Report: JEFF STEPHENSON

YOU can never accuse Craig Malone of punching above his weight.

The Redland big man has developed into one of the elite ruckmen in the NEAFL at a time when the rucking ranks are at their strongest in the history of the competition.

So, no, he doesn’t punch above his weight, but he does indeed punch above his opponents on a regular basis on the back of his big 198cm tall and 110kg heavy frame.

It is a rare to see the Bomber ruckman lower his colours at any of the centre bounces or boundary throw-ins as he grapples with, outwrestles and outmanoeuvres his opposition.

It has been great to see the big man back in action after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury at a training session last year just after the midway mark of the season.

He was one of three players to suffer injuries that night, which continued the run of bad luck the Bombers have had with injuries to key players last year as well as this season.

The injury list has been horrendous and has severely disrupted the Bombers’ attempt to play NEAFL finals football.

Craig’s return this year has seen him elevate his powers – not just his ruckwork capacity, but his follow-up work – an area he continually aims to work hard at to add further oomph to the Bombers’ depth.

While his football is consistently good, his work off the field has taken an upward turn with his appointment this year as a teacher at the Victoria Point State High School.

He’s one of three players in the teaching ranks with Adam Boon (Park Ridge SHS) and Boyd Bailey (Springwood SHS) the others.

Craig, 25, completed his Bachelor of Secondary Education last year after studying four years at Griffith University.

“I suppose it’s a sense of accomplishment and I love it,” he said.

He takes care of Health and Physical Education – which involves AFL, where he is co-coach of the school team – and has been “thrown into” Manual Arts.

“Hey, I’m enjoying that and learning as I go along.”

Craig takes charge of juniors through to seniors – from Grades 7 to 12 – and he describes his role with the school footy team as “awesome”.

As for the “big team” he’s enjoying his Redland Bombers’ journey, which has now seen him accumulate 83 games for the club.

His clashes with some of the big guns have been epic.

Former St Kilda star Trent Knobel is one he pinpoints as a tough opponent and veteran Jake Spencer has provided him with some moments to remember since the ex-Melbourne ruckman joined Aspley this year.

“You play against these guys and you’re always learning.

“They’re big-bodied players and they know the caper.

“I just go out there and do my best against them and yes – I pick up plenty of pointers along the way.

“I’ve always wanted to play against the top guys at the highest level for as long as I can.”

Craig’s aspirations and intentions will be put to the test once gain when he resumes his battle with Spencer at Scottsdale Park this Saturday.

The Hornets’ big man has been influential in the NEAFL since ending his injury-riddled 10-year association with the Demons at the end of last season, where he accumulated 38 games.

Spencer was the first player from Townsville to be drafted to the AFL and the irony is that he attracted the attention of talent scouts after moving to Brisbane where he played with – you guessed it – the Redland Bombers.

No sooner had he recovered from a run of injuries, Spencer found himself playing second fiddle at the Demons to Max Gawn – an All-Australian and arguably the best big man in the AFL.

But it is challenges such as this that drive Craig’s determination to succeed and he’ll be willing all he’s got to give the Bombers’ midfielders first use of the ball.

Craig’s recent effort against the SUNS, when he achieved a season high 56 hit-outs, backed his 55 hit-out performance against Southport the previous week.

His season’s tally sits third just behind Spencer and the ever-improving Sydney Swans’ Darcy Cameron indicating clearly the standing Craig holds in the competition.

Craig or “Tiny” as he’s known around the club, believes the camaraderie and the spirit within the Redland ranks are second to none and equates the playing group as being like “part of a family”.

“There’s great leadership within the group and we’re always together.”

Clay Cameron’s return after his battle with testicular cancer is indicative of the bond.

“Clay’s shown a lot of courage. He’s stuck around the club all this time since learning of his illness.

“He’s shown a lot of guts and it’s brilliant to have him back playing with us.

“It just shows you that there’s more to life than just football – and that’s what we’re all about – sticking together, working together and improving together.”

It’s a great philosophy and Craig is at the forefront of spreading the message.

He’s a tireless workhorse, taking on some strong and very talented opposition and giving of his vey best each time he steps on to the field.

So, while the opposition is indeed “very talented” so too is our “Tiny” – the man who week in – week out – takes them on and almost always comes out on top.

GO BOMBERS

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