Just three games into his VFL career, Werribee defender Nick Buykx is already riding the peaks and troughs of elite football.
As 23rd man against the Casey Demons in round four, the 19-year-old Western Jets graduate enjoyed the kind of debut most can only dream of, kicking the opening goal of the game and collecting 26 disposals from the back pocket to finish as one of the best players in his side’s gritty 13-point win.
It was enough to see him elevated straight into the 22 the following week, and he admits even he was surprised to learn how well he had performed.
“I was a bit excited on the day, and then I wasn’t really sure what to make of it,” he says.
“I just wanted to find my feet and get a few touches early on, and then it turned out a lot better than what I thought in the end.
“To get a win was good, and then to find out that I had a fair bit of the footy, I was pretty happy with that.”
But things haven’t always come quite so easily in the weeks since. After forming part of a defensive line-up that conceded the first eight goals of the match against Collingwood before righting the ship, Buykx found himself on the receiving end of a four-goal haul from former Western Bulldog Andrew Hooper in his side’s nail-biting win over North Ballarat.
It’s an experience Buykx describes as a “massive learning curve”.
“It taught me a fair bit,” he says.
“He (Hooper) knew exactly what he was doing, saw who I was, saw that I was a first-year player, and just knew that he could run me around.
“It took me a while to adjust, and I had my moments where I thought I had him covered, and then I had my moments where I thought, oh no, he’s gone.
“But I got a bit out of that, and I’m looking to improve on it.”
To a certain extent, Buykx has created a rod for his own back. Having been elevated to the 22 after his stellar debut, he is no longer eligible for selection as 23rd man, and competition for places in the senior side is likely to heat up through the season as experienced players return from injury and other young recruits push their case for selection.
Nonetheless, he is hopeful of retaining his place as he continues to hone his craft down back through his work with Werribee defence coach Ben Patrick, who he says has been “massive” for his development as a player.
“I’d love to hold my spot in the senior side, keep playing my role each week and get a few more wins,” says Buykx.
“I just want to keep learning as I go on, look to play my role, find the footy, and contribute to the team.”