FROM cheeky country kid, Tom Rockliff has transformed himself into a combative warrior.
And the 25-year-old doesn't plan on changing his uncompromising ways now he is captain of the Brisbane Lions. Well ... maybe he will just tone it down a touch.
Taking over from Jed Adcock, Rockliff looks set to thrive with the responsibility of leading a young side with enormous promise.
"I think I will continue to lead exactly the same way," he told APN ahead of tonight's opening game against Collingwood at the Gabba. "We've got to show aggression - that's something we've probably lacked a little bit in the past."
Rockliff's comments came after recruit Mitch Robinson revealed to his new teammates that Brisbane had been considered a walkover by his ex-club Carlton.
"We've got to let teams know that when they play the Lions they are in for a contest and we're not going to roll over," Rockliff said.
Setting standards with or without the ball, Rockliff not only led the competition in average disposals last season (32), he was also number one in tackles (9) per game. He just aims to reduce the one stat that has been of concern - the amount of suspensions after receiving two in 2014.
"We've got to continue to push the boundaries," he said. "It's probably just a matter of staying in those boundaries for me ... making sure I set the mark, but still being out there to play every week."
Lions coach Justin Leppitsch said he loved Rockliff's 'in-your-face' attitude, at the same time noting the new leader was hated by opposition fans.
Rockliff, who raised the ire of North supporters last season during an after-match confrontation with Kangaroos veteran Brent Harvey, said he didn't have an issue with what fans from rival teams thought of him.
"I suppose it's a backhanded complement.
"If I can get inside an opponent's head and they focus on me and not the game, that's a win for me individually, and for the team," he said.
"I hope I'm not hated right across the competition - you don't want that - but if you get in their face and play that aggressive style then you're going to get a few people offside."
Rockliff is no doubt respected by the majority after he had to fight tooth and nail just to win a place in the AFL. He was overlooked in a couple of drafts, before the Lions took a punt and picked him in the 2008 pre-season draft 2008.
Within three years the kid who was born in Lismore, NSW, but grew up in Benalla, in north-east Victoria, rewarded them with a breakout season in 2011 when he won the club best and fairest. He won a second B&F last season.
"The road that I've taken, I wouldn't change it for anything. It's been the driving force for me," he said.
But, after playing 105 games, yet no finals, he added, "I just really want that team success now for the Lions."
That could be just around the corner, with Rockliff joined in an elite midfield this season by Daniel Rich and Jack Redden, who return from injury, and new arrivals Robinson, Allen Christensen and Dayne Beams, who will today clash with his old club.
Rockliff was expecting Collingwood, which has had the distraction this week of having two players, Queenslanders Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas, test positive for the banned drug clenbuterol, to target Beams.
But, also expect the new skipper will have his back.
"Dayne's an absolute superstar of the competition," Rockliff said.
"I think he's settled in well and the boys have loved having him on board."
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