Photo: Darrion Traynor/AFL Media.

JEFF STEPHENSON

FORMER Brisbane Lions and Footscray VFL defender Reuben William is the latest big-name player to sign with Redland Bombers for next season.

It will almost be like coming home for Reuben as he can easily rattle off several Bombers’ players he has met, played with and against and some he calls his mates over a short, but exhilarating career.

It is a career that has taken him further in terms of on-field performances and off-field community work than most compile in a lifetime.

He’s now looking forward to the next stage and says the opportunity to play with the Bombers is one he is eagerly awaiting.

Reuben played three games with the Lions after being rookie drafted in 2016 and then put together an influential package of 38 games with Footscray. He is the only player (both AFL and VFL listed) to play all 38 games over the past two seasons.

“I hold that achievement pretty highly – it’s not easy at that level,” he said.

He missed by a whisker at a second grab at the highest level when the Western Bulldogs went ever so close to drafting him in this year’s mid-season draft after Liam Picken’s premature retirement.

A keen student of the game Reuben is mightily aware of the playing talent already on hand at the Bombers and which has been bolstered by the recently announced returns of Adam Oxley and Blake Grewar.

“I know both of them pretty well and I played with Jack Rolls in the State Under 18 program and there’s also Matt Hammelman and Peter Yagmoor, so it will be an easy environment to step into,” he said.

A further example of his Redland association is that he took part in several pre-season sessions with Leigh Harding prior to heading to Victoria.

The hard-running defender played his junior footy with Zillmere Eagles before joining the Brisbane Lions Academy, making his AFL debut against Gold Coast Suns at Metricon Stadium in 2016.

Reuben will be returning to Brisbane next week to take up a Multicultural role with AFL Queensland, where, ironically enough, he will be working alongside Peter, who leads the league’s Indigenous programs.

“I’m really looking forward to teaming up with Yags – we’re both free spirits.”

The role is an extension of the work he undertook at Footscray where, as AFL Victoria’s Multicultural Development Officer, he spent the major part of his days at the Western Oval living and breathing football and working in community affairs.

His football story is extraordinary – but his background even moreso.

Born in South Sudan and arriving in Australia via a Kenya refugee camp as a five-year-old, he can’t remember his father – Deng – who was among two million people who died during the Sudan Civil War that ravaged the country from 1983-2005.

His mother Veronica raised Reuben and his three siblings “living a life of fear”.

She worked in construction where her duty was to carry three bricks on her head from one site to another.

“What she had to do just to get money to feed us was really tough. She’s sacrificed heaps for us – and she still does – and we’ll always be grateful for that,” Reuben told an AFL website recently.

After winning the green light to re-settle in Australia, Veronica introduced him to football soon after they settled in Zillmere – as a means of integrating socially – and the athletically-inclined youngster took to the game readily and soon there were several senior club figures suggesting the kid might have a future.

The major part of his journey started when he was drafted and then continued – taking on a higher level in the community workings – following his de-listing when he was immediately sought by multiple VFL and SANFL clubs.

It was then Reuben selected Footscray as his heart’s desire, driven by the prospect of him making his mark in Melbourne’s western suburbs where the “African Gang Crisis” exploded all over the media.

He told the club’s website: “I connected with African athletes from a variety of sporting codes and wrote a response to the “crisis” in the form of a letter that we put out to social media.

“We used the platform that I had and the platform several other African athletes had, not just Sudanese athletes because in the end, they really don’t differentiate from South Sudanese young people, they just see the skin colour and go from there.

“I was able to pen together a letter on behalf of all of us that brought light to the situation because at the time it was getting pretty ugly.

“We didn’t really provoke anything. We just said this is how it is, and this is what it should be like, we’re representing the community.”

The way Reuben saw it, yes there were people doing the wrong thing, but the way it was being portrayed in the media saw the bad behaviour of a small group of young people as unfairly tarnishing a whole community.

It’s actions like that that have made Reuben a role model.

Now he is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to continue his work in Brisbane helping to develop newcomers into the football and associated communities.

“I’ll be working at all levels – not just footballers – but volunteers or aspiring umpires or anyone who can come on down to a club and not feel like a total stranger.”

As for his new upcoming role as a Redland Bombers’ player he is thoroughly excited.

“I’ve really worked on my durability the last couple of years.

“I’ve played a lot of half-back and deep defence and can go forward, but I wouldn’t mind a run in the middle.

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

“With the recent signings and with the quality of player already at the club I reckon the Redland club will be pushing for the finals next year.

“Well, why not a premiership.

“To be part of the club’s first premiership – now that would be amazing.”

Coach Phil Carse was thrilled by Reuben’s decision to join the Bombers.

“Having experienced both AFL and VFL football over the past four years in strong systems Reubs will bring plenty of experience and leadership to our program.

“I believe Reuben will give us plenty of flexibility and power. He played a variety of roles for Footscray last season and is ambitious to keep developing even further, which shows his strength of character.

“He will add another dimension to our style which is exciting.

“Most of all he’s a great young man off the field and we can’t wait to have him as part of our Bombers’ family.”

Just in case you were wondering – yes, this is the same Reuben who Jarryd Roughead was noted giving some tips to when he played against him for Hawthorn reserves during a VFL clash this season.

Another example of Roughy’s sportsmanship and Reuben’s willingness to learn.

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