AFL Draft

Carefree Cam – Potential Number One Rides Pressure with Ease

 

For draftees coming through the ranks, hoping to achieve the ultimate glory of landing on an AFL list, there comes a considerable level of pressure.

That pressure intensifies when you are touted as the number one prospect – as Western Jets star Cam Rayner has been for the majority of 2017.

For some, this expectation can get the best of them on-field, impacting their performance as a consequence. For Cam, the sense of expectation of being the potential number one selection on November has failed to affect the confident and outgoing character.

“When I get out on the ground I have a pretty free mind and don’t really worry about it,” Rayner said.

“There’s heaps of boys in it who think about all the pressure and all the stress but at the end of the day, you’re playing something you love.”

The explosive forward-cum-midfielder is too humble to admit he is a ‘big game player’, but anyone who has watched Cam play would say just that. His starring performances in the games that matter are a considerable reason for him being amongst the most highly rated talents – arguably the highest rated – in the country.

“It self-motivates me a bit more, knowing if it’s a final, or a game we need to win or in front of a big crowd. I just get a bit excited and it makes me want to show myself off a bit more,” he said.

“I guess it’s just something that comes from within.”

Rayner’s national championships epitomised this, averaging 18 disposals and three goals per game, including an outstanding five goal haul against South Australia at Etihad Stadium. After a disappointing Under 16’s carnival, he was determined to show he could compete amongst the best.

“I was down on myself from my 16s carnival, and I wanted to assert my dominance [this year],” he said.

“I enjoyed the challenge. When you play against the best players, it kind of makes you want to prove yourself a bit more. It gets you up and about and makes you a bit more excited, and I think I thrive on that.”

And let’s not forget his 23 disposals and three goals in the NAB AFL Academy game at the MCG, all with a toe injury that he had sustained just a few days earlier.

“A couple of the boys were going out to the shops and I quickly chucked on my thongs. I ran down the stairs when it was pitch black, tripped and fell arse over and split my toe open,” Rayner explained with a smile.

“When I put my boot before the game I was in so much pain, but once I got out onto the ground I didn’t really think about it.”

While his National Carnival against the cream of the crop was exemplary, it was the Western Jets miracle TAC Cup win against Oakleigh Chargers that stood out as the highlight of Rayner’s year. Rayner gathered 25 disposals, laid nine tackles and booted two goals, willing the Jets – who sat at the bottom of the later – to an inspired victory over the top-of-the-table Chargers.

“This year against Oakleigh was probably one of my best games,” he said.

“It was the highlight of the year. We couldn’t believe it – but the Western boys just held on. It brought out a bit of the Western side in everyone, showing that extra grit.”

Such was the surprise from his teammates that the celebrations continued well after the final siren.

“After the game, the boys were taking photos and stuff. It was awesome.”

While Rayner was tearing it up on-field, his name became increasingly well known in football circles.

“I was saying to Lachie (Fogarty) after that SA game, I was scrolling through my FB and there were requests from people you don’t even know. Lachie and I just laugh about it. You’re not going to be rude and dismiss them, but you know who your close mates are.”

“The way I play footy is the way I am as a person. I’m an outgoing character, like to have a bit of fun, little bit unpredictable as well.”

Certainly, his mates at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School didn’t let him forget that he was pencilled in at #1 in a number of phantom drafts and draft boards.

“Other people say it and take the piss out of ya. “Here he is – number one’s in the school”, they’d say.”

The tongue-in-cheek jeering continued with his accidental Dustin Martin haircut, which had the media instantly drawing parallels between the Richmond star and the explosive, bullocking prospect out of the western suburbs of Melbourne. He has also earned comparisons to Melbourne’s Christian Petracca – such is his impact as a mid/forward.

“[The boys in the school footy team] started shaving our hair, and my mate shaved a bit extra and it caught onto the side,” he explained with a laugh.

“That was good banter around the school, even some of the teachers reading into it getting stuck into me.“

“I was speaking to Mum about it, you can’t really complain about being compared to someone who’s had such a good year.”

