For all the hoopla about Izak Rankine as a top-line AFL prospect through his teenage years, he has been somewhat off-Broadway since as a Gold Coast footballer.
That stopped abruptly at the start of this month, when it became apparent the 22-year-old wanted to return home to South Australia to play for the Crows – the team he grew up supporting and idolising.
Rankine made that official on Tuesday, when he requested a trade to Adelaide.
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There’s been mixed reaction to the news, starting with obvious disappointment and even anger at the Suns, when it comes to eccentric chairman Tony Cochrane.
Both Cochrane and co-captain Touk Miller referenced how much work Gold Coast put in to firstly help Rankine overcome his early injury troubles but also develop him as a player and person.
There is angst they won’t see the fruits of that labour, beyond the classy forward’s breakout 2022 season, which included 29 goals and a personal-best 10th placing in the Suns’ club champion award.
But that disappointment is matched with excitement in other quarters, namely from Rankine’s family, the Crows and West Adelaide people who guided him in his youth.
There’s also some trepidation.
Rankine had what can only be described as a challenging upbringing, including but not limited to his parents, Ronald and Kerry, splitting.
His relationship with his father is complicated and there were periods before he was drafted that be bounced between living at home or with his older brother Matt, one of six siblings.
Rankine took on extra responsibility and both West Adelaide and Henley High School, particularly Ben Kane, who ran the school’s football academy, did their bit to ensure there was structure in his life.
“I was happy he got drafted out of South Australia,” Rankine’s West Adelaide League coach Gavin Colville told News Corp.
“I felt he would certainly benefit being out of the Adelaide fishbowl, so I think that was a good thing.
“All of my contact with Izak tells me he’s had really solid support up on the Gold Coast and it’s been a really good experience for him … I just hope it works out for him, because he’s a really good kid.”
AFL recruiters who spoke to News Corp on the condition of anonymity echoed Colville’s sentiments about the move interstate being for the best.
Rankine conducted some pre-draft interviews with his dad and others on his own. In the solo ones, he, too, spoke of how getting out of Adelaide would be good for him.
One talent scout left an interview with Rankine believing his father would find it difficult for his son to leave.
Former Suns football boss Jon Haines was heavily involved in Rankine’s first three seasons in the AFL system before departing the club at the end of last year.
They did their due diligence pre-draft then invested further once he became a Gold Coast player.
Rival recruiters knew there was a go-home risk with Rankine but believed the Suns’ suite of picks in the 2018 draft – Nos. 2, 3 and 7 – meant he was absolutely worth the punt on talent alone.
“Once we selected him, we just wanted to understand as much as we could,” Haines said.
“Like anything, understanding a person’s journey and situation makes it easier, whether individually or as a club, to actually help – and that was our focus.
“There was a lot of time and energy put into that but it was well-received and educational on both sides.
“We learned as much about ourselves and what we needed to do to support our players, as much as we did in learning about Izak.”
Gold Coast’s overarching approach with Rankine was to surround him with positivity, and Haines saw “enormous” personal growth in him.
Rankine spoke often to the Suns about wanting to use his profile as an AFL footballer to make a difference in the Indigenous community.
Ex-Crow Jason Porplyzia, who was previously West Adelaide’s talent manager, still recalls with amusement an under-16 game where Rankine kicked all six of the team’s goals and had almost as many behinds.
Colville’s standout memory is of one passage in Rankine’s draft year, when he made a fool of 159-game AFL defender Jasper Pittard, who was playing in Port Adelaide’s reserves that day.
Rankine swooped on the Sherrin and left Pittard in his dust before kicking a goal, despite the defender being in a decent position to corral him out of bounds.
“To see someone of Pittard’s quality taken to school by Izak was incredible – he was too quick for him,” Colville said.
“Izak has the ability to run with the ball, basically as quickly as he does without it. It just looked ridiculously easy … no one else would have kicked a goal from that.”
Then, of course, there was Rankine’s championship-winning performance against Victoria Metro for South Australia’s under-18 side.
