Brisbane Lions' No.1 draft pick starting to find his feet
CAMERON Rayner was in unfamiliar territory during the first three rounds of the season, his self-belief wavering.
Taken with the coveted No.1 pick in last year's National Draft, the prized recruit was thrown straight into the deep end with the Brisbane Lions.
"I'm usually a pretty confident person, I'm not going to lie you, but you start to wonder 's--t, am I good enough to be out here?'" the usually laidback 18-year-old said.
"It was pretty difficult ... to prove to myself that I actually can do it."
In his baptism by fire, he gathered a total of just 21 disposals in losses to St Kilda, Melbourne and Port Adelaide.
"It was exciting to play my first game," he said. "Whether I played well or not, I was just happy to be out there.
"(But) it does take a bit of time to settle in, get used to playing with a different group of boys.
"You go from being the person who needs to get all the clearances, kick all the goals ... now you've got players in the midfield who get the clearances, players in the forward line who kick the goals.
"I'm still going through that process of where I actually fit into the team."
But, dispelling any doubts he or anyone else might have had about his ability, Rayner was the Lions' best player in last weekend's loss to Richmond in just his fourth appearance.
He gathered 22 disposals, including 12 contested, and led the team for forward-50m entries (six) and contested grabs (three), showing his strength at one stage to outmuscle key Tigers defender David Astbury in a marking contest before kicking a goal
"I spent a bit more time in the midfield and was able to go forward and have an impact," Rayner said.
"I've got a lot more confidence going into the next couple of games."
His power through his legs and torso is a hallmark of his game, and not surprisingly he is often compared to the man who kicked six goals for the Tigers last week, Dustin Martin.
Lions vice-captain Dayne Zorko even said this week that Rayner was still yet to unleash his Dusty-like fend-off.
"That's the way I've played since a junior," Raynder said, "as that explosive midfield forward.
"I think if you get compared to a player like that (Martin) you've got to be happy with that."
Rayner has added 3kg since arriving at the club in late November. Weight hasn't always been kind to him.
He was left out of an under-12 representative team because he was too small.
"Lucky enough I had a bit of a growth spurt and thickened out a little bit," he said.
"That helps the way I play my footy, being able to use your body around the contest."
Rayner has all the makings of living up to his No.1 draft billing - and the Lions must be rapt loyalty is one of his attributes.
An Essendon Grammar graduate, he grew up as part of a "crazy Essendon family".
"If you weren't Essendon, Dad probably wouldn't speak to you," he said.
But Brisbane "is home now". Before even playing a senior game he re-signed until 2021.
"It was a bit of a statement to show the club was moving in the right direction," he said.
"A lot of people in the AFL world have such a bad perception of Brisbane, thinking people are going to come up here and not going to like it. I'm pretty lucky to be here."
Rayner will contest his first QClash at the Gabba tomorrow.
"I think there is just a little bit of extra feeling. Not that we speak about, it, but you feel that there is," he said.
"The first thing we did after the Richmond game was say 'forget about that one', and hopefully redeem ourselves this week."