Rising star Laitham Vandermeer is a young man in a hurry, in more ways than one.
Vandermeer made his mark in red, white and blue in 2020 in an impressive debut season, playing 12 senior games and showcasing his speed and line-breaking ability.
Now he’s ready for the next instalment of his career.
The 22-year-old has big ambitions – to be out there on the MCG in a little over a month’s time and to make an impact.
A good run at pre-season for the first time in his three years as a Western Bulldogs player has him primed to do just that.
“In my first pre-season I think I had two hamstrings injuries and last year two hamstring injuries, so I was pretty interrupted,” Vandermeer told westernbulldogs.com.au.
“I got some continuity after the Covid shutdown last year – which probably worked out well for me, because by the time we came back I was all good.
“I’ve come into the new year really striving to be my best, put my front foot forward and go as hard as I can.
“I’ve hopefully found the sweet spot after my injuries and having that continuity in the pre-season is a big step forward in my career. It allows me to put my best foot forward to play round one.”
A round two debut came on the back of that Covid shutdown, after Vandermeer overcame one of those hamstring injuries.
He made an immediate impact, and the confidence from a breakout 2020 campaign in the Gold Coast hub isn’t lost on him.
Vandermeer can feel the difference already, coming back into pre-season feeling more settled and like he belongs at the level.
“It’s definitely a different mentality coming into pre-season after a good stint of AFL footy,” he said.
“I was able to play 12 games without any injuries, and it’s weird how that mental side of your game switches and you become a more mature player in a way.
“You come back day one and you feel a bit more part of it, you’ve got more to say… it’s just a big confidence booster going into this pre-season knowing you’re capable of playing round one and every game after that.
“The belief I gained from last year was huge, and you feel like the coaches have more confidence and belief in you is a big strength going into the season.”
Vandermeer has spent time across all three lines as a Bulldog – being drafted as a hard-running defender, before pushing onto the wing and into a forward role.
He settled more forward throughout 2020, and has spent the pre-season working with forwards coach Ash Hansen and development manager Jamie Maddocks on honing that craft.
Utilising his pace and building chemistry with the likes of Aaron Naughton, Josh Bruce and Mitch Wallis has been a focus.
“I’ve enjoyed the forward role and being able to really explore it and trying to learn off the best in the competition, which is something you’ve got to do to aspire to be as good as them,” Vandermeer said.
“Defensively, you want to close space quickly and make it hard for defences to move the ball out. Offensively, when I get the ball I really want to drive out of the contest and make it hard for the opposition to take the ball out of my hands.
“It’s a big focus and something I’m still learning and getting more comfortable with at AFL level. I need to be able to do what helps our team.”
“I’m pretty keen to keep learning and getting better.”