RYAN Lester has been dropped a whopping 17 times from Brisbane’s team during his 13-year career.
He’s been out of contract for five of the past six years.
Three months ago, he was fifth in line among key defenders on the club’s list.
And now, less than two months shy of his 31st birthday, the man they call ‘Froggy’ looks to have two hands on a starting spot in a Lions team that is pushing for a premiership. Lester is continuing to prove that nice guys don’t always finish last. Since being drafted in 2010, the 192cm utility has forged a reputation as not only one of Brisbane’s most dependable players on the field but one of its most endearing culture-setters off it.
Speaking to the media following a round seven win over Fremantle, Lester said he didn’t ride the wave of emotion that came with flicking between the senior and reserves teams. It was his key to remaining even-keeled, and productive when called upon. “If I went back to the VFL and spat the dummy, I’d probably have been out of the club three or four years ago,” he said.
It’s an attitude that has not only carried him to 167 games, and counting, but that has ensured when given a chance, he grabs it, like his recall against Sydney in round 14. That 11-disposal performance, seven of which were intercepts, was so impactful it earned him one AFL Coaches’ Association MVP vote. And as he prepares to face St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on Friday night, a spot in the defensive unit is his for the foreseeable future.
Brisbane football manager Danny Daly told AFL.com.au there’s a simple reason for Lester’s longevity.
“When he plays at AFL level, we know he can do the job, but the other part is his off-field stuff,” Daly said.
“He’s in our leadership group, he always gets voted in. He’s a fantastic person to have around the club.
“We know if he’s not playing AFL, he’s basically captaining our seconds.
“As a human being, he’s one of a kind. You can’t have enough of them around the club, and it keeps getting him contracts.”
With the Lions recruiting Josh Dunkley and the prospect of father-sons Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher on the way in the draft, Lester was delisted at the end of last season to free up list space. The club was always going to re-list him, but it was yet another example of how tenuous his time has been.
Lester is realistic about where he sits in the pecking order and doesn’t take the rollercoaster journey to heart. He suffered a hamstring injury early in the year and was passed by pre-season supplemental selection period signing Darragh Joyce to partner Harris Andrews and Jack Payne in the key defensive posts in the early rounds.
When Darcy Gardiner returned recently from his own injury struggles against Adelaide, Lester was again omitted the following week as he slid down the order.
“When I was younger and in and out of the team you can get caught in that trap of comparing yourself to other players that are playing, but it’s important for me, particularly as a leader of the club, that I’m supportive of those guys,” Lester said in May.
“I don’t know how many more times I’m going to play, so just make sure I go out there and really enjoy it.
“I know I can play at AFL level. It’s just a matter of showing that when I get out there and not worrying about next week and maybe someone coming in for my spot.”
Daly said it was Lester’s ability to connect the entire club that held him in such high regard.
“Not just the playing group, but staff, he has a great ability to connect with everyone at their level.
“He’s forever having conversations with staff, admin, board members, players, me, ‘Fages’ (coach Chris Fagan), the playing group.
“From Jaspa Fletcher to ‘Zorks’ (his brother-in-law), he can have conversations at the level they need to have them at.
“He’s got great care and empathy for people and he’s always willing to help them.
“You’re mindful of the culture of your place and what individuals bring. He plays good footy when he plays, but you can’t buy what he brings off the field for our footy club.”
On the field, he’s as disciplined and determined as they come. You simply don’t last this long if you’re not. In the 2020 Finals series, he outplayed Jack Riewoldt and Patrick Dangerfield in his two primary one-on-one assignments, and there’s little doubt he’s playing as well now as then. Maybe there’ll be an 18th omission at some stage, maybe not, but it won’t deviate his mindset either way.
“It’s his spot until his form drops off – it’s going to be hard for us to not pick him,” Daly said.