Round 7 – Hawthorn v Melbourne: Contenders v Pretenders


I read an interesting article during the week wherein Melbourne coach Paul Roos – in the context of Jack Watts’ recent form and some confronting sledging from opposition players – lamented the pressure under which number one draft picks find themselves. The 2005 premiership coach had formed the belief that the level of scrutiny applied to high draft picks only sets them up for failure. Roos, the article said, believed that criticism of Watts was unfair and disproportionate solely by virtue of the fact that he’s a number one draft pick.


Conspicuous by its absence in Roos’ philosophising though, was any sense of culpability in role of the Melbourne Football Club in Watts’ career trajectory. And arguably, a look at the careers of a number of high draft picks in the last 10-15 years supports very few in fact being set up for, or actually experiencing, failure.


The Dees have had a pretty good crack at high draft picks for a long period of time; apart from Watts in 2008, the Dees got access to Travis Johnston, Colin Sylvia, Brock McLean, Cale Morton, Tom Scully, Jack Viney, Jimmy Toumpas and Jesse Hogan inside the top five selections of their respective drafts.


Collectively, this group has one club Best and Fairest and not a single All-Australian nod amongst them.


In the corresponding period, Luke Hodge, Chris Judd, Luke Ball, Brett Deledio, Marc Murphy, Brad Ottens, Paul Haselby, Matthew Pavlich, Nick Riewoldt, Brendon Goddard, Daniel Wells, Trent Cotchin, Adam Cooney, and more recently David Swallow have all seemed to cope pretty well with the pressure of being a high draft pick. While the jury’s still out on whether Bryce Gibbs and Nic Naitanui have better football ahead of them, there’s a couple of Brownlows in there, six captains (seven if we include Luke Ball courtesy of Grant Thomas’ beguiling captaincy ‘rotation’ policy), countless All-Australians and eight premierships, if I’ve counted correctly.


If that’s being set up to fail, I wonder by what standard one measures success?


As for pressure? Nothing Jack Watts will ever sweat will come remotely close to the pressure that Garry Ablett, Travis Cloke or Tom Hawkins – for varying and obvious reasons – have had to endure.


Nothing Watts ever experiences in his career will compare to the kind of scrutiny Essendon’s playing group has been under. Deserved or not – the Essendon playing list has fronted up again and again in circumstances that most agree would have broken the sternest of characters before today. A section of the footy world (however far off the reservation they be) even believes that the 2012 Brownlow is tainted and its recipient should be stripped. Jobe Watson in the meantime has led with honour, has shown up and never once ducked a punch.


But we need to cut people some slack because they’re a number one draft pick.


Perhaps the pressure of being a high draft pick isn’t so much a factor in Watts’ not yet realising his potential as much as Melbourne – as demonstrated by their ladder positions for over a decade and constant list rebuilds – appear to have absolutely no idea how to develop talent in today’s footy world.


Whatever was in the Kool-Aid a decade ago when Melbourne’s list included names like Cam Bruce, Adem Yze, Travis Johnstone, Brad Green, Daniel Ward, Jared Rivers and Russell Robertson has disappeared in such fashion that players who do flourish at Melbourne (Nathan Jones, Tom McDonald, Jack Viney) appear to do so almost in spite of the club’s best efforts to remain a laughing stock.


*    *     *    *    *   

It is Saturday. There’s some glorious autumn sunshine on offer, and I’m making my way to the Temple Down the Road where Hawthorn will play Melbourne.


I’m listening to Paul Roos on Triple M lauding Jack Watts’ selflessness in dropping himself for the game against Hawthorn. Contrary to reports 24 hours earlier, it turns out that it wasn’t the Demons brain trust that dropped Jack, but the player concerned effectively made himself unavailable for selection. I’m incredulous, listening to Roos praise a player for quitting on his teammates. Quitting on himself. I’m out of step with ‘mainstream Australia’ on a lot of things, so internally, I eventually shrug my shoulders and let it go through to the keeper. There, but for the grace of God, etc,.


The Dees then go on to lose to Hawthorn by 105 points.


Hawthorn put Melbourne to the sword on Saturday afternoon with such ruthless efficiency it was unedifying, as a neutral, to watch.


This was a Hawks combination without Luke Hodge (number one pick, 2001 National Draft and dual premiership captain), Brian Lake, Jordan Lewis and Isaac Smith. They remain brutal and hungry – Jarryd Roughead plays as a loose man in defence 30 seconds from the final siren with the margin 105 points. Despite taking a 3-3 record into the game, reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated.


By contrast, Watts dropped himself, Jesse Hogan was a late withdrawal and Jacks Viney and Trengove are a long way off selection consideration for the Demons due to injury. While the addition of those four bodies might have impacted the margin slightly, it doesn’t mitigate the problems at Melbourne.


So why the margin?


Simple. With a few exceptions, Melbourne’s attitude to the game stinks. Hawthorn saw this and took full toll. There was little commitment from the Melbourne players; their work rate without the ball was embarrassing and their ability to protect teammates, be an option, preparedness to run to space or spread to maintain possession and or set up anything remotely resembling defensive structures was non-existent.


I apologise for an uncharitable match report. I acknowledge that this assessment of the match might not be in the spirit of the Almanac to some, but Melbourne fans have been here before, and deserve better than what they got today. AFL fans have been here too many times over the previous 10 years when it comes to the Melbourne footy club.


If they can let a bloke drop himself – and publicly applaud him for doing so – instead of asking why the culture of their playing group allows a bloke to believe they’re better off without him in the line up, then today’s scoreline is the least of their worries.


The AFL isn’t a nursery. It’s the big league. It sorts the contenders from the pretenders. By its very nature, elite sport does that. One side today brought a champion’s attitude. The other, as in seasons past, remains only a pretender, but someone, somehow, somewhere had led it to believe that it’s a contender.


And it is not.



HAWTHORN     6.2   10.6   18.8   24.11.155
MELBOURNE     2.0   3.3   4.6   7.8.50


HAWTHORN: Roughead 4, Bruest 3, Rioli 3, Schoenmakers 2, Hale 2, Puopolo 2, Langford 2, Suckling, Ceglar, Mitchell, Hartung, Hill, Gunston.
MELBOURNE: Garlett 3, Pedersen 3, Bail.


Umpires: Rosebury, Edwards, Ryan

Crowd: 41,935 at the MCG.


About Steve Baker

"Colourful central Victorian racing identity". Recovering Essendon supporter, and sometime weekend night racing presenter on RSN Racing and Sport.


  1. Steve Hodder says

    Hear hear!


  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    It’s not (just) who you draft, it’s what you do with them once they’ve been drafted.

    That being said, the whole notion of “The Draft” as being an exercise worthy of being given the full NFL/NBA treatment is a joke.

    Clarkson, Ratten, Bruce, Yze, all with Demons links, in the Hawks box

  3. What a great article. Unfortunately I follow the Demons and I only wish everyone at the club looked at the current situation in the same way you do. To applaud Jack Watts is to accept failure.

  4. Matt Watson says

    Jack Watts must leave Melbourne.
    But where does he go?
    Who wants him?
    A new club is no guarantee of success.
    The pressure of being the No 1 pick will follow him wherever he goes.
    He is the solution to his problems.

  5. John Butler says

    Steve, the spirit of the Almanac should be to speak (and write) your mind.

    This piece does that very well.


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