In this game, he's the youngest by two years. There has been some youngsters play more so at 17.- Launceston coach Mitch Thorp
As coach Mitch Thorp says, Launceston defender James Leake might be a baby on his birth certificate but he's got a mature head on his shoulders.
The 16-year-old will line-up for the Blues in Saturday's TSL grand final against Kingborough at UTAS Stadium.
The youngster who started this season in the under-18s and development league has firmly established himself in the senior team with 13 games and three goals.
Thorp said Leake would be by far the youngest player on the ground.
"In this game, he's the youngest by two years. There have been some youngsters play more so at 17," he said.
"In my time, and I've coached in this competition now for 10 years, I could count on one hand how many 16 year olds have played above 10 games in their 16th year.
"He's in rare air in that space."
Thorp said Leake had played a major role in balancing out the Blues' back-six.
"We internally probably haven't seen a 16-year-old with the ability and upside he has," the coach said.
"Sixteen is very raw and young but he's mature beyond his years, he's humble, hard-working and a really popular teammate and someone we're very excited for and rapt to have in our team."
Thorp said the young gun caught his eye with two outstanding development league games.
"He's got a very bright future in the game, not just in Tasmania but abroad," he said.
Thorp provided insight into Leake's attributes.
"He's a really nice size, he's six foot two in the old (measurements) but can play tall and small," he said.
"His key attribute is his leg-speed, he's an absolute whippet, he kicks the ball really well and doesn't fumble at ground level.
"When you have those sort of attributes it's hard to ignore."
Thorp added the youngster, who has also played school footy with St Patrick's College, was a much-loved member of the team.
"He's someone his older teammates - I'm talking boys in later 20s - really enjoy playing footy with," he said.
Leake, who plays back-pocket, has relished learning from his teammates.
"I started forward for my first game and then Mitch made the decision to shift me back which I think has been a really good one for my development," he said.
He's valued learning from the likes of Josh Woolley, Alec Wright and Jacob Boyd.
What's it like playing on the best forwards in the state?
"Really exciting. I haven't played backline much in my juniors so it's been a really good learning experience," he said.
"The guidance of the senior players has made that less daunting."
Leake's story is all the more incredible given he juggles two sports.
He didn't have a big pre-season due to his Cricket North first-grade commitments with South Launceston.
But he made a fast start to the footy season and a TSL senior debut came knocking in round six against Lauderdale. He kicked two goals.
"I didn't expect it to be honest," he said.
"It was something that shocked me to be there as early as I was considering I didn't have high expectations going into the season."
The opening bowler and middle-order batsman has played top-level cricket for the past two years.
Thorp feels Leake's early introduction to first-grade has helped his footy.
"I've found some boys that play A grade cricket at a young age, mature a little bit quicker because they're around men at an early age and he's really comfortable in our environment," he said.
"I feel being around more senior men who are good role models help you mature in life in general," he said.
"The advice they give you through your experiences is something that's definitely helped me."
Gun midfielder Brodie Palfreyman also spoke highly of the young gun.
"Leakey's a funny one, he doesn't really talk much or say much at training, he sort of just goes about his business," he said.
"He's a very humble, nice, young man and I think he's going to be a very good player in the years to come.
"He's very polite. He's obviously had a good upbringing with his parents and he's got a lot of talent that I don't think he has exploited just yet.
"But hopefully he can show some more in the years to come and hopefully on Saturday."
Launceston is chasing a three-peat after beating North Launceston in the past two deciders.
Thorp provided insight into the lead-up to their third grand final in a row.
"We're just clear on what the day presents a bit more now we've been there a couple of times, " he said.
"It's a little bit different with presentations and national anthems and all those sorts of things that grand final day provides - that's a little different to your regular home and away game.
"And the majority of our senior group have been part of (grand finals) as well.
"We're probably a little more relaxed in the sense of what the day looks like. But the game itself will be nice and fiery, I'm sure.
"We've played the Tigers quite a few times this year and both sides know each other well."
The TSL senior match is at 3pm at UTAS.
Launceston's under-18s and development league sides are also in deciders at 9.30am and 12pm.
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