The evolution of Jack Macrae

From Alex’s Blog Site – Bulldogs Centre



The 2012 AFL Draft was arguably one of the most important drafts in the recent history of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. They had just finished the year poorly, winning five games – losing the final 11 games for the season. This would put the Western Bulldogs in optimum position to secure a fantastic young talent.



Because of Callan Ward’s defection to Greater Western Sydney at the end of 2011, the Bulldogs were rewarded an extra first-round pick as compensation, which they activated the following year. This ensured the Western Bulldogs got picks five and six in the 2012 AFL Draft – which proved to be very valuable.



With the fifth pick, the Bulldogs used it on Bendigo boy Jake Stringer – a man that since he was drafted, became an All-Australian forward and a player that simply loved to take the game on at every opportunity and simply loved kicking goals. With the sixth pick, the Dogs would use it on a mild-mannered young lad by the name of Jack Macrae.



Both of these men would play a role in the drought-breaking 2016 premiership – yet by the end of 2017, only one man would still be on the Bulldogs’ playing list. That was Macrae.



During the 2012 football year, Macrae had been amongst a number of young prospects talked about. A student at Carey Baptist Grammar, He found himself a regular feature for the Oakleigh Chargers in 2012 after a stellar 2011 season at Carey that saw him take home the Best and Fairest ahead of fellow draft prospects Jack Viney, Nathan Hrovat and Kristian Jaksch.



From that moment on, AFL recruiters were wowed by Jack Macrae’s ability to find the ball consistently and not only use it well, but he always finds time and space to use it – even where there is little room for manoeuvre.



His evasiveness and his agility comes from a sport he used to play and  as a kid – basketball. It’s become such a pathway for today’s AFL footballer. Look at Pendlebury, Macrae’s team mate Marcus Bontempelli, Christian Petracca, even AFLW superstars like Monique Conti and Erin Phillips.



Fox Footy analyst David King, who used to coach Jack Macrae at Carey Grammar couldn’t speak highly enough of him, quoting in one Herald Sun article:


“When he gets the ball, he changes the speed of the game, the angles of the game and always bites off the harder option… I think he’ll be an outstanding half-forward flank with really good lateral moves. He’ll definitely play 100 games and I’d be staggered if he didn’t play in 2013… For me, it’s his ability to baulk and embarrass players.”


His 2012 year with the Oakleigh Chargers saw his value skyrocket to the point where he was in the top-five discussions in the 2012 AFL Draft. Macrae averaged 24.5 disposals, 15.7 kicks, 8.8 handballs, 5.2 marks and 2.1 tackles per game, across 12 games for the Chargers. He also showed his capabilities as a forward, kicking 15 goals in those 12 games, which included a the winning point in the 2012 TAC Cup Grand Final.



His Finals campaign alone was outstanding, kicking eight goals and averaging 28 disposals per game across four matches, which did include a best on ground medal in the TAC Cup Grand Final. Oakleigh Chargers’ region manager Mark Smart was quoted on the Herald Sun, stating:


“His ability to make smart decisions in space is outstanding… I think he sits somewhere between picks 5-10.”


And sure enough Smart was right, as the the Western Bulldogs took the punt on the gangly-built Jack Macrae. At this particular time, the Bulldogs were on the search of kids who had a bit of class about them and he was one of a few that fit the needs of the Bulldogs seamlessly. At the time of the draft, a lot of experts had Macrae compared to Scott Pendlebury, who has been a champion footballer at Collingwood for over a decade now.



The way he moved the football as a Charger in 2012 had the shades of Pendles – which from a Bulldogs’ supporter’s point of view – could only mean great things in the future of the football club.



It wasn’t long before Macrae was introduced to the big-time, given his chance to debut in round four away from home against the Adelaide Crows. It was a daunting first-up task for the new kids in Macrae and Stringer – who was also making his debut in this game. Whilst Stringer was the substitute on this day, Macrae looked a bit more comfortable at senior level – recording 16 disposals, four tackles, four inside 50s, three clearances and his first AFL goal in a 52-point loss.



