SAM Cowling’s been an interleague full-back but now he’s terrorising defenders.
The Warrnambool key forward should no longer be considered a backman, having starred at centre half-forward several times this season, including in the Blues’ past two victories against third-placed North Warrnambool Eagles and fifth-placed Terang Mortlake.
Terang Mortlake coach Matthew Irving says Cowling’s brilliance is often overlooked by opposition sides as they focus on star forwards, the league’s leading goalkicker Jason Rowan and Travis Graham.
But having seen Cowling twice slice open his side this season with vice-like marks, Irving is under no illusions about his impact on games.
“I reckon he’s close to the top player in the league,” Irving said.
Eagles coach Bernard Moloney watched Cowling pull in a dozen marks and kick three goals against his side despite close attention from leading defending Darcy Keast two weeks ago.
He agreed Cowling is one of the competition’s leading players.
“No doubt,” he said.
“He’s very hard to match up, he’s so strong and mobile.
“He’s a really dangerous player.”
Moloney marvels at Cowling’s versatility. He is a strong defender and a power forward.
Warrnambool coach Scott Carter said the Blues used Cowling in pinch-hitting roles up forward in 2011.
But it wasn’t until last season that they started using him more regularly as a power forward. He kicked 28 goals in 2013 from 21 matches, including seven against South Warrnambool, but this season he has already kicked 18 goals from 12 matches and been named in the Blues’ best players five of the past six games.
“He’s having an exceptional year,” Carter said.
“He’s really refreshed and invigorated since we’ve moved him to the forward 50 last year and he’s very hard to match up on.”
Carter, a premiership defender, has seen plenty of good forwards.
“I reckon Sam is just about one of the best contested one-grab marks in heavy conditions I’ve seen.”
His powerful marking across half-forward, often against two opponents, is becoming his trademark. Standing 187cm and weighing in at 93 kilograms, he is the Hampden league’s version of the Hulk.
“He’s a powerhouse,” Carter said. “Physically he’s very well built and his fitness has really picked up this year.”
Carter said the 23-year-old was important for the Blues in attack but circumstances, on top of Cowling’s ability, had cleared the way for him to play up forward.
“All our three forwards work in tandem really well, they are a team. In our forward 50 we’ve also got a good mix of talls and smalls. Kurt Lenehan has been important as a small forward, (as has) Jed and Jye Turland.
“I’m very pleased with the versatility of our key position players. (Key defender) Tim O’Keeffe can be equally effective forward and (Peter) Corredig has kicked goals for us too.
“The development of Peter Corredig at centre half-back and Rob Bright at full-back has really helped Cowling play (as a) permanent forward.”