James Willis finally got his chance to pull on the hoops for the first time in Geelong’s narrow loss to Carlton in the VFL on Saturday at Ikon Park.

It marked 233 days since the Cats called out his name with pick 32 in the 2021 National Draft.

“It has been a long road so to finally get out there felt really good,” Willis told geelongcats.com.au post-game.

The 19-year-old is keen to make up for lost ground and use the remaining four VFL games to show everyone what he can do after overcoming a knee injury.

“I just want to get as much footy into me as I can, keep improving and hopefully play the best I can by the end of the year and show what I’ve got.”

Willis spent his first appearance playing largely in the midfield finishing with nine disposals, three tackles and two clearances.

He produced a few nice moments which included a passage of play in the third term where he hit the contest, picked up the footy with one-hand and burst clear of a ball in dispute in three or four steps.

“The coaches always talk to me about getting the ball and bursting through, so using my speed and my power. When I get the chance, I’ll try and get that done, back my legs and go for a little run.”

11:37 Mins
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VFL Match Highlights | Round 17

Watch the highlights from Geelong's Round 17 clash with Carlton at Ikon Park on Saturday.

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Willis is ‘loving’ his first year at the Club and has appreciated the support he’s been given making him feel right at home after making the move from South Australia. Particularly, given he’s spent most of this year within the Rehab group.

“I love it at the Club. Everyone is just so helpful with everything, injury and off the field too.”

“Joel (Selwood) has been massive just telling me to keep at it and doing touch with me.

“Simmo as well in rehab with me and recently Parf in rehab as well, he has been really good. Everyone really, they all get around me. It is a group effort.”

Sam Simpson in action for the Bendigo Bank Cats against Carlton at Ikon Park. Round 17, 2022. Credit Arj Giese.

It was fitting that Willis’ first appearance coincided with the return of rehab partner Sam Simpson who was impressed by what the 19-year-old produced in his first game.

“The ‘big bull’ is what we are calling him. He played inside mid today and I thought he did a great job," Simpson said.

“I thought he was really strong around the contest and didn’t look phased at this level at all.”

Simpson himself got through his return unscathed producing a classy performance playing as a high half back accumulating 22 disposals and seven marks to be named in Geelong's best.