By JESS WEBSTER
With every passing week GIANTS Academy member Riley Budd’s belief grows that little bit more.
Hailing from a volleyball background, Budd is a former junior Australian representative and was still playing in the Australian Volleyball League for Canberra up until last year.
At 193cm, he was probably considered too short to progress any further in the sport, but it’s Budd’s athleticism and endurance for his size which has made the 18-year-old an exciting prospect in Australian football.
In the past 12 months, Budd has come along in leaps and bounds via the GIANTS Academy, representing the club in the National Under-18 Academy Series and also playing 12 NEAFL matches for the GIANTS and Canberra in his debut season.
His breakout year was rewarded with a spot in the GIANTS’ Under-19 Academy this year. In just his second game of the season on Saturday, Budd was named among the GIANTS’ best players as well as earning the Round 6 Tribal Sport NEAFL Rising Star nomination.
But Budd’s rise in football ranks hasn’t been without its challenges. He failed to make the GIANTS’ Under-16 Academy squad two years ago, and was selected in the Under-18 squad only after attending an open day trial in Canberra.
“I ran a good 3km time trial, and they liked it,” Budd joked.
“I was a bit filthy after I didn’t make the academy the first time, and I had to work pretty hard to get in the second time.”
By his own admission, his performances in the 2017 Academy Series weren’t inspiring, but he looked to make amends once given an opportunity in the NEAFL.
“I went from playing mostly under-18 football in 2016 to playing NEAFL in 2017, so it was a pretty big step,” Budd said.
“Going from pretty much playing club footy straight to the NEAFL was pretty exciting.
“I didn’t really expect to be given much of a go, being my first season out of Canberra footy. I thought I’d play one or two games.
“2017 was a really good year for me. I thought I could have done more in that Academy Series, but I really happy with how NEAFL went.”
Budd made his NEAFL debut in Round 3 for the GIANTS – playing against Canberra – and went on to play 12 games across both clubs.
At the end of the year, the GIANTS asked Budd to come back.
“It wasn’t until I had my end-of-year interview with them that ‘Saddo’ (GIANTS Academy coach, Jason Saddington) said, ‘we want you back’,” Budd said.
“It was pretty good news at the time to be given another chance.”
Adding size to his frame and improving skills were the No.1 priorities for the utility during the off-season, and it’s beginning to pay off in early 2018.
He’s winning more of the ball – increasing his total disposals by over 10 per game to an average of 23 this season – with a career-high 71 per cent disposal efficiency.
His performance on Saturday against Sydney was the best he’s produced, after being named among the GIANTS’ best with 31 disposals, eight marks and five rebound 50s.
“I definitely was in the gym a lot during the off-season to get stronger and get a bit bigger,” Budd said.
“In the NEAFL, the big AFL-listed blokes throw you around, so I needed to hold my own. I still have a long way to go, but I’m getting there.
“The main thing I’ve found this year, especially in last week’s game, is that my strength is finally coming though.
“This year I feel like I can actually use my strength to my advantage, and my efficiency is a lot better than what is was last year. I feel a lot more confident.”
Budd can see himself growing more into a senior footballer who’s comfortable at NEAFL level every week.
And he’s also reassessing the limits of his own potential.
“It (AFL) seems a lot more within reach now,” he said.
“Last year I knew that I was never really in contention and hadn’t had much exposure at all, which was fair enough.
“But this year I can definitely see myself stringing a few more performances together, and I feel like it’s more within reach.”
The Tribal Sport NEAFL Rising Star is awarded to the most promising young talent in the NEAFL competition.
Nominees must be under the age of 21 and played less than 20 senior games (excluding games as AFL Academy players) at the start of the 2018 season.