Wylie Buzza started the 2023 pre-season believing he would be a key pillar to the Lions defence throughout the VFL season but through the first five rounds he has been the exact opposite.
A Queensland junior and storied journeyman, Buzza has been electric in attack booting a league leading 16 goals from five matches, highlighted by a five-goal performance against GWS at the weekend.
Buzza, an experienced head, is providing leadership to the young forwards around him, and said he’s pleased with the season to date.
“It’s been a lovely start to the year,” he said.
“I suppose when you draw it up, you get the squad together and you think about how you want to start the year, going five wins from five games into a bye, I don’t think it gets much better than that.
“It may not have been perfect footy the whole time, but we’ve won in a number of different ways.
“We’ve found a way to win when maybe we shouldn’t have and we have won comprehensively as well, so I still think there is plenty of growth still there.
“We aren’t getting ahead of ourselves though, we know it is a long season but it has been a solid start and hopefully we can continue that momentum after the bye.”
On a personal level, it’s been a career best start to the year for Buzza, averaging 3.2 goals per game with his lowest return, a 2-goal game against Footscray in Round 2.
Providing a commanding presence in the forward line while still being able to roam the ground and pinch hit in the ruck, Buzza has been a valuable asset to VFL Head Coach Ben Hudson and his staff.
“I’d say this might be my best start to a season, consistency wise and how my body is feeling, in a long time,” Buzza said.
“It is probably the same message as it has been for the team, that it hasn’t been perfect but still finding a way to help the team and play consistent footy.”
A different looking pre-season for the 27-year-old may have turned out to be the catalyst for his prolific form.
“I did head off in the back end of pre-season for two weeks to get married and go on my honeymoon, so I don’t know if there’s something in that,” he joked.
“It is funny given that I trained down back all pre-season, thinking I was going to play key defender and now I’m playing up forward, it was not what I was expecting for the start of the year.
“When you’re defending quality opposition at training it gives you reminders of what is hard to defend and what you don’t like.
“Trying to defend Joe Daniher for example, he shows you a few things where you go ‘that was annoying’ or ‘wow that was hard to defend’, so I did use it to learn more about my forward craft.”
Buzza, who was drafted by Geelong with pick 69 in the 2015 draft and spent four seasons with the Cats before moving to Port Adelaide, further credits off-field stability to his recent on-field success, reflecting on his journey through the AFL world.
“I’ve been pretty lucky my entire life, I’ve had great people around me,” he said.
“My wife has been my biggest supporter for a long period of time now, she has been through all the highs and lows of footy, from Geelong to Port Adelaide, to COVID and long distance a couple of times.
“The fact we have been back in Queensland, which is home for both of us, for over 12 months has been great.”
A team first approach has been the theme for the Lions VFL team so far this season with Buzza and his partner in crime, Tom Fullarton, reaping the rewards.
“It’s always nice when you have another key influential player in the forward line and it extends beyond just the two of us,” Buzza said.
“The forward line is functioning really well and when that happens, especially learning from my time in defence, if all the forwards are having a strong impact, it makes it hard for defenders.
“It’d be a brave man to leave Tom Fullarton on his own which allows the rest of the forwards to get those one-on-one matchups that we all hope for as a forward.”
Having played nine AFL games, with his last coming in 2018 for Geelong, Buzza is realistic but hopeful of getting back on an AFL list.
“I’m playing it as it lies, being realistic trying to get yourself on a list is hard work, there is only limited spots,” he said.
“I suppose for someone like me who has had multiple chances, it’s considered a tough place to come back from but footy is evolving with mid-season drafts and six-month contracts.
“The success of state league players in recent years has shown that players can be playing good footy at a semi-professional level and come in and have an immediate impact in the AFL.
“It gives me hope I suppose, but in saying that I am quite content with how everything else is going currently.”
The Lions have a bye this week, before traveling away in Round 7 to face Carlton at Ikon Park on May 6.