Jamie Elliott knows he must improve to keep his spot in Collingwood's best 22 this season
I've just got to get back in the forward line because that is where you are going to pay bills
DESPITE a successful debut season in 2012, Collingwood forward Jamie Elliott expects finding and holding a spot in the Magpie line-up to be even tougher in 2013.
He only has to look to his left or right at training to see someone who is fighting for a similar role to his own in the senior line-up.
How's this for starters? Alex Fasolo, Alan Didak, Brent Macaffer, Tyson Goldsack, Andrew Krakouer.
Elliott's response to the challenge is measured. Clearly it is a situation he thinks it's important to embrace.
"I have just got to do my best, get myself fit and keep learning and that is what I have been doing so hopefully I can have a good year," Elliott said. "I'm really looking forward to seeing how I go."
While pleased with playing 15 games in 2012 – including two finals when he started as a sub – Elliott was realistic in his evaluation of his first year.
He knew he benefitted from injuries to others, but also thought he seized his opportunities relatively well.
"Playing the games I did last year means there is always expectations on how I am going to go this year, but it's more I have got a lot of expectations on myself so I have just got to dig in and do what I can do and hopefully that is enough," Elliott said.
The strong-bodied small made an early impression with a match-winning last quarter against the West Coast Eagles in round 13, including a mark-of-the-year contender, and an incredible 15 tackles – 10 in the forward 50 – against Fremantle the following week. He has a physique like a Sydney Swan midfielder and takes grabs in hands like velcro.
However Elliott knows his game must improve in many areas if he is to turn promise into a long career.
"I can't have just one strength and it can't just be for marking so I have got to add more things to my game so tackling and forward-line pressure is one," Elliott said.
"I've seen myself as just a marking forward but I have got to add another part to my game - crumbing and finishing my work inside 50."
Elliott kicked just six goals in his first season and admits he wasted opportunities to convert at times.
"Looking back at games last year I rushed myself or I did not take enough time [when the chance came]," Elliott said.
"I've just got to get back in the forward line because that is where you are going to pay bills. I have just got to get back in there rather than sitting up on half-forward trying to get kicks and marks."
The reference to paying bills is an indication that the message is being rammed home.
Elliott has a good teacher in former Brisbane Lion small forward Craig McRae, who played in three premierships in 195 games with the dominant Brisbane Lions. McRae got to where the ball was and knew what it was like to be an effective lesser light in a forward line packed with expressive players.
"He's taught me a lot with running patterns and crumbing. They are the things I worked on last year because I have got a lot of improving to do," Elliott said.
In the VFL, he admits, he can play on instinct. At AFL level he is still in a learning phase.
Elliott knows his journey is just beginning. It's an exciting place for the 20-year-old to be, with a valuable lesson learned last year as competition for spots hotted up during the 2012 finals series with the return from injury of Krakouer and Macaffer.
"Obviously you can't take your position for granted," Elliott said.