Brandon Walker has been duly recognised for his impressive start to the season, named as the NAB AFL Rising Star nominee for round 13.
A product of Fremantle’s NGA, Walker has been a consistent performer in defence, with his speed off half back and daring ball use fitting in perfectly with Senior Coach Justin Longmuir’s game plan.
While Walker was the first to downplay his impact in Fremantle’s 10-3 start, Freo are 9-0 this season when Walker has been named on the field – his only loss this year coming when used as a medical sub against Gold Coast.
An East Fremantle player as a junior, Walker was drafted by Freo at no.50 when they matched Essendon’s bid for the defender.
He played 10 games in his debut season and has added a further 10 in 2022, kicking his first AFL goal as a part of his 16 disposal and six tackle effort in Fremantle’s win against Hawthorn.
Currently on break with Fremantle having a round 14 bye, Walker joked about wondering what he had done wrong when he received a congratulatory phone call from Longmuir on Tuesday morning.
“I was pretty confused when the phone rang, I thought I was in trouble or something and was wondering what he was calling me for!” Walker said.
“It was a bit of a surprise to be honest, I had forgotten about being (eligible for the rising star) completely.
“It’s really good to get that under my belt, it feels like a reward for the hard work we’ve all put in in the past couple of weeks.
“It’s put a smile on my face during the break and it felt pretty good."
While Walker has been dealt his own blows at the selection table with his omission ahead of the Gold Coast game, Longmuir has been steadfast in prioritising Walker’s pace and rebound in the backline over going for a third tall defender.
He said having that trust from Longmuir gave him the confidence to deliver on game days.
“The role requires small defenders to get around the ball and the contest…I like that role,” Walker said.
“That’s where my natural game comes in as well, so it’s feeding off that and using my ability.
“(Having Longmuir’s trust) is a pretty big confidence boost going into a game. You still have to play your role and perform your best, but you don’t really think about what not to do, it’s just playing your role and putting your best foot forward instead of worrying about (selection) the next week.”
Walker earned particular praise following his efforts one-on-one against Charlie Cameron in Fremantle’s round 12 win against Brisbane, and the 19-year-old agrees this was his strongest performance to date.
He added that he hopes to embed some new habits after seeing his pre-game preparation help significantly against the Lions.
“’(Melbourne’s) ‘Kozzie’ Pickett was a good challenge but Cameron was my biggest test because of his experience and how he reads the ball, I definitely learnt a few things from that game and it was a really good battle to have,” Walker said.
“Mentally, against Brisbane – I was going into the game knowing I had Cameron and was preparing for that. Focusing on defending first and going from there and playing my role.
“Mentally, how I went about that is how I want to go into every game.
“That means spending more time on my vision, seeing how my opponent plays and things that I can expose from their game plan with my abilities.
“It’s taking more time to really focus on the game and watch more vision and stuff like that. It’s doing more reps during the week so I can keep getting better and better.”
Walker credits fellow 2022 Rising Star nominee Heath Chapman and 2021 nominee Hayden Young as the players who have had the biggest influence on him at the Club due to their hard work ethic.
“In the mornings when we have touch, Heath Chapman and Hayden Young are always there,” Walker said.
“Neil Erasmus and Clarky (Jordan Clark) too, the boys get around each other and it really makes a different to our games.”
As the first NGA product to earn a Rising Star nomination, Walker also credited his background in the academy - coming through the ranks under former NGA coach and current development coach Tendai Mzungu.
“It’s a great academy and having the full NGA experience has definitely helped my journey,” Walker said.
“Coming from there to where I am now, it’s unreal.
“Tendai’s been a huge part of my career. I was talking about touch before and he’s always helping me do extras, before and after training, and even watching vision and what I need to work on.
“He’s still making me better and better every week, to be honest.”