Matthew Kreuzer and Trent Cotchin first met each other when both were selected in a Victorian Under-12 side for a carnival back in 2001. Since then, their footballing lives have been almost parallel, despite their vastly different playing styles and body shapes. This weekend they will both hit the 100-game milestone, 12 years after their first interaction in the football world.
They became close friends throughout their junior years, and were a devastating duo when playing for the Northern Knights in the TAC Cup. Towards the end of 2007, it became apparent that both youngsters were going to be snapped up very early in the draft. Kreuzer, with his remarkable athleticism for a ruckman and ability to provide a forward target as well as winning the Morrish Medal and Northern Knights best and fairest, meant he was the favourite to go pick one. Despite this, there was no doubting that Cotchin was the best midfielder available and would be a valuable addition to any team in the league.
As history shows, Carlton chose Kreuzer with their first pick and Richmond recruited Cotchin with the very next. Once again, the two best mates shared a common bond; the weight of the world was on their shoulders, with many comparisons to champions of the game and the pressure to lift Carlton and Richmond out of the doldrums of the bottom four. The futures of two of the biggest clubs in Australian sport were heavily reliant of the evolution of their young recruits. Despite a perfect stage being set with the teams facing off in round one, neither draftee made their debut in the game.
Kreuzer would be unleashed in the round three clash against bitter rivals Essendon, and Cotchin would have an injury-delayed start to the season, debuting in round 8 in a five-goal loss to reigning premiers Geelong. A sign of their importance to their respective was the fact that both would not miss a single game for the rest of the season, playing vital roles in teams that struggled for consistency.
The next few years saw Cotchin mature into one of the best young midfielders in the competition, helped along the way by fellow onballers Brett Deledio and Dustin Martin, amongst others. He received significant attention from the opposition taggers but had the ability to still impact games with his speed and unbelievable game awareness. On the flip side, Kreuzer was playing quite well until tearing his ACL against Fremantle in 2009. This injury kept him out for a full year and seemed to cut down his agility and hunger for the football, a problem he has finally overcome in the last couple of seasons.
Fast forward to today, and these two players have gone through a major change which now sees them nearing opposite ends of the spectrum in their respective careers. Cotchin is possibly the best player in the league not named Ablett, coming off the back of consecutive best and fairests, an All-Australian selection and a top two finish in the 2012 Brownlow Medal. He has also replaced Chris Newman as the Tigers captain and looks set to lead them into a long-awaited finals series. Kreuzer, despite performing quite well this season and potentially leading the Carlton best and fairest, has been touted as a trade prospect with the Blues desperately looking for answers to their disappointing first year under Mick Malthouse.
They are no doubt two of the best talents to come through the draft system in recent years, and they still have an incredibly bright future ahead of them. No matter what colours they wear, be it the blue and white of the Northern Knights, the navy of Carlton or the yellow and black of Richmond, 100 games is only the beginning, and the football world have a number of years of outstanding skill from both men to look forward to.