FRUSTRATION was Jackson Thurlow's dominant emotion this time last season.

Despite pre-season hip surgery, expectation had been high coming into the defender's third season at the Cats, yet he couldn't crack a senior game.

He was playing reasonable football too in the VFL but not, despite his coaches' urgings, putting himself in the position to win contests regularly at AFL level.

Then, after starting as the substitute against Carlton in round 21 last year, Thurlow came on the ground late with the result in the balance.

He won a vital contest. He kicked a goal. The team won.

"It showed that I had put in the work and from then on it really grew," Thurlow told

"I started to get confident in what I was doing [and] teammates started to get confident in what I was doing."

Since then Thurlow has played all but the first two games of this season in the seniors, his delayed start due to a lacerated kidney suffered at training in mid-December.

The injury led to him being hospitalised and, for 48 hours, doctors were uncertain as to whether he would lose a kidney or not. 

Fast-forward to round nine and Thurlow has been one of the Cats' bright spots in an up and down season so far.

With the benefit of hindsight, he now describes the 10 weeks he spent convalescing at his parents' home in Launceston recovering from the kidney injury and wondering whether he would be back before mid-year as a "blessing in disguise". 

"I was pretty lucky that the cricket was on," Thurlow said.

He sat still and kept doubts at bay but could not breath easily until he received the all-clear from the specialist in the first week of February.

A four-week swimming program built his fitness and he was back.

When he returned to the senior team in round three, he enjoyed knowing he would play in defence.

The year before he played virtually every position on the ground over three quarters against Hawthorn, a human pinball with No.40 on his back.

"It is good to know each week where I am going to be playing, what my role is in that position and really go from there," Thurlow said.

With good on-field teachers in James Kelly, Andrew Mackie, Corey Enright and Harry Taylor surrounding him, he knows now is the time to make the most of his opportunity.

He has been given some responsibility too, taking the kick-ins more often than not. 

In the past four weeks he has taken 29 kick-ins, with Enright next best with eight. 

It's a tough role for someone with limited experience but Thurlow appears to have the right temperament for the job. 

He knows he is still learning with just one of his 11 kicks against West Coast reaching the midfield in Geelong hands. It was a let down after such an excellent performance in that role a week earlier against Carlton.

Thurlow likes the fact kicking in keeps him in the game and says it also teaches him other important aspects of playing AFL football. 

"I'm really trying to drive our communications and set up [when kicking in]," Thurlow said.

"Kicking in makes you feel a part of the game the whole time." 

The 21-year-old see the funny side when reminded how he handballed after a behind against Gold Coast rather than kicking in.  

Thurlow admitted he once missed the ball when kicking in playing senior football as a youngster in Launceston, but such missteps don't seem worry him too much. 

He has been around football long enough to know the game has its fair share of highs and lows.

His grandfather Peter virtually started the Northern Tasmania Junior Football Association and his dad and uncles have been involved in Launceston football all his life.

Thurlow played in a senior premiership at Launceston aged 17 in 2011, coming off the bench to kick a couple of important goals, joining his father Phil as a premiership player.

He then missed the 2012 Grand Final with Launceston when he suffered a broken thumb and facial fractures after being tackled into the bike track that sat just three metres from the boundary line by a Burnie opponent.

The incident was, say locals, enough to get the authorities to do something about the dangerous proximity of the bike track and it also meant Thurlow arrived at the Cats with a broken thumb after being their first pick in the 2012 NAB AFL Draft.

Despite that, Thurlow's memories of football in Launceston remain fond. He had the Kolodjashnij brothers and Gold Coast's Jesse Lonergan as teammates. 

Now they are his peers, making their way in the game at the highest level.

"It is good to feel really a part of it and feel like you belong there, but I don't think anything is really certain," Thurlow said. 

"[I'm] making each week a challenge to really perform and play my role well and hopefully I can hold my spot from there."