Seventeen year-old University of Queensland young-gun Connor Ballenden is the round 10 QAFL Rising Star nominee.
He is one to keep an eye on, as Ballenden is already one of the most highly regarded Under 17 players in the country.
The 198cm prospect kicked four goals on the weekend, taking his tally to 11 in his four games.
“I’m very happy to get nominated and just want to keep playing good footy,” Ballenden said.
“I was happy with my game, but obviously there are areas to improve on.
“I found myself in good positions to take some good quality grabs inside forward 50 and thought I may as well capitalise on the opportunities.”
Ballenden played at centre-half forward and full forward on the day.
“I was just trying to get up the ground and act as a marking target around the wings and then if I didn’t get used I could float back to goals and provide another option down there,” he said.
“This year that’s been basically my main role within each team I’ve played for and I’ve got used to it and enjoyed playing that position.”
Born in Sunray, New Zealand, Ballenden moved to Brisbane with his family when he was four.
He played rugby and cricket growing up but says AFL has always been the sport for him.
“When I was a young kid we were in Melbourne and there was one of the Sydney Swans v West Coast Eagles grand finals on,” Ballenden said.
“I stayed up late watching the footy and decided to ask my parents the next day when we got back to Brisbane if it would be ok for me to sign up for the local footy team and I just started playing from there really.
Ballenden played with the Kenmore Bears until he was 13 and then Wests Juniors until he was 16.
Now at age 17 he is representing Queensland (Divison 2) and the Allies (Divison 1) in the Under 18 NAB AFL Championships.
“It’s been a great opportunity to play against the best footy players around Australia,” Ballenden said.
“Going from Queensland to Allies is a big step. It’s a lot quicker playing in the div 1 so you have to play your role really well”.
Ballenden joined the Brisbane Lions Academy when he was 12, and gives them credit for his development as a player.
“As a young kid I didn’t know a lot about the game but they helped a lot with everything,” he admitted.
“They really just progressed my footy in every area, and I’m really grateful for that.”
Being a part of the Academy, Ballenden also had the opportunity to represent the Lions Reserves in the NEAFL as a top-up player this year.
“You have to really work hard to get a touch in the NEAFL, you don’t get given any free possessions, you have to work hard and if you play your role you’ll find yourself in good positions to get the footy.”
Ballenden has set his sights on the 2017 AFL Draft but knows he will need to continue to work hard to get there.
“Defensive pressure is a big area for me that I want to improve on and continually always improving my work rate to get up the ground and then get back to the goal square,” he conceded.
“I would love to get that opportunity to get selected into the draft and see where that takes me.
“But this year I just want to finish off the year well then set myself up for next year.”
By Josh Cheadle