AFL Round 14: A cunning plan spoiled

by Jason Feldman

Round 14 was the week of the AFL blockbuster! The clash of the undefeated titans on Sunday, traditional rivals Essendon and Collingwood at the ‘G and the Dogs and Hawks at the Docklands headlined at massive weekend. You could not blame me for being a little underwhelmed at being rostered by Champion Data to work at the Melbourne v West Coast game at the MCG on Saturday.

But I was going to make the most of this misfortune. I was going to write a piece for the Almanac website contrasting the performance of Nick Naitanui and Jack Watts. The number 1 & 2 draft picks head to head. Naitanui coming off a match winning quarter against the Hawks whilst Watts was already under the spotlight after struggling against the Lions up in Brisbane.

I was going to use the full resources of Champion Data to provide an unrivalled analysis of these two future stars. This was going to be a reference point for all future discourse on both players…..Well bugger me, I almost drove off the road when I heard that Watts pulled out of the side with an illness on Thursday night. Conspiracy theorists throughout the blogging world speculated that the Demons rested Watts to avoid comparisons with the Flying Fijian. Whilst I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next bloke perhaps young Jack did catch the sniffles after too much towel-snapping with Jenkison-Smyth in the showers at Brighton Grammar.

It was a massive day for Melbourne, club President and inspiration Jim Stynes had announced on Thursday that he was suffering from cancer and had to step aside from his duties. Whilst driving to the game I heard Chris Connolly declare on radio that the Demons would win. Even if you are playing the Eagles who had lost 17 on the trot away from home that’s a pretty bold statement coming from a club that had only managed to knock off Richmond in the opening 13 games of the season.

The absence of Watts gave me the opportunity to focus on the remaining Demons’ fledgling youngsters. The man who stood out was another Jack, the boy dominating off half back, Jack Grimes. Whilst some clubs, in particularly Richmond and Fremantle, are regularly pilloried by fans for some massive trading blunders, Brisbane’s decision to part with Pick 14 in 2007 for Travis Johnstone may prove to be one of the all time clangers. The Demons used this pick to draft Grimes who was captain of a Northern Knights team than featured Matthew Kreuzer and Trent Cotchin.

During 2007 I worked with Champion Data on a number of TAC Cup games involving the Knights. Whilst Kreuzer and Cotchin were dominating the pre-draft headlines it was Grimes who stood out as a player who could walk straight into an AFL side. The same class and composure that he showed in the under 18s was on display at the MCG on Saturday. Jack had 29 disposals, 16 marks (including one glorious contested mark in the final quarter) and thrilled thousands of Dream Team and Supercoach fanatics racking up 143 and 142 points respectively.

Grimes had missed almost all of 2008 and the first six games of this season with a serious back injury. He is the best young prospect I have seen going around this season and that includes Daniel Rich and the cult figure in the making Nick Naitainui.

Naitainui was always touted as a top pick. He dominated Kreuzer in the 2007 Under 18 National championships and continued that form for Swan Districts last season. Everything about him is extreme, the height, the leap, the speed, the hair. Against Hawthorn last week he awoke like a bear from hibernation at three-quarter time to boot three goals to create general hysteria amongst the crowd at Subi. However today at the ‘G “NickNat the match winner” was transformed into “No Kick Nick”.  Naitanui looked unsettled after the Big Russian (who is not Russian at all) Mark Jamar mauled him at the first bounce and continued to jump into the 3rd gamer for the remainder of the day. Nick could only manage 8 handballs for the day and the 5 hit outs, he clearly struggled in the first ruck role and will be looking forward more than anyone to the return of Dean Cox.

Along with Grimes most of Melbourne’s youngsters recaptured some the encouraging form they had displayed earlier in the season. Stefan Martin was playing VAFA Under 19s football two seasons ago, he looked very comfortable in defence and the ruck and even managed a big mark and goal up forward.  Liam Jurrah was playing in the red dirt fields of Central Australia two years ago, he only had four kicks but he booted two goals and created headaches for the Eagles back line. Matty Warnock, wearing Jimmy Stynes original number 37, was outstanding in defence. Throw in some classy performances from veterans McLean, Green, Robertson and Moloney and the Demons don’t look too bad for a side sitting on the bottom of the ladder at 2 and 12.

Connolly’s confidence earlier in the day would prove to be justified.

Melbourne 17.10

Eagles 13.14


3. J.Grimes

2. B.Green

1. B. Moloney

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