According to Gold Coast Suns Academy coach Andrew Raines, this week’s Rising Star nomination Connor Budarick was in high-demand at pre-season training after arriving at the club as a pre-listed academy player in October last year.
“The overwhelming response from the coaches was that they wanted him playing in their areas,” Raines told aflplayers.com.au following Budarick’s Round 3 Rising Star nomination.
“They were asking where his best spot was and Josh Drummond (the backline coach) said, ‘We’ve got him down back’.”
It’s come as no surprise to the former Richmond, Brisbane and Gold Coast player that the small-defender Budarick has slotted seamlessly into Gold Coast’s best-22 this season.
Across his first three career games Budarick has averaged 13.3 disposals, 3.6 marks and 2.6 tackles.
Despite standing at 175cm tall and in only his first season, Budarick’s tenacity on the field makes him look like a seasoned professional.
Having worked with Budarick from under-15s until he was drafted last year, Raines said his ability to work both offensively and defensively was something that stood out and impressed recruiters.
“It’s really hard for some players coming through who really want to focus on their offensive work, but the really impressive thing about Connor was that he always held that defensive and team first mentality with that offensive prowess,” he said.
Raines likens the young Sun to a former teammate of his at Brisbane and current Lions captain, Dayne Zorko.
Although the two player different roles, Zorko also stands at 175cm and is a good source of inspiration for using his power to advantage.
“I think that he’s got the potential to be that similar smaller, powerful player… He’s playing a small defender role now but with his counterattack and run and skill he’s got another element and could push up into the midfield at a later point,” Raines said.
With the Suns’ academy team joining the NAB League last year to help support the expansion of the talent pathway, Budarick was named captain of the side – a role Raines said he took on with vigour.
“We went down there for the first time to play in the NAB League and he really stood up as captain on what was otherwise a bit of a disappointing day,” he said.
“We wanted him to lead the troops from a young age and really develop that leadership side but also focus on his game – that’s obviously our No. 1 priority – and he embraced both roles really well.”
It wasn’t only in Budarick’s top-age year where he impressed.
As a 17-year-old playing for the Suns’ Academy and Allies in the National Championships, Budarick stood out.
For Raines, this is when he knew Budarick was a good chance of becoming an AFL player.
“Some of the things he was doing as an underage player coming through were outstanding – he was having games where he was laying 10 or more tackles a game and using the ball really well,” he said.
“It was that combination of knowing that if a player has got that capability then they’re going to be a really strong chance to play AFL football and coaches are going to love that balance of defence and offence.”
With Budarick joining the likes of other Academy graduates Jack Bowes and Lachie Weller at the Suns, Raines is proud of the program the club is developing.
“You sit back and watch all the hard work they’ve put in and feel really proud, but more so for their families who have been on the journey too,” he said.
“All the credit goes towards them and their families when they make the decision to play AFL football and work towards what is required to play at the highest level.”
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2020
Round 1 — Sam Sturt (Fremantle)
Round 3 — Connor Budarick (Gold Coast Suns)