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Wanganeen-Milera embraces the pressure of footy world

Andrew Mathieson -

Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera’s short career has not been weighed down by carrying the heaviest of burdens from an Aboriginal footy legacy growing on his back.

There’s Terry Milera, his once-St Kilda playing stepdad, who Wanganeen-Milera later followed in his footsteps to the same club a decade later as the prized No.11 selection in the 2021 AFL draft.

Then there’s Gavin Wanganeen, his uncle, and one of the most remarkable Indigenous players of the modern-day game.

And by chance, there’s Nicky Winmar who is of no relation but for Wanganeen-Milera has inherited a narrative that none of the other 23 St Kilda First Nations players since the Noongar man's retirement has followed.

Winmar wore No.7 in every one of his 229 appearances for the Saints since arriving in 1987 before leaving under acrimonious circumstances at the end of the 1998 season.

St Kilda only had to view the similar silky skills fleetingly soon after arriving to ask Winmar to present his once revered number to Wanganeen-Milera for his debut in a show of faith that would conjure up fond past memories for the loyal Moorabbin faithful.

This to occurred before the legendary figure affectionately known as Cuz just happened to have one of Wanganeen-Milera’s assistant coaches Lenny Hayes also claim the number.

No pressure whatsoever, right?

The sheer sight of one of the next rising Aboriginal talents running through the MCG from half back with ball in hand to pinpoint his 25 kicks to crush Collingwood hopes just recently would suggest he’s content in the shadows of Winmar and Hayes.

“It is honestly something that I cherish, actually,” Wanganeen-Milera told the National Indigenous Times.

“I feel honoured to wear the No.7 and I want to honour them, who have played in that number before me.

“They were a special group of players from before my time and obviously I want to do that number proud and leave that guernsey in a better place.”

Watching the 21-year-old’s exhilarating opening two AFL seasons, Wanganeen-Milera is instead focused on forming a tight pact, something of a brotherhood with teammates that is gathering momentum for a successful era ahead.

That playing group is committed and have bandied together to honour the club’s Latin motto: Fortius Quo Fidelius, or in other words, Strength Through Loyalty.

He lists off his largely Indigenous mates: Marcus Windhager, Isaac Keeler, along with new recruits from Western Australia, Lance Collard and Liam Henry, before adding other youngsters, Mitch Owens and Matt Allison next, looked over by the wiser heads of housemate Mason Wood and club Aboriginal Elder Bradley Hill in this pact.

Nicky Winmar presented Wanganeen-Milera with his debut guernsey in 2022. (Image: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)

“All us young boys have all formed a strong relationship; not just us Aboriginal boys,” Wanganeen-Milera says.

“We want to get better as a group and we have all made that clear.

“So I think we’re sticking together because we want to drive each other together to do better in all aspects.

“I think if we stick together, there is no limit on what we can achieve at the Saints and hopefully that is delivering a second premiership.”

The half-back flanker, who was moved from a familiar wing role after his first year, praises consummate pros Jack Sinclair, Callum Wilkie for redefining his game before adding defence coach Corey Enright to the names.

“There’s really good vibes down there,” Wanganeen-Milera says.

“We’ve got a good group together now.

“We’ve got some good role models at the club that have helped me and others as well.

“They have all made it pretty easy to settle in.”

Drafts extending to the club’s Next Generation Academy and through trading in talent has brought a new-look St Kilda together after several years stuck in the wilderness.

But long before the good fortune of footy’s lotto, the former Glenelg junior had a bond with Keeler that began before their club drafted both at the end of back-to-back years.

Wanganeen-Milera and Keeler go all the way back to when they were children kicking footys around with nothing but big goals in their eyes.

Both men proudly share a similar Kokatha bloodline in their lineage from the South Australian west coast.

Wanganeen-Milera supported the Saints in his former years. (Image: supplied)

“I think there is some blood down the line between us,” Wanganeen-Milera adds.

“Not real close, but our families are both from the Ceduna area.

“I was asking mum and dad a few weeks ago about it.

“Isaac and I have known each other for years through our early teens with football.

“We became pretty close when I found out he was from the Ceduna area.”

The other half of Wanganeen-Milera’s ancestry is from the Narangga mob that all but encapsulates the Yorke Peninsula.

That is from his mum’s, uncle Gavin’s and his Essendon cousin Tex Wanganeen’s side.

Narangga is also the family namesake’s link to Adelaide’s Wayne Milera, a distant cousin of sorts a few times removed, but Wanganeen-Milera is a bit unsure how but is related “somewhere down in our blood”.

Wanganeen-Milera’s love for the Saints has an even more complicated explanation.

After his stepdad was traded to St Kilda in a complex deal during the early days of the GWS Giants, a nine-year-old lived up Moorabbin around his childhood heroes as Milera was able to pick up 30 games from 2012 until 2014.

His son in that time was always spotted around the clubrooms and there was one picture in a St Kilda replica shirt doing the rounds online the day the skinny teen was drafted.

But when Milera was delisted after asking and subsequently was an unsuccessful request to be traded back to Adelaide or Port Adelaide, Wanganeen-Milera briefly fell out of favour with the club on his way out of Victoria.

“Growing up I always was (a Saints fan) when dad played there for a couple of years, but then I sort of went to Port Adelaide,” Wanganeen-Milera says.

“But I don’t think now I could have asked for a better club to go to.

“There’s just great people there, such a good club with so good vibes there for me.

“We have six Indigenous boys on our list at the moment, another two in our AFLW program too, so you’re definitely able to transition easier. It’s very culturally aware.”

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