By Nick Creely
The hallowed turf of the MCG is truly a magic place for all Melburnians.
To watch sport there is a privilege, but to play on there is an honour.
Those lucky enough to stand in the middle and gaze up at the glorious grand-stands will never be the same.
Draft prospect and Dandenong Stingray playmaker Hunter Clark is one of the lucky ones.
Playing just over two weeks ago as part of Team Jacob Weitering, in what was the curtain-raiser for the Carlton-Essendon match on the MCG, the 18-year-old impressed with flashes of brilliance and an uncanny ability to find a target, even if under extreme pressure.
But he admits that stepping onto the MCG was a wonderful experience, and one that he has taken plenty from.
“I’ve been injured since early January, so the Academy game a couple of weeks ago was the first game I’ve played for the year.
“I knew what the expectations would be, and I’m just looking to build at the moment,” Clark said.
“The Team Weitering/Daniher game was the first time I’ve been on the MCG to play – running out on the ground even for the warm-up, a few of the boys were talking about what it would be like to play in front of even 50,000 – it felt surreal to be honest, it was awesome being on the MCG.”
Now looking to settle into the TAC Cup season before the National Championships begin, the prodigious talent is excited for what lies ahead.
“It’s all pretty exciting going through the TAC Cup and hopefully I can play some Vic Country games too – I just want to have a solid year, put my best foot forward and give myself every chance to be drafted,” he said.
Clark is an aggressive half-back who is looking to expand his game, has the ability to cut apart a team with elite skills on both sides of his body, but possesses a team-oriented mindset like the two players he currently models his game on.
“When I’m in situations where I need to be able to get out of danger, being able to use both feet means you are never trapped – I think it’s definitely a strength, and it opens the ground up too,” he said.
“I’m not too sure where I’ll be playing most of the year – I’ve been playing half-back in the Academy games, but I want to be able to play anywhere and add another string to my bow – the more positions you play well the better you are.
“I like to think I can play a bit like Luke Hodge and Marcus Bontempelli – the way Hodge puts his head over the ball and stands up in big moments is inspiring and the way Bontempelli uses his brilliant hands in close and can make something out of nothing is awesome to watch.”
Hunter only last weekend played a match against the Northern Blues at Etihad Stadium, as part of the AFL Academy, and was among the best players on the ground.
“I felt I went OK against the Northern Blues at Etihad last weekend – it was really my first senior game, and it was a massive step-up – it was a bit weird lining up on Cam O’Shea, who played at Port – he was just really big and obviously played a lot of AFL footy,” he said.
He is also buoyant about the talent the Rays possess in 2017, and was full of praise for several of his teammates.
“The Rays have quite a few that can be drafted this year – Luke Davies, Oscar Clavarino, Aaron Darling and Tom De Koning who have all proven themselves pretty well so far – Riley D’Arcy is just dominating at the moment and doing everything right, and Josh Bateman, our skipper, has a lovely kick – Dyl Morris is another who has had a quick start to the year,” he said.