With a full AFL pre season under his belt, Mitch Hardie has propelled his game to new heights early in 2024, putting together another strong performance on Sunday as the VFL Cats recorded their first win of the season.

Patrolling the midfield for most of the day against the Bullants, Hardie amassed a career high 30 disposals to go with seven clearances, while also pushing forward to kick two important goals.

Sunday’s performance capped off a strong few weeks for the 2023 midseason recruit, averaging 27 disposals and seven clearances across the Cats opening three games.

Hardie was playing in the SANFL early last year when the Cats came knocking, picking up the 26 year old with pick six in the 2023 AFL mid-season rookie draft.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 14: Mitch Hardie of the Cats in action during the 2024 VFL Round 3 match between the Northern Bullants and the Geelong Cats at Preston City Oval on April 14, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Rob Lawson/AFL Photos)

Hardie played nine VFL games last year after being picked up by the Cats midway through the season, and said he has relished the opportunity to learn from some of Geelong’s top midfielders over the off season.  

“I’ve been able to work with guys like Patrick Dangerfield and Tom Atkins, who are both seasoned veterans in the middle and learning from what they do,” Hardie told Cats Media.

“Getting through a full AFL standard pre season and working on the fitness side of things, while getting through injury free has been really nice.

From a personal point of view I think my running capacity has improved, being able to go harder for longer has been the biggest change for me which is pleasing.”

While the tough onballer has certainly impressed with his early season form, he hasn’t been alone with a number of young Cats showing plenty of potential over the first three games.

Lawson Humphries has provided a spark through the middle of the ground, leading the Cats for disposals in round two before backing it up with 25 possessions and a goal against the Bullants.

Emerson Jeka has slotted in seamlessly down back averaging 18 disposals and six marks per game, while Shaun Mannagh booted three goals from his 15 disposals against the Bullants. 

Toby Conway has looked a class above in his two VFL games this season, averaging 17 disposals and 38 hitouts a game while also winning six clearances in each contest.

Hardie said the energy the young core has brought to the early part of the season has been incredible, with plenty of exciting talent set to push the Cats forward in years to come.

“As a group we have some really exciting young guys that have come in through the draft, that have some serious talent which has brought heaps to the side,” Hardie said.

“It was fantastic to get our first win on the board, to go out there and put together a four quarter performance like we did today is really pleasing for the group.

It makes our job in the middle very easy when Toby Conway is playing alongside us.

He is a fantastic ruckman and a fantastic person, and he is only going to go on to bigger and better things and it’s always good fun lining up next to him.”

The VFL Cats will be back in action this Saturday afternoon, as they head to Brisbane to take on the Lions with the first bounce from 1:05pm.