Kieren Briggs tried a bit of everything. Rugby league, rugby union, soccer and athletics.
Then, as a 12-year-old in Sydney’s northwest, he found the freedom of Aussie rules. And, as they say, the rest is history.
A little over a decade later, Briggs had his breakout AFL game after 13 appearances for the GIANTS over three seasons.
The slow burn lit up last week against North Melbourne with 16 disposals and 20 hitouts to earn the big ruckman nine coaches’ votes and his first entry in the Carey-Bunton medal for the best NSW player in the AFL.
Drafted by the GIANTS in 2018, Briggs, like so many big men, was by no means an instant hit. After a few seasons in the NEAFL he finally made his AFL debut in 2021 but had not been able to cement a spot until last week’s performance proved the breakthrough.
“It’s been building for a while this year. Everybody had trust in me that I had the ability to do so, so it’s nice to repay that faith in me,” Briggs said.
“It’s been constant work preparing your body for AFL combat. I was always bigger than everybody as a kid but in the AFL I’m probably small compared to other ruckmen.
“Shane Mumford has been a great help - working on technique and strength and how to move and manipulate opponents.”
As a big kid growing up in Carlingford, he was good at league, union and soccer and exceptional at athletics. He won junior Australian titles in the shot put and was a regular in NSW athletics teams.
When a mate from North Rocks Public School brought him down to Ern Holmes Oval to make up the numbers for a depleted Pennant Hills under 12s, he discovered his great passion.
“I played for Pennant Hills on the Sunday and then played for the rest of the season and that was that,” he said.
“I had a passion for AFL.
“I enjoyed the free flowing nature of it. I’d played rugby league and rugby union where you just stand up and run at each other, this had more freedom.
“I was a bit of a headless chook at first, I didn’t know the rules. It took me a few weeks but I fell really nicely into it.”
So nicely, he was quickly selected for the GIANTS Academy while playing all his junior footy for Pennant Hills. By the age of 17 he was playing for Penno’s seniors and won a Sydney premiership with the Demons in 2017, alongside current GIANTS teammate James Peatling.
That flag might have brought an end to his Pennant Hills career as he was drafted the following season, but his connection to the club certainly didn’t stop there.
Briggs still goes to watch his old Demons teammates play and has been to several games at Mike Kenny Oval this season as he continues to support his former club which has punched well above its weight in its production of AFL players.
From Terry Thripp in 1983, followed by David Brown (1988-90), Stefan Carey in the 1990s, to Lenny Hayes, Kieren and Brandon Jack, Jarrod and Mark McVeigh, Jackson Ferguson and Adam Chatfield and now Braeden Campbell, Marc Sheather, Peatling and Briggs, the club in Sydney’s northwest has a remarkable record.
“It’s a footy factory - it’s a pretty good list, I’m proud I can add to it,” Briggs said.
“It’s always had this really good culture, it’s family friendly, the surrounding suburbs have always been like that. It’s an attractive place to hang out.”
And he’s conscious of the fact he and Peatling, from Toongabbie, are the only two western Sydney products paying for the GIANTS, and he wants to see more.
“We’re western Sydney boys,” Briggs said “I’ll always be a GIANTS product.
“Being from western Sydney, it adds that little extra layer of sentiment to playing for a team from western Sydney.
“Hopefully I can be inspiring to the kids who are training out at Blacktown every Tuesday and Thursday night with the academy. Hopefully, they can see it can happen.”
While Briggs earned first votes last week, Adelaide’s Tex Walker stormed to the lead in both the Carey-Bunton Medal and Bill Mohr Medal for leading goalkicker with his bag of 10 goals against West Coast.
The North Broken Hill boy claimed a perfect 10 votes in his 250th game to leap well clear on top of the leaderboard with 30 votes, eight ahead of Gold Coast’s Jarrod Witts.
Walker’s bag of 10 also took him to 38 goals for the season, six clear of Finley farmer Tom Hawkins.