Cam Rayner is a member of an exclusive club in the AFL. It’s a club of just 37 members …. players taken at No.1 in the AFL Draft.

It’s a highly prestigious group, but one to which membership can be a burden. When performance at 17 or 18 can force a ‘member’ to carry a multitude of pressures, good and bad, through an entire AFL career.

Rayner is member #32, having been claimed by the Lions with selection #1 in the 2017 Draft, and will be the 25th #1 pick to play 100 AFL games against Sydney at the Gabba on Friday night.

His start in AFL went as smoothly as expected, except for a major knee injury which saw Rayner miss the entire 2021 season. It’s been pretty much smooth sailing for easy-going 23-year-old from suburban Hillside in Melbourne, 24km north-west of the GPO, via the Doutta Stars, Essendon Grammar and the Western Jets.

Indeed, it is difficult to think how Rayner could have written a better script. Even before he’d played his first game he’d signed an extra two-year contract extension through to the end of 2021.

Then, in one of the great trivia questions, he signed not one but two contract extensions without playing a game.

Having strung together 63 games without a miss from his debut in Round 1 2018, he committed to the club for a further two years in November 2020, locking him away until the end of 2023.

In a message to Lions fans at the time, he wrote:

I am Cam Rayner and I am Lion. I love our footy club, I love our city and I’m absolutely thrilled to extend my contract with the Brisbane Lions until the end of 2023. Our fans are the best in the competition, and it gives me great pride to go out there every week and give my best for them. The passion they have for our club drives us all. It is a special feeling knowing that every one of them would proudly say “I am Lion.” The Brisbane Lions gave me my start in the AFL and I will be eternally grateful for the faith they showed in me.”

Then, when Rayner blew out his knee in March 2021, the Lions repaid the loyalty with a similar show of faith, extending his contract out to 2025.

The whole contract extension exercise, done with a minimum of fuss and fanfare, has Rayner on something of a rare path in the #1 draft pick club, where loyalty hasn’t been a big thing.

Of 37 #1 picks only 19 have been one-club players. And there are eight others still playing.

Rayner is one of four Brisbane #1 picks in a chapter of AFL history which began with the first full and official AFL Draft in 1986, when the then Brisbane Bears took Port Adelaide (SANFL) key defender and South Australian State of Origin regular Martin Leslie at #1.

Later, the club took West Australians John Hutton and Des Headland at #1 in 1991 and 1998.

Leslie, who didn’t move north until the 1989 season when he was 26, was a star. He played 107 games through tough times with injury, sharing the best & fairest with David Bain in 1990 and helping to set standards for the new club.

Hutton, a long-kicking, helmet-wearing full forward from Claremont (WAFL), wasn’t quite the same success. He played 36 AFL games with three clubs over three years – 18 at Brisbane in 1992, five with Sydney in 1993 and 13 with Fremantle in 1995.

Headland’s stay was short but impactful. He played 52 games with the Lions from 1999-2002, including a star role in the 2002 premiership, before the pull of home saw him join Fremantle, where he played 114 games from 2003-10.

Brisbane are second on the list of #1 picks, behind only Carlton (5) and equal with GWS. Next are Melbourne, Richmond and St.Kilda (3), Fremantle, Gold Coast, Hawthorn, Western Bulldogs and West Coast (2), and Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong, North Melbourne and Sydney (1).

Fitzroy, who participated in the first 10 years of the National Draft, never had a #1 pick. Nor have Adelaide, who joined the competition in 1991, and Port Adelaide, who followed in 1997.

Leslie was one of only two #1 picks in the first six years to make a lasting impact. Alex McDonald, pick #1 to Hawthorn in 1988, played 107 games for Hawthorn and Collingwood, but Richard Lounder and Anthony Banik, Richmond #1’s in 1987 and 1989, and Stephen Hooper, Geelong’s only pick #1 in 1990, played 74 games between them – Lounder (4), Banik (49) and Hooper (26).

Since then only two #1 picks have played less than 100 games – both from GWS. Jon Patton, #1 in 2011, played 95 games for GWS and Hawthorn, and Tom Boyd, #1 in 2013, played 61 games for GWS and the Bulldogs, retiring after a starring role in the Dogs’ 2016 flag.

Oddly, Brisbane have links of varying proportions to four other #1 picks.

Travis Johnstone, pick #1 to Melbourne in 1997, was the grandson of Fitzroy great Norm Johnstone and finished his career with the Lions. And Nick Riewoldt, pick #1 from Southport to St.Kilda in 2000, could have been a Brisbane zone selection had the AFL not changed the rules mid-year, putting Southport outside the club zone.

