Just like how Jack Steele’s barbecue unexpectedly caught fire in Arie Schoenmaker’s first few days of living there, the Saints’ newest debutant is the first to say his start to life as an AFL footballer has been “a bit shaky” and unconventional.

That little fat fire - starting through absolutely no fault of his own - has oddly enough served as a parallel to the young defender’s past 12 months; when situations arise, he’s been able to douse the flames and move forward.

Importantly, he’s experienced, learned and adjusted in multiple facets, culminating in a well-earned debut this Friday night against Brisbane at the Gabba; Schoenmaker now the fifth AFL debutant for the Saints in 2024.


It has taken some acclimatising coming from the sleepy hollows of Tasmania to the hustle, bustle and high-intensity environment of a Victorian AFL club, including a move-in with a host family to better adjust to his new surroundings and lay down the foundations towards a career in red, white and black.

“It was pretty scary to start off with. It was a bit unsettling, a bit hard to integrate and you’re missing home,” Schoenmaker told saints.com.au.

“There’s a lot more people here and a lot more stuff going on than there is at Tassie. But it’s a credit to the boys and the coaching staff who made it really easy after that. We switched it up early on in the year to a new setting at home and I’m with a host family now.

“Linda and Sean (Dooley), they’ve been really nice letting me into their home and their family which has made it a lot easier for me; feeling like I can go home to a family setting when I finish a day at the club, which is what I’m used to at home (in Tasmania).”

Schoenmaker came into St Kilda as the late pick with high hopes. Snapped up with pick No. 62 after being touted as a first-round selection, the Tasmanian recruit had attracted early headlines after being hit with a 10-game suspension by the Tasmania Devils to plant hesitancy into prospective recruiters’ minds.

But the super-boot was worth taking a punt on in the Saints’ eyes, and not just for the skillset and natural talent he came equipped with.

What stood out between list management duo Stephen Silvagni and Graeme Allan in their months of pre-draft legwork was the way Schoenmaker had rolled up the sleeves to earn back trust — both on and off the field — in the aftermath of such a significant sanction.

“He’s had some adversity early on in the year and had to go back and find some form and prove himself again, so that’s a good sign,” Silvagni said on the night of Schoenmaker’s selection.

With kids, you want to see how they handle adversity a little bit and it’s not all smooth for a lot of kids. He’s 18 years of age, we’ve given him a chance and hopefully he takes that chance, because he’s got some talent.

- List Manager Stephen Silvagni on Arie Schoenmaker

Much like how he had to build up trust and dig in to see a dream realised in his draft year, Schoenmaker has had to work his backside off in the VFL to eventually receive the endorsement for a Saints debut.

His talent, although never coming into question, has been on show for Sandringham for several months now, with the 19-year-old strengthening his defensive discipline and attributes alongside development coach and Sandringham senior coach, Jake Batchelor.

Likewise, Schoenmaker has been an instrumental figure in Sandringham’s notable run of form to-date which has them seventh on the ladder with a 6-3-1 ledger heading approaching the midpoint of the season.

The numbers on the stats front certainly looked good at first glance to further external conversation around a call-up. Although with a touch over 25 touches on average per game (admittedly inflated with kick-outs counted as a disposal), the thumping cannon out of the back half on display and the multiple wins on-side, they only painted half the picture as to what his coaches were looking for.


“I feel like I’ve been playing some good footy at VFL level; I was getting quite a lot of the ball but the last couple of weeks in particular I’ve been working on being a good teammate,” Schoenmaker said.

“I’ve been playing a bit taller down back and have changed my role a bit rather than playing high. I’ve been putting some okay performances in, but it’s until you start competing hard… that’s when you’re most likely going to get your chance.

“Batch has been big on being a good teammate and doing the little things, which I’m starting to get a hold of.

“To be a good teammate, especially as a defender, you’ve got to be vocal. You’ve got to win your one-on-one contests and be that big pillar in the air, that’s all part of being a good teammate.”

Arie Schoenmaker practices his marking with Jake Batchelor (below). Photo: Felix Curtis.

Batchelor has been a key figure behind Schoenmaker’s ascent to the senior ranks. Session after session, game after game, the pair go through their routine of first hitting the tape and analysing vision, taking notes and then heading to the track to practice it.

Resilience has been the biggest lesson taken in Schoenmaker’s stride, with patience coming in close second as fellow draftees Darcy Wilson, Lance Collard, Angus Hastie and Hugo Garcia all earned their debuts ahead of him.

“Batch said to me ‘your time will come’. He told me that everyone’s careers are different: some play early, some play late and some don’t play at all. It’s your story and it’s the way you want to go about it,” Schoenmaker said.

“I want to be known as someone who has an elite kick and makes good decisions, but being a good teammate and being someone who goes 100 per cent at every contest is what I want it to be about.

I’ve loved working with Batch. He’s someone that you can always bounce things off, he’s honest and he’ll tell you if you’re not performing at the level.

- Arie Schoenmaker on Jake Batchelor

Schoenmaker’s dream will come true under the Friday night lights of the Gabba as St Kilda looks to go into the bye on a high with a potential sixth win of 2024.

The Schoenmaker clan — mum, dad and younger twin brother and sister — will all make the trek from Launceston to Brisbane in time for the big occasion, with the support of the Saints and home state behind him.

“To get drafted from a small state, especially in Tasmania, anyone that goes places in professional sport or things like that… a lot of people look up to you back home,” Schoenmaker said.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of. I’m excited to have family watch on Friday and it will be exciting to get a taste of the big stage.

“I’m still pinching myself. I’m still scrambling a bit… there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of nerves, but I’m just stoked and so happy to get a crack at it.”