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Atkins embraces selection squeeze

Katrina Gill  February 3, 2016 4:21 PM

Pre-Season Update: Rory Atkins Channel Crow catches up with Rory Atkins to see how 2016 has treated him thus far.
AFL 2015 Rd 16 - Port Adelaide v Adelaide

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 19: Rory Atkins (left) and Riley Knight of the Crows sing the team song after the 2015 AFL round 16 match between Port Adelaide Power and the Adelaide Crows at the Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, Australia on July 19, 2015. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)

It’s good to have some competition around that position to keep the likes of Dmac (Mackay), myself and Griggy on our toes.

Emerging Crow Rory Atkins has welcomed the increased competition for wing positions this year.

Atkins, 21, broke into Adelaide’s AFL team as a wingman in the latter part of last season.

The left-footer added another dimension to Adelaide’s midfield, using his run and carry and neat skills to great effect – he recorded an ‘elite’ kicking efficiency across his eight AFL games according to official statistician Champion Data.

Atkins collected a season-high 24 disposals against Richmond at Adelaide Oval and also kicked three goals, including a Goal of the Year contender against the Brisbane Lions in Round 21.

Despite his breakout 2015, Atkins knows he’s not guaranteed a place in the team come Round One.

The additions of outside runners Paul Seedsman, Curtly Hampton and Wayne Milera Junior, and strong training form of Mitch Grigg and David Mackay have created a welcome selection headache for Senior Coach Don Pyke and his match committee.

Atkins also nominated second-year teammate Harrison Wigg, who has shifted from the backline into the midfield this pre-season, as one to watch.

“We got predominantly wingmen and half-backs (during the trade period) in Curtly Hampton and Paul Seedsman,” Atkins said.

“It’s good to have some competition around that position to keep the likes of Dmac (Mackay), myself and Griggy on our toes.

“I reckon this year we should look out for Harry Wigg and ‘Junior’ Milera too. I think they’ll both get a crack this year and do well. Young Wayne Milera is a real standout on the track at the moment and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him lining up in NAB (Challenge game) 1.”

Originally recruited with pick No.81 in the 2012 National Draft, Atkins made his long-awaited AFL debut as the substitute in Adelaide’s emotion-charged Showdown win in Round 16.

He described the moments after the final siren as some of the most memorable of his young life.

“I waited two-and-a-half years for my AFL debut,” he said.

“I think that wait helped me mature, but it was also much more rewarding when I finally got my chance. To play in the Showdown in trying circumstances and get the win was a moment I’ll never forget.”

Atkins played a total of eight AFL games last season, including the thrilling Elimination Final win over the Western Bulldogs.

He finished the match on the interchange after being subbed out, but that didn’t prevent him from enjoying one of the most significant victories in the Club’s history.

“Playing in the final at the MCG was an unreal experience,” he said.

“Even though I didn’t play the way I would’ve liked, the team got the win and when that siren went it was probably the second-best feeling after the Showdown in my first game.

“For all the supporters to come down to Melbourne and have a good (fan) base there was awesome.”

Atkins missed out on selection for the Semi-Final clash with Hawthorn.

He was disappointed, but saw it coming and didn’t let it affect his demeanour around the playing group in the days leading up to the match.

“I kinda had the feeling during the week that there were going to be some changes,” he said.

“If there was to be a change made, I thought I was going to be the one to be unfortunate and miss out. It’s team balance and that’s what happens week-in and week-out.

“It just happened to be a final for me.”

Like most at West Lakes, Atkins was physically and emotionally drained by the end of the season.

He said the demands of playing regular AFL football were significantly higher than at lower levels.

“Even though last year I only played two-thirds of the season, I felt like I was much more tired come the offseason than I had playing full seasons in previous years,” he said.

“The more intense, AFL style of football really took it out of me a bit more.”

Now, approaching the end of his fourth (and most complete) pre-season Atkins feels more prepared and confident for the year ahead.

“I’m doing a bit more training than I have in previous years. I’m feeling a lot stronger in myself,” he said.

“It just makes me feel a lot more confident, having played some AFL games previously. I’m still getting to learn what I need to do to get myself up for every training and matches.

“… but I feel a part of it now, which makes it a lot easier.”

Atkins sat out the NAB Challenge and opening two months of the season proper after injuring his knee at training in February last year.

He’s hoping for a change in fortune and an opportunity to cement his spot for Round One in the upcoming pre-season competition. Adelaide’s first match is against West Coast at Unley Oval on Sunday, February 21. Tickets are on sale now.

“It was unfortunate that this time last year I hurt my knee and missed about three months,” he said.

“Now, it’s just about staying out on the track and stringing some good training performances together. Hopefully, I can play well in the NAB (Challenge) and go from there.”

A member of the AIS-AFL Academy as a 17-year-old, Atkins slipped through to the fourth round of the 2012 National Draft partly because of queries over his application.

Since then, Atkins has developed into a level-headed and popular member of the playing group, who balances footy with outside interests, which include working with a horse trainer and charity work.

“I feel like I’ve matured a lot since I’ve been there,” he said.

“I came to the Club as a raw 18-year-old. I feel like, just with the playing group, the coaching staff and people around me, it’s helped me mature a lot as a person and as a player.

“Moving out of home and living with ‘JJ’ (Josh Jenkins), he’s a mature young man, so I’m learning a lot in life at the moment.”

The Victorian-born Atkins credits teammate Jenkins with helping him to settle into life in Adelaide.

“Living with an older player is great,” he said.

“Josh gives good guidance and helps around the house. He’s understanding that sometimes I’m going to come home and be a bit more tired than what he is. It’s been really good.”