Anyone watching Wellington Phoenix training at Westpac Stadium on Friday could have been forgiven for thinking the 1.99m guy on the side line might be a prospective central defender ready to challenge Andrew Durante or Ben Sigmund for a spot in the team.
They would have been way off the mark. The big man was former top-class Aussie Rules footballer Brendon Lade, who is part of a three-man delegation from the Richmond AFL club watching how the Phoenix, and head coach Ernie Merrick in particular, go about their business.
Accompanying Lade, Richmond-s forwards coach, is the club-s development coach Mark Williams and general manager Dan Richardson.
Williams coached Port Adelaide Power to its only AFL premiership in 2004 and Lade was part of that team.
So how did what both parties hope will be beneficial for everyone concerned come about?
Richardson says it happened in part because he and Merrick are related and consequently talk often.
“My Dad Barry is Ernie-s wife Kerry-s brother,” Richardson said.
“Over the years we have spoken about transferring knowledge between the two football codes and, probably through family connections, Ernie has developed a strong interest in AFL footy,” Richardson says.
“Through his time in Melbourne with Victory and the Victorian Institute of Sport Ernie has done quite a bit of work, and spent time with, AFL teams.
“Our senior coach Damien Hardwick started his coaching career with Alistair Clarkson, coach of last year-s premiers Hawthorn, and in the early days they spent time with Ernie talking about the tactics that soccer employs, and out of that there are quite a few tactics and defensive patterns that AFL football has taken from soccer and utilised.
“There are quite a few more principles Damien is interested in learning more about so we thought we would bring over two of our senior coaches to observe and discuss things.
“Damien would have loved to come himself but it was impossible with preparations for the new season under way.”
Richardson said his club was big on learning from other codes, be it the NFL in America or soccer.
The trio-s visit to Wellington is just the first step in what Richardson and Merrick are hoping will be a lasting relationship that will benefit both clubs.
“Our two coaches that are here are learning about some of the philosophies Ernie follows in his coaching,” Richardson says.
“We are keen to see the planning that goes into the preparation for a game, plus the review post match to see how the plan worked and what result came out of it.
“The Richmond Football Club is happy to reciprocate and host the Phoenix staff.
“Hopefully the Phoenix coaches, be it Ernie, Chris (Greenacre) or Lee (Spence – Strength & Conditioning Coach), will come over and learn a bit from us.
“Whoever the Phoenix send we will be happy for them to spend a week or so in the inner sanctum of our environment.”