Ex-Hawk makes code-hopping surprise
Kurt Heatherley started thinking about life after Hawthorn late in the year.
Heatherley - who the Hawks signed as a 14-year-old schoolboy from New Zealand in 2009 - ripped a hamstring before the finals and failed to add to his five AFL games in 2018.
Last month the New Zealander was quoted as saying he was "praying" for a second crack at the AFL.
But privately Heatherley, 23, was also plotting a return to rugby union, via the Melbourne Rebels.
"It's probably been two months of discussions," Rebels rugby manager Nick Ryan said.
"He expressed interest in getting back to his roots, with him obviously being a Kiwi.
"The lineage in his blood made us attractive for him and we're delighted to welcome any aspirational high performance athlete."
Heatherley was called to a meeting with coach David Wessels, chief executive Baden Stephenson and Ryan last Monday and on Monday his official two-week trial began.
At 193cm and 91kg, Heatherley can run like a king tide.
"He'd run the boys ragged on the fitness side," Ryan said.
"Rugby is a 180 (degree) game, rather than 360, and the spatial awareness is a little bit different.
"But the attributes of being an elite athlete physically and mentally, we're really confident he has some pretty intriguing capabilities that are worth having a look at."
The Rebels have some development squad contracts available and intend to give Heatherley "some pretty honest feedback" in the next two weeks.
"We're committed to using this week to benchmark where he's at … and hopefully by mid-to-late next week we'll have a clearer idea about what the next 6-12 months look like."
Heatherley cut his teeth playing as an outside back and that is where the Rebels envisage him lining up.
"He's got pretty good pace and running capacity, kicking shouldn't be a problem for him and aerially he's quite good," Ryan said.
"Our outside backs do a lot of catch-and-kick stuff as an attacking weapon, and we see him being certainly above average in those skills.
"The only thing I joked with him is that he's got to learn how to pass - not handball."
And then there is what Heatherley - on hand for the Hawks' premiership three-peat - could bring to the Rebels.
"The journey we're on as a club that's just started, anything we can glean from successful teams out of Melbourne - be it any code - we'd be crazy not to lean on," Ryan said.
"For us there are some things he could certainly bring on and off the field that we'd be pretty negligent not to explore."
If Heatherley makes the cut the Rebels want to pack 15-20 development games into him next year with an eye to playing Super Rugby as early as 2020.
Ryan said Heatherley felt his long-term AFL prospects were limited but they waited until he was out of the Hawks to ramp up talks.
"We were very respectful around letting the Hawthorn thing play out," he said.
"He indicated that both parties had felt the experiment had run its race. But we were very conscious that if the shoe was on the other foot we wouldn't be too happy."
Heatherley has been in talks with a number of VFL clubs and trained at Frankston Dolphins for two weeks before joining the Rebels.
Heatherley's mate, fellow Kiwi and former Hawthorn teammate Shem Tatupu tried to make a similar jump of sports, at one stage linking with the Melbourne Storm as a rookie.
But Tatupu last night signed at Frankston Dolphins.
- with PAUL AMY