Home » Powerful pairs: Shaun Burgoyne and Brendon Lade

Powerful pairs: Shaun Burgoyne and Brendon Lade

Powerful duo Shaun Burgoyne and Brendon Lade sing the song in 2007. Image: AFL Photos.

BOB Quinn and Allan “Bull” Revel. Port Adelaide and South Australia.

Fos Wiliams and Bob McLean. Invincible together, working hand-in-hand on and off the field to build the most-successful era in Port Adelaide’s story.

George Fiacchi and Roger Delaney. “Batman and Robin” they were dubbed for their imposing partnership in defence while Port Adelaide was establishing on-field dominance during the 1990s to build an off-field campaign for greater glory.

Generation by generation there has been a defining combination of key figures in the Port Adelaide Football Club’s long story. And two stand-out – on and off the field – during the club’s AFL journey, from the moment in 1993 when Port Adelaide raked the ashes of its bold bid to join the national competition three years earlier. 

Greg Boulton and Brian Cunningham. Club president and chief executive who as an off-field partnership led Port Adelaide to its ultimate objective of playing in the biggest and best football competition in Australia. Rarely has Australian football seen two administrators so strongly aligned to turn policy into results.

And there is the pairing of Brendon Lade and Shaun Burgoyne, turning back the clock to the 1930s when Revel and Quinn outwitted opposition ruck batteries in South Australian league and interstate matches earning admiration at home and afar.

Crystal ball gazing would set up the prospect of Port Adelaide – with time – having a quartet potentially drawing comparisons with the famous Fab Four of Brisbane for their own connection and influence from the midfield. Connor Rozee, Zak Butters, Jason Horne-Francis and Willem Drew. This is the tantalising future in the making today …

Young guns Zak Butters and Jason Horne-Francis form key parts of Port Adelaide’s star-studded midfield. Image: AFL Photos.

(And before anyone raises any eyebrows, keep in context Jason Akermanis, Simon Black, Nigel Lappin and captain Michael Voss had built their ultra-successful connections at Brisbane across four AFL seasons by the time they played their first of four consecutive grand finals in 2001 and had almost 600 games of combined lessons before celebrating a flag. Port Adelaide’s quartet today has just half of this telling experience and time together in which to build their connections.)

On field, since AFL entry in 1997, there have been two extraordinary, superbly connected partnerships – one cruelly wrecked in its prime by knee injuries: Matthew Primus and Josh Francou. From the start of Port Adelaide’s dominance of the home-and-away campaigns of 2001-2004, the on-ball pairing was hailed for its dominance by All-Australian selections and Francou’s leaderboard finishes in the Brownlow Medal count (second in 2002 and third in 2001).

And there is another midfield partnership that still looks ahead of its time: Brendon Lade and Shaun Burgoyne. 

From round three, 2002 to the home-and-away season closer of 2009 (when Lade retired and Burgoyne later made his move to Hawthorn), Port Adelaide – and the game – were blessed by their craft and opponents were repeatedly tormented.

The YouTube clips of Lade’s deft taps and Burgoyne’s perceptive movements in and out of contests, particularly at boundary throw-ins around the goalfront, would still leave every midfield and ruck coach today wishing they could have had their reputations made by such an inspired connection on the field.

“Shaun and I,” recalls Lade, “had a very good understanding of where we both were.” It showed … again and again, particularly in translating to the scoreboard. 

Shaun Burgoyne has described roving for Brendon Lade as a “luxury” as a footballer. Image: AFL Photos.

Burgoyne regards “roving to Brendon was a luxury … a privilege”. And – as Port Adelaide 2004 premiership-winning assistant coach Phil Walsh would say – Lade’s talent was much more than his pinpoint tapping, contested marks and reliable and long kicking. He just knew the game better than most.

“He was a super-smart ruckman,” says Burgoyne of one of the most famous footballers to make it to elite company from Kangaroo Island. “And his smarts really showed up at stoppages. He always set us up the on-ballers around stoppages; he knew what the opposition was doing and what we needed to do.

“It was a luxury for me to work to Brendon; he would put the ball on the spot that was needed for me to hit the ball at pace.”

And Burgoyne knew how to return the favour when Dean Brogan would take to the ruck duty in a change-up with Lade. He would emerge from a clearance on that silk-lined path to attack knowing Lade would be on an assured lead.

“He was a super-smart ruckman who could play forward … or was he a forward who could play ruck?” asks Burgoyne who has always marvelled at how the 199-centimetre tall Lade had kicking skills that would show up smaller and more-celebrated midfielders. 

More extraordinary is how Lade overcame two broken legs – the first in round two, 2000 and the second during his comeback in 2001 – to become the All-Australian ruck in 2006 (with Burgoyne) and 2007 while also adding the John Cahill Medal as club champion to his resume.

Brendon Lade and Shaun Burgoyne (back row) pose for a photo with their fellow All-Australians in 2006. Image: AFL Photos.

“Two broken legs – and he is still jumping off both feet when he comes back, the second time,” Burgoyne notes with admiration for a team-mate who “desperately wanted to win” – as noted in 2004 when Lade had to overcome a persistent back injury to claim his place in the winning grand final line-up.

“Most would not get back from one broken leg …”

The Lade-Burgoyne partnership underlines all that AFL coaches today try to portray when speaking of the importance of “connection” among their players.

There are enthralling moments from Robbie Gray with many rucks, in particular that match-winning drive from a boundary throw-in taken by Patrick Ryder in the final minute against St Kilda at Adelaide Oval in round 19, 2017.

Paddy Ryder’s famous tap down to Robbie Gray, who nailed the winner against St Kilda in 2017. Image: AFL Photos.

But Lade and Burgoyne made such moments a regular routine at field bounces and boundary throw-ins during the 2000s. It was a rare connection that highlighted power of team-work above individual strength and skill.

Now we wait to see how the powerful pact of Rozee, Butters, Horne-Francis and Drew emerges across the rest of this decade.