The importance the VFL can play in a young player’s development cannot be understated, with reserve level football allowing AFL-listed players to flourish under the weight of added responsibility and develop out of the limelight.
Spending the bulk of the 2017 season in North’s reserve side and leading the league’s goal-kicking, Nick Larkey is a recent success story of how development in the VFL can translate to the top level, with the forward since kicking 61 goals in 43 career games.
After playing nine of the first ten games of the season at senior level, Charlie Lazzaro has been a key cog in North’s VFL triumphs in the last two weeks, playing an important role in victories over Coburg and Werribee.
While running out for a competitive game at Arden Street may have a different feel than Marvel Stadium, Lazzaro says the way he approaches each game has stayed exactly the same.
“You want to play good, consistent footy whenever you go out on the park, whether that be at VFL or AFL level,” he told North Media.
“Your mentality has to stay the same and you have to keep pushing for selection each week, whether that’s staying in the AFL side or breaking back into it.
“I think there are a few reasons why I’m playing here in the VFL, and I’m just trying to develop and work on those deficiencies to get back into the senior side.”
Much like North’s AFL list, the VFL side is packed full of young talent - meaning that with just nine senior games under his belt, Lazzaro is one of the more experienced players in the team.
While focusing on his performances at VFL level, Lazzaro says the added dimension of being an AFL-listed player in a VFL side offers him an opportunity to work on his interpersonal and leadership skills.
“I think there’s a bit of a responsibility as an AFL-listed player to lead and help develop not only the younger guys who might be playing, but also the VFL-listed blokes as well,” he said.
“We all bounce ideas off each other and it’s a really good, close group of guys which helps. They’ve welcomed me really well.
“I’ve enjoyed my time playing with this different group so far, and I’m just doing everything I can to get back into the senior side as soon as possible.”
After growing up with mid-season draft acquisition Charlie Ham, a stint in the VFL has allowed the pair of Geelong mates to play together for the first time since junior football.
While operating in different lines on the ground, Lazzaro says he’s excited to see how the two of them can develop side by side going forward.
“I don’t think we’d actually played a game together since under 16s, until a couple of weeks ago,” he said.
“To be back and reunited with one of my really good mates, I’m really chuffed and I’m absolutely loving playing with him.
“He definitely brings a different element to the backline at the moment and I can’t wait to see how he develops throughout the year. It’s really exciting.”