Brothers and families in the AFL are a regular occurrence. It’s never unusual to see brothers line up against each other in a round of footy and it’s still not unusual for brothers to be as dominant and prolific as each other. What is unusual is when a pair of twins profile so similarly, that for the rest of their careers the comparisons will be eternal. This is the case now with Max and Ben King, the twin 2-metre tall key forwards leading the line at St Kilda and Gold Coast respectively, whose styles are as similar as their appearance. As we’ve enjoyed the first few matches of their budding careers, we’d like to take a deeper look into the pair of Kings and see which one will come out with the familial crown.
The highly touted key forward prospect was taken at pick #4 in the 2018 AFL Draft, with a lot of excitement built around his debut. The former East Sandringham boy came with a lot of promise, as this eastern suburb of Melbourne often provides us, as King was hailed as the heir to the throne of Nick Riewoldt down at St Kilda. Taking his #12 jumper certainly plays a part in this. Unfortunately an ankle injury preventing him from debuting in the 2019 season, but in the five VFL matches he played in he kicked eleven goals. So far he’s followed up with five goals in four games, and has served as a prominent aerial target for the forward line, so we can expect him to continue this upward trend.
Max’s twin and the man who shares his likeness came in with equal promise from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, as the pair of twins entered the AFL with immense hype. Ben was taken two spots below his brother at pick #6 to the Suns, joining a rebuilding and growing Suns list following the departure of Gary Ablett Jr. and the introduction of Stewie Dew as coach. Unlike his brother, he had a headstart to his career by debuting halfway through 2019, initially as a key defender, before being pushed forward where his marking ability and accurate kicking proved handy for the rookie. Ben picked up a Rising Star nomination for his four goal performance in Round 19, cementing himself as one to watch alongside his brother.
Their Junior Years
Living up to twin stereotypes, Max and Ben were the closest of brothers growing up, “best mates, we do everything together,” as Max put it before the draft. Aside from their uncanny resemblance – even for twins – as well as their similar builds and play styles, even their junior footy careers mirrored each other, with both having represented East Sandringham growing up in junior footy after playing Auskick together as kids. You’d hate to have lined up against them as a teenager.
Both also had the privilege of being coached by some of the best growing up in their junior years, including Brad Johnson, Robert Harvey and Matthew Lloyd whom showered Max with praise in particular, saying he will “dominate” the competition in the years to come. There is no doubt that receiving this level of mentorship from these AFL legends would have a big impact on the future development on the young guns, especially Lloyd, a formerly dominant key forward in his own right. It seems as though Essendon’s former gun has his favourite in Max, and given that he’s coached both, his opinion holds a lot of weight.
It’s worth noting that the Kings came through the East Sandringham footy factory, a club that has bred some of the best players we’ve seen, including: Chris Judd, Josh P. Kennedy and Jobe Watson. The SMJFL, their former junior league, has also had its own set of young stars such as Andrew Brayshaw, Jack Higgins and Bailey Smith in recent memory. If trends are anything to go by, then we can expect the pair of Kings to enjoy stellar AFL careers.
Their respective teams: St Kilda
It’s always worth comparing players based on where they play currently. After all, footy is a team sport, and sometimes players, especially key forwards, are only as good as who is around them.
Max was taken by St Kilda, and as mentioned, has been brought in to replace the enormous void of Nick Riewoldt. Taking on his #12 is a symbolic representation of that expectation. Make no mistake, Max King has all the pressure to be the Saints’ forward for the next decade and a half, which is no doubt a large burden for any young player to bear.
Following some awkward years in recent memory, the Saints have begun to rebuild their list after a standout 2019 offseason. This period included the introduction of Paddy Ryder and Brad Hill, to bolster onto a young and growing core of Jack Billings, Jade Gresham, Rowan Marshall, and established stars such as Seb Ross and Dan Hannebery. Key forwards are only as good as the team around them – thus far, the Saints have impressed following big wins over the Bulldogs and the Tigers. King has kicked five goals in four games, and has already displayed his marking ability, leading the team in forward 50 targets already in his young career.
Big men take longer to develop, but having a good mix of young and established talent around him will only help aid his cause as he gets better and anchors himself as the key component of their core for the future. Max King should see a steady rise in his output over the next few years, to the point where he could be in the Coleman Medal race and be one of the leading markers in the competition.
Their respective teams: Gold Coast Suns
Once the laughing stock of the AFL, the Suns suddenly find themselves 2nd on the ladder at the time of writing, and their meteoric turnaround has been spectacular to watch. Stewie Dew’s implementation of a fast, energetic style has come to fruition, with the Suns all of a sudden become a team worth watching in 2020.
Ben King did have the head start over his brother, debuting in 2019 and showing promise with his 17 goals in 14 games, with the first half of those games coming as a defender before his move up forward, which looks to now be a permanent mainstay for the young King. Like his brother, his aerial ability is going to prove problematic, and so long as the delivery keeps coming his way, he will have plenty of opportunity to prove his worth.
On the topic of delivery, the Suns seem to have quickly moved on from Gary Ablett, as their young core have already shone in this chaotic and wild season. Matt Rowell needs no introduction, we all know how good he is. Ben King is going to enjoy playing with the red menace for years to come. Rowell aside, Noah Anderson and Connor Budarick have proven no slouches in the AFL, as they too form the exciting future for the Suns. Jack Lukosius has enjoyed a prosperous start to his career down back, with him improving steadily in his second year. Izak Rankine is still yet to debut also, and will no doubt make a fine partner for King up forward.
The Suns as well do not have the immense expectations of their team, and more importantly, on King, willingly let the team develop and grow, removing all pressure and letting things grow naturally. It seems to be paying off for King, kicking 7 goals in 4 games for the season, with plenty more to come as the Suns grow and develop.
So, who will be King?
It’s next to impossible to say. It’s like comparing two of what is fundamentally the same thing. Both Kings will go on to have just as equally successful careers in the AFL, if the small sample size of their current play is anything to go by.
However, for the sake of having to pick, we will have to go with Ben King as being the one who will (only just) edge his brother as the King of the family. Max’s previous injury history – including a torn ACL he suffered as a junior – may come back to haunt him and hold back his development only slightly, and there is always the risk of wear and tear and re-injury, even with modern medicine.
Ben also doesn’t have the weight of a club on his shoulders. Even if he takes longer to blossom, he will be free to do so at his own pace, while Max is going to be expected to be St Kilda’s leading goal kicker as soon as possible, especially given his tag as the next Nick Riewoldt. Max not having the headstart that his brother had has also potentially slowed him down, as Ben has now had nearly a full season’s worth of uninterrupted (pandemic aside) AFL game time to adjust to the professional standard. His better goalkicking seems to indicate this.
In saying that, we cannot wait to see these two young stars for the next 10-15 years. It’s a privilege to be able to witness the breadth of talent that is blooming in the AFL.