ILLNESS ruined Jackson Hately's chances of a round-one debut, but the highly-rated Greater Western Sydney draftee has thrived under AFL great Lenny Hayes and gets his opportunity against Fremantle on Saturday.
A strong showing in the JLT Community Series had him in the selection frame for the season-opener against Essendon until a bout of tonsillitis the week before the game caused him to lose about 4kgs.
Coach Leon Cameron urged the 18-year-old to "keep knocking on the door" and he did just that, averaging 29 disposals and five tackles in the first two rounds of the NEAFL season.
Hately said GWS midfield coach and St Kilda Hall of Famer Hayes, who won three best and fairest awards and a Norm Smith Medal to go with three Virgin Australia All Australian jackets in his glittering 297-game career, had been a massive influence on his first few months in the League.
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"Lenny has been unbelievable since I got here … obviously I knew who he was really well from watching him while I was growing up," he said.
"He's been really special for my development, and I don't think I could ever learn enough off him.
"He's given me a lot of confidence going into this week, so I'm just going to keep learning as much as I can."
Hately got his opportunity after inspirational co-captain Callan Ward ruptured the AFL in his left knee against Geelong last week.
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Ward underwent a traditional reconstruction on Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season.
While he's been outstanding as a midfielder in the reserves, Hately will likely spend time on the wing against the Dockers and said he won't be trying to fill the void left by his skipper.
"Callan is such a big part of the club and has been for a very long time, so it would be silly of me to think that I could just come in and be the captain-like player that he is," he said.
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"He's been a role model for me as a leader and a person since I arrived in Sydney.
"It's more about all of us stepping up to cover him rather than me coming in and feeling like I have to be that leader.
"I just have to play the role the coaches think I can play, and I know I can play, and that’s all I have to focus on."
Fremantle will welcome back captain Nat Fyfe for the clash after he missed the Western Derby with concussion, and the thought of crossing paths with the Brownlow medallist is surreal to Hately.
"It's pretty amazing after being a fan of players like that for so long, but I've always dreamed of playing with and competing against those guys," he said.
Saturday's clash will be a memorable few hours for the Hately family who will watch the young Giant start his senior career at UNSW Canberra Oval, in the city in which he was born.
Hatley spent two years in the nation's capital before moving to South Australia but has spent plenty of school holidays visiting his family over the years.
"It'll be much easier for my grandparents to drive to the game rather than fly, so it's pretty special," he said.
This Easter weekend will be a reunion of sorts for GWS co-captain Phil Davis, who like the Giants' latest debutant, was also born in Canberra before moving to Adelaide as a youngster.
Years later Davis attended St Peter's where he was taught by Nick Hately, the father of his future teammate.