Ellis lands 100th game at Eagles

Xavier Ellis’ 100th AFL game milestone would probably receive more fanfare if he were wearing a Hawthorn jumper while celebrating it.

Hawks fans will be only too aware of the injury hurdles the 26-year-old has had to jump to reach the century mark this weekend.

Instead, he’ll run out on the Gabba on Saturday night to tackle Brisbane in the blue, yellow and white colours of West Coast.

It will be just his 14th game for the Eagles but behind closed doors the coaching staff will probably pop a cork to mark the occasion.

Because as coach Adam Simpson said, it was a massive gamble drafting Ellis – a gamble that appears at this early stage to have paid off.

The Eagles lured Ellis west as an unrestricted free agent on the back of him having played only two games for the Hawks (where Simpson was an assistant coach) in 2013, six in 2012 and eight in 2011.

So, if he can remain fit for the remainder of this season, he will have played more in one year than he did in three wearing brown and gold.

A series of foot, calf and knee problems kept him on the sidelines for most of the previous three seasons.

And when he missed rounds six and seven of this season due to a calf niggle, Eagles fans would have been holding their collective breath.

“We just took a punt to be honest – nothing made me think he could hold up, other than he was ready for a challenge in a different environment – it was caution to the wind,” Simpson said.

“He wasn’t after a two or three-year deal and it was a bit of an experiment, I suppose.”

You can only imagine the emotional roller-coaster Ellis went through in seven seasons with the Hawks.

He was a priority draft pick for Hawthorn (at number three overall) in 2005 behind only Carlton’s Marc Murphy (who has played 180 games) and (then) Collingwood’s Dale Thomas (172).

His new teammates Josh Kennedy (played 134 games) and Shannon Hurn (145) and Pies champ Scott Pendlebury (186) came later.

He debuted in round one of the 2007 season, coincidentally at the Gabba against Brisbane.

His 36th AFL game was the 2008 grand final when he had 28 crucial touches (more than any of his teammates), took 14 marks and kicked a goal in a premiership team that beat Geelong by 26 points.

And while injuries started to take their toll after that, he still managed a grand final appearance against Sydney in 2012 – playing through most of the loss with a torn calf.

That pretty much cost him most of the 2013 season, which culminated in him watching his teammates win a flag against Fremantle.

Simpson believes it’s been as much a mental battle for Ellis than a physical one to pick himself up and start again with a new club.

“Probably more the emotional battle, the mental battle for 'X' to get back on the track – broken down and get back, broken down and seeing a premiership, being a part of a club that plays in a premiership and knowing you are good enough, but your body’s not,” he said.

“So to go through all that and come over here and re-introduce yourself as a player and establish himself as a senior player... I’m really happy for Xavier.

“It’s a credit to him and his preparation and I don’t think we have seen the best of Ellis yet – so I look forward to the next 100.”

Ellis arrives in the west at the perfect time; the 26-year-old brings experience that many of his young teammates do not have.

With Darren Glass already retiring and ruckman Dean Cox not far away, experience is something the Eagles welcome.

It’s something that has not gone un-noticed by his new teammates.

“We’re rapt to get him this year – what he has been able to bring to the backline just in terms of experience and what he knows from Hawthorn has helped a lot of guys around him,” midfielder Luke Shuey said this week.

“So, he’s a vital part of our team and I am looking forward to playing with 'X' for a few more years.”

Shuey said he expected Ellis to be in mix at the start of next season when the players choose the club’s next captain after Glass’ retirement. He thinks Eagles fans would embrace such a decision, even though he’s come from Hawthorn." 

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  • The story Ellis lands 100th game at Eagles first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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