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Pre-season touch-up spurs Hawk Rising Star

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 01: Ryan Burton of the Hawks in action during the 2017 AFL round 02 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Adelaide Crows at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 01, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Ryan Burton impressed in the loss to the Crows
In this team, you never cement your spot until you're the Luke Hodges and Jarryd Rougheads of the side, so I'm always trying to keep improving.
Hawthorn youngster Ryan Burton

BEING taken to the cleaners by Brett Eddy doesn't seem like the perfect precursor to a date with Crows skipper Taylor 'Tex' Walker.

Hawthorn's second-year swingman Ryan Burton spent a week in VFL purgatory after Port Adelaide's mature-age rookie kicked four goals in a quarter on him in the final week of the JLT Community Series. 

But Burton's three-goal response in the second-tier competition earned him an instant recall and he followed up with the best AFL performance of his fledgling career. 

The 20-year-old shared Walker minding duties with experienced teammate James Frawley and picked up a career-high 26 disposals, nine marks and four tackles. 

That was more than enough for Burton to receive the round two NAB AFL Rising Star nomination. 

Burton had not managed more than 15 possessions in any of his previous four games, including a final, in his debut season last year. 

"It's good to get some recognition for what looks like a good game," Burton told AFL.com.au

"It's still disappointing to get the loss; it would have been nice to get the nomination with a win.

"In this team, you never cement your spot until you're the Luke Hodges and Jarryd Rougheads of the side, so I'm always trying to keep improving."

Burton said the experience opposed to Eddy taught him some valuable lessons and he relished playing on someone "as good as" Walker. 

"I hadn't really done any back work in the pre-season and they threw me into defence in the second half," Burton said of the pre-season clash with the Power. 

"I wasn't close enough to Eddy a few times and I learned my lesson. We went through a fair bit of vision and the coaches tweaked a few things with my positioning. 

"I just paid more attention around the stoppages and there was a big focus on competitive work in marking contests, with (Adelaide having) 'Tex' and (Andy) Otten and all those big guys."

Burton feared his AFL dreams were over in the immediate aftermath of breaking his left leg in a school match in August 2014, but he had already done enough.

 

He missed the entire 2015 season and slid from a likely top-10 draft pick – maybe even as high as top three – to the Hawks at No.19. 

Burton then had the plate removed from his leg early last year and was sidelined again, but rallied to make his AFL debut in round 21.

The Phantoms Football Club product, who stands 191cm, impressed so much he scored the departed Sam Mitchell's No.5 ahead of this season.

"I was pretty surprised when I was given it late last year," Burton said.

"I'll try and live up to the expectations of Sam and all the great players at the club. 

"I'd love to be in the midfield at some stage in my career, but I feel playing down back is good for me while I'm learning the game at AFL level. 

"I've always been a forward, so I can still go down there if it fits the team's needs." 

Burton's father, Craig, is a dual SANFL premiership player with North Adelaide, where his son debuted as a 17-year-old, and played a key role in his development. 

"Back then, the SANFL was a pretty high standard and I always looked up to my dad as a good footballer in the whole of Australia, not just South Australia," Burton said. 

"To be a player like him was always a goal of mine and AFL was always a goal of mine, too, and dad's been really supportive of that."

NAB AFL Rising Star hub: news, nominees and past winners

How does the Rising Star Award work and who is eligible?