Tom De Koning gets the better of brother Sam as the Blues tame the Cats

Barely a minute passed on Friday night before Tom De Koning ruthlessly bullied (not so) little brother Sam, shoving him aside then blasting through Carlton’s first of 21 goals.

Mum Jackie bounced out of her seat in the MCG stands in mock shock, with a grin across her face, at how her 24-year-old son rag-dolled her 23-year-old, the eighth and ninth of 10 siblings in the enormous De Koning clan.

tom de koning gets the better of brother sam as the blues tame the cats

Sam De Koning, for Geelong, beats brother Tom, of Carlton, to the ball at the MCG on Friday night.

They are both giants in stature with boundless athleticism and long blond locks, but Geelong’s Sam, at 204 centimetres, has a slight edge over 201-centimetre Tom. However, the big Blue has played 18 more games and is older by 19 months – and he made those advantages count in Carlton’s 63-point victory.

Sam has the bragging rights as a premiership player from the Cats’ 2022 grand final demolition of Sydney, although Tom might match him soon enough, given the way Carlton are going.

There was a lighthearted moment after the quarter-time siren, when Tom playfully threw the Sherrin at Sam after a ruck contest, sparking a brief showdown between the pair that would not have been out of place in the De Konings’ childhood backyard.

tom de koning gets the better of brother sam as the blues tame the cats

Tom De Koning, of the Blues, marks in front of Sam De Koning, of the Cats.

“I just dropped it, didn’t I?” Tom told The Age with a smirk post-match.

“He wasn’t happy, but it was just a heat-of-the-moment thing. I don’t know what happened there – it was just that competitive nature.”

The somewhat unlikely ruck battle not even Tom saw coming took centre stage not even a fortnight after the McKay twins – Carlton’s Harry and Essendon’s Ben – finally faced off on-field in their ninth season after a series of false starts.

The De Koning boys first played against each other two years ago, and this was their fourth clash overall, but Sam is typically stationed in a key defensive post.

Tom, on the other hand, is spending an increasing amount of his time in the ruck these days – after bouncing between the forward line and ruck previously – in what is shaping as a breakout season.

On this night, with Rhys Stanley’s knee injury causing him to go out of Geelong’s team, Cats coach Chris Scott entrusted Sam with taking on his in-form brother for most of the night.

Scott insists it was purely coincidental that it meant going up against his sibling, revealing it was mostly about trying to ignite Sam’s best form.

tom de koning gets the better of brother sam as the blues tame the cats

Tom De Koning.

“I’m not denying that there’s some good theatre to it,” Scott said. “A neutral observer would think that [Tom]’s better placed to win that position than the guy who hasn’t played much in the ruck.

“[But] it’s a bit of an investment in the future for us, and it’s an investment in Sam as well. We need to get him up and going and playing his best footy, and we thought that was the best thing to help with that.”

Tom, for his part, loved the chance to go head-to-head with Sam for what he guessed was about 60 ruck contests throughout the match.

“Being able to line up on my brother at the first centre bounce was pretty fun. I wasn’t expecting it, to be honest,” he said.

“He was very quiet throughout the week. I was trying to get a bit out of him, but he wouldn’t give me anything, so I had a bit of a feeling – but it was good fun, it was a good battle, and I’m just glad we were able to get on top this time.”

Sam battled back well after Tom’s early physical dominance of him, but the emerging Carlton star took the honours, helping the Blues win the clearances (50-39) and contested possession (151-140).

Tom finished with an equal-career-high 25 disposals, 20 contested possessions, 34 hit-outs, 10 score involvements, seven clearances, six tackles and 1.1 in another mighty performance.

The final numbers were pretty good for Sam, too: 20 disposals, 16 contested possessions, 20 hit-outs, five tackles, four clearances and a goal.

The goal came via a free kick against Tom, who tried to put his brother on a poster. They assuredly kept the 15 family members in attendance, and everyone else watching, entertained throughout the night.

“I ended up giving him a goal back, and he did enjoy that,” Tom said. “He said, ‘You just tried to take mark of the year on me’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll give you that one’. It was funny, but I had to go for it.”

Carlton coach Michael Voss also saw the amusing side of the De Koning brothers’ interactions, but was most thrilled with how far Tom has come with his football.

“He’s certainly taken his game to another level. He’s taken his training to a completely different level as well,” Voss said. “It’s not complicated where he’s found himself, but he’s certainly persisted, and he’s getting some great rewards at the moment.”

Tom and Sam shook hands after the final siren, leaving their season ledger at one-all, and quickly reverted to just being surf-loving brothers from the coast.

It is there that they escape the demands and attention of a game that looks set to launch both of them to stardom.

“We spent a lot of time as kids on the surf coast and then down on the peninsula as well, where we grew up. We love surfing,” Tom said. “To be honest, me and Sam now; we don’t really talk about footy at all. It’s more about life off-field, and I love getting down to the surf coast.

“I always stay at his house, and we get in the water, and it’s just our way of kind of getting away from footy a bit. He loves getting away from it and then coming back and locking in, and so do I.”

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