No action perhaps personifies Kye Rowles’ kindness more than his offseason switch in kit numbers.
After having worn the number 15 for his first goal and 67 appearances in the A-League Men, as well as his first game captaining the Mariners, Rowles could have been forgiven for refusing to give up his number when Storm Roux joined the Central Coast Mariners in the summer.
But with Roux’s son born on the fifteenth, the defender had no hesitation in switching to 14, to allow the Mariners right-back to keep his treasured number.
Rowles endured his best season to date last campaign wearing 15 on his back and deservedly won the Mariners medal in the offseason, awarded to the best Central Coast player of the campaign.
The list of previous winners is highly prestigious – containing Trent Sainsbury, Mat Ryan and Mile Jedinak, with a combined 202 Socceroos appearances between them.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to receive the award”, said Rowles.
“It’s a very prestigious award to win and like you said – Sainsbury, Ryan, Jedinak – all of those players have won it in previous seasons and have all gone on and had great careers, both for the Socceroos and in their club football as well in the top competitions in Europe.
“It was pretty insane to get it – it could have been anyone last year because we all had really great years as well.”
Rowles was again rewarded for his outstanding campaign with a call up to the Australian Olyroos Olympic squad last July.
“We were in an extended group from all of the previous qualifiers and camps and stuff like that”, said Rowles, remembering the phone call from Graham Arnold.
“There was just information handed out that we would find out on a given day, via phone call, whether you’re in or not.
“It was Arnie on the phone, and obviously, until he says the words ‘well done you’ve been selected’ you’re kind of panicking a bit, but it was a massive feeling of relief and followed straight away by excitement, privilege, honour – so many emotions.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was just so much fun.”
These two achievements came despite an emotionally difficult off-field campaign for Kye Rowles, where his mother, Simone, was diagnosed with breast cancer on the eve of the 2020/21 A-League Men season.
The Pink Round – an annual tradition where the Mariners wear pink kits and raise money for breast cancer – was the game that stood out for Rowles in terms of emotion levels, which was evident both before and after the match.
“Probably the hardest and most emotional game last year was Pink Round”, said Rowles.
“She (mum) walked out there and I was pretty much in tears before the game, because I was so stoked for her to walk out with us.
“Most of the other games I just played, but that game was really significant and I knew it meant a lot to her.”
Rowles, who was gracious and humble throughout the interview, also took the chance to thank his parents for their sacrifices in his pursuit of a professional football career.
“When I got selected for the Olympics as well, it was so good for her because of all the sacrifices that she and Dad have made, especially when growing up.
“I felt like last year, with how our season went and stuff, it was just a nice reward to almost give back for everything they’ve done for me as well.”
The Mariners endured their joint-best finish in seven seasons earlier this year, ending their campaign in third place, just seven points off Premiers Melbourne City.
The squad, assembled by head coach Alen Stajcic, spoke repeatedly of the magic of the club last season, and Rowles had a similar view, unable to cite a certain event being the reason for their success.
“I feel like everyone really stepped up in their own level last year.
“There was just a real sense of belief – self-belief and group belief instilled by the likes of Simmo (Matt Simon), Ollie (Bozanic) and the coaching staff as well.
“The preseason wasn’t really anything special – we were just trying to work each other out and we just hit the ground running hard, and fed off all of the positivity and confidence and we just kept going and didn’t look back the whole year.”
And despite a change in squad number during the offseason, that spell hasn’t run out for the Mariners, who under a new coach and with a new squad, look as strong as ever.
“It’s been really good under Monty (Nick Montgomery) so far”, said Rowles
“He knows most of the boys because he’s been at the club since he retired from playing and he’s got us playing some good stuff.
“I think we’re just getting better and better each game.
“Obviously with so much squad turnaround each year it’s hard to get those links and get the fluidity in playing together but it’s coming together now and once we get a few in the back of the net we will really hit our straps and we’ll really be flying soon hopefully.”
Rowles couldn’t have been more correct in his prediction.
At the time of conversation, the Mariners were preparing to play Sydney FC in their first home game, coming off the back of a 1-0 defeat to Macarthur FC.
They were ninth on the table, with their lone win against Newcastle Jets clouded by two consecutive losses.
But at the time of writing, the Mariners have come off two 2-0 wins against Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers respectively, and have jumped up to fourth place, as well as a 6-0 thrashing of APIA Leichhardt in the FFA Cup, where Rowles captained the side in Oliver Bozanic’s absence.
Rowles has been the leader in an inexperienced starting backline, which in the last two A-League Men games has had an average age of 21.25.
Rowles’ 85 A-League Men appearances are more than the other three defenders (Jacob Farrell, Dan Hall and Lewis Miller) combined (53), and his minutes of 7067 is more than double of the other three.
All four defenders have all stepped up in different ways to provide the defensive solidity and attacking productivity that has been at the forefront of the Mariners’ early success this campaign, with Rowles representing the calm, experienced leader of the backline.
The two clean sheets in a row (three when including the FFA Cup) have been a major success for the Mariners’ club philosophy, who have once again prioritised youth development to good effect.
Looking on throughout the season, Rowles has his eyes firmly set on another finals appearance with his beloved Central Coast side.
“Returning to finals, doing one better than last year is definitely on my to-do list and for sure is on the clubs”, he said.
“I want to really re-establish the club as a challenger each year and I think it’s very important this year that we can cement ourselves in the top six.
“It’s important to make finals to show that we’re consistently back, and I think that’s very important for not just the club but the individuals playing in the club as well.
“You want to be playing in a positive winning side because that only helps for your career.”
From a more personal level, Rowles responded humbly when asked about a possible captaincy role at Central Coast, should the opportunity arise.
“It’d be great to captain any club, and I’ve been here for five seasons.
“It’s got a special place in my heart and it would be such an honour to captain this club one day if it did happen.
“And for international level, obviously hopefully getting in the Socceroos squad at some point.
“I don’t mind how long it takes but I just want to work as hard as I can and I think that’s the next real milestone for myself in football, to be honest.
“And if an opportunity comes up overseas, like any young player coming through, it’s always nice to give it a crack and expose yourself to overseas football as well.”
With his improvement and consistency over the two years, the sky is the limit for Rowles, who is still just 23-years-old despite having played 85 A-League Men games in his career.
A decrease in squad number has only represented an increase in form for Kye Rowles, who continues to reach new levels at an ever-improving Central Coast Mariners.