A kitten clawing his way to the top

SUPPORT NETWORK: Jarad and parents Jo and John, with his former Casterton coach, Justin Monro, at back.  
Wednesday, May 8
Geelong Advertiser

WHEN Jarad Rooke was overlooked for a second time by TAC Cup club Ballarat Rebels in 1999, he started to doubt his dream of playing AFL football.

Rooke knew the TAC Cup was the major avenue for young footballers to enter the AFL and that without a call-up his chances of making it in the big league were limited.

``I tried out with them (the Rebels) a couple of preseasons and trained mid-year one year, but didn't get picked and just sort of left it at that and concentrated on playing good footy at Casterton,'' Rooke said.

``My belief probably dropped a little bit, but I thought I'd go to uni somewhere, maybe Adelaide, and play SANFL and see if I could make it from there maybe.''

Rooke never did need to pack his bags for South Australia.

A blend of paternal confidence in his footballing ability and a couple of strong performances in interleague matches conspired to bring the skinny 17-year-old to the attention of AFL club recruiting managers.

His father, John, wrote to the Geelong Football Club in 1999 saying he thought his kid deserved a chance and that it might be worth the effort to take the three-and-a-half hour drive to Casterton, in western Victoria.

Geelong took the hint and asked to be kept informed about Rooke's progress, but other clubs were also in the hunt.

Hawthorn and Port Adelaide had heard about the kid from Casterton, so sent scouts to watch a couple of games.

``Port Adelaide came down and watched him play once, but they said they had a lot of similar players already,'' his father said.

``Hawthorn came down too and watched him play a game in a final at Portland, but it was an absolute bog heap, and also in Mt Gambier they watched him, but he got a kick in the leg in the first quarter and that was the end of him for that game.''

Despite being overlooked by the Rebels in 1999, Rooke was getting noticed by country football representatives.

He was chosen to play in the South East South Australian senior team which played against the Eyre Peninsula, a team which included Geelong teammate Corey Enright.

Then, in 2000, he was again chosen in the South East South Australian senior team, this time playing against Graham Johncock who is fast making a name for himself with Adelaide.

It comes as no surprise to Rooke's Casterton coach, Justin Monro, that he has made his mark quickly in the AFL after Geelong took the punt and placed him on its rookie list in 2001.

``He was a guy that always pushed himself hard,'' Monro said. ``He always wanted to be better. He did what he had to do to get a game in the senior team in 1999 when he was 16, just a young kid.''

The following year, Rooke cemented his place in Casterton's senior side at centre half-forward and finished second in the Western Border League's goal kicking with 67 goals.

``As a young guy, once they start playing well they get a lot more attention, especially in the country league,'' Monro said.

``They made him know that he was still playing country football at the time, but he was never a guy to retaliate. He just went about his footy and that's why he used to beat them. He'd beat them at the footy.''

Monro said Rooke always looked a cut above the country league.

``I've seen a lot of kids play footy over the last 12 years and come through the ranks, and this kid had something about him. I suppose a modern-game player you'd call him, with his running capacity and athleticism,'' he said.

While Rooke has impressed so far this season, his old coach said the best was yet to come.

``His definition is yet to come, I think,'' Monro said.

``He'll get pretty big in the next couple of years.''