Nick Vlastuin was supposed to be an AFL midfielder this year, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Three key things happened – first he got hurt, then Jack Graham played well in his place and, last but not least, Vlastuin became too important to the Tigers’ back six.
After spending most of his career across half-back, the 23-year-old trained with the midfield group in pre-season ahead of a move onto the ball in 2017.
Things were going OK until he fractured a shoulder blade in a round seven loss to the Western Bulldogs.
He supposed to be out for about three weeks but ended up missing 10.
“Where I broke it was right where the rotator cuff meets the bone so every time I moved it would rip the break apart again,” Vlastuin told AAP.
“The bone is so thin there the doc said it’s like trying to glue two pieces of paper together along the edge.
“I couldn’t even put my socks on for three weeks … my girlfriend had to do it for me.
“I couldn’t roll over in bed. I got stuck once because I just couldn’t shift my arm. It was a nightmare four weeks.
“I couldn’t do much of anything for about eight weeks, but over the last month it’s just started to feel really good again.”
Vlastuin returned to the senior side in round 17, but he was needed in his more customary role across half-back.
It was only supposed to be a short-term move but then Graham earned his AFL debut in round 22.
“Jack has come in and is probably doing the role that I was doing except he’s doing it better,” Vlastuin says with a smile.
“I wouldn’t be able to force him out the way he’s played. He works so hard defensively … we love him in there.
“We’ve won the four games he’s played by a total margin of about 230 points and his fifth game is a grand final – he’s timed it perfectly.”
But it’s been a win-win situation for the pair and the team.
Playing what he calls a ‘hybrid’ role, Valstuin has become a key cog in a back six that will need to be at its best against the potent attack of Adelaide.
At 187cm, he can play on smalls and pinch-hit against talls, but perhaps his best asset is his ability to get off his opponent and either intercept mark or help out a teammate.
“I’ve been licking the ice cream thanks to the hard work down the field,” he says when complimented on his high level play.
“Last year it felt like we were defending six on 18 at times, but this year it feels like we’ve got all the numbers.
“It really is a credit to the pressure the forwards and the mids have been able to put on.
“I think we always had the talent down back, but the pressure down the field has helped make things a lot more predictable for us as a back six.
“It’s been great to be a part of.”