Kye Rowles is the understated Hearts summer signing success
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The Australian centre-back followed his 90-minute outing against Ross County with a dominant display in the Edinburgh derby. Two games into the cinch Premiership campaign, he already looks an astute signing to complement goalscoring team-mates like Shankland and Forrest.
Early evidence suggests Hearts have procured an assured left-sided defender from Central Coast Mariners who, having just turned 24, can only improve and develop further in years to come. Should he find himself in Australia’s World Cup squad this November, that progress will accelerate in line with his transfer market value.
It’s all good as far as Hearts are concerned. Rowles’ transition from the A-League to the Premiership came via June’s Intercontinental World Cup play-off. He has taken it all in his stride and settled quickly to life in Edinburgh.
“I had to get used to the pressure on the ball in the first game,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview. “I was more excited than anything playing in the derby because it’s such a big occasion. It was my first derby and we wanted to win so we were gutted losing that late goal to draw 1-1.
“I knew it would be physical and very quick. I tried to win as many tackles and headers because you need to be up for it in a derby. These are the big games you grow up as a kid wanting to be involved in so I was grateful for the opportunity.
“I like having the ball but I like to put my body around a bit. It doesn’t look like I’ve got the frame for it but I’ll get stuck in. There’s nothing better than a nice, clean, but hard tackle that gets all the boys and the crowd going. I like the physicality here.
“I’m not totally used to it yet, it might take one or two more games, but I’m feeling more comfortable already after two matches. My team-mates give me pointers and tips on what the games will be like, so I’m leaning on their knowledge and I’m thankful for that.”
Now the stakes begin to increase. Sunday’s league match against Dundee United at Tynecastle precedes the start of Hearts’ European campaign away to FC Zurich next Thursday in the Europa League play-off. Rowles, Shankland, Forrest and others joined the club with this very adventure in mind.
Victory over two legs will propel Robbie Neilson’s team into the Europa League groups, with the safety net of a Europa Conference League group spot awaiting the losers. Either way, there will be four adrenaline-filled European nights at Tynecastle between now and the World Cup break.
The stadium has stood for 136 years but never hosted a UEFA group-stage fixture. Rowles explained the sense of anticipation building.
“Walking out at a full Tynecastle for the first home game was special. It was sold out, really loud and a great moment. Then came the first derby and that was a pretty similar noise. You can tell how much football means to the community over here. We don't really have those opportunities at home to play in front of passionate, full stadiums.”
Demands brought by European competition will be new to the vast majority of Hearts’ squad. The schedule between now and November will include league and Premier Sports Cup matches in between the aforementioned Continental ties.
Rowles is clearly not one for shying away from a challenge. “It’s definitely going to test the body but I’m young and fit. Hopefully the fitness platform I’ve build over the last few weeks will help me stay available for most of the games coming up,” he said.
“We’ve got a busy few months coming up, starting with Europe next week, plus the Premiership and cup games. It’s going to be a massive test and I’m not used to that coming from Oz. We only play about 25 games a year.
“Coming to a place where you might play 45 or 50 is a tall order but I’m going to push myself. I came here for a challenge and I’m ready to take it on.”
Strong performances in Europe would only enhance his prospects of inclusion in Graham Arnold’s final World Cup squad. However, the player knows the dangers of looking too far ahead. Sunday’s visit from Dundee United is the priority for now.
“Everyone has a real buzz about competing in Europe, playing teams you don’t otherwise come up against. There are a lot of big clubs but first we are focused on Dundee United,” stressed Rowles.
Off-the-field acclimatisation in Scotland has been made significantly easier by this summer’s Sahara-style heat. Temperatures around the 30-degree mark are similar to those in New South Wales and Rowles intends to make the most of the sunshine.
“I’ve had to put suncream on to go outside because it’s so hot. It’s a good transition for me when it’s this hot but I’ve been told not to get used to it. I’ll soak it in while it’s around, though,” he laughed.
Having compatriots Cammy Devlin and Nathaniel Atkinson with him in the Hearts squad is also a help. “We hang out because we are good mates, making each other laugh and mixing with the other boys as well.
“It’s good to get out and form new relationships so that you aren’t sitting inside by yourself. All the boys are friendly but obviously I love the Aussie boys a little bit more. They have been a massive help to me so far.”