TO TRULY appreciate the Adam Sambono story, you must first know he didn’t play an organised football game until he was 17.
Now, at age 20, the Aboriginal rising star leads the NEAFL’s goalkicking – equal with his Northern Territory Thunder teammate Darren “Boof” Ewing – and has sent AFL clubs into a flap.
His 21 goals in six matches across his rookie season include hauls of six (on debut), five, and four (twice).
Sambono is all arms and legs; standing 188cm and just 65kg, with Thunder coach Andrew Hodges joking he only reached that weight when the Top End heat drenched him in sweat.
His go-go gadget arms and huge leap make him a match-up nightmare close to goal, but his vision in football traffic is a wonderful complement in his unique package. If you’re wanting an AFL comparison, think Darryl White.
“He has an amazing reaction time and gets the ball from hand to foot very quickly,” Hodges said.
“He’s really keen to improve and do the one-on-one video reviews and wants to get to that next level. He’s just so raw and that’s the best way to describe him.”
Sambono used to make the 450km, six-hour round trip from Daly River to Darwin to train for the Buffaloes – Andrew McLeod’s original club – but made a permanent move in February this year.
His formal training in his early days was watching AFL on TV.
Sambono is such an untapped talent that the AFL this week granted him special permission to represent the Allies at this year’s Division One NAB AFL Under-18 Championships.
That news came a week after he was named in the NEAFL’s representative squad, which he followed with five more goals against the Gold Coast Suns’ reserves.
“I’m pretty amazed with what I’m doing, on and off the field,” Sambono told AFL.com.au.
"It’s good to be a role model for my community. Hearing my name called out in the Allies team got me pretty excited and actually proud.
“AFL is something I always wanted to get to. It would be exciting and a great opportunity for me and my family. No-one has been drafted or on a Thunder list from Daly River.”
This is the same kid who took part in a Thunder clinic, run by then-coach and ex-St Kilda footballer Xavier Clarke, after his community was frantically evacuated because of dangerous flood levels on Boxing Day 2015.
The Clarke boys – Xavier and Raphael – have family in Daly River, but Sambono would become the first person from there to play AFL if the stars align in November.
Flooding is an annual event for Daly River, a community of about 500 people that boasts a single supermarket, an indoor recreation centre and an oval that borders the airport.
A typical day for Sambono, one of five children in his family, used to involve fishing for barramundi or hunting kangaroo before a kick of the footy in the afternoon.
You can only imagine how many goals he slotted in the Daly River scratch matches back in the day, but opponents outside his home were feeling his wrath even before he joined Thunder.
Sambono kicked separate 10-goal bags for two different clubs within six months of each other last year, firstly with Victoria’s Nyah-Nyah West United then the Buffaloes.
It took only one YouTube sighting two years ago for ex-North Melbourne forward and Buffaloes clubmate Matt Campbell to be convinced of Sambono’s ability.
Essendon and NT legend Michael Long is another who has given Sambono the tick of approval as an AFL prospect.
“I texted (Buffaloes coach) Mark Motlop after the game, asking ‘Who’s that kid in the No.5? He looks a goer’,” Campbell said.
Campbell was responsible for bringing Sambono down to Nyah-Nyah West United and has taken on a mentoring role with him.
Sambono learned about Victoria’s cold weather and being away from home, and Campbell said the young gun would be better for the experience.
“I’d hate for a kid this talented not to get a look in, just because an AFL club is worried about what he’d do off-field,” Campbell said.
"He’s not a risk, in terms of a Liam Jurrah. He doesn’t drink and he doesn’t take drugs.
“He’s a great kid and all he wants is a great opportunity.”
Video footage provided by AFLNT and NITV.
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