He would go on to play a further 12 games in his debut year and had a few great games early on in his career. He would be awarded a Rising Star nomination for his efforts against the Gold Coast Suns in round eight, amassing 26 disposals and five marks. He would go on to crack the 20-disposal mark a further six times in 2013, before being named as the club’s best first-year player at the end of the year.



It would be the 2014 season however, which would set the pace of what will be a stellar career in the AFL. Before Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver had his breakout second year in the AFL in 2017, Jack Macrae improved his averages dramatically. Playing all but one game in 2014, he went from nearly averaging 18 disposals per game to averaging almost 27 disposals per game. He also averaged 5.7 marks, 4.1 tackles and 3.5 inside 50s per game – all of them improvements on 2013.



It was in the 2014 season that saw Macrae deliver one of the games of his life, against the Gold Coast Suns at Cairns in round 17. On this evening, Macrae produced a massive 43 possessions – 17 of those coming in the third quarter alone – along with seven inside 50s, two goals and was awarded the three Brownlow votes. This stellar year saw Macrae finish second to only Tom Liberatore in the Bulldogs’ best and fairest count; it was from here that Bulldogs supporters knew they had a genuine star on their hands.



However, Macrae’s consistency was often ignored by the big media names, which has been a damn shame, because I could guarantee you if he was playing for Carlton, Collingwood or Essendon – he would be the talk of the AFL world by now. Between the 2015-17 seasons, Macrae would average 26-27 disposals per game, but the one development that some people may have missed in his game is the fact that he is getting more and more contested possessions each year.



Credit that to Brendan McCartney. Sure, he wasn’t the greatest coach in the nation, but if there was one thing that the man loved to preach during his tenure at the Whitten Oval, it was to be tough around the contest. Given that he was there in the opening two years of Macrae’s career, it certainly helped, as the one thing that did have a few people concerned back in the TAC Cup of 2012 was the lack of contested ball he won.



He averaged only 6.5 contested possessions in his first year. By 2015, he would have that average up into the double digits – averaging 10.4 contested possessions a game under new coach Luke Beveridge in the 2015 AFL Season. His clearance averages also improved as he found himself more acquainted at the centre bounce as opposed to hanging out on the wing.



In 2014, he averaged 2.2 clearances per game. In 2018 he is currently averaging nearly six clearances per game along with six inside 50s and career-highs 31.5 disposals and 6.2 marks per game, along with 11.2 contested possessions a game. Only now – and to a lesser extent, late last year – have outsiders given him the recognition he deserves.



Why does he deserve it? Look past that glorious goal he kicked in the Preliminary Final of 2016 that sent the Bulldogs to the big dance and also look past the fact that he starred in the Bulldogs’ Grand Final win. It’s the fact that he puts in with minimum fuss, week in and week out. As he has shown time and time again, he is a proven ball-magnet, whether the Western Bulldogs win a close one or they get smacked.



Jack Macrae has come so far since being acquired by the Western Bulldogs on draft night, 2012. From a skinny teenager who provided excellent run, carry and poise, he has turned himself into a big-bodied presence in the midfield that is just about to hit the prime years of his career. There is absolutely no reason why this man can’t be mentioned as one of the AFL’s elite ball-winners today.



The start of the 2018 AFL Season has been a stupendous one of Jack Macrae and maybe, just maybe he might earn some accolades along with the recognition that he is starting to get as a player. Did you know, for all his hard work, persistance and consistency, that Jack Macrae has yet to have an All-Australian nomination? Clear proof that Macrae was once one of the AFL’s critically underrated players, but I feel that it won’t be the case for much longer. This young man is about to launch himself as a top-tier midfielder.


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About Alex Docherty

Alex is a diehard footy nut. He loves his Western Bulldogs and loves writing about them every week as much he loves running out and playing footy himself.

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