I tell you what, I’d be happy with just looking like Dustin Martin – let alone being compared to the way he plays.

While it speaks volumes of his talent as a footballer, his reactions to this trash talk are significant. As a person, Cam has an innate ability to take everything in his stride, and not take things too seriously.

“The way I play footy is the way I am as a person. I’m an outgoing character, like to have a bit of fun, little bit unpredictable as well.”

“I’m a pretty happy kid, I don’t really have too much to stress about.”

One thing he has been stressing about, however, is the state of his FIFA Ultimate Team.

“My brother and I both have a PS4, and I’ve been getting into the Ultimate Team recently, but I waste all my money of the draft. Every time I get 15k I just chuck it on the draft,” he said with a laugh.

However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, with the youngster changing schools twice in his senior years at school. Rayner made the move from Taylors Lakes Secondary to Maribyrnong College in Year 10, only to start at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School on a scholarship six months later.

“We bought all the books and the uniform for Maribyrnong and then 2 weeks later got a call from PEGS,” he said.

“It’s been hard to juggle up my friends with all those schools. Just having the support from mum and dad have been awesome. They supported me the best with the move to PEGS.”

“Honestly, I’m not usually the kid that sits there for three or four hours in the books,” he joked.

Moving schools hasn’t been the only thing he has had to endure. As is the case with many draftees thrusted in the limelight for extended periods, the doubts and weaknesses in their game are exposed and highlighted more and more.

For Rayner, it’s been his endurance that has been picked apart in recent times, after registering a disappointing beep test score of 11.2 at the beginning of the season. This part of his game is something he knows he must improve if he is to make it at the next level.

 

“Dad and I have been talking about my endurance since I was about 12, when I used to just sit in the forward line kicking goals,” he joked

“It’s obviously something I need to work on, but it’s not something I’m too stressed about.”

Rayner tested his endurance alongside a few other prospects on Friday afternoon, running a 2km time trial in a time of 7:57. While he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it is unreasonable to expect a blitzing score considering his recent return from a niggling knee injury and the recent end to his VCE exams.

This knee injury – thought to be sustained in the Championships, and aggravated thereafter – kept him out of the National Combine testing and the hotly anticipated NAB All-Stars game on Grand Final day

“I was really disappointed [missing the Combine], that was probably my opportunity to shut everyone up about the endurance,” he quipped.

“Even when I wasn’t able to run I was doing boxing swimming, bike. I was feeling pretty fit going into it.”

As a player, Rayner describes himself as “an explosive midfielder who can kick goals”, but sees himself starting as a forward at AFL level.

“If I can start as a forward I reckon I’ll be pretty dangerous down there, with some short bursts in the midfield,” he said.

“That explosiveness is something I’ve had since I was a little kid.”

Another thing rumoured over the past couple of months is Rayner being a ‘flight risk’ – particularly relevant considering Brisbane and Fremantle hold the top two picks in the draft – with speculation that the young star could return to Melbourne due to homesickness. Ultimately, though, Rayner is hungry to play at the highest level and is willing to play in any state.

“If you get the chance to play AFL footy you’d go anywhere”

“I’m pretty happy staying in Melbourne and playing but then again if I have to move away from home I’m happy to get the opportunity playing anywhere.”

Being one of the most highly touted talents, getting drafted has been a reality for some time for Rayner. With the draft fast approaching, the Western Jets star can’t wait to get up to Sydney to hear his name called out.

“It’s been excitement throughout the whole year but now it’s here it’s a bit surreal. It’s a nervous wait, but there’s nothing you can do,” he said.

“I was saying to a mate the other day – I want to know where I’m living next year.”

The way Rayner has ridden the wave of expectation this season must be commended, as we have seen many prospects crumble under similar pressure.

In my eyes, Cam Rayner is the most talented player in this year’s crop and is a likely top three selection on draft night (personally, I’d nab him with one and be done with it.)

Remember the name, folks, because this Martin/Petracca-esque prospect is a star in the making.

 

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