Ex-rugby player Pyke answers critics

By James Dampney

Canadian rugby convert Mike Pyke answered the critics and showed some promising signs in his AFL debut for Sydney against Richmond at the SCG.

Many had viewed the recruitment of the 200cm ruckman as something of a joke, with some pundits - including former Collingwood forward Brian Taylor - quite vocal in their criticism of the experiment.

But just six months after first picking up the game, Pyke made a contribution in the Swans' 19-point victory.

In the seventh minute of the first quarter he got his first taste of the action, galloping onto the ground with the eagerness of a child on Christmas morning to a rousing reception.

It took just over 90 seconds for him to make his first contribution, taking a solid contested mark in Sydney's defensive 50m zone to quell a Richmond attack.

Rotated on and off the ground, Pyke then had his best moment upon his return 18 minutes into the quarter.

He had just shown his inexperience when he went for a mark instead of a punch in defence, leading to a crumbing goal to Tiger Andrew Collings.

But from the ensuing ball-up, Pyke timed his leap to perfection and palmed the ball straight to Swans skipper Brett Kirk, whose kick found fellow veteran Michael O'Loughlin on the lead.

As O'Loughlin went back and slotted the goal, Kirk and Goodes ran to Pyke to congratulate him on his handiwork.

He ended with the modest statistics of four handballs, one mark, one tackle and 11 hit-outs, but did enough for coach Paul Roos to guarantee he would keep his place for next week's daunting trip to Geelong.

"I thought he was terrific. He played 50 minutes ... I think we got exactly what we wanted," Roos said.

"He can get his hand on the ball, he's a competent ruckman, you could see a little bit of composure which we didn't see in the pre-season.

"Today just showed, even people who've seen him in the pre-season, how much further he's come since then.

"Hopefully he keeps improving and hopefully he's got a long career in AFL footy ahead of him."

Pyke himself was content and happily belted out the team song in the rooms after the siren.

He rode to the game on his bicycle from his home in Sydney's eastern suburbs and had his mum and aunt at the ground to watch his debut.

"It was a little bit surreal, I'm feeling great about it," he said.

"The most important thing to me is the guys had confidence in me and that's made my life a lot easier."

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