Brownlow Medal night belonged to Brisbane Lions midfielder Lachie Neale — but the spotlight soon shifted to his better half.
Neale polled a staggering 31 votes from only 17 games played this season, and in doing so etched his name into the AFL record books.
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He equalled the biggest winning margin in AFL history since the introduction of the 3-2-1 voting system, joining Roy Wright from 1954 after finishing 10 votes clear of Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak.
But it was during his acceptance speech where Neale paid a moving tribute to the woman who has been by his side through it all — his wife Julie.
“My wife Jules, she’s an amazing human being,” Neale said.
“Not many people probably know but she owned a salon in Perth before we decided to move to Brisbane. She had to sell that to come over here and follow my dreams.
“She was doing very well for herself over there but she always puts me ahead of herself when she shouldn’t have to.
“She’s the most selfless person I know and my biggest support, so thank you very much Jules, I love you.”
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Julie was overcome with emotion when in round 16 it became evident Neale couldn’t be caught as the award winner, wiping away tears as she celebrated her man’s awesome achievement.
However, things didn’t exactly get off to a rosy start for the pair as Julie brutally rejected Neale’s advances when they first met.
After being scooped up by Fremantle with pick 58 in the 2011 National Draft, an 18-year-old Neale asked Dockers teammate Matthew Pavlich to introduce the two.
But a then-21-year-old Julie had no interest.
“The first time I met Jules I was 18 and I asked Pav to introduce me to her,” Neale told Perth Now last year.
“He came back and said, ‘She’s not interested in an 18-year-old Harry Styles looking kid’.”
But Neale recovered from that One Direction insult and a few years later, he and Julie reconnected and sparks flew between the pair.
In June 2017, Neale popped the question to his stunning partner with a custom-designed diamond ring, while out for dinner in South Fremantle.
Neale, then 24, shared the news with his Instagram followers with the caption: “One very happy, lucky guy.”
Julie posted on social media: “How bloody lucky am I. @lachieneale you are one in a million. Cannot wait to marry you x.”
The pair tied the knot in 2018 at the end of the AFL season. The nuptials came a matter of weeks after Neale’s trade request had been granted and saw him sent from Fremantle to join the Lions.
The move was a big deal for Neale, but it was an even bigger shift for Julie, who had to sell her well established salon in Perth.
Located in Mosman Park, Studio Luxe Hair was where Julie made her mark after building the business up from scratch. But then love came along and Julie, as Neale said, put him first as the pair moved across the country.
“She’s sort of left everything behind,” Neale told The Age in 2018.
Julie currently works at Mikki Auld Hairdressing in Brisbane, where she’s described in her profile as “our beauty queen, girl next door, classy AF yet so down to earth, angel babe”.
“With a love for lived in colour and balayage, she’s the best in the biz when it comes to blonde and seamless colour,” her bio says. “Jules also shares our love for 70s style fringes and effortless, waterfall waves.
“She’s a big fan of almond croissants and is a self-confessed Francophile, oui!”
Despite never wanting the limelight, Neale has gone from strength to strength since becoming a Lion.
It culminated in a stellar 2020 when he sizzled his way through the entire season and captured the full allotment of three Brownlow votes in 10 games — just one less than Dustin Martin’s record of 11, which he polled in the full 2017 season.
Neale’s historic night would have shattered Martin’s 36-vote record if the 2020 season wasn’t shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now the AFL’s new power couple won’t be able to escape the limelight after the 27-year-old star’s blistering night.
Originally published as WAG brutally rejected AFL’s newest stud