PRINTED beside a brightly lit school photo of a boy with bleached blond hair wearing a cheeky grin are the words: 'When I finish school, I would like to be an AFL Brownlow Medallist for Carlton'.
Sounds like every young Aussie boy's dream, right?
Well, for Tom and Sam De Koning, these naive childhood aspirations weren't so far out of reach after all.
Picked up in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft by Carlton, you may mistake Tom as the brother who dreamed of donning the navy blue. However, it was younger brother Sam who set this goal, hoping to play alongside the Carlton legends he'd barracked for before he could walk or talk.
A future for the Blues was not written in the stars for young Sammy, though. Instead, it was Geelong who opened the door to his AFL career, and while he’s wearing a different configuration of blue and white to what his childhood self would've hoped, Sam couldn't be happier in the hoops.
"I'm so fortunate to be at such a great club in the Cats, and to be getting regular games as well as playing consistently is a dream come true," he said.
Our dad, Terry, who played 31 VFL games for Footscray, can't wipe the proud smile off his face as he shows me Sam's grade six yearbook.
"This should really go on to say, '…and when I finish school, I would like to be better than Tom," Terry says with a chuckle.
The brotherly rivalry between Tom and Sam has been constant from when they were two scrawny schoolboys to now.
"There's nothing a brother enjoys more than beating his brother and I think the sibling rivalry has been rich in our family," Tom said.
"Being one of 10, with seven boys, there's always going to be a bit of tough love and plenty of fighting growing up, which is where I think we've developed a competitive nature."
As the youngest of the clan, I can vouch for this relentless sibling rivalry. I recall the eve of our parents' birthdays each year, spent creating the ultimate homemade birthday card, mastering our bubble-writing skills and using the brightest of coloured paper, all in an attempt to one-up each other.
And while we're all grown up now, and have slowly found friends in one another, there’s no doubt this weekend's Carlton v Geelong clash will see the family divided and have both boys putting up a ruthless fight, each with the hope of coming out on top.
Battle lines drawn? 😉— Carlton FC (@CarltonFC) July 12, 2022
No matter which way Saturday night falls, Terry and Jackie De Koning will be watching on with immense pride as brothers Tom and Sam are opposed for the first time. 🥲
Sam expects the match will showcase a "fierce rivalry" between the two, something that doesn't seem to deter Tom.
"As it gets closer the nerves might start kicking in, but it should be fun playing against Sam and getting into him," Tom said.
Sitting at 204cm and 103kg, Tom has recently stepped up as Carlton's starting ruck, after key ruckman Marc Pittonet sustained a knee injury in late April.
Drafted as a player who needed to physically develop, Tom says that while it has taken some time, he feels capable of taking on the key role this season after years of learning the craft from some of the best.
"People like Andrew Phillips, Matt Lobbe and, of course, Matthew Kreuzer, who we are lucky enough to have as our ruck coach at Carlton, have really helped shape me as a player in the most important years of my career, teaching me not only about the game, but standards and attitude as well," he said.
On top of his rucking duties, Tom has been flying extra high this season, earning himself three nominations for the Four 'N Twenty AFL Mark of the Year award, with the overall winner to be announced at Brownlow Medal night.
"I'm lucky to be able to have a licence to fly for my marks. My job is to create a contest and bring the ball to ground so the smalls can get to work, but if I can mark a few, then that's always a bonus. I don't think any of the ones I've taken this year will win it, but I'll keep going for them," he said.
And while Tom may seem quietly confident leading into the matchup against his younger brother, Sam has also well and truly proven his potential, cementing his spot in Geelong's senior side this season so far.
Following a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination in round 11, the 204cm Cats defender has generated significant focus, something his player agent, Robbie D'Orazio at Connors Sports Management, believes the young backman should get used to.
"The amount of media attention Sam's attracted this year has been absolutely unbelievable and he has to learn to get used to that now," D'Orazio said.
"When he came up against Aaron Naughton in round 12, I think that was the first time he's really felt like the eyes were on him."
However, being in the spotlight has never been a priority for the pair.
Described by D'Orazio as "the laid-back kid who walks around barefoot at the footy club", Sam, like his brother Tom, has always been content living a simple life. As long as there’s a surf break and a board close by, the boys are happy.
Growing up with an abundance of siblings, having to fight over scraps at the dinner table, and cramming into a makeshift caravan for holidays, we were raised to enjoy those things.
Now, living along Victoria's surf coast in Torquay, Sam is just around the corner from most of our siblings who reside in the beachside town and we're often together as his AFL career takes off.
"We are all good mates and have always loved surfing, skating and hanging out while growing up together," Tom said.
Tom jokes that Sam's easy-going nature is admirable, yet slightly concerning at times.
"He's an introverted extrovert who picks his time to be the centre of attention but is mostly happy flying below the radar," he said.
"Even when I watch him running out for Geelong, he always looks calm to a point where I think, 'is he ready to play footy right now?' That is, until the siren goes, and he looks right at home."
Having grown up side-by-side, the question looms as to whether fans can expect to see the De Koning duo representing the same side anytime soon. And while both boys say they're content at their respective clubs, Tom isn't ruling out the combination later on down the track.
"At some stage down the line I'd love to line up with him. Perhaps when it’s all said and done and we are both at the Torquay Tigers," he says with a smile.
The brotherly ribbing between them hasn't stopped since they started their respective careers. Although Tom jokes that "a backman is just a failed forward", he commends Sam’s performance in the position.
"He has shown a lot of promise this first half of the year and I think the consistency he has shown has been impressive, it's definitely something I am trying to bring to my game," says Tom.
Sam has also always admired Tom's skills, and says his older brother played a key role in driving his ambitions to play AFL.
"Tom has been a huge influence on my career from a very young age. I can still remember him playing against the Western Bulldogs in his first game and that's when I really said to myself, 'yes, this is what I want to do, I want to play AFL just like my brother'," he said.
This weekend is the first AFL match they will play against each other. But will Tom stick to his duties in the ruck or be sent down forward to take on his little brother?
One thing we know for sure however, is neither player will go down without a fight.
"We have an older brother mentality in our family, meaning Sam will never be able to beat me in a fight because he knows I will take it that one step further no matter what, if it comes down to it," said Tom.
Sam agreed: "I'm sure when the time comes where we do line up on each other there will be no friendliness."