GWS recruit Nathan Wardius had to keep his move to the AFL under wraps for weeks before officially signing with the Giants last Wednesday.

The former GWS Academy member joined the club as a pre-selected category B rookie acquisition following the draft, with the country football's meteoric rise met with an AFL offer.

A star for the Rand-Walbundrie-Walla GIANTS, Wardius has kicked 150 goals over the past three seasons in the Hume League as a teenager - playing more than 50 games at the level before his 19th birthday.

A meeting with the Giants after the season at the Wardius' 5,000-acre sheep farm saw an "out of the blue" contract tabled to the 181cm forward, who made the simple decision of putting pen to paper.

"I was lucky I found out a couple of weeks ago that it was going to happen, so I had a little bit of time to process it," Wardius told Zero Hanger. 

"It was definitely hard (not telling anyone). I had to keep it to my mates and obviously told a few family members, but it was very hard.

"The last few days, travelling up and then getting into training, it's been full on but it's good to start getting into the routine.

GWS Giants rookie Nathan Wardius at pre-season training, 2023 (Image via GWS FC)

"It has sort of come out of the blue. They came out (to the farm) and told me, it was a bit of a surprise. I got the full support (from my family), it wasn't a hard decision at all.

"My dad has always been here for me, and my grandfather had a massive influence. He was always very supportive, watching all my games. Both my brothers and my mum are all very supportive."

Rand-Walbundrie-Walla has just the four teams - U14s, U17s, Reserves and Seniors, with three suburbs merging together in 2016 as Walla joined the Rand-Walbundrie Football Club.

Wardius was playing for the U14s side in 2018, and a year later featured in two senior matches for a return of seven goals.

The interruptions of COVID-19 saw him miss an entire year of football, while he would also leave the GWS Academy and school to help with the family farm full-time.

The return of football in 2021 would see the teenager play 16 games for his local club's senior side, where he soon made a name for himself. Wardius booted 39 goals that year before kicking a further 111 over his next two seasons for Rand-Walbundrie-Walla - a spell that included an 11-goal haul against the Murray Magpies earlier this year.

The whirlwind journey for Wardius has been the talk of the town around the Hume League, with even the competition's president noting the 19-year-old's AFL opportunity is "great for our league".

"It's a good league. It's got some strong teams and a few clubs have started to struggle," Wardius said.

"I think it's starting to go backwards a little bit for bottom teams trying to compete with the top and it's hard to get hard to get players out. But I've loved playing there.

"The league president was talking to my old man the other day and I was on the phone with him and he said it's great for our league to show that you can get noticed.

"To have someone come out of there straight to where I am now (is great for the league)."

It would just so happen that a staffer from GWS caught the sprightly medium-sized forward in action for the regional club, which would lead to a VFL call-up for Wardius.

18 years of age at the time, Wardius made the trip to Frankston to face the Dolphins in his VFL debut before earning a recall the following week to face eventual premiers Gold Coast.

The Walbundrie native booted two goals against a flock of AFL-listed defenders, with the Suns having 19 senior players named for the occasion.

Wardius was part of a strong New South Wales contingent drafted to the AFL last week, with Albury pair Phoenix Gothard and Connor O'Sullivan both selected in the opening 12 picks of the National Draft. Gothard and Wardius joined GWS Academy talent Harvey Thomas in heading to the Giants, with the trio staying together after making the move north.

GWS recruit Nathan Wardius playing for Hume League club the Rand-Walbundrie-Walla GIANTS (Image via GWS FC)

For Wardius, the reality of being on an AFL list is still sinking in, with the young forward reflecting on his sudden rise with Rand-Walbundrie-Walla.

"Coming back after COVID I didn't know how I was going to go at the senior level, I had only played a couple games," he said.

"I started to find my feet and play some good footy. After the first season, I kicked a few goals and it showed me that I can do it and each year sort has progressed. I've become sort of a genuine forward. I didn't really have a position before.

"I got a call one day and was asked to come and play a couple of games (for the Giants' VFL side). It was definitely a big experience, coming up to the club and I went for a quick train with the boys.

"It was very structured and not likely anything I've ever played. It was really good just to be at that higher level and play with those kind of players.

"... now I'm just finding my role, recovery, doing everything at the elite level and being more professional, training every day, getting the fitness up to be ready for it."

Wardius joins fellow Academy members and ex-teammates Harry Rowston and Nick Madden on the Giants' senior list, with the NSW club looking to improve on their preliminary final finish under Adam Kingsley from this year in 2024.