By sports editor Russell Bennett
While Queensland has just become the centre of the AFL world, until at least the end of the home and away season, Ben Collins already made it his footy epicentre for his family’s exciting new chapter.
Now in his late 30s, the former Kooweerup player-coach and multiple premiership-winner at Beaconsfield made the move to Noosa with his wife Aleisha and their young family last year – and they’re not looking back.
Collins – who’s also a former premiership-winning skipper at Cora Lynn, a premiership player-coach at Belgrave, and has played at Moe in the Gippsland League and Mulgrave in the Eastern Football League – is looking to try and win one last premiership before hanging up the boots for good.
It’s a chance he wasn’t sure he’d ever get, after retiring in 2017 – the same season in which he’d battled testicular cancer.
But the move to the sunshine state has been a godsend for Ben and Aleisha, as well as kids Archie and Brighton.
Now running the Queensland arm of his AusConnect Underground Services business, while younger brother Dave – a champion player in his own right, and starting ruck rover in the Casey VFL team of the decade from 2006 to 2015 – looks after the Melbourne operations, Collins couldn’t be happier with his family’s coastal change.
He played his first game for Noosa in Division 1 of the QAFL on Saturday, booting two majors – including the first of the game – as his side prevailed over Mayne in front of a bumper home crowd for the battle of the Tigers, 9.18 (72) to 8.7 (55).
Collins spoke to the Gazette on Sunday, after a morning beach recovery session and returning from a day out fishing on the boat with Archie.
It’s a far cry from the dreary wintery Melbourne conditions.
“The standard of footy is probably in between West Gippsland and the old Casey Cardinia (which has effectively become AFL Outer East Premier), so it’s a pretty good competition,” he said of the QAFL’s Division 1.
Collins spent some time on the ball for Noosa on Saturday, along with a former star of the Ballarat region, Shane Hutchinson. Both are well and truly in the twilight of their careers, and both are relishing the chance to provide some on-field leadership to coach Adam Bovalino’s side.
“It’s a different sort of footy,” Collins explained.
“Saturday was a bit of a grind, but because it’s so dry it’s fairly quick out there.
“It’s different to home, but I loved it. It was 23 or 24 degrees with not a breath of wind, and we had a massive crowd come along.”
Collins has been fortunate enough to be part of some proud, beloved local clubs in Melbourne’s south east and he says Noosa is right up there with them when it comes to the Tigers’ culture – a feat particularly impressive considering there are so many players from other states who’ve moved up there for a sea change.
“I guess footy in Noosa has always been really well-followed because they’re very much like a Victorian club – there are a lot of Victorians who’ve moved up here,” Collins said.
“I’ve followed Noosa for a while already – we nearly made the move up here seven or eight years ago.
“No doubt people in Victoria would underestimate the standard of footy up here – I’m sure of it.”
After years of contemplating it, the Collins family finally bit the bullet and made the move up north last year.
“I spoke to Bova (Bovalino) once our season finished at Kooweerup last year and said we were making the move, and that I wanted to get involved in the footy club in some way to meet people because we didn’t really know anyone,” Collins explained.
“I caught up with him the first week we moved up here, and we went out for lunch with our families, and we’ve all become really close since. It’s made the transition so easy.”
There’s a degree of irony that there’s so little footy being played in a footy-mad state such as Victoria right now (due to the impacts of Covid-19), but it’s in full swing in Queensland – and that’s not lost on Collins, who’s constantly thinking of everyone back home.
“I still speak to (former Kooweerup team mates) Vossy [Nathan Voss], Tex [Luke Walker], Mitchy [youngest brother Mitch Collins] and all those guys and it’s just weird that I’m coming out of retirement after two-and-a-half years and I’m playing, and those poor buggers can’t play footy back home,” he said.
“I wouldn’t change our move for the world.
“It’s been the best decision ever for us. It’s an unbelievable place to bring up the kids.
“I played a game of footy on Saturday and headed out on the boat and to the beach the day after. If I’d have been in Melbourne I would’ve been on the couch all day. “We do all sorts of family things together up here, and we love it.
“It’s just a beautiful place of the world, and to actually be able to call this place home now, that’s just awesome.”
Collins hasn’t decided if he’ll play on next year – given so much of that decision rests on how his body holds up in 2020 – but he’s relishing the chance of taking a step back from coaching, and just playing for the love of the game.
“I’m just taking it week by week and enjoying my footy,” he explained.
“It’s been more than a decade since I haven’t been an assistant coach or a coach, so I’m just enjoying the playing side of things again.
“I’ve got no aspirations to be a head coach, but I’d like to help out – whether that’s being an assistant, or helping out on the committee. I’ll stay involved around the club because they’re such a great bunch of people.”
Noosa continues its QAFL Division 1 premiership quest when the side heads to Aspley to take on the Hornets this Saturday.