Temora true boot
Written By Rod Gillett.
This article first appeared on the NSW Australian Football History Society’s website. Check out the site for more great stories and facts about our game in NSW.
It took a whisky flask to ignite a seven-year-old’s curiosity about Aussie Rules and launch what became a triple premiership AFL career.
Little rugby league player Luke Breust was exploring his family’s farmhouse just outside Temora in southern NSW in the late 1990s when he made a life-defining discovery.
Breust wasn’t fully aware of his father’s goalkicking feats for the Temora footy club, but was about to. “I stumbled across a couple of my old man’s trophies for when he kicked 100 goals,” Breust said.
“A whisky flask with four glasses around the flask and a plaque was one of the trophies. So I started to ask a few questions about the trophies and about what this other game was.”
The ‘other game’ was Aussie Rules and dad Allan (better known as ‘Sticka’) was bloody good at it, renowned in the Riverina as a sharpshooting full forward, topping the Farrer League’s goalkicking in 1980 with 108 goals.
Luke had played rugby league since he was five, but was now intrigued, so as a seven-year-old started playing for the only Aussie Rules team available – the Temora Kangaroos under 12s. He played with a kid called Isaac Smith, with whom he went on to win three AFL flags at Hawthorn in 2013-14-15.
But he also kept up with rugby league and, like so many sports-mad kids in NSW Riverina towns with a spiritual foot in Victoria, he played Aussie Rules on Saturdays and league on Sundays until he was 18.
He made representative teams in both codes all the way through his teens, even training with NRL club North Queensland, until he realised he was physically more suited to Aussie Rules.
“When I got to 16 I started to focus on the AFL draft,” he said.
“I was 70 kilos and when I got to the rep stuff in rugby league I was getting overpowered. I had a good sidestep and fend, which have helped me in my AFL career, but I was never going to get there in rugby league.
“I put on 13 kilos to make it in the AFL. I would have had to put on 25 to make it to the NRL.”
Breust followed his father to make his senior debut for Temora at 16 and for the next few years also made his mark in the NSW under 18s and for the Sydney Swans’ reserves in the ACTAFL.
But he thought a broken leg in draft year 2008 had cruelled his chances.
The Swans could have had him but, rather than picking up a New South Welshman, they took a Canadian and an Irishman instead, choosing Mike Pyke and Kyle Coney.
“I thought my chance of being drafted was through the Swans, being from NSW and having played in their reserves,” he said.
“But as a NSW kid, you were on the back foot anyway. And I knew the Swans weren’t taking anyone from NSW that year.
“I thought my chances of being drafted were gone.
“In the back of my mind it was the Swans or nothing, so when I got the call from Hawthorn it was a pleasant surprise.”
And he’s been there ever since. One club, 13 years, three premierships, 269 games, 496 goals (as of 22/5/23).
“Temora Kangaroos was where it all started way back when,” he said.
Breust prides himself on being a one club player and attributes it to good old fashioned country values.
“Loyalty is bred into you when you’re on the land. The values and morals you’re brought up with,” he said.
“Hawthorn gave me the opportunity in the first place, so I want to repay their faith.”
And he makes a point of getting back to country NSW.
His parents are still on the farm, his brother and sister still live in the town and he’s bought property there. He even owned a local pub until selling it a few years ago.
Breust and his wife Anthea were childhood sweethearts from school in Temora and they both value life there.
“We spend six to eight weeks up there every year,” he said.
“It’s always shearing time when I go back to the farm, so I always get sucked in to being a rouseabout or something. My brother’s a builder so there’s alway work to do there as well.
“That’s why I love it. It keeps you grounded and gives me perspective on the life I live for the rest of the year.”
Part of that perspective is realising he’s not even the most successful sportsman in the family.
His cousin Trent Barrett stuck with rugby league all the way and ended up playing 13 Tests for Australia, making him the most decorated of Temora’s many NRL players.
But then Barrett’s not even Temora’s biggest sporting star. That, of course, is Paleface Adios, the great trotter of the 1970s and ‘80s and the only sporting great to have a statue in Temora. That’s country perspective.
“When we go back, everything is normal, like the old days when I was a kid, there’s no special privileges,” Breust said.
Not even a sip from the whisky flask.
Breust’s three goals in the Hawks’ thrashing of West Coast on the weekend edged him closer to the 500 goal milestone and gave him a nudge up the leaderboard in the Bill Mohr Medal for the leading NSW goalkicker in the AFL with 15 goals. Finley’s Tom Hawkins leads the way on 29 after his three goals for Geelong against Fremantle.
Hawkins was the only New South Welshman to pick up coaches’ votes last week to close the gap on North Broken Hill’s leader Taylor Walker, who leads with 20 votes after 10 rounds. Maroubra’s Errol Gulden is on 19, with Hawkins’ one vote taking him to 18.