A NERVOUS energy flowed through Daniel Jackson when his coaches contemplated throwing him on Eddie Betts.
The reigning Hampden league best-and-fairest - in his first season in the star-studded Northern Territory Football League - was instead deployed as a high half-back meaning he could watch the Betts' show from a safe distance.
Betts, who retired as one of the most dangerous small forwards to play AFL a year ago, kicked five goals for Palmerston Magpies, including one of his famous forward-pocket specials in the round three match two weeks ago.
It was a surreal experience for Jackson, the Portland export who is following a path tread by numerous south-west Victorians in tackling the challenge of a season in Darwin.
"I was in the back line but luckily I didn't get the task of being on Eddie," Jackson told The Standard.
"Earlier in the week it was thrown up that I might but it sort of got changed around."
Palmerston also featured ex-Melbourne defender Neville Jetta and former Geelong and Collingwood player Travis Varcoe.
Jackson said it was always a thrill competing against footballers with AFL experience.
"With Eddie, the aura he brought to the game and the crowd was pretty amazing," he said.
"Even as he's got older, he's still got that flash to his game and it's exciting and good for the fans.
"After the game he had a chat with us and he's just a really down-to-earth bloke."
Jackson made his mark in the Hampden league as a dynamic goal-kicking midfielder.
He became the first person to captain Portland to a finals series in September and finished his campaign at his home club with the Maskell Medal around his neck.
But new challenges beckoned. He wanted to travel - along with partner Eloise - and play football in different surrounds.
So he swapped wet, windy south coast winters for the Top End's humidity.
Jackson is one of five Hampden league players at Nightcliff this season.
Portland duo Lochie Huppatz and Jay Moody are there, along with North Warrnambool Eagles' Luke Wines and Koroit export James Gow.
Former Nirranda defender Scott Carlin, who played VFL for Geelong this winter, is a rival at Waratah.
"It's a bit hotter so it's taken a bit to adjust to the weather with games and training but I'm getting there," Jackson said.
"I think there's only a certain amount you can adjust - it's still going to be hot no matter what and you're constantly sweating.
"It is hard to compare the standard because it's so different. It's a bit faster up here but the ball gets really slippery at night time.
"Because it's so hot, the rotations are a lot quicker, but it's not as contested so it's a bit more open and if you're willing to get out and run you find you can get the footy a bit more."
He expects Darwin to provide the ideal preparation for his next move.
Jackson, who plans to start an apprenticeship, will travel to Queensland once the NTFL season is finished, having signed with AFL Cairns team North Cairns.
"Darwin is a six-month thing and I am looking forward to getting to Cairns, settling down and getting into a routine," he said.
There he will play alongside another ex-Portland player, Ty Deans, and former North Warrnambool defender Darcy Keast.
Opponents will include Camperdown's Fraser Lucas, who plays alongside Koroit premiership player Lachlan Rhook and former Terang Mortlake footballer Ben Finnerty at Centrals Trinity Beach.
Lucas is coming off his first season up north and will play for the Bulldogs again in 2023 as he and partner Jess Cameron soak up the northern sunshine for at least another 12 months.
"The style of footy is a lot different to what we find in western Victoria," he told The Standard.
"I've had a lot of people ask me what the standard is like and I think the best way to put is when the top teams up here play each other it stacks up with what we get back home but it probably drops away quite significantly when the top teams play the bottom sides.
"A lot of it is sling-shot based and teams tend to score on turnover purely because it's generally hot, dry and there's not too much wind. The stoppages are significantly lower up here compared to what they are back home."
Lucas, 29, conceded he took time to adjust to the competition before settling into a forward line role.
But he's had an up-close vantage point to Rhook's rise.
"Lachie Rhook up here has been phenomenal. The last game of the year he kicked 18 goals which was pretty significant," he said.
"If he walked into a Koroit side he'd be a star once again, he's just gone to another level."
Lucas said Keast, playing for rival North Cairns, would be "in the top handful of players".
"No matter where he goes, I think he's going to be someone who has an impact for his team," he said.
Keast, 29, is preparing for his second season at North Cairns. The defender also spent a summer prior to his arrival at Nightcliff in Darwin.
He said the laid-back Queensland lifestyle encouraged people to move north, if only for a year or two.
"From a footy point of view, it is so much different," Keast told The Standard. "There's a lot of things outside of footy that guys like doing. The requirement (to do extra training) is not there (compared to Victorian football)."
The "transient nature" of the competition also enabled Keast to play a game with younger brother Baillie, 20, earlier this year during a visit from Warrnambool.
"That's the culture up here - in Victoria, if you said 'could I fly down and play one game in the seniors?' I don't think that would fly at many clubs, if any," Keast said.
"But up here there's fly-ins everywhere. They fly in from Darwin and vice versa during their summer season.
"Transient is the right word, in a good sense. People are pretty cruisey.
"The clubs are predominantly filled with southerners - Victorians, South Australians and even some from WA to an extent.
"You'll end up having a connection with someone."
Keast, who works remotely as an accountant for a Victorian firm, is enjoying being part of a team trying to turn its fortunes around.
Nightcliff, which will benefit from Jackson's arrival, was in a challenging position after four winless seasons before breaking through in 2022.
"I think their average losing margin was close to 200 over the course of the year, so they were coming from a long way back," Keast said.
"I joined (this year) because there was a few guys I knew and we had a much better year (in 2022). I think we got our average (losing) margin down into the 60s so from a statistics point-of-view it was a decent improvement.
"They hadn't won for four years and we won a couple of games this year which was a good thing. It was a tough year but it was a building thing and we had plans to stick around for a while."
Lucas is embracing his new lifestyle which was one of the main reasons for moving north. A trip to Fitzroy Island was ticked off recently while Port Douglas is just an hour down the road.
The Great Barrier Reef and Tablelands are on the agenda for Lucas and partner Jess too. The couple is unsure of its long-term plans but Lucas would encourage those seeking a sea change to jump in.
"If you want to experience and see what's out there, go and do it," he said.
"I don't necessarily think it has to be far north Queensland or Darwin. If you think you'd like to try something different than your home club then by all means go and do it because it's not so much a sporting experience, it's a life experience as well."
Keast is grateful he took a leap of faith and migrated north.
"I definitely would've done it earlier had I have known what I know now," he said.
"Everyday you're happy to do nothing - it's just a nice day."
The weather is one of the major draw-cards for Keast who moved with his partner Charlotte.
"You just know it's going to be warm everyday," he said. "You can do something any day you want, I really enjoy that, and just the experience of meeting new people and the experience of being in a completely foreign environment has been exciting."
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