Jared Petrenko is always reluctant to say he’s cemented his place in the Adelaide team.
He came close to accepting it as fact in 2012.
In his fifth year at the Club, the former rookie played 23 games, missing only two matches through injury. It was the most games he’s played in a single season, eclipsing his previous best of 15 (2011).
He was also acknowledged by the Crows’ coaching and development staff, included in the newly-established ‘emerging leaders’ group. He kicked multiple goals in four of the opening seven matches playing as a forward and earned plaudits for his fierce tackling and kamikaze-like attack on the ball.
It was his best year at AFL level by far, but a quieter finish to the season – not helped by a dislocated shoulder – has Petrenko out to prove himself again in 2013.
“I was pretty happy with the first two-thirds of my season, but I’m still a bit disappointed with the last little bit. I haven’t had a full season I’ve been happy with at AFL level yet … I’m still looking to do that,” Petrenko told afc.com.au.
“In the early part of the year I was thinking ‘I’m here now, I do belong’, but I’d like to do that for a whole season. It was disappointing to drop away a bit especially at the pointy end of the season.
“I want to be a player that can have an impact at that time of year, so that’s a goal of mine.”
There were several contributing factors behind Petrenko’s career-best season.
The 22-year-old had a better run with injury (although he played with plantar fasciitis in the middle part of the season) and also found his niche in the forward line. Recruited as a wingman/half-back flanker, Petrenko didn’t play in attack until joining Adelaide.
It took time for him to adjust to the new role, but things clicked into place this year when new coach Brenton Sanderson and forward line mentor Mark Bickley started assigning the versatile Crow shut-down roles on the opposition’s most damaging defender.
Petrenko played on the likes of Geelong premiership star Corey Enright, All Australian Bulldog Bob Murphy, emerging Port Adelaide onballer Hamish Hartlett, and brothers Heath and Rhyce Shaw.
“I’ve got a naturally defensive side to my game, so it wasn’t too hard to adapt to that part of my role,” Petrenko said.
“I want to improve my consistency in regards to having an impact on the scoreboard each week and getting more of the footy. I’d like to do that a bit more rather than just in the odd game here and there.
“I loved playing in the forward line - it was good to have a role in the tea that was my own.”
The upbeat Sanderson has also been a positive influence on the mild-mannered Petrenko, giving him the confidence to take on – and beat – some of the game’s best players.
“Sando has been awesome. I don’t know where he comes up with his ideas, but he’s got one for everything. He’s always thinking and he’s brought a huge freshness to the Club,” Petrenko said.
“He loves the contested side of the game. That’s one of my strengths and every now and then he would pump me up before a game. If I had a specific role on a player he would bring it up in the pre-match meeting and say, ‘Pup is going to smash this bloke. Watch, he won’t let him get a kick.’
“People like me, who can lack a bit of confidence at times, really feed off that. He’s been unreal for the team and for me personally.”
Petrenko’s uncompromising approach earned him the nickname ‘Cannonball’ from his teammates.
He’s slightly embarrassed by the recognition, but gets a kick out of it at the same time.
“I don’t know about that (nickname),” he says with a laugh.
“But the encouragement and reward from the boys and coaches I received during the week was great – they all got around me.”
Petrenko’s on-field actions also played a big role in his inclusion in the second-tier leadership group.
“Leadership definitely doesn’t come naturally to me,” he said.
“The young boys, who started at the Club last year, were probably surprised when they saw me named in the emerging leaders group because I’m pretty reserved and quiet when it comes to meetings – I don’t say anything really.
“I’m rapt to be a part of it with a good group of guys. Hopefully, we can expand the group and get more of the younger boys pushing through because that can only be good for the team.”
Petrenko is part of a core group of young players the Club hopes will deliver sustained finals success.
He was a member of the team that lost to Hawthorn by five points in the preliminary final and said the group would use that experience – and that of the entire 2012 season – to improve.
“We reached a preliminary final with a really young group and there haven’t been many changes to the group, so we can take a lot of confidence from that,” he said.
“You never really get over a loss like that (against Hawthorn) I don’t think, but you just can’t wait for that first ball to be bounced next year – we just want it to start.
“We don’t talk about last season much at all because we believe we’re starting again – that we can go even better next year. You saw what guys like Taylor Walker, Patrick Dangerfield, Sam Jacobs, Matt Wright and Rory Sloane did this year. With another pre-season under their belts, they’re only going to get better and hopefully that’s the same across the team.”