ZAC Williams' emergence as one of the league's best young defenders has been recognised with a new three-year contract at Greater Western Sydney.
Williams, 22, is one of the great success stories from the GWS academy after being taken with pick 55 in the third round of the 2012 NAB AFL Rookie Draft. Despite a sluggish start to his career, he has been one of the club's most consistent players over the past season and a half.
He was the first of the Giants' academy graduates to play a senior game when he made his debut in round five, 2013, but managed just 19 games in the next two seasons.
Then something clicked in the second half of 2015 when he starred in the final nine games of the year as an attacking backman.
Williams backed that up with an outstanding 2016, averaging 20.7 possessions from 22 appearances off half-back and through the midfield to finish seventh in the best and fairest
The defender told AFL.com.au he is ecstatic to have his future secured until the end of 2020.
"Obviously the Giants gave me my opportunity to play AFL when every other club overlooked me," he said on Friday.
"I'm happy here up in Sydney and I've made some really good friends here.
"I had a good year last year and we got to play in our first final and prelim final, so we're going in the right direction, so that was a major reason behind me re-signing with the club.
"There's no guarantees that we'll play finals again this year because the competition is so tough, but everything is looking upwards for us in the next few years."
Williams said the reason for his breakthrough season last year was the influence of 2015 club champion and dual All Australian Heath Shaw, plus an early snub from coach Leon Cameron, who preferred Shaw, Nathan Wilson and Adam Kennedy as the Giants' small defenders in rounds one and two.
"I'd come off my first full pre-season and thought I was going all right, so I wasn't too happy missing out on the first two games. I was pretty flat," he said.
"But I took it on the chin and when I got my opportunity against the Swans in round three I took it with both hands and didn't look back.
"Heath Shaw has played a big part in shaping my game style with the way he goes about it; I'm learning a lot from him and I think he's helped me a lot with how I've matured as a footballer."
Williams' contract extension comes at a perfect time, with the defender set to run out in front of his home-town crowd when the Giants take on West Coast in Narrandera in the Riverina region of New South Wales for their opening game of the JLT Community Series on Saturday.
The match will bring back fond memories for the dashing defender, who last graced the turf at Narrandera Sports Ground in 2012 when he helped his local side - coincidentally nicknamed the Eagles - to a premiership with a best-on-ground performance just days after celebrating his 18th birthday.
"It's great to get it done before we head back to Narrandera and I'm really happy the Giants get a chance to play there," he said.
"All my family still live there, (GWS ruckman) Matty Flynn is also from there, and there's a few other Riverina boys playing this week too, so it's great for the town and the region that they get to come out and see the local boys playing in their home town."
Williams and Flynn will be joined on Saturday by fellow Riverina products Will Setterfield and Zach Sproule (Albury), as well as Matthew Kennedy and Harry Perryman (Collingullie).
Lachie Tiziani and Isaac Cumming (Broken Hill) are the other GWS academy players in the line-up and will make their debut alongside fellow 2016 draftees Setterfield, Sproule and Perryman.