Fans of The Recruit will notice a subtle difference when the second season begins on FOX8 this week.
With Ryan Fitzgerald no longer hosting, it falls to Assistant Coach Ben Dixon to link the show together with presentations and narration, as part of a clear boost to his role.
The former Hawthorn champion and FOX Footy commentator tells TV Tonight it wasn’t part of a plan to elevate his media profile, but one he welcomes.
“I’m just happy to do something I love and be involved in something as exciting as this. I really enjoy it. It’s not work for me, it’s actually a hobby,” he says.
“Coming and doing this and getting paid for it…. it’s a good little gig!
“I’ve got a bit of time on my hands. The best part about it is -yes, you present yourself- so if something comes from it….. the opportunity is quite good.”
Dixon joins legendary coach Mick Malthouse plus High Performance Coach Darren Burgess and Leigh Russell as Mind Coach. Once again there are 15 aspiring AFL players vying for a Draft contract with an AFL club.
The show debuted in 2014 and became an instant hit for FOX8 appealing to family audiences, including those in the NRL-dominant “northern states.”
“It was a really good demographic. We had 9 year old kids from Queensland watching the show. Then I would ride the tram home and 60 year old ladies talking to me about the show. To reach that broad age was pretty good,” he explains.
The inaugural winner was Johann Wagner, selected by Port Adelaide in a Live finale. Wagner lasted a year with the team before being de-listed.
“He had some injuries but it was a good experience for Port Adelaide to take him on and give him an opportunity. But the gap was probably too big for him when he got to AFL level. But of the pick of who we had he was clearly our best.”
Last year the show didn’t return, but Dixon says there has been no shortage of interest, with over 1000 applications received for 2016.
“I can understand how we had a gap year because of how many registrations you want to ensure that process is right. You don’t want to fast-track that or leave anything to chance,” he continues.
“It’s a very lengthy process to get through the applications and I think it was double, if not triple, Season One, that took months and months.
“So the more space and time you have, the better the show is.”
This season also draws upon big name guests including Shane Warne, Cathy Freeman, Stephanie Rice, Ian Thorpe, Lauryn Eagle, Brendan Fevola, Anthony Koutoufides and Kevin Sheedy, while Ryan Fitzgerald is expected to host the Live finale.
But Dixon says the focus is on the young men with their eye on the prize and viewers can again expect to see them tested at every step.
“I think we’ve learned the quality of athlete you get is all dependent on how many resources you can provide him within that 10 week period,” he says.
“Footy is 25 – 50% of it, but the rest is made up of challenges and character building.”
The Recruit premieres 8:30pm Wednesday on FOX8, with repeats scheduled on FOX Footy.