Champion proves no challenge too steep

SUBIACO prospect Malakai Champion is one of the top West Australian talents in 2024. The electric small forward has featured at the forefront of his state’s pathway since bursting onto the scene at the 2022 Under 16 National Championships, where he earned All Australian honours.

Fast forward to this year, and after a terrific bottom-aged campaign in the WAFL Colts, Champion is primed to continue his ascent towards the elite level. He says the past 18 months have not been without their “challenges”, but is ready to finish his preseason at full strength.

“The past year and a half has been pretty hard on me, but I took all the challenges on and worked myself up and worked my arse off,” he said. “My mum and my family… we’ve been through a lot of things that not many people will go through ever in their life.

“These next couple of months are very important to me, I’ve been working very hard to become a better and stronger football player. My footy journey has had some rocks thrown at me, but I’ve taken the rocks and I’ve gone through them strong.”

For Champion, becoming stronger has proven a daily process. The 17-year-old has put plenty of onus into his preseason with clearly outlined improvement areas. Midfield time may also be in the offing for the youngster, who has established clear short-term goals.

“I’m not really focused on the next like five or six months, I’m just building myself up day by day,” he said. “I want to finish this preseason off very strong and very fit so I’m able to play Colts footy or senior footy at Subiaco. Then being able to be selected into the (state) 18’s winter squad.

“I’m hoping I’ll be able to play a bit of midfield this year… I feel like my smartness and skills will be able to match up. Not obviously the physical side, but I reckon I’m fast enough to play in the midfield.

“My improvements are my defensive game, laying more tackles and becoming more of a presence in the defensive end. Definitely my endurance, to be able to play as a high half-forward and being able to run up into the defence, then get back in time for a goal. That’s what I’ve been working on.”

Champion will spilt his time between the Lions’ programs, state squad and National Academy in 2024. The latter honour was something he had strived for having seen the star-studded list of inductees over the last few years.

The Essendon supporter says he looks up to current day Indigenous small forwards like Shai Bolton and Kysaiah Pickett, as well as past greats Cyril Rioli and Eddie Betts. Giants gun Toby Greene also gets a close watch for his ability to play midfield and high forward.

Having recently partaken in the West Australian preseason testing event, hosted by Rookie Me, Champion will next set his sights on Subiaco’s preseason matches. The Subi Colts take on East Perth and Swan Districts before a Round 1 meeting with West Perth on March 30.

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