• Going places: Four incredible draft stories
• Draft trumps: Insider access to this year's gun prospects
PART 3Saturday, July 19 – THE CARPARK at the Southport Sharks' home ground is packed, but it is busier inside the pokies room than behind the goals. Behind the club's front reception a couple of gummy sharks swim around a huge tank, while a handful of spectators stand on the balcony, occasionally checking the NRL scores on the TV indoors.
Outside, on the ground, Lachie Weller is playing for Southport against Redland in a NEAFL game, and he's playing well. His parents, Jude and Daryn, are over on the other wing in deckchairs, with Daryn keeping tabs on Weller's stats – giving him a tick or cross depending on each kick's effectiveness.
Weller finishes with 24 disposals, 12 marks and a sore knee in his team's eight-point defeat. The Sharks let the opposition kick five goals to one in the final term. It was an exciting game, but could have been more so, if not for the sparse crowd, often the case in local footy in these parts.
"It was a bit dead," Weller says. "It's hard to get that atmosphere here. It's funny, you always notice nobody's at your games, which sucks a bit.
"Sometimes recruiters let you know they're coming up for games, and there's so few people at the games you can actually see them when you're playing."
Weller has returned to play for the Sharks after his stint with the Queensland state team during the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships ended just over two weeks ago. His expectations matched others': he thought he should, and would, perform. But it didn't go exactly the way he had hoped and planned.
This year's revamped championships format saw the division two teams play just three games, a reduced amount from last year offset by more TAC Cup games during the season. But it meant there was less time to squeeze in good games, particularly if you started slowly.
When Queensland played Tasmania last year, Tasmania sent a tagger straight to Weller, and he didn't know what to do. On the plane home from that game, he happened to sit next to Brisbane Lions champion midfielder and Geelong assistant coach Nigel Lappin.
Weller had never met Lappin before, but asked about being tagged, and for any tips. He punched a few notes into his phone about being active, trying to be on the move at stoppages and not getting distracted, and thought the next time he got close attention, he'd deal with it better.
But, in the first game of this year's championships, it happened again. At the first bounce a Tasmanian opponent sidled up next to him and followed Weller the rest of the day, restricting him to 15 disposals.
"We expected it, but I didn't think it would be a full-on tag. He followed me around everywhere. You've got to work twice as hard to break in and get past. I didn't really have too much impact on the game, so credit to him," he says.
Queensland won comfortably, but on the way home Weller bumped into Michael Ablett, the Academies' development manager. Ablett pushed Weller to display better body language if it happened again, to be more physical in return and to try to ask for more help from teammates. The last part didn't sit so comfortably.
"I found it hard," he says. "You're there for the team, but you're also there to get drafted and be noticed, and I felt bad asking someone to sacrifice their game for me.
"If you're in the AFL it wouldn't be a problem, but it's not the AFL and everyone is there to try and impress to get picked."
'I've got speed. I just need to use it'He went into round two keen for an improved effort, and with a focus to use his pace more. Weller watches most of the games during an AFL round, but recently he has started using that couch time more productively.
Occasionally during games his dad will pause the action, rewind and highlight a piece of play. Weller will see where someone might stand at a stoppage, when to push off, and when to get going. Little things, but important nevertheless. In each game he watches, he spots something new.
Queensland met the Northern Territory at Windy Hill in Melbourne, and Weller started on the wing. It was cold and damp but he added some spark to the game with his run, dare and skill.
In the third quarter he burst through a pack, hit it at top speed, gathered the ball, ran 15 metres and then kicked a goal from just inside the 50-metre arc. He showed he was the best player out there, and had collected 25 disposals and kicked two goals by the end of his team's big win.
WATCH: the best bits of Lachie Weller's NAB AFL Under-18 Champs
"I've got speed. I just need to use it," he says, having run a 2.92-second 20-metre sprint earlier this season.
In Queensland's third and final championships game it played NSW-ACT for the division two title. Weller started nicely – he took a big mark and kicked a clever, snap goal – but again faced some close attention, from Callum Mills, a bottom-aged player highly rated for next year's draft.
Weller's 14 disposals were neat and efficient, but he struggled to have a real damaging influence on the game as Queensland lost by 13 points. He ended the carnival wishing it had gone better: he did a few things well, but didn't dominate to the extent he thought he would. It's been a theme of his season.
Lachie Weller struggled to break tags as Queensland's NAB AFL Under-18 champs ended in disappointment. Picture: AFL Media
"I don't think I've really hit good form this year. I've had good games, then bad games, then good, then bad. It's been a bit all over the place," he says.
"It could be preparation. Every game where I've felt I had lots of energy I've always played well. There's been so many games where I've felt flat this year. I don't know what it is.
"I'm only young, so I don't really know what works for me and lately I've been trying a few things to get it right."
Trying too much, perhaps. Last month, after playing for Queensland in the TAC Cup in Victoria, Weller stayed for a few days with his brother Mav, who has broken into St Kilda's team as a rookie. He watched Mav prepare for a game – do some stretching, eat plenty of food (especially sushi) and relax – and tried to replicate that when he was back home.
He's also asked some Suns players what they do to prepare, but realised everyone did something different. Finding what works for him is the key.
The hunger gamesThe plan is to do that for the rest of the season at Southport. Queensland has two more TAC Cup games, but Fletcher and Weller have decided it would be better for him to get some continuity with the one team and stick with the Sharks.
For the first time, today he felt like a proper member of Southport's side, not just the kid who comes in occasionally, takes someone's spot, and then disappears to another team for three or four weeks. He found his teammates passed the ball to him more, looked for him more, and managed to get him into the action.
Juggling teams has become part of Weller's lot, and before the championships he even played for Gold Coast's reserves side when Southport and Queensland had byes.
The Suns' NEAFL team has had a winless season and lost to Greater Western Sydney's reserves by 191 points in the game Weller filled in. Outplayed everywhere, when Weller went forward for a rest he was matched up by 194cm full-back Sam Frost.
He isn't keen on playing for the Suns' reserves again this season if the opportunity arises, despite his on-going link with the club's academy and coach Jason Torney, who helps organise Weller's weekly match and training schedules.
Weller looked at the calendar a couple of days ago and realised there isn't much left to fill in.
"It's crazy, it goes so quickly. I'm starting to get a bit impatient though. I just want the draft to hurry up and happen," he says.
"It feels like I was in this position last year as well, just waiting. It makes you hungry. But in the end you have just got to think and worry about the next game, and I feel I've got a lot more to prove this year. I haven't played as well as I'd have liked to."
Weller has four games left to do that with Southport, whose loss puts them out of the finals race, and then his draft season is all but over.
He remembers a conversation he had with AIS-AFL Academy specialist coach Matthew Lloyd at the start of the season, when Lloyd put it on Weller to have his eyes set for more than just being drafted. Everything, it seems, is gathering speed towards that now.
"He said for some of the boys, the goal is to get drafted, but he said for me it's to play round one next year in the AFL. That was crazy to hear," he says.
"It changed my mindset a bit. You start to aim for bigger things. It's hard to get my head around it all."
Read part 1: Weller shadows the stars
Part 2: A model prospect
NEXT: Part 3 - A Tiger, a Magpie, a Sun?
Read more incredible draft stories: Going places