THE LAIDBACK kid who came from Perth four years ago with big wraps, a thumping left boot and a mop of shaggy blonde hair is quickly developing into a Brisbane Lions leader.
At first glance Daniel Rich may not strike you as leadership material, but since making his AFL debut in 2009, he has slowly evolved and matured into a Lions’ lynchpin.
With Jonathan Brown to be assisted by a co-captain this year and 2012 vice-captain Josh Drummond now retired, there is a vacancy in the Lions’ leadership group that needs filling.
There are plenty of candidates, with the likes of Matthew Leuenberger and Jack Redden also in the mix, but Rich has impressed everyone in recent times.
He came to the Lions as a quiet – but confident – No. 7 draft pick who has had his ups and downs since winning the NAB AFL Rising Star award in his first season.
Rich is now talking like a leader, even if he does not get the official tag. Everything in a 10-minute chat with him is “we” and “team”, even when the questions aren’t about the team.
“The extra responsibility to give back to the younger guys is there. You have to mentor, like the older guys give back to you,” Rich said.
"I really enjoy helping the younger guys where I can and it's only going to make the footy club better this year and in years to come.”
Rich said when he came to Brisbane the older players helped him out, and it was a club trait he wanted to continue.
“The more years you have under your belt, there's an expectation to give back to the younger guys, help them where you can and lead by example. It's just something that has to be done.
“The young guys give you the enthusiasm and spark and life.”
Rich is coming off arguably his best season, finishing second in the club’s best and fairest and getting closer to a level of consistency both he and the club are looking for.
The 22-year-old is undoubtedly the best field kick – both in penetration and accuracy – at the club and has slowly added an ability to win his own ball.
Opponents have identified his influence, and Rich is now tagged as much as, if not more than Brownlow medallist Simon Black.
He said it was something that took some getting used to.
“I still want to have an influence, even in those not-so-good games,” he said.
“It's easier said than done, especially when someone is playing on you most weeks, but it's something I'm learning. I took a few steps forward last year but there's still a long way to go in terms of where I want to get to.
“It'd be great to get to a stage where if someone is sitting on myself, there’s (Tom) Rockliff and (Jack) Redden and Blacky and Brent Moloney and these types to run amok and get lots of kicks.
“Hopefully it gets to stage where teams have to choose from four or five of us who to tag.”
Michael Whiting covers Brisbane Lions news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_mikewhiting