Not much in the world could have wiped the smile from Brandon Zerk-Thatcher’s face on Saturday.

The second-year Bomber was set a significant task when he was told he would be making his debut as a late inclusion against Fremantle on the big stage on Saturday, replacing important defender Cale Hooker.

But rather than succumbing to the pressure of the occasion with Essendon’s season on the line, he thrived in the environment to play a key role in the side’s finals-securing 32-point victory.

The debut was a deserved one for Zerk-Thatcher, who has been sensational in the VFL in his first two seasons at The Hangar.

The versatile 20-year-old is as courageous as they come and he typically plays with supreme confidence in the air as an intercepting defender. That was the case again on Saturday.

His 11 disposals, six marks, four rebound 50s and seven one percenters against the Dockers showed he is more than capable at the top level and he said he couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off his AFL career.

“Starting with the win, it’s the happiest thing ever,” Zerk-Thatcher said post-game.

“I’m very proud of the boys, everyone put in and got the win.

“As soon as I stepped out there (the nerves) kind of went away. As soon as I got the first touch I was pretty happy and settled, so it wasn’t too bad.”

He praised defender Michael Hurley – who returned from injury to play a starring role with 19 disposals, 10 intercept possessions, seven marks and six rebound 50s – for helping him settle into the side in what was a tough and physical contest.

Zerk-Thatcher threw his body into every contest in embracing the physical nature of the contest, and he said while he was pleased with his efforts, there is still much room for improvement.

“I loved it. Part of my game is physicality; to come up, press and impact in the air – it suited me well.

“I thought I went okay, there’s lots to improve on. There are some big bodies out there and I’m always working on my craft, I definitely feel a little bit more confident.

“I thought I played my role and did the team thing, so I loved it.”

But the thing that pleased the South Australian the most was being able to share the moment with his family by his side.

“They’re awesome, I wouldn’t be here today without my mum, step-dad and my whole family,” he said.

“It was late notice to come over and it’s a credit to them (for travelling to make the game). I love them all.”