The whiz-kid had three of his five goals before the halfway mark of the first quarter, including a freakish mid-air finish, to help the Tony Bamford-coached South Australians blow the Victorians away.
“He’s definitely one out of the box. You don’t get many players as exceptionally talented in a number of different sports – he was an excellent basketballer as well,” Bamford said.
“We didn’t have to do anything from a skill acquisition point of view, because he was already more skilful than half the blokes playing in the AFL.
“It was just a matter of making sure that he played a role inside the team unit, which he did quite well for us.”
Haines, Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew and co. also used to shake their heads at Rankine’s natural gifts, from training to matches.
Teammates young and old have always gravitated to Rankine, who Porplyzia refers to as “happy-go-lucky” and a bit cheeky.
“I think he kind of laps up the limelight. He likes the expectation,” said Porplyzia, who played 130 games for the Crows from 2006-14.
“He certainly did when he was a kid. He liked playing in big games and the big moments – he thrives on that sort of thing.
“There’s a bit of razzle-dazzle about him.”
There are few concerns about how Rankine will handle the greater expectation and attention as an Adelaide footballer, given off-field issues never seemed to bother him when he played.
His ability to “switch off” from football also impressed Colville, a quality he believed would hold him in good stead throughout his AFL career.
Haines, too, was impressed with Rankine’s adaptability and infectious personality.
“He had a shyness (when he first arrived) but also an energy and charisma that sort of contradicted that shyness in some ways,” Haines said.
“It didn’t take him long to adjust to the environment and build relationships with people and staff, in particular. He adapted to the environment pretty quickly.”
Rankine is yet to publicly address his trade request but much of the focus elsewhere so far has centred on his wage.
Cochrane even used the phrase “money talks” in a parting clip at Rankine.
Some media outlets are convinced he will receive somewhere in the high $800,000s per season, whereas others have it closer to $700,000.
Gold Coast’s long-term offer was believed to be worth in the vicinity of $650,000 a year. Whatever it ends up being, Rankine will be handsomely rewarded.
There were glimpses this year at the player he might become, but Bamford and Porplyzia both hope the Crows use him more through the midfield.
They believe he can transform into a Shai Bolton or Connor Rozee-type player who starts forward but influences the game with midfield bursts.
“I even said it to the Gold Coast two years ago,” Bamford said.
“I said, ‘If you want more out of Izak; you’ve got to give him a sniff around the ball’.
“Don’t just leave him as a small forward, because it’s like leaving a Porsche in the main street, where you can go only 60km an hour. Get him on the freeway and let him go.”
The greatest unknown is how this situation plays out off the field.
The hope is Adelaide is fully prepared for the complexities that could, and likely will, arise. But Rankine reconnecting with his family and friends is also seen as a great positive.
Whatever eventuates, the general consensus is that the 22-year-old version of Rankine will be far better equipped to deal with any potential challenges.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Haines said.
“He’s had four years in the system, been in a really good program and he understands the AFL industry.
“He’s as prepared as he could be to go back into that footy-mad town and the expectation that’s going to come, with the type of noise there’s going to be around the trade.
“He’ll be ready for it and hopefully, he can handle it really well.”
Fox Footy’s David King has spoken this week of his fears for Rankine’s move home, believing the trade request was “poorly advised”.
“I still can’t get my head around this one,” King said on SEN.
“I think this is one of the most poorly advised players right now that I’ve seen for some time.
“A young man at 22 years of age, he’s only just getting going, only just hitting his straps, he’s played, what, 50 games of AFL footy – he’s not a $800,000 player.
“I understand you get what you pay for, and the Adelaide Crows have done a great job in securing their man and you have to pay overs, I get all that, but the pressure that will be on him right now worries me.
“Because he’s a small forward, he thrives on winning his own ball in the forward 50, he’s not a marquee mid, so he won’t be able to get the numbers that’ll satisfy the fans.
“I think he’ll be under pressure in a heartbeat at the Adelaide Crows.”