Emerging key defender Ryan Gardner has signed on with the Western Bulldogs until the end of 2023.
The 24-year-old has committed to a two-year contract extension.
Gardner’s elevation to AFL football was a whirlwind – he was recruited by the Bulldogs in the 2019 mid-season draft from the Footscray VFL program and made his AFL debut the same week.
He has played five senior games this year, missing a large part of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Gardner said it was exciting to have another two years ahead of him at the Kennel to continue his development.
“It’s great to have another couple of years. It’s been a really enjoyable time and a great bunch of boys, which is really helping me to strive to be better,” Gardner said.
“Confidence is the main thing for me. To be able to play those 10 games last year, I came into this season feeling a lot more confident in my ability. Putting another pre-season on the board down back with the team was really good as well.
“(Defensive coach) Rohan Smith has been really good for my development – helping me to get better in my position and understand everything I need to do out there.
“For me now it’s just making sure each week I’m consistent and keep striving to get better and better each week.”
Gardner initially spent three years on Geelong’s list (2016-2018) without making his senior debut.
He has featured 17 times as a Bulldog at AFL level over the past three seasons, tasked with trying to restrict some of the game’s best forwards.
“We were really pleased with Ryan’s progress in the back half of 2020 and he started strongly this year before his shoulder injury,” General Manager of List Management and Football Projects, Sam Power, said.
“He’s disciplined in the role he plays and team-oriented in his approach to the game. Ryan’s positioning and ability to help his teammates are strong attributes he brings to our defensive group.
“As a young key defender, Ryan has had some important roles to play for us. He is still only early in his career and we believe he has plenty of development ahead of him.”