THE TAGGER

Luke Peters is the sort of person you build a football club around. He has chalked up 217 games in the Brown and Gold guernsey (35 Thirds, 83 Reserves and 99 in the Seniors) since he first arrived at the Findlay Oval in 2005.

He has already been conferred with a Life Membership for his services to the Wangaratta Rovers, but on Saturday he joins the club’s ‘elite’ when he runs out for his 100th senior game.

It has been a marathon journey. As a tribute to one of football’s genuine good guys, ‘On Reflection’ recalls the tribute we published back in 2015, when he was having one injury after the other and harbouring serious doubts whether he would ever reach the milestone:

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He has never found footy easy. Even back in the Auskick days little smart-arses would run rings around him.

But he doubted that any of them loved the game more than he did.

He saw them all come through junior ranks and drift off for one reason or another. Some left town for Uni and never returned ; others just lost interest. They’d occasionally run into him and ask him how his footy was going.

It was always the same reply – “Terrific”.

His Junior League club was Imperials. Then, after an unspectacular couple of years he was asked to train at the Rovers.

That gave him a bit of a buzz, as he’d always barracked for the Hawks. His dad had played there in his younger days, although work took precedence and he’d hung up the boots at a young age.

The young bloke had an enduring dream that one day he would run out onto the W.J.Findlay Oval wearing the Brown and Gold guernsey as a member of the senior side. And playing alongside some of the stars of the club that he’d read about and often watched.

His coaches admired the fact that he was earnest. There weren’t any stand-out skills in his repertoire and, despite making plenty of mistakes he was always willing to learn.

And he got on well with everyone.

It seems an eternity ago now – 11 years in fact – that he began with the Thirds. During his two full seasons there, which included playing in a Grand Final, he had a half-a-dozen runs with the Reserves.

It wasn’t so much that he warranted promotion because of his outstanding form – just that the twos were running short and included him to boost their numbers.

And, in the couple of weeks that the Rovers had a break, he was invited out to Milawa and plonked into their senior line-up. Did all right, too.

The Demons tempted him by suggesting he should join them the following season. But no, he said, “I’m happy at the Rovers”.

His improvement was steady and he couldn’t contain his elation when he shared in a premiership with the Reserves. There were a few of his good mates in the side and the team gathered momentum as the year progressed.

Then they ran away to win the Grand Final in a canter. Boy, did they celebrate.

That long-awaited senior debut came the following season. He’d been playing okay and knew that an opportunity might be around the corner, as the ‘ones’ were struggling and were keen to introduce some new blood.

It was against Wodonga Raiders. He did nothing out of the ordinary and, after a couple of games he was back in the ‘Magoos’.

It was pretty much the same for the next couple of years. Despite blokes saying how he was the ‘heart and soul’ of the side, he would be rewarded with a game in the seniors then dropped again after a bad defeat.

It was frustrating, because he’d chalked up 70-odd games in the two’s. Added to the 35 he played in the Thirds, it made him a young veteran of the Club, despite managing only 12 senior appearances.

Every summer the whisper would be that O & K clubs were onto him. That they’d got into his ear and suggested he was just ‘part of the furniture’ at the Rovers,  was being used up and should take a few bob and come out and enjoy a bit of ‘grass-roots’ footy.

But he was always there on the opening night of the Hawks’ pre-season training.

Then some-one had the brain-wave that he might make a handy run-with player. He had the necessary discipline and could follow instructions to the letter. Why not give him that task ?

It turned his career around. His job was to mind the opposition’s number one in-and-under player. It’s an unglamorous role, but one that he took to enthusiastically.

They say that the taggers who succeed are those who embrace their averageness. They don’t try to emulate the stars. They’re confident in their role as a cog, not a match-winner.

He impressed those ‘in the know’ and managed to curtail a few of the better-known on-ballers. Soon he became a valued member of the side.

The players and coaches really appreciated his efforts. He was a much-beloved team-man.

Some said he took this label as the ‘in-and -under man’ literally and expanded on it on Saturday nights. He would be right in the thick of the social action and it was no surprise one year, when he was voted the ‘Downlow Medallist’ by the players.

The positive aspect about his new-found permanency in the seniors was that he was picking up a few more possessions. I suppose trying to blanket the stars led him to the ball and he found himself winning a fair share of kicks.

Even the supporters, previously oblivious to the important blanketing role he was performing,  warmed to him belatedly,  as the years rolled on.

He was now within sight of 100 senior games. The Club held its 80-odd ‘Centurions’ in high regard and he had to pinch himself when thinking that he may possibly join that hallowed group.

But back to reality. During the summer many mature players had left the Club and he knew that,  as one of the ‘elder statesmen’ of the side, his experience would be invaluable  to a very young group.

What he didn’t bargain on was spending all of the pre-season nursing a crook groin. Then having one setback after the other, as he watched helplessly on.

Naturally, he’s still there providing support, like any decent team-man would.

And when he finally overcomes his injury problems there will be no one keener to play his part than ‘The Tagger’.