Adam Kennedy was sitting in the GIANTS’ auditorium, squeezed between new and old teammates early on a Thursday afternoon.

It was two days before the team took on Gold Coast at Blacktown in their only pre-season game, and Nick Haynes was standing at the front of the room talking about the early days out west: skill sessions on baseball diamonds, Breakfast Point apartments and the long and tortuous training days that greeted the club’s first bunch of draftees when they arrived at the club 12 years ago with no idea what they were in for.

As Haynes spoke, Kennedy took a moment to glance around the room. Back then, he was almost an anonymous part of that first group. He wasn’t one of the highly-talented 17-year-olds the club had already signed up; he hadn’t been plucked from another club, nor was he even part of that first draft class: after being overlooked by every team in his draft year, he found out he would become a GIANT late in the following season when the recruiting team told him and his parents in a casual meeting around the kitchen table that they would be pre-listing him as an undrafted player.

“People still ask me, how did I get drafted,” he said, “and I’ve never worked out how to explain it.”

That was at the end of 2011. Slowly, that first group has shrunk. When he looked around the auditorium, Kennedy could see only a few teammates who were with him back in those difficult early days, and who are now responsible for sharing the club’s origin stories with a group of new teammates who were just eight, nine or 10 when the GIANTS were born.

Adam Kennedy in action for the GIANTS against the Swans in 2012.

On Sunday he will play his 150th game and become a life member, the 19th person to be recognised with that honour and just the seventh member of the inaugural squad to make it there.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” he said.

“Not really the 150. That’s nice, but the fact that it brings life membership – some people might think that’s not a big deal, but to me it is. It’s just that feeling of belonging, it makes me look back and think back. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, with loyalty and everything like that, and I’m proud to be a one-club player. I’m never going to play 300 games or be one of those guys, but to have been here from the start is something special to me. This place and the people within the walls, they’re family to me. I hope I can come back to this place for years and years and still have that same feeling.”

That said, life membership was the last thing on Kennedy’s mind when he was starting out. Nor was a 10-plus year career, one he hopes has a while to go yet. When you arrive surrounded by a bunch of first round picks, it’s hard to imagine how you will last longer than them, and Kennedy’s experience in his first months was one of both enjoyment and survival.   

In which order, he can’t be sure. “I can remember looking around thinking, how am I going to hang on here?” he said.

“There were a few phone calls back home about appreciating the opportunity and enjoying my time, because I didn’t know how I would get into the team or hang around on the list. I just knew, these guys are really good and I’ve sort of come in as the last one picked. I’ve always been able to back myself, but I wasn’t sure know how long I’d last.”

Getting early games helped. Kennedy was a part of the first-ever GIANTS side, and was picked 54 times in his first three years. But then the challenges started coming. More good players were drafted after him, meaning the fight for a spot never stopped. He has lost form at times, and been left out of the side. He has started seasons in the reserves team, and had to find a way back in. He’s helped out in almost every single part of the ground. And he has been injured: hamstrings, concussions, months out with a shoulder injury and a full year with a busted knee. In even Kennedy’s most productive season – 2019, the Grand Final year – he was dropped halfway through.

Kennedy can’t remember a time when he truly felt settled in the side. But that says a bit about him. He has happily reinvented himself when asked to play in the backline, on a wing or this pre-season, as a forward. He has been prepared to knock on the coach’s door when he has been out of the side, and ask what he can do to find his way back in. He has kept fighting and played with courage, heart and commitment every time he has stepped on the ground.

“It’s been there in patches, that sense of security, but it’s been a career where I’ve felt on the brink a few times. And I don’t mind that,” Kennedy said.

“My body has let me down a bit, and that’s made it hard to be consistent and been difficult to deal with. And at times I’ve been the one drifting away in the twos thinking ‘poor me, how am I going to get through this and what can I do to get back in?’

“But as hard as it is, I’ve enjoyed that challenge. It’s made me keep learning, keep being open to new things and I think it can make you a better teammate as well. I know it’s helped me develop a lot of empathy for people who are going through things, whether it’s injury, selection, form or whatever else. When you know what it’s like it makes it easier to know when to put an arm around someone who’s having a rough time, and it gives you belief that whatever’s going on, you can work your way out of it.”

He has done it over and over and over again. Even last week in round one, starting as the sub. The start of last pre-season brought a whole lot of new things; Kennedy had been with the same senior coach since he was 20. But getting to know Adam Kingsley – what he values, how he wants things done – and working out how he can help with that has been invigorating. So has thinking about how he can help the young players trying to pinch his spot in the side.

“It’s a refreshing time here at the moment. There’s a clean slate for everyone, that’s one of the first things Kingers said when he came in,” Kennedy said.

“There’s no hierarchy, there’s a chance for all of us to show what we can bring to the team, to the club, and I’m loving it. The notepad has been back out for the first time in a while, there’s been so many new things to learn and it keeps you really hungry.

“I’m still here, and I never thought I would be. In year one or two I couldn’t believe I was surviving the system. In year five and six I was still the same. And now there’s new coaches and that fight to prove yourself never ends. But I love that. I want to be here for as long as I can, keep helping grow the club and keep helping the young boys. I want them to be fighting to take my spot, but I also want to challenge them and try to take their spot as well, it goes both ways.

Adam Kennedy celebrates a goal for the GIANTS in 2022.

“This is my club and I’m going to be looking back when I’m 60 and being the biggest supporter of the GIANTS, which I’m proud of.

"If I’m helping to develop guys and playing my role on that side of things, then that will motivate me and keep me going. We’ve got the best young group at the moment. I’m excited for what they’re going to bring and that makes it easier for me to think, ‘I really want to help these guys out.’ Whatever they need, I’m here for them.”