Three drafts, two ACLs, two delistings: A Roarke on the road to a GF

There are some great stories in footy, but Roarke Smith’s has more twists than most By Mitch Cleary –

Roarke Smith warms up ahead of the round 10 match between the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on May 22, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

IT ALL came to a head for Roarke Smith in the Western Bulldogs’ Royal Pines quarantine hub on the Gold Coast late last season. 

With less than 20 AFL games to show for a career that had endured two knee reconstructions, two delistings and six consecutive one-year deals, he had been dropped once again.

Smith had always been seen as the unobtrusive and laidback kid from Sunbury who was content to operate on the fringe of senior selection. But this time around, enough was enough.

A dejected Roarke Smith after a loss to St Kilda at Marvel Stadium in 2019. Picture: Getty Images

“I saw him one of the days and I could tell he was a little bit emotional,” Dogs development manager Jamie Maddocks recounted to this week.

“We went up to one of our rooms and got quite emotional… all of his frustrations from over the years spilled out. It was like a switch flicked.

“It wasn’t coming from a bad place like a spoilt brat, it was just the realisation that he’s good enough and that he’s finished with taking things in his stride and just letting sh** happen.

“It was more like, ‘No, I’m going to prove it to you that I belong here and I’m going to show you’. He just felt like he owned his spot, and he should be in, and I’ve never seen that from Roarke before.

Roarke Smith evades Mitch Robinson during the semi-final clash between Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs at the Gabba on September 4, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

“The whole time it’s been about getting him to believe and back himself and have confidence he can do special things and he just lacked that at times.

“That’s propelled him to have a really good summer, a really good pre-season, he’s been in and out of the team but as coaches we’ve seen we play a better team style when Roarke is in the ones.”

This Saturday, the kid from Sunbury will play a key role in Luke Beveridge’s side as a defensive winger in his 37th game in a Toyota AFL Grand Final.

Smith’s low-key nature has been with him from a young age. Growing up in Sunbury, he first turned to soccer before following older brother Sheldon into footy.

Rising through the ranks at the Sunbury Kangaroos, he played in a losing under-16s Grand Final in 2012 before breaking through for a senior debut the following season.

Named in the Calder Cannons squad as a 17-year-old in 2013, he had to wait until the latter rounds of his draft year in 2014 to even claim a spot in the side.

Roarke Smith in action for the Calder Cannons during a TAC Cup clash with Oakleigh Chargers in 2014. Picture: AFL Photos

“The beauty of Roarke was he never knew how good he actually was,” Smith’s Calder Cannons coach Andrew Jago told

“He got the nickname ‘Sunshine’ at the Cannons after the character in the movie Remember the Titans. The quarterback who initially comes in with flowing, long blonde hair, which Roarke had, [and] a smile on his face constantly, which Roarke had.

“He probably thought of himself more of a surfer or skater which probably added to that. And he took a little while to convince himself he belonged in the Cannons side, he’s just so unassuming.

Roarke Smith is seen during the Western Bulldogs’ photo day in 2015. Picture: AFL Photos

“He just played purely for fun and once he worked out he genuinely was good enough to be draftable, some of his defensive efforts and commitment of his body to contests with no regard to injury really stood out as him wanting to have a positive impact on his team.”

Jago points to a single third quarter where he knew Smith was up to being drafted in 2014. Smith’s “five or six intercept marks” helped the Cannons to victory over the Western Jets at Williamstown Oval. 

Recruiter Simon Dalrymple, who now heads up recruiting at Sydney, added that Smith’s performance in the preliminary final win over Dandenong at Ikon Park was his defining moment to land him at the Dogs.

“You could see there was some real athleticism with that leap in some earlier games during the season,” Dalrymple told

“He wasn’t a high-possession player but what I tend to do looking for rookies, is look for some sort of trait. They’re not going to be the perfect player because they would’ve been picked up a lot earlier and that day was probably, from memory, his most possessions.

“He took a few marks and it was a real positive. On the wide expanses of the wing winning some one-on-ones, there was some signs of more improvement.

“You couldn’t meet a nicer young bloke. He didn’t have a lot of interest (from other clubs) and he was just so appreciative of the interest and then to be selected. It’s a great sign that, with a bit of patience, some players can come through and play a role as a rookie.”

Playing alongside Touk Miller, Luke Ryan and Reilly O’Brien, Smith’s Cannons lost the Grand Final to a stacked Oakleigh Chargers outfit featuring Darcy Moore, Jordan De Goey and Toby McLean.

Drafted at pick No.5 in the Rookie Draft, Smith discovered the news on the way home from schoolies on the Gold Coast.

Just 10 months on he made his AFL debut against West Coast in round 21, 2015, at Subiaco Oval. A week later, he ruptured his left ACL in the Dogs’ final VFL game of the season.

A no-fuss rehabilitation saw him return at VFL level next July and within a handful of weeks, Smith was selected for his second AFL game – a win over Essendon in round 22, 2016.

The Western Bulldogs’ Roarke Smith is showered in Gatorade after a win in round 22, 2016. Picture: AFL Photos

Smith was dropped from the AFL side as they went on to snare a fairytale premiership. But six days prior, Smith tasted his own glory, winning a VFL flag for Footscray against the Casey Scorpions.

