BROTHERS Josh and Justin Baxter grew up punting the football to each other in the backyard.
The Terang Mortlake exports now live in different states but are still chasing the Sherrin to the highest level they can.
Josh is in his second season with North East Australian league side Southport Sharks and on the back of sparkling early-season form has earned a spot in the Queensland state team, which opens its national championships campaign today.
Justin, who plays for Victorian amateur outfit De La Salle, has overcome a life-threatening and season-ending football injury last year, to be selected to represent the association.
Older brother Josh survived the cut from Queensland’s 34-man squad to 22 on Thursday night and will line up against ACT at Southport today.
“I’m very excited,” he told The Standard yesterday.
“It’s probably the biggest test of my football career so far.
“I’ve been playing pretty good footy. I’ve kicked 17 goals in the past four weeks so I was putting my best foot forward for selection.
“I just had to train well.”
Growing up in the Terang district, Josh played football for his local club and spent some time at Timboon.
He was part of the Geelong Falcons program but dislocated his shoulder in the draft year, resulting in surgery that sidelined him for 12 months.
“I eased my way back into football and everything was going well,” he said. “So I thought why not test myself and see how far I can go.”
Josh followed Jason and Shane Bourke and Kurt Niklaus north to try his luck in the Sunshine State.
“It was a good challenge last year,” he said. “I felt like I wanted a bit of a change.
“We didn’t go too well at the start but we came home reasonably strong and missed out on finals on percentage.
“But we’ve started this season really well. We’ve won seven and lost one.”
Josh, a linesman by trade, said he had not given up on his AFL dream but was realistic about his future.
“Everyone who plays football wants to play AFL but I reckon I’m getting a bit old,” he said.
“But stranger things have happened. For now I will just concentrate on playing good footy for the state and getting a premiership with the Sharks.”
The 25-year-old can see the bigger picture, largely due to his younger brother Justin, who ruptured his spleen playing football last year.
“He had a three-centimetre tear in one spot and two other tears,” Josh said.
“They were trying to get his haemoglobin up so they could operate but he just kept losing blood. He was going through a pretty rough stage for a while there.”
While Josh cannot relate to the injury, he feels for his unlucky sibling, whose opponent on that day went on to win the round four match.
“It was a really close game,” Josh said.
“When Justin fainted, his opponent kicked the winning score.”
Justin, 23, has bravely returned for his third season with De La Salle in the VAFA.
“I’m pretty lucky to be here,” Justin told The Standard. “I just went back to pre-season in October to get back with the boys and get fit again.
“I’m just enjoying playing football.”
The skilful half-back was named in the VAFA representative squad of 36 last week.
The association travels to play AFL Sydney at Blacktown on June 9.