy 20-point win over Port Adelaide in Adelaide.

Brisbane was 47 points down at one stage in the third quarter but rallied to kick 11 of the last 12 goals to win in the wet.

"He's a long-term project, for sure," Leppitsch, one part of the Lions' celebrated back six in the club's triple premierships (2001-03), said.

"Everyone finds their feet in the first five years max.

"It takes about 50 games just to sort of release the nerves so that's still an ongoing process for him, too. He was finding a bit of touch with the reserves. He's ultra-competitive and he's coachable and disciplined, not at all flairy."

Mills flew into Adelaide as an emergency and replaced ruckman Jamie Charman at the 11th hour.

He marked his return to senior ranks in style with a goal coming from a 'mongrel' punt on a tight angle in the second quarter.

Mills presents something of an 'X' factor for the Lions.

It's his versatility - the ability to play forward and back - that excites the club, which drafted Mills primarily as a defender, says Rehn.

Coincidentally, Rehn, a two-time premiership ruckman with the Adelaide Crows and a former Lions ruck coach, now lives in the area where Mills grew up.

He moved to Bangalow after finishing up with the Lions at the end of last season.

"The young fella was drafted as a backman but he played as a really good forward and works hard defensively when up there," Rehn said.

"He's got that fitness base to run long and hard and if you're creating long leads as a forward your opposition tends to drop off."

Challenges

Mills faces challenges on several fronts to become a regular player - emerging pair Mitch Brown and Lachie Henderson his main 'rivals' - but Leppitsch said he has what it takes.

"He does have some stiff opposition to break into the side but he won't leave a stone unturned (to get there)," Leppitsch said.

"I think in the long-term, once his body matures, he'll become a 'tall' defender.

"But he can play a few roles. He's versatile. He's got quite a good lot of attributes."

Rehn agreed with his former coaching colleague.

"The thing with Wayde is that he is still developing," Rehn said.

"In a way, he got games earlier than anticipated (11 last year, four in 2006).

"He's 21 this year and sometimes, kids like that don't fully develop until they're 23 or 24 and with Wayde he'll sustain his size and bulk."


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