Claremont Feature Article: Leno Thomas

Monday, September 23, 2019 - 3:28 PM

By Lenny Fogliani

In recent times, the Kimberley region in Western Australia has proven to be a gold mine for AFL talent.

The likes of Shane McAdam (Adelaide), Cedric Cox (Brisbane), Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton), Irving Mosquito (Essendon), Jason Carter (Fremantle), Toby Bedford (Melbourne) and Francis Watson (West Coast Eagles) are all players from the region who are currently on AFL lists.

“The Kimberley region as a whole is just littered with absolute talent all over the place. There are kids there that have been kicking water bottles around from the age of two or three on their left and right foots without boots in the desert. And you bring them down, put them in some boots and give them a footy and the skills you just can’t match. The talent of some of the kids up there and from a football perspective we’re really lucky as a footy club to have first access to those kids,” Claremont Talent Manager Warren Parker said.

An exciting prospect who is coming through Claremont’s talent program is Leno Thomas, originally from Turkey Creek – approximately 3000 kilometres north-east of Perth and approximately 850 kilometres east of Broome. And the talented youngster is proving to be a success story.

A member of Fremantle’s Next-Generation Academy, Thomas described his experience with the Club as “great,” and was particularly appreciative of former Docker Tendai Mzungu with his influence on him.

“I go there every week, so we [Tendai Mzungu] just go around to the gym, do a gym session, and then go over the reviews of my game. He says the stuff that is good and is not good. Go to the gym, work on the body and then go out and have a kick,” he said.

Thomas also made special mention of recently retired Docker, Michael Johnson for also helping him.

“He’s [Johnson] been great. Not just about footy, he’s just out of footy, he tells me about lifestyle. He’s given me a lot of advice,” Thomas said.

Parker was also thankful for the pair of former Dockers, especially with their help in finding Leno a job outside football.

“Right now Leno’s doing a bit of work with, I believe, Aaron Sandilands and his landscaping. So doing some hands on work through the footy club, so Tendai [Mzungu] and MJ [Michael Johnson] have set that up for him through the Next-Generation Academy. So yeah, he’s doing some hands-on work and he’s loving it,” Parker said.

It seems Thomas’ involvement with the Academy is paying dividends with his football. After a slow start to the year, Thomas has become a key player for Claremont with their push for a fourth WAFL Colts Premiership this decade, and he was very appreciative to be given the chance to play in a big game.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this. My first season for the Claremont Football Club and playing in a WAFL Grand Final, yeah I’m really excited. [It’s] the first time [I’m] playing on it, I’ve been there a few times to watch some games there. But yeah, I’m pretty excited to play on it,” he said.

Parker was also full of praise for Thomas, especially with his desire to get better as the year went on.

“I think Leno’s interrupted pre-season probably didn’t set him up for success at this level straight away, but again, his commitment to getting his body right and working with the Freo NGA and doing some reviews and learning from his game. I reckon his back end of the season for me has been one of the more impressive players in our list. I think his disposal rate has gone right up. Again his kicking was a little hap-hazard at the start of the season but I reckon he’s much more reliable by foot now and I think that comes with a bit less fatigue in the legs and smarter decision-making and things like that. It’s been a slow build but I think the back end of this season for Leno has been really strong and really positive,” Parker said.

Parker also praised the resilience Thomas has shown.

“I think his resilience is something that can’t be questioned either. Leno’s had a tough go of it in the last 12 months and even longer with homesickness and other things going on in life but the ability to be in Perth and work full-time and be looking after yourself essentially, coming down from so far away and be able to do it for a full year and improve your football and all that kind of stuff. His resilience for me is just a real key feature in his attitude in the way he goes about it… He’s grown a heap this season and it’s been really good to see,” he elaborated.

Across 17 games, Thomas is averaging 15 possessions, three marks, two tackles and has kicked four goals, playing across a variety of roles although primarily in defence. But it has been his second half of the season that he has especially shone.

“At the start of the year I was a bit shy and now I’m getting a bit out of my comfort zone. It’s not a great thing but sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone and enjoy your stuff,” Thomas said.

And his individual finals campaign has been brilliant so far. In three finals, Thomas is averaging 16 possessions, three marks and two tackles, while playing as an intercepting and rebounding defender. He was named in the best in all of the games – the Qualifying Final against West Perth (19 possessions and four marks), the Semi-Final against Peel Thunder (16 possessions, three marks and three tackles) and the Preliminary Final against West Perth (12 possessions). 

“I think again with that skill and ability to read the ball and where it goes and set up nice and early, Leno’s use off half-back for us has been invaluable this year. We’re more comfortable throwing him across the back line and using the ball and setting us up which I think even on the weekend you would’ve saw against West Perth his second half in doing that and breaking the lines won us the game in the end,” Parker said.

The 2019 Simply Energy WAFL Colts Grand Final is shaping up to be a cracking game of football, and it seems as if Leno Thomas could have a big role to play.