Recruited from the Bendigo Pioneers and Cohuna Kangas at the start of 2016, Free was named as the Lions 23rd man following impressive performances in the reserves, including two goals in the 51-point win against Williamstown in round 4.
With outstanding marking and set-shot abilities, Free managed to kick 12 goals from just 15 Development League games last season, and prior to that finished sixth overall in the 2015 TAC Cup goal-kicking leaderboard.
Continuing his form into this season, making his senior VFL debut on Saturday was a great reward for all his hard work.
“I found out on Thursday, and was over the moon when I was told I would be debuting,” he said.
“I was really excited to finally get my opportunity at senior level.”
In Saturday’s match, the 193cm, 84kg, 20-year old managed 13 disposals and even booted his first senior goal, and was happy with his first efforts but recognised room for improvements.
“I felt like I worked into the game pretty well,” Free said.
“Personally being my first game, it was good to get the experience and have a base that now I can push myself further in the areas I need to improve in for the remainder of the season and beyond.”
“I’ll get back on the training track and review the game from the weekend as a team, and from there nullify with the coaches the key areas in my game I need to continue to work on,” he continued.
“All of the boys will be looking to do the same as well, and then as a team hit the track Wednesday in preparation for Werribee this weekend.”
It was only fitting that Free made his debut against Geelong, as he barracks for them and his father Gavin Free played for Geelong in the lower grades.
“Dad played I think 30-odd games in the Geelong VFL side back in the day, and also being a Geelong supporter myself it was even better to debut in Geelong, despite our result.” Free said.
For the rest of this season, Free hopes to continue working on his fitness base, which will allow him to “impact more and more on the ground”.
He also wants to strengthen his contest and 1v1 abilities, as they are important aspects of playing at both ends of the ground.
With his parents driving up from Cohuna, a small town 247km north of Melbourne, every weekend to watch him play at Coburg, making the move to Melbourne was a tough decision but is paying off for Free.
And Coburg General Manager Sebastian Spagnuolo couldn’t be happier for Free to be beginning his Senior VFL career at the club.
“Rhys is in his second year with Coburg, and is deserved of his senior debut,” GM Spagnuolo said.
“He came to the club as a key forward from the TAC Cup but in the past 6 or so weeks has ben tried as a key defender in our Development League side and has taken to the role really well.”
“Rhys has understood that having more strings to his bow will assist him in his quest to cement a senior spot at our club, and now that he’s debuted, the learning for him in all roles and positions will continue.”
Congratulations to Rhys Free, and Hear the Lions Roar!
Image courtesy of Kadek Thatcher Photography.