Coburg midfielder Nathan Thomas – who will play his 50th senior game this weekend – believes the in-form Lions are in a good place both on field and off.
Thomas, who joined Coburg in 2011 after spending time with TAC Cup side Northern Knights and local NFL club Lalor, admits he’s surprised himself with his progress.
“I didn’t think I’d leave local footy to go to the VFL and end up playing 50 games,” Thomas says.
“For me it’s a massive personal achievement because I probably exceeded expectations from when I left local.
“To get through all the injuries I had early on in my career playing VFL football it’s a big thing. For me it’s probably one of the greatest achievements – football-wise – that I’ve had.”
Despite the significance of Sunday’s game, Thomas insists he’ll approach the clash against Richmond at Punt Road no differently to any other of his 49 games. One thing that has changed, however, is the way the strong, diminutive midfielder goes about his football after being named in the leadership group last season.
The 26-year-old knows he must not only focus on his own game – and ensure he is setting a good example for Coburg’s younger players – but also help the club’s youth both on and off the field.
Like all other members of Coburg’s leadership group, Thomas was allocated eight players and is tasked with goal setting and making sure they’re happy being around the club. A proud Thomas speaks highly of his group of eight and has been impressed with their performances in 2015.
“Josh Cauchi was one, early on in the year. Being a goal sneak and the way he goes about his footy, once it comes to game day he has a real crack,” he says.
‘I think Errol [McConnell] has developed. Obviously he came here last year but he’s taken a step forward this year and he’s playing a vital role in the team at the moment.”
Thomas – who played all but one senior game last season and has again spent the majority of this season at VFL level – was dropped for the round 14 clash against Box Hill after struggling to influence games as a small forward. Thomas’ positive and professional approach saw him respond with a clear best afield performance in the development side and he sees coach Peter German’s decision to drop him as a good sign for Coburg’s much-improved depth.
“We’ve got a lot more talent coming through and you’re always fighting and always trying to play your best each week – obviously to hold your spot as well,” Thomas says. “Being part of the leadership group and then getting dropped, that just proves it.”
To his credit, Thomas followed up his standout development performance with another best-on-ground display in Coburg’s breakout win over reigning premiers Footscray the week after. A fortnight later, the Lions have strung together three consecutive wins and look a new side.
But what’s changed since the first half of the season?
“I think because there are a lot of new faces around the club and a lot of young boys, it’s taken a while for everyone to adapt to the game plan,” Thomas explains.
“We’re all starting to get to know each other a lot better and understand each other … I think everyone’s confidence is starting to grow. We know that we can win games against good opposition.
“We may be on the back foot at times but in the back of our minds we know we can keep pushing to win games instead of dropping off towards the end.“
Along with better understanding and confidence, Thomas says the Burgers’ pressure has been the “best I’ve ever seen it since I’ve been at the club” and is key to the club’s run home and slim finals chances.
“We are up and about at the moment but at the same time we’re trying to keep it a bit low key. We’re trying to take it a week at a time because we don’t want to look too far ahead,” he says.
Regardless of the finish to season 2015, Thomas is optimistic about Coburg’s future.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve had Craig Lees and Peter German come on board and ever since they’ve stepped into the place we’ve gone forward in a long way.
“I haven’t seen the club with this feel for a long time.”