At Tyson Stengle’s first training session with Adelaide he was fighting just to stay in touch with the 1-4 year players, but at least there was some fight. Then came a club-inspired turning point and on Saturday night a three-goal Crows debut.
AS ADELAIDE’S 1-4 year players started pre-season training at Cornerstone College in Mount Barker last November, Tyson Stengle was labouring at the back trying to stay in touch with the group.
The 20-year-old had been traded to the Crows after playing two games with Richmond in its premiership year of 2017 but nothing since, and this was Adelaide’s first look at him.
He wasn’t injured when he arrived but he was underdone and quickly discovered that being just a little bit off could make a big difference.
“He’s come a long way, I must admit,” Adelaide’s forwardline coach Ben Hart said on Saturday night.
“The standards he’s learnt when he came to the footy club and then his ability to take it on board and do the work has enabled him to play really strong, consistent footy at SANFL level.
“And he had to bide his time to be honest, he was putting some good form together and the pleasing thing is that form has stood up in an AFL game.
“It won’t get easier for him, it will possibly get harder before it gets easier, but he’s got a great head on his shoulders and I’m really pleased for him.”
Stengle was living with his grandparents when he returned to Adelaide but two months into pre-season training the Crows decided to move him in with Eddie Betts who would act as a role model in everything from diet and training standards to professionalism and game-day tactics. Stengle himself has said moving in with Betts helped him mature on and off the field.
Betts and his wife Anna already had four kids at home including newborn twins but gladly took him in and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My wife was sitting there one day and Tyson walked in and she had a blank because it reminded her of me when we first met,” Betts told The Advertiser in April.
“The smile, the face, the look, and she just said ‘you two are the same’, and she’s like his mother now, she doesn’t want him to leave.
“But he does more for us as well, he helps with the babies, and he’s got it pretty good, his own room, Foxtel, Netflix.”
The Betts family was in the rooms on the Gold Coast before Stengle’s AFL debut for the Crows on Saturday night and the room fell silent for a goosebump moment as Betts spoke about Stengle’s journey and presented him with his guernsey.
“I think for everyone here they could tell, since Tyson has come back home (to South Australia), he lives with Eddie and Anna, it was a special moment,” Hart said.
“Both of them are very passionate people and passionate about the footy club and it was fantastic to just sit back and listen.”
Off the top of his head and without notes in the rooms pre-game, Betts reeled off that Stengle – or “The Prez” – would be the 226th player to represent the Crows and the third indigenous player to wear the No.17.
“What you’ve overcome growing up is inspirational,” Betts said.
“What I can say is you’ve worked your arse off to get here, you’ve put pressure on us small forwards, that’s through workrate, getting up, your chasing, tackling, your care for your teammates and now you finally get your chance to play for the Crows brother.
“Everyone loves ya, your teammates love ya, my family loves ya … you light up the room and I’m pretty sure you’re going to light it up here.”
The irony was that Stengle almost got his opportunity because Betts was out of form. In 12 SANFL games this season Stengle has averaged 2.2 goals a game and has had 43 scoring shots in total.
But in the end Jordan Gallucci made way and Betts and Stengle could play together which Hart said was special.
“Absolutely, I think so,” he said.
“They lift one another I guess and look for one another, and add a dynamic that we haven’t had for most of the year.
“They key behind both of their games tonight and Eddie in particular was his ability to move.
“He brought high speed to his game, so if having both of them in there enables them to do that then that’s something we’ll look forward to if they stay in the side together.”
After two goalless games in a row, Betts’ spot in the team had been the topic of public discussion and Hart admitted it was also thrown around at selection committee as well.
“I think he’s been in discussions, and we’ve had really good discussions with Eddie as well about his form,” Hart said.
“It’s just consistency to be honest, sometimes he’ll be fantastic for a quarter here and maybe not have the impact in a quarter or a half after that.
“Look, he’s got some credits in the bank I think. Eddie Betts is Eddie Betts but certainly he’s like anyone else, he will be judged on his consistency.”
But coach Don Pyke publicly at least never wavered in his faith in the 32-year-old.
“He’s capable of being if not the most then one of the most damaging small forwards in the comp and I still believe he’s capable of doing that,” Pyke said last week.
Six goals later – making it nine in total between he and Stengle on Saturday night – Betts had played himself back into form.
Now as the Crows prepare to play Essendon in a big game on Friday night the question is whether we’ll see the Stengle and Betts combination become permanent.
“We’ve been looking for the perfect mix and we haven’t quite found it but it was a step closer today,” Hart said.
“(Lachlan Murphy) Murph’s ability to be consistent with his pressure has been good and I thought Riley (Knight) was really strong tonight.
“But Jordan (Gallucci) while he hasn’t been poor he can certainly add something if we start to move the ball a bit quicker, and Richard Douglas is the same.”
The softly spoken Stengle couldn’t have done much more to stake his claim for another game. A man of few words, teammate Hugh Greenwood once said he spoke to Stengle more online playing video games than he did at the club.
“He just goes about his business and he has a very dry sense of humour so the boys really like his contribution even though it can be limited in meetings,” Hart said.
“He’s the type of guy who likes to let his footy do the talking and we saw some glimpses of it and hopefully there’s more to come.”
As for his nickname ‘The Prez’, Hart said that came with him from Richmond.
“I think he gave it to himself back in the Richmond days, The President, he’s a funny man,” Hart said.