Luke Hodge, pick #1 to Hawthorn in 2001, finished his magnificent career with the Lions. And Marc Murphy, pick #1 to Carlton in 2005, could have joined Brisbane as the son of ex-Fitzroy champion John Murphy but chose to put himself in the open draft.

At a (very) long stretch there’s a link, too, to Jeff White. Pick #1 in 1994 and a 268-game player with Fremantle and Melbourne from 1995-2008, he now lives in Brisbane and does AFL radio commentary for the ABC.

A larger than life personality hugely popular within the Lions playing group, Rayner is best known as ‘Pumba’, the warthog in The Lion King, and is sneakily referred to as ‘Boom Gate’, which may have had something to do with him once driving into the boom gate at the old Gabba carpark.

Likened to Dustin Martin from his junior days, Rayner will leave a significant stamp on the 100-game record book of #1 picks.

With 58 wins to his credit, and a possible 59th win on Friday night, he is third on the list, equal with 2002 #1 Brendon Goddard and behind only 1992 #1 Drew Banfield (63) and Headland (66).

Already with six AFL finals behind him despite missing two finals through injury in 2021 and one through suspension last year, he sits behind only Banfield, who played seven finals in his first 100 games. Headland, White and 1991 #1 Josh Fraser played six.

Two goals against Sydney on Friday night would give Rayner 96 goals in his first 100 games, taking him past Fraser (94) and Headland (95), and leave only 2003 #1 Adam Cooney (108), 1995 #1 Clive Waterhouse (171) and Riewoldt (181) with more.

And despite his year off Rayner will reach 100 games at 23 years 231 days. Only four #1 picks got to the same mark before their 23rd birthday – 2006 #1 Bryce Gibbs, 2004 #1 Brett Deledio, Fraser and Cooney.

Having grown up in a strong Essendon family, with father John said to have red and black blood, he had an extraordinary year with the Doutta Stars Under 16s in Melbourne’s Eastern Districts Football League in 2015.

He won five EDFL medals in his only season with the Stars – the Kevin Sheedy Medal as the competition’s best & fairest player, plus premiership medals in the U16s and U18s, and best-on-ground medals in the U16 and U18 grand finals.

His move to Brisbane forced something of a loyalty realignment in the family, who will come together at the Gabba on Friday night in a catch-up celebration after they missed Rayner’s 50th game in 2020 due to Covid restrictions.

And as the scuttlebutt has it, they were so keen to get it right they had a ‘trial run’ last week in Melbourne after the guest of honour may have miscalculated a little, may have forgotten about the bye, and may have arranged extra tickets for the game against Hawthorn at the MCG thinking it was his 100th.

Whatever, boilermaker John, who has become something of  a TV celebrity for his exuberant post-game dressing room celebrations, will be in Brisbane for a double dose of family football. He’ll also see older son Lachie play with the Lions VFL side, where he is a teammate of Kyle Dunkley, brother of Josh, under VFL coach Ben Hudson.

Rayner has been part of a golden 2017 draft haul for the Lions after they also picked up Zac Bailey at pick #15, Brandon Starcevich at pick #18 and Jack Payne at #54.

It was a hot draft pool, with already 10 players from the Class of 2017 having topped 100 games.

In draft order, they are Fremantle pick #2 Andrew Brayshaw (112 games), Fremantle/Carlton pick #5 Adam Cerra (107), Collingwood/North Melbourne #6 Jaidyn Stephenson (102), Bulldogs #9 Aaron Naughton (113), Bailey (106), Geelong/West Coast pick #24 Tim Kelly (115), Melbourne #31 Bailey Fritsch (121), Sydney #32 Tom McCartin (101), Richmond rookie #18 Liam Baker (100) and Collingwood rookie #22 Brody Mihocek (115).

Gold Coast pick #42 Charlie Ballard will also play his 100th game in Round 14 this week.

Also from the pick #1 history books, Luke Hodge has played most games at 346, followed by Riewoldt (336), Goddard (334) and Murphy (300). Goddard has had most possessions among #1 picks at 7606 from Hodge (7589), Murphy (7217), Riewoldt (4613) and Adam Cooney (5415.

Riewoldt (718) is a runaway leading goal-kicker from Cooney (202), Brett Deledio (197), Murphy (196) and Hodge (194), and Riewoldt has polled most Brownlow Medal votes at 153, from Hodge (131), Murphy (114), Bryce Gibbs (89) and Cooney (86). Cooney is the only #1 pick to win the Brownlow.