Gun draftee Aaron Naughton is desperate to win a pre-season berth for the Western Bulldogs as early as Saturday’s AFLX tournament as he chases a dream debut in round one.
Naughton was named WA’s MVP at the national under-18s championships last year and earned All-Australian honours before playing seven senior WAFL games with Peel.
He was taken by the Bulldogs with their first selection – No.9 overall – at the draft.
It was the second straight year the Dogs had used their top pick on a West Australian after Naughton’s former under-18s teammate Tim English went at No.19 in 2016.
Naughton has already impressed coach Luke Beveridge on the track and has added 4kg of muscle to his growing 195cm frame since joining the club in late November.
He currently weighs 89kg and hopes to reach 95kg within two years.
The 18-year-old is a talented intercept marker, but faces stiff competition for spots in a transitioning Bulldogs backline.
Celebrated pair Bob Murphy and Matthew Boyd retired at the end of last season, taking more than 600 games of experience with them.
Versatile tall Jackson Trengove has arrived from Port Adelaide and former Docker Hayden Crozier has been earmarked for a role across half-back, while hulking WA full-back Marcus Adams is fit again following his second serious foot injury in the space of 18 months.
Naughton knows he faces a fight for a spot in the senior side ahead of the season opener against Greater Western Sydney on March 25.
He is eager to push his case, but has been given no pre-season guarantees.
The Bulldogs feature in the Melbourne AFLX tournament on Friday (Feb 16) before JLT series encounters with Hawthorn (March 3) and Collingwood (March 10) next month.
“I’d definitely like to play JLT or AFLX. It would be really good to be out there and feel a part of it,” Naughton said.
“It would be another opportunity to go out and play, and to wear the Bulldogs colours.
“There are a lot of players (in contention for backline spots) but it’s healthy competition that a lot of us are pushing each other and making each other improve.
“That’s how we’re going to get better as a team.
“At this stage, I’ll just train as hard as I can. If I manage to get a JLT berth or end up playing VFL, I’ll just play the best footy I can and the rest will take care of itself.”
Naughton spent his first month in Melbourne last year living with Mitch Wallis and studying his new teammate’s off-field habits.
He has now settled in well with a host family, but is still adjusting to the demands of life in a professional football environment.
“I’m continually managing my body,” Naughton said.
“Being a first-year player, your body is not up to the standard condition to play AFL footy.
“I’m monitoring that and slowly building into it, but I haven’t had any (injury) setbacks.
“I’ve put on a few kilos but I don’t want to go too big too early so that I’m still able to run.”
Naughton has been working closely with backline coach Steven King and has already struck up a strong relationship with premiership mentor Beveridge.
“I’ve had some good chats to him and he just seems like an awesome coach,” Naughton said.
“It’s exactly how he’s portrayed in the media and outside the footy club. He’s no different inside. He’s welcoming and gets along with everyone.”