Kaine Stevens, centre, will represent eastern in today's NEAFL inter-conference clash at Southport. Photo: Graham Tidy GGT
There was a time when Kaine Stevens worried about making it in the AFL, so much so he thinks it's one of the reasons why Greater Western Sydney let him go.
But when he runs out at Southport in today's NEAFL inter-conference clash his only focus will be gaining eastern conference bragging rights over a northern outfit.
The interstate clash pits Queensland and the Northern Territory against NSW and the ACT, and there'll be plenty of AFL scouts casting an eye over the game, and the under-21 curtain raiser as well.
Stevens played with the Giants in Victoria's premier under-18 competition, the TAC Cup, in 2010 but returned to the Queanbeyan Tigers when he was released at the end of that season.
Born and bred in Jerrabomberra, he returned home after spending a year studying at Saint Ignatius College Riverview in Sydney.
He's become an important cog in the Tigers midfield in a team that sits a game clear on top of the eastern conference ladder.
And that's where the 19-year-old's focus lies.
''I wouldn't want anything else but to go down that path [and get drafted by an AFL club], it's always been my dream, but back when I was at GWS I just thought about it too much and I guess it screwed me over in the end,'' Stevens said after the team landed in Brisbane.
Eastern conference coach Chris Rourke has been excited by Stevens's form this season.
''I think people are starting to talk about him again,'' Rourke said. ''He probably lost his way a little bit with injury and that last year … but he's been terrific this year. He just seems much stronger and his confidence is at an all-time high. A good showing by him [today], he's certainly got the ability to take the next step up I reckon.''
Injury has forced Rourke to make four changes to the line-up named last week. Ryan Quade, Steve Joliffe, Aaron Wiles and Shane Harris replace Rob Tuohey (knee), Matt Lokan (ankle), Nic Paine (ankle) and Ryan Houlihan (hip and foot).
NEAFL Inter-conference game: northern conference v eastern conference at Southport Oval, Gold Coast, 11.15am. Under 21s play at 9am. Streamed live on neafl.com.au