BEING chosen as the first pick in the national draft comes with inherent pressures, and a man that's been through it has some advice for this year's top prospects. 

It's been almost three years since Cam Rayner had his name read out first by Brisbane at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft, and the happy-go-lucky Lion concedes the expectation that came with it played on his mind. 

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After signing a contract extension that will keep him at the Gabba until at least the end of 2023, Rayner told he had to learn to worry about the things he could control. 

Brisbane coach Chris Fagan with No.1 pick Cam Rayner at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

The recently turned 21-year-old said Brisbane had a big role in ensuring he coped with the external pressures. 

"It wasn't in my head as much, but I think subconsciously it was, if that makes sense," he said. 

"I was probably putting a bit more pressure on myself than I needed to. 

"It's (pressure) always going to be there, but I can't control it, it's out of my hands. 

"The best thing the club did was not talk about it. 

"Every single first year player, there was no difference from me at one, Zac Bailey at 15 and 'Starce' (Brandon Starcevich) at 18 … no difference, everyone was on an even playing field."

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Rayner had a terrific first season, playing all 22 games, kicking 20 goals and being a constant threat in Brisbane's forward half. 

However, he conceded he didn't come back in the greatest shape for his second pre-season – "it was the bump on the head I needed". 

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One ace Brisbane had up its sleeve was the recruitment of Luke Hodge, also a No.1 pick, and someone who had mentored Rayner since the day he walked into the club.

Brisbane football manager David Noble said the combination of Hodge and coach Chris Fagan was a calming influence on the popular Victorian. 

Cam Rayner and Luke Hodge celebrate a win over Hawthorn in 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

"In those young guys … some of it takes time to understand how to deal with pressure," Noble said. 

"They don't have skills to deal with it straight off the bat. Cam's done that over time. 

"He was able to use Hodgey in a mentoring capacity. Hodgey spent time with Cam to help him with expectations and the external requirements and rhetoric.

"He's matured and understood his capacity to influence this group. 

"Fages talked to him about his journey and path being different to other number ones.

"I think the older hands with Fages and support with Hodgey … I think that helps disperse pressure of him thinking he's got to do more than he has." 

Cam Rayner speaks with Lions coach Chris Fagan in round 16, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

Rayner had his struggles in 2019, learning how to use his strength and power, Noble said, before developing significantly in 2020. 

He's kicked a goal in each of Brisbane's four finals over the past two seasons and shown his ability to stand up when it matters most. 

Rayner said this year's top draft selection should embrace the day – just as the club should embrace them, and their family.


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"The main thing is you have to enjoy the day, the week," he said. 

"You feel like a rockstar rolling around, first time you see the big cameras, you've got everyone there you love. But once you get to the footy club, you’ve got to switch your mindset. 

"Being away from my family was going to be a problem at the start of my career, but quickly when I got up here they made me feel so welcome. 

"The main reason was the amount of work the club did with my family back home. They always kept mum and dad in the loop and that meant a lot. 

"They remember grandma's name, grandpa's name, it made me feel so welcome.  If my family felt welcomed it made me feel so much better." 

Cam Rayner and his parents look on at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

Rayner has now played 63 of a possible 65 games in his three seasons, missing two matches with a hamstring problem this year, and looks ready to explode in Brisbane's dynamic forward line. 

He's settled in Brisbane, comfortable with his stature as the No.1 selection and improving physically all the time. 

"We forget he's only 21," Noble said. 

"Because of his mature size, you think he should be delivering more … he's still learning his own strength and own capability. 

"His thirst for improvement has been so impressive. He's got great power to get from contest to contest, that's the thing we've seen shift."

Rayner says it feels like his three years have flown by. 

"When I got to the club we weren't going so well. Now I've seen individuals grow and the team grow. 

"I get to play with my best mates. Hopefully we can come full circle and win a premiership."