I have always believed that the peak age for a footballer is from the early-to-late 20s.

In game terms, the first 50 games is the apprenticeship, and the last 50 is where experience must overcome an aging body.

When Kangaroos 220-gamer Brady Rawlings picked up exciting Fremantle youngster Stephen Hill last Saturday, it was the two ends of the age and experience spectrums directly opposed.

Recently turned 20, in his second year with 41 games played, Hill has already emerged as a Fremantle attacking weapon that needs to be blunted.

In full-flight, his ball-carrying speed and piercing kicking has made him one of the competition’s most promising newcomers.

It is patently obvious that Hill has been granted enormous natural talent, and if he has the drive to maximise these athletic gifts, he will have a wonderful career ahead.

Performance is a combination of competitive character multiplied by skill and athletic competence.

Hill definitely has the competence, but it is still too early to tell if he has the character.

Rawlings was not born with great natural talent, yet he has grafted his way, with will and work ethic, to Brett Kirk-like respect as a determined stopper of the opposition’s main midfield star.

The power of his mind is his primary strength.

Confronted with Rawlings as his direct opponent, it appeared that Hill fell for the trap of wanting to get space from his opponent, even when the Kangaroos had the footy.

The result was the most lopsided differential in contribution that I can recall seeing in a one-on-one duel – Rawlings stopped Hill, limiting the Dockers’ linkman to a paltry seven disposals, a great result even if Rawlings did not touch the footy.

That the Kangaroos vice-captain accumulated a game-high 39 disposals, including 30 uncontested gets, was a savage indictment on Hill’s competitive mindset.

Rawlings was able to dictate the content, by both defending as first priority, but then attacking when North was in possession.

I’m sure Hill was trying to get the footy, but he failed miserably in defending Rawlings.

This is a basic failure, repeated by many tagged players over the years, and hopefully a blunt learning tool that Hill can remedy and remember as his career evolves.

One thing for certain is that if Hill can develop Rawlings’ level of competitive character, he has the talent to become one of the all-time greats.

Only his longevity in the game will give us the answer to that intriguing question – against the Kangaroos last Saturday, the signs were that he has a long way to go.

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