Tough Tiger a Rising Star
Richmond first year player Nick Vlastuin is the round 7 NAB AFL Rising Star nominee
BEFORE last Saturday's game against Port Adelaide, fired-up Richmond development coach Mark Williams asked Nick Vlastuin: 'Why can't a first-year get best on ground?'
Vlastuin was not quite 'best on ground' – that honour belonged to Brett Deledio – but he was inspired enough to earn the round seven NAB AFL Rising Star nomination.
The 19-year-old collected 23 disposals, took 11 marks and kicked his first AFL goal in the Tigers' important 41-point win over the Power at AAMI Stadium.
The 19-year-old told AFL.com.au that Williams' stirring gee-up was the best piece of advice he had been given in his first year at Richmond.
"'Choc' (Williams) just said to me, with a couple of swear words in it, to 'just go out there and do it and play tough'," Vlastuin said.
Vlastuin is certainly tough.
He's been compared favourably to his coach Damien Hardwick, who, during his playing days with Essendon and Port Adelaide, was uncompromising in his role as an enforcer across half-back.
Vlastuin is aware of the comparisons, and he's proud to be in the same mould as Hardwick despite having never really seen his coach play.
"His hard-at it mentality has definitely helped me, because that's the way I like to play," Vlastuin said.
Selected with pick No. 9 in last year's NAB AFL Draft out of the Northern Knights in the TAC Cup, Vlastuin has made an immediate impact at Tigerland.
He shone in the club's NAB Cup campaign, looking settled and composed and bringing the necessary determination and competitiveness a coach looks for in a first-year player.
However, despite a stellar pre-season, Vlastuin was forced to be patient, plying his trade in the VFL before receiving a senior berth against Fremantle in round five.
Vlastuin feels the wait was well worth it.
Given Richmond's star-studded midfield, which features the likes of Deledio, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin, Vlastuin has been forced to make himself more malleable.
When captaining Vic Metro in 2012, Vlastuin spent a bulk of his time through the midfield and won All-Australian honours for his role across half-back.
But, according to Vlastuin, being able to play in a range of positions in the AFL is essential.
"The versatility to be able to play more than one position is definitely important at Richmond, seeing we have such a high-end midfield," he said
"The coach wants to be able to play me up forward as well, so I'm not always stuck in the middle."
However, Vlastuin is not resting on his laurels after his breakout performance against the Power.
"Going through the vision with the coaches, you can still pick out areas where you need to improve,” he said.
Those off-field habits have definitely caught Hardwick's attention.
"Nick has been excellent since arriving at the club. His dedication to training, and his commitment to learning and finding ways to improve his game, is a real credit to him," Hardwick said.
With success just on the horizon for the Tigers, Vlastuin feels privileged to be at a club that is on the way up.
"I've heard it so many times that I've come to the club at the best point in time," Vlastuin said.
"We've got the new facilities, we're just starting to win games and we're all heading in the right direction."
Ben Guthrie is a reporter for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter @AFL_BenGuthrie