YOU WOULD not have known it, but Izak Rankine has never been as nervous as he was before Gold Coast's clash with Melbourne on Saturday.
After a 20-month wait punctuated by hamstring strains and setbacks, Rankine finally was set for his first AFL game. If it was long awaited for fans, imagine how the 20-year-old was feeling.
>> WATCH RANKINE'S HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE DEMONS IN THE PLAYER ABOVE
"You start doubting yourself and thinking 'I might not be good enough' or 'I'm not going to do enough for the team' or 'I'm not going to play well'," Rankine told AFL.com.au.
"But as soon as I got out there and having those warm-up kicks and seeing the stadium, I knew this was the place I was meant to be. As soon as I saw that and stepped across that white line all those nerves turned into excitement.
"I obviously didn't expect to kick a few goals like that and play that well but just leading into the game my main focus was to play my role for the team."
Rankine did much more than that. He kicked three brilliant goals from 12 disposals in one of the most memorable first games in recent years, starring for Gold Coast in its close defeat and on Monday becoming the latest Sun to win a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination.
His round six honour follows midfield sensation Matt Rowell (round two) and speedy defender Connor Budarick (round three).
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Rankine is another type of talent altogether. The No.3 pick from the brilliant 2018 NAB AFL Draft has speed, class, smarts and brilliance, all of it on show in his first outing.
He's taken a couple of days to come down from the buzz of his stellar debut, and admits his hamstring setback at the start of this year, following 2019's write-off, had set uncertainty in his mind that he'd manage to get out there at all.
"Doubts started to creep in when I hurt myself at the start of this year. The support around me within my family and the club and all the boys and Tristan Coulter, the psychologist at the club, I had a great support base and that was the main thing," he said.
"Whenever I did get down I'd make sure I'd reach out and talk to someone and make sure I wasn't there by myself letting those four walls close in on me."
There may be a different pressure coming now after a first game that matched the expectations placed upon him. The Suns face Sydney at the SCG on Saturday and eyes will be on Rankine to see how he fares after announcing himself to the competition.
"There's been a bit of hype but I've always wanted to play AFL footy and I've always wanted this moment. All you can do is embrace it and not let it get to your head too much," he said.
"I'm just worried about next week and backing it up and making sure I bring my A-game and hopefully we can get the win."
Rankine explains each goal
"Noah (Anderson) got it and gave it to Brandon Ellis and I was on the far side. I saw 'Freck' (Nick Holman), he was one on two and we were outnumbered so I thought 'I've got to get to that'. I worked my arse off and got behind it and it came out the back a bit. I just remember thinking 'I'm going to get it here'. A few people were trying to get it but I tapped it on the ground and it bounced up. I already knew where the goals were before I had the ball then I just thought 'I'm going to snap this'. I practice those a lot. I was super stoked and after the game I realised it was my first kick. You have so much thought about your [celebration] going into the game thinking 'If I kick a goal, what am I going to do?' I got out there and it was instinct, I didn't even remember what I did."
"I don't know who was on me. Someone was meant to be on me but they weren't on me, and I saw 'Kingy' (Ben King) trying to hold onto the ball and it slipped out. It was right in front of me and I was trying to tap it forward. I did that and I was going to pick it up, but then I toed it with my left foot trying to put it in a place where I can pick it up. But I looked up again one more time and saw 'Maysy' (Steven May) and I thought 'I'm not going to pick it up here because he's going to tackle me'. So as soon as I saw him I swung my foot and it went through. That one surprised me because I was just kicking it that way. I didn't expect it to go through."
"This one was probably my favourite of the game. Usually I'm trying to chat to 'Wittsy' (Gold Coast ruckman Jarrod Witts) and tell him where to put it or he'll be telling me where he's going to tap it. But I looked over and I saw him struggling to get over to the contest. At first I thought 'Gawny' (Melbourne ruck Max Gawn) was going to just grab it out and kick it but I saw Gawny's eyes light up and I saw him go to tap it the way of a man on his own. I just came through and intercepted it. I fumbled it at first and thought 'Oh no!' but I gathered myself and slotted it through. I was talking to Neville Jetta before it and had a good step and got my separation on him."