Ryley Barrack learns quickly.
It’s what saw him playing senior football as a 16-year-old with South Mildura just three years after making the switch from soccer, and it’s what saw him playing TAC Cup football with the Bendigo Pioneers just two years later.
It’s also seen him become a crucial plank in Werribee’s backline structure this year.
It seems hard to believe given the season he’s had, but the 21-year-old carpenter was neither a walk-up start for the Tigers nor a permanent defender at the start of the year, having played in a variety of roles in his five senior games last year.
“I was playing more of a forward role,” he recalls of his 2016 season.
“Then (coach John Lamont) came up to me at the start of the year and said he wanted me down back for my defensive acts.
“I’ve just tried to work off that: defend first and go from there.”
Since regaining his senior spot against Footscray in round two, Barrack hasn’t looked back.
With the exception of his side’s round 12 clash with Coburg, which he missed with an injured thumb, he has played every senior game since, finishing among the Tigers’ best on eight out of 10 occasions and earning best-on-ground honours in round five’s comeback win over Collingwood.
He credits his work with Werribee backline coach Ben Patrick with developing the defensive traits that have come to define his game.
“I’ve really worked on my spoiling and tackling, and I’ve worked with ‘Patto’ on my kicking as well, which has helped,” he says.
“It’s just about coming out of the backline with composure and hitting targets.
“I’ve also worked a lot on my intercept marking, which I do before training. That’s been a big help in my game and with setting the boys up.”
Barrack’s impact this season has not gone unnoticed both inside and outside the club.
In a recent article for VFL.com, his name was put forward as a potential draft prospect for AFL clubs looking to explore their recruitment options in the Victorian state league.
But with Werribee entering the pointy end of the season and chasing crucial wins as it looks to secure a finals berth, Barrack isn’t letting himself be daunted or distracted by such attention.
“It doesn’t worry me,” he says of AFL talk. “I just keep doing what I’m doing and play the best footy I can.
“It’s there, but I just want to take it week by week and see how I go.
“I’m just hoping to make finals with the boys, have a good year, and see what happens.”
Barrack and the rest of the Werribee team take on the Box Hill Hawks for the beyondblue VFL Cup at 2pm on Sunday at Box Hill City Oval. They will follow the Development League match at 11am.