AMONG the ruins of a poor loss against the Brisbane Lions last week, there were some rays of sunshine for Gold Coast.
Jesse Lonergan and Jack Martin battled manfully in the midfield, Matt Shaw worked hard all day, and Tom Lynch and Charlie Dixon looked dangerous from limited chances up forward.
But it was unheralded defender Clay Cameron that really caught the eye.
For the second straight NAB Challenge match, 19-year-old Cameron impressed with his no-nonsense lock-down defensive play.
So much so that he is now a strong chance to vault into the round one team against Richmond on March 15.
He will play Collingwood in Sunday's final practice match in a bid to further enhance his chances.
Backline coach Dean Solomon – who took the senior reigns from Guy McKenna against the Lions – was full of praise after Cameron's most recent performance.
"(He's) very close (to round one)," Solomon said.
"His last two weeks have been sensational. He embraces the contest, loves the contest, he's rarely beaten one-on-one. He's definitely put his hand up."
It's been a rapid progression for Cameron who came to the club prior to the 2013 season as a zone selection.
He was an AFL/AIS Academy player who has been hampered by injury the past couple of years.
Cameron had hip surgery last August and started running again in December, and admits to being surprised at his progress.
"I definitely didn't expect it (games) so early being a key, longer-term player," he said.
"That's where the confidence has come from, the continuity of training up until now. Before that I thought it was going to be another injury-plagued season. It's just good to have that confidence in your body."
Cameron is 191cm and a defence-first player that can play on the opposition's second and third tall forwards.
With fellow defenders Nathan Bock, Rory Thompson and Seb Tape all experiencing difficulties in recent months with injury and rehabilitation, the door has opened for Cameron.
He said there had been a couple of key areas that had needed attention in the pre-season.
"I've had to work on 60-40 marking, just that contested marking and halving the contest when you're not in the preferred spot," he said.
"I have to continue to improve my kicking. That's something the game's demanding, having an elite kick."
But for now it's all about playing Collingwood on Sunday and then hopefully Richmond two weeks later.
"I didn't really think about it (round one) that much because I didn't think I was that ready for it yet, but after getting out there against Essendon and Brisbane I feel much more at home.
"It's definitely something I'd love to do, make my debut and play AFL footy. That's what we're all here for."