Shepparton Swan Henri Peni is inspired and ready to give it his all for Murray Bushrangers this season.DAMEN FRANCIS March 28, 2014 4:10am
As far as inspiration goes, Henri Peni need not look beyond his best mate.
Peni, 18, and Jarman Impey used to watch AFL together, now the former watches his ex-Shepparton Swans and Murray Bushrangers teammate strut his stuff on the big stage at Port Adelaide.
The pair remain close and Bushrangers coach Darren Ogier has noted a change in Peni’s attitude since Impey was drafted.
A pre-season game in Bendigo meant Peni was unable to make it to Docklands for Impey’s AFL debut, but he watched it on TV and said it spurred his own ambitions.
‘‘We used to play footy together when we were kids and seeing him get drafted I’ve asked him a few questions here and there,’’ Peni said.
‘‘Even before he got drafted I asked him what they expect from me in Bushies. He always told me what they do and what they want, so he’s basically a mentor.’’
Born in Sydney to Samoan parents, Peni moved to Shepparton as a young boy and grew up wanting to play rugby.
Without a rugby team in Shepparton at the time and under the insistence of friends, he turned to football.
It proved a perfect match, with his natural speed and athleticism suited to the open spaces.
Injuries have been his enemy so far.
A broken collarbone suffered at a pre-season intraclub match forced him to miss the first four games of last season and knee, ankle and finger injuries restricted him to seven appearances as a bottom age player.
Peni is named on a half-forward flank for the Bushrangers’ season opener against Bendigo Pioneers tomorrow and is ready to show what he can do.
‘‘I haven’t been at my top yet,’’ he said.
‘‘I like the half-forward flank; once you get the ball the goals are right in front of you and if they can’t catch you, you’re clear on goals.
‘‘What (Ogier) wants from me is to use my speed, especially on the big ovals. Just get the ball and take off and get us space so we can get it clear.’’
Kicking and decision-making are the areas he is looking to improve, with last year’s return of three goals hardly a reflection of the scoring opportunities he creates for himself and can generate for his teammates.
Peni is more at home in the peaceful surroundings of Princess Park than the expansive cauldron of Deakin Reserve, but is becoming accustomed to the big stage.
In his second year in the TAC Cup program, he is feeling more comfortable and that showed at last month’s TAC Cup Fitness Testing Day, where he clocked the second fastest time in the 20
‘‘It was nerve-racking, with all the scouts there just watching and you see all their shirts, the different teams and they all have AFL on their top,’’ he said.
‘‘At the same time you’ve just got to try to do your best and can’t be too worried about them.
‘‘I know the boys much better now, especially the top-age ones and I have to be a leader for the bottom age players, just like the top age players were last year for me, and I’ve got to step it up now, because it’s my last year.’’
If you make it to Deakin Reserve tomorrow, keep a close eye on the player wearing No.
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