Cameron hails Kennedy, Hopper debuts

He’s seen it twice in as many months, but Leon Cameron still can’t identify the secret ingredient to the dazzling AFL debuts of Matt Kennedy and Jacob Hopper.

Raw talent obviously goes a long way, as does strong guidance.

But more mystifying to the Greater Western Sydney coach are the less tangible individual elements that have propelled these green teenagers into the limelight in little more than 100 minutes.

First it was Hopper, the 19-year-old midfielder who earned himself a Rising Star nomination after racking up 32 possessions in his first game against Gold Coast last month.

Then came forward Kennedy, also 19, thrown in against Essendon on Sunday as Steve Johnson’s replacement.

His career statistics now read one match, three goals.

More impressive is that Kennedy achieved it under the pressure that no doubt accompanies filling the boots of a man 13 years his senior with three premierships to his name.

Both Riverina products bided their time in the Giants’ new and far more competitive era, then made an instant impact where others have often spent months adjusting to the sport’s highest level.

“It’s pretty unique,” Cameron said.

“Sometimes you can have a really soft debut and you might walk off and say, ‘Am I going to play this week?’

“But these two kids burst onto the scene.

“Jacob had a fantastic game when he debuted against Gold Coast, and obviously Matty on the weekend.

“They’re all different – some are going to have really good ones and some are going to regret it I think.

“It was good that Matty produced when we needed it.”

Kennedy’s second-half triple-goal haul lit the spark the trailing Giants lacked in a static first half and helped lift them to a scrappy 17-point win.

“It’s pretty impressive,” said fifth-year midfielder Dylan Shiel.

“I remember my first game, I got subbed off – that’s how well I was going.

“Jacob had 30 possessions and Matty’s kicked three goals so they’re well ahead of a few of us boys.”

Cameron said there was an infectious quality about Kennedy.

His performance has also fuelled more competition for spots as the fifth-placed side aim to crack the top four.

And even with Johnson a chance to play against Carlton on Saturday and Shane Mumford and Phil Davis also in the frame, the coach admits he may have to find an extra place for the country boy from Collingullie.

“I expect him to play on the weekend,” Cameron said.

“I’ve just got to be able to juggle the side.

“If these players that missed last week and have trained really well are available for selection, I’ve just got (work out) who goes out of the team for them.”

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