Lin Jong defied a shoulder injury to win best afield honours, with Smith also calling Bailey Dale, Bailey Williams and Mitch Hannan premiership teammates. Six years on, that trio will join Smith vying for an AFL flag of their own.

Ready to attack his third pre-season with silverware under his belt, Smith was struck down with another ruptured ACL, this time to his right side, in a JLT Community Series game at Docklands in March 2017.

Jong – who ruptured his own ACL in June 2017, joined Smith for the rehabilitation process.

“He’s very unassuming, he just puts his head down and does the work,” Jong told

“Our rehab co-ordinator Nick Stone would happily say he’s pretty professional and diligent with what he does and doesn’t complain too much about… plenty of laps in the pools and km’s ridden on bikes.

“People might think he’s come on the scene this year but all of us at the Dogs rate him so highly as a person and as a player and know when you get the best of him, he can play in every position on the ground. He’s a perfect teammate, I think.”

Roarke Smith working out during a Western Bulldogs strength session at Whitten Oval in 2016. Picture: Michael Willson

Having served the maximum three years on the rookie list in 2017, Smith had to be delisted and was given the promise of being selected again if he was still on the board.

He bounced back to play eight consecutive games from rounds 10-18 in 2018, only to be caught up in a car accident on the way to training ahead of round 19. Forced to sit out a week after a brief stint in hospital, Smith won his spot back, suffered concussion, missed two games and was recalled for the final game in round 23.

Five games followed in 2019 before six in 2020, notching his second delisting in the off-season after another three-year rookie term.

His first game of 2021 came in round nine (the earliest he’s played in a single season), and he’s been dropped twice since.

Yet on Saturday, Smith will be the wingman running back into packs in front of Melbourne’s forwards and helping the Dogs’ star onballers shine at stoppages.

Roarke Smith and Ed Langdon doing battle during the round 19 clash between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG on July 24, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

“We always talk about being reliable and not remarkable and that’s exactly what Roarke is,” Maddocks said.

“We know he’s going to allow us to set-up the stoppage the way we want it for Marcus (Bontempelli), Jack (Macrae), Tom (Liberatore), Josh (Dunkley), Adam (Treloar) and Barry (Bailey Smith) to do their thing. If you’ve got a player doing that in your team, that’s special.

“He’s a very popular member of the group for someone who’s not super outgoing in a group setting. Every time we show some highlights of what we do and Roarke’s in there they (teammates) all go up and about and he just slinks back in his seat, he doesn’t love that type of attention.

“If he was any more laidback he’d be asleep. It’s no surprise he’s able to do what he does because he’s got that temperament.”


2013 – A 17-year-old Smith manages 12 games at U18 level and two senior matches for the Sunbury Kangaroos. Part of the Calder Cannons’ TAC Cup squad but doesn’t play a game.

2014 – April – Wins another berth in the Calder Cannons’ TAC Cup squad but overlooked in the early rounds and plays for the Sunbury Kangaroos seniors.

2014 – September – After breaking through to win a TAC Cup spot, Smith stars in the Calder Cannons’ run to a losing Grand Final as a wing/half-back.

2014 – December – Selected by the Dogs at pick No.5 in the Rookie Draft.

2015 – August – Makes his AFL debut in round 21 against West Coast.

2015 – August – A week after his AFL debut, Smith ruptures his left ACL in the final VFL game of the season against Werribee.

2016 – July – Returns for his first game back at VFL level against Coburg.

2016 – August – Plays his second career AFL game in round 22 in a 40-point win over Essendon.

2016 – September – Plays in Footscray’s VFL premiership over Casey Scorpions at Docklands alongside current teammates Bailey Williams, Mitch Hannan and Bailey Dale.

2017 – March – Ruptures his right ACL in a pre-season match against Brisbane at Docklands.

2017 – October – Delisted by the Dogs after serving the maximum three years as a rookie with promise of re-selection if still available.

2017 – November – Re-drafted by the Dogs with pick No.25 in the Rookie Draft.

2018 – July – After eight straight AFL games from rounds 10-18, Smith is involved in a car crash on the way to training that requires hospitalisation and misses one game.

2018 – August – Wins his spot back for round 20 and lasts less than 10 minutes after copping a concussion.

2019 – Emergency for five of the first 12 games of the season, Smith breaks through for his first of five straight games in round 14 before he’s dropped for round 19.

2020 – An early season quad injury delays his selection hopes before he is picked for round 10, only to be dropped for round 13. He is recalled for the final four games of the year including an elimination final loss to St Kilda.

2020 – November – Delisted by the Dogs having served another maximum three-term on the rookie list. Promise of re-selection if available at the Rookie Draft.

2020 – December – Selected by the Dogs with pick No.26 in the Rookie Draft – his third time drafted in seven years.

2021 – Has to wait until round nine to be selected in his first of five consecutive games. Dropped for round 15, he is recalled for round 18 and dropped after round 21 playing as the sub. Wins a reprieve for round 23 and holds onto his spot for three finals.