Higgins' passion for Bulldogs shines ahead of 100th game

Friday, August 11, 2017 - 10:37 AM by Chris Pike

HAVING come to terms with the West Coast-aligned East Perth not being the place for him, Brock Higgins almost moved to Melbourne but he was persuaded to join South Fremantle and as he approaches his 100th WAFL game he admits it's the best decision he ever made.

Higgins had shown good signs as an emerging big man at East Perth but after missing out on selection in the finals in 2013 having played 14 games during the home and away season, he was on the lookout for a new home.

Initially he thought he would move to Melbourne, but then South Fremantle coach Paul Hasleby was persuasive enough to make him decide to join the Bulldogs and four years later, he couldn’t be happier with the decision he made.

Higgins can't hide his passion and love for the South Fremantle Football Club and his teammates. He was also a popular figure at East Perth, but he sensed things changed in 2013 and could see the writing was on the wall that he would be better off moving on.

He never knew that he would find the type of home that he has at South Fremantle but he now couldn’t think of anywhere he would rather be.

"When I left East Perth we had a similar group with a bunch of blokes who had all played a lot of footy together, we were all best mates and used to go out together all the time. But that feeling sort of ended with the alignment and blokes started to fall away even though we still stay in touch," Higgins said.

"At Souths, we have that similar feeling where we are always hanging out together. We're always at Cooky's house or in Freo together or having dinner together. It's just a good feeling to have your mates around you all the time. I love a club environment I guess.

"I love the club and I love the boys I play with, and it's seriously the best place to be three nights a week. Training's a breeze because you are with all your mates having a laugh and then on the weekend you all have a good time together. The footy is coming on nicely as well. 

"When I first came to the league we had a lot of 21, 22 and 23-year-olds who had played 20 or 30 games. I was one of them but now we are all 25, 26 and 27 and have played together the last four years together with about 50-odd games together. We are starting to really gel and it's just an enjoyable place to be."

Higgins is now in the middle of his fourth season at South Fremantle and not only is he thriving on the field in the best form of his career as a ruckman.

After missing the first three games of the season coming off pre-season leg surgery, Higgins has put together a tremendous 2017 highlighted by 38 possessions and 119 hit outs over the past fortnight in wins against West Perth and East Fremantle.

Higgins will now reach his 100-game WAFL milestone this Saturday against Claremont at Claremont Oval.

While proud to get the mark, his focus is much more on trying to help South Fremantle achieve the ultimate success in 2017.

"I haven’t really thought too much about it until a couple of games ago and it is something that I can tick off now, but it's not that big of an achievement I guess in the grand scheme of things," he said.

"If I'm able to get 100 games at South it might mean that little bit more because it's at the one club and you get your name on the locker and all that. I'm not saying reaching 100 in the WAFL isn’t a big deal but getting there with one club would be even better.

"It's probably more something that when you've finished to be able to say you've played 100 league games of WAFL is a good achievement, but at the moment it's just another game and I'm thinking bigger things at the moment for this season."

As much as Higgins loves his club and teammates, the ultimate success is something driving on everyone at South Fremantle as well with the Bulldogs not having won a premiership since 2009 and having only returned to finals last year after a four-year absence.

Higgins has no doubt the Bulldogs have the capabilities to go all the way in 2017 having guaranteed second position for the second straight season, but it will take everyone in the group giving absolute effort.

"It's the right time but we still have to do the work. The feeling at the club is good but there's still a lot of work to be done and we know that," Higgins said.

"But it does feel good at the moment and we are building towards something, but we just have to work real hard to reach our potential."

There were certainly times early on in his career when a milestone like 100 games in the WAFL might have seemed out of reach to Higgins. That was particularly the case when he decided to leave at the end of 2013 and might have been heading to Melbourne.

"The year I left East Perth was the first year of the alignment and I was getting regular games during the season, but then come finals all the Eagles came back and I got dropped which left a bit of a bitter taste," he said.

"I was then going to go and play footy in Melbourne before I met up with Hase and he told me to come play with us and I decided to stay. I've never looked back since then. There were times early on I didn’t think I'd get anywhere but I'm glad I have come to Souths."

Higgins also rarely got a look in to spend too much time in the ruck at league level in his 31 games with East Perth. Most of his opportunities came either at centre half-back or centre half-forward where while he competed hard, clearly the ruck was where he was best suited.

That's why when Hasleby spoke to Higgins about joining South Fremantle following the departure of Sean Tighe, he instantly liked what he was hearing.

"I like being involved in the game all the time, I'm not someone who can drift in for a burst. I tend to have to slog it out and grind it out, and the longer the game goes the more comfortable I feel. I just love playing in the ruck now and I love the wrestling part of it, and the craft of it," Higgins said.

"Early on I was playing a lot at centre half-back and centre half-forward, and I was just happy to be getting out there and it didn’t matter where I played. 

"But during my last year at East Perth I realised I liked playing in the ruck and it probably suited me more. You are always around the ball which is good and you also don’t normally have to man up on anyone."

As he prepares for his 100th game on Saturday against Claremont, it sets the scene for another battle with Mitch Andrews for the Tigers.

Higgins couldn’t think of a better opponent for his milestone game.

"Me and Mitchy have had good battles in the past and I would say out of everyone in the WAFL, I rate him the highest at the moment," he said.

"I like playing against him, it's always a challenge and he always give it everything which is what I like about taking him on."

Going back to what led him to joining South Fremantle, it was missing out on the field at East Perth in 2013 that helped him make the decision to move on from the Royals.

Originally his next destination was going to be Balwyn in the Eastern Football League in Melbourne, but it was the persuasiveness of Hasleby that led to his change of heart to remain closer to home and join South Fremantle.

The rest is history and four years on, Higgins has had four almost four full strong seasons as South Fremantle's ruckman and is preparing for another finals campaign.

"At the meeting I had with East Perth at the end of the year I asked if there would be opportunities for me and they were honest about it, and said probably not. So I said I was going to move on and they understood that and didn’t stand in my way," he said.

"They were good about it but I made up my mind when they made the grand final and I wasn’t playing that I would be moving on. I just happened to be in Melbourne that year for Christmas with family and friends, and I got a call from the coach of Balwyn in the Eastern footy league and he asked for a meeting. 

"We met at the pub and we had a few drinks and I thought it was a good idea. But I got back here and realised I'd have to upend my business and move it to Melbourne, and I met Hase at the pub as dodgy as that sounds. 

"But we put at The Saint for a couple of pints and he told me that our ruckman had just left and we didn’t really have anyone so he'd love me to come down. I decided it would be easier to stay here and give WAFL another crack to try and play the highest level I could instead of amateurs."

As for his future, Higgins isn’t sure what might happen beyond next year but with Jake Solomon and Josh Branchi putting pressure on him to keep performing, and Jonathon Frampton and Jacob Warne coming through the colts, he knows he will need to keep performing at a high level.

"We do have the two young blokes coming through who might push me out the next year or two but we'll see how we go. I might have to reinvent myself," Higgins said.

"The body's good this year but that might have been because I missed a lot of the pre-season so I'm actually feeling fresh at this point of the season. I'll go on next year for sure and then reassess how I'm feeling."