New Blue’s welcome surprise to club

Matthew Lobbe hadn’t anticipated a return to his home state, but he isn’t complaining. The ruckman didn’t realise until he arrived back in Victoria after a decade in Adelaide just how much it meant to him to be back near his loved ones.

“It’s been a really great surprise,” Lobbe told Fairfax Media at Carlton’s pre-season camp on the Sunshine Coast.

“Being close to family and friends, I think it’s going to help me just be a bit more normal during the footy season, being able to go back home and visit the family in Emerald and catch up with school friends as well.”

While he hadn’t anticipated a move to the Blues, a trade from Port Adelaide – where he’d been for a decade after being drafted at pick 16 in 2007 – had been a long time coming. Having taken years to develop, the big man became one of the key drivers of Port’s rise to premiership contention in 2013 and 2014.

Seemingly at the peak of his powers, he signed a four-year contract extension late in 2014, which tied him to the club until the end of 2019. But by late the next season he’d fallen out of favour, and over the next two years he was in and out of the team, held back at times by a knee injury, but increasingly by Port’s preference for Paddy Ryder in the ruck and a realisation the two couldn’t co-exist in Ken Hinkley’s side.

The Western Bulldogs had come knocking at the end of 2015, but Lobbe turned down their overtures, wanting to tough it out.

“I really wanted to have success with Port,” Lobbe said.

“It hasn’t quite worked out how I wanted it to but I really felt like I learnt some massive lessons last year and the year before about how to go through things when it’s going against you.”

He credits the people around him for ensuring a difficult 2017, professionally, didn’t crush him. “That was probably something that kept me sane in the end.”

By the middle of this year it was clear a move, if it could be organised, would benefit both player and club. So Lobbe headed into trade period wanting a new home for more opportunities. The most interest he felt, was from the two Queensland clubs. But there were stumbling blocks. “Nothing was ever set in stone,” he said.

“I think that was depending on a few other trades.

“I thought it would be more likely to go [to Queensland] than anywhere else, just because I’d had more interest from them. But as trade period is, it’s pretty crazy.”

Then late in the piece, Carlton ramped up their interest. Lobbe hadn’t met with the Blues, although his manager Michael Doughty had been dealing with them. The first reports at the time pointed to an “NBA-style salary dump” that was playing out. That Carlton were taking on Lobbe’s considerable wage in part to free up space in Port’s cap. Not that Lobbe seemed overly perturbed by the labelling. “To be honest, I just had a bit of a laugh at it. I didn’t really understand, so I just had a bit of a laugh.”

What Lobbe is serious about though, is again becoming an AFL regular. “I feel like I’ve got lots of great footy left,” he said, pointing to strong SANFL form this year.

His goals though, are twofold. “I feel like I’ve got so much experience because it hasn’t been just an easy ride of a career so far for me. Using my experiences that I’ve had and all the lessons that I’ve picked up along the way, I just want to share that as much as I can with the young boys, and being at a club where there’s so many young guys, it’s a great opportunity.”

Not only is he trying to help the club, he is enjoying the environment. He has been reunited with fellow big man Matthew Kreuzer, with whom he played for Vic Metro a decade ago.

And Lobbe says that while the ruck position continues to evolve, he still thinks there is scope for two ruckmen to play in the same team, provided conditions and match-ups suit. “Lots of teams have tried to go without a genuine ruckman. It’s been interesting to see teams last year play their second ruck as midfielders. I think they might even find a way to stop that,” Lobbe said.

“At the moment I’m just focused on training the best that I possibly can, helping this group, and I think if I do that, things will take care of themselves during the year. The main thing for me was a fresh start. Just getting a clean slate again and being able to be in a new environment.”

He’s also back with long-time teammate Cam O’Shea, another player given a lifeline by the Blues. The pair have known each other for a long time, having not only played together at Port, but also at the Eastern Ranges, and hailed from the same junior club, Emerald, bringing the total of ex-Emerald players at Carlton to three, veteran Kade Simpson being the third.

There are a host of new faces at the Blues, so Lobbe can hardly feel different. He has been living in Brunswick with fellow trade period acquisition Darcy Lang, ahead of Lobbe’s girlfriend’s move to Melbourne in the new year.

It all makes for a rejuvenated player.

“I’ve loved it so far. I feel a bit like a little kid again, being at a new club and being around lots of new people.

“I’ve been super impressed with how [coach Brendon Bolton] has created this environment.

“It’s a real learning environment. He’s got a lot of young guys who are already super driven and it’s exciting to jump in and really want to be a part of that.”