Grass is greener for Smith, Leuenberger

The opening salvo of Sunday’s AFL game between Geelong and Essendon will be a reminder of how potent a simple change of scenery can be.

Cats ruckman Zac Smith will battle Bombers counterpart Matthew Leuenberger at Etihad Stadium.

Smith and Leuenberger have both impressed at their respective clubs in 2016.

Both relocated from Queensland to Victoria during last year’s off-season frenzy.

Smith sought the counsel of Gold Coast skipper – and good friend – Gary Ablett before deciding to shift in search of greener pastures and greater opportunity.

It was a sound decision.

Smith has played all 17 games this year and is a key part of the premiership contenders, having totalled just 29 matches in his previous three seasons at the Suns.

“I had a rough run with injuries,” Smith said.

“I really wanted a fresh start. Coming down here, it’s really rejuvenated me and the club has been fantastic.

“A new perspectives on the way I play and those sort of things.”

The Bombers may be at the foot of the ladder but the career of Leuenberger, a former No.4 draft pick, is no longer at the crossroads.

Leuenberger left Brisbane as a free agent, hoping a reduced travel load and better facilities would halt a run of serious injuries.

Sure enough the fit-again big man has carried the bulk of the ruck burden at the Bombers in a taxing 2016, missing just two games.

The 28-year-old can’t wait to clash with Smith.

“He’s a real athletic type. I know Zac pretty well, I saw him coming through on the Gold Coast as a kid,” Leuenberger said.

“We’re fairly similar ages – I’m a couple of years older than him. I feel like I’ve got a good feel on his game.”

The feeling is mutual.

“He’s a really quality ruckman, there’s no doubt,” Smith said.

“I’ve just got to bring what I’ve been bringing all season … I can definitely beat him if I bring those things.”

Geelong’s Rhys Stanley is another to have revitalised his career after switching clubs, having only showed glimpses of his potential prior to leaving St Kilda in 2014.

“He and I have been working really closely ever since I got to the club,” Smith said.

“Our combination in the ruck and going forward has been working really well.”

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