Watts this? Jack delivering for Dees
Melbourne’s win over Gold Coast last weekend wasn’t pretty.
Sure, they’re nearing the end of another losing season and had played two of their past three in the Northern Territory and WA, but this was against a struggling Suns outfit missing Ablett, O’Meara, Prestia, Swallow, Rischitelli and Hall, among others.
The skills and decision-making were woeful, and had Tom Lynch’s after-the-siren shot found a way through the big sticks it would’ve gone down as another of those games the Dees somehow found a way to lose.
It came a week after one such defeat, when they fell short against West Coast despite leading at every break and recording 66 inside-50s to the Eagles’ 37.
Against the Suns, however, one man was the difference. And his name was Jack Watts.
The former No.1 pick slotted the goal that put his team ahead in the dying minutes, before rushing back to take the game-saving mark on the last line of defence.
It’s been another strange season for the Demons. It only took until round two for them to remind everyone how infuriating they can be, when they followed up a convincing win over the super-talented Giants with an embarrassing loss to the grossly undermanned Bombers.
Yet in coach Paul Roos’ final season at the helm, they’ve already ensured they’ll increase their win total and percentage for the fourth consecutive year. Add that to the pleasing development of their wave of young talent and there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
And then, of course, there’s the improvement of Watts.
Much like the Dees in recent years, we’ve seen glimpses of his best and plenty of his worst. But on Sunday, the long-time whipping boy stood tall.
Finals are obviously out of the picture, but Roos knows how important victories like this can be – regardless how you get them – for a club that hasn’t won more than eight games in a season in the past decade.
“He was the standout player for us … and he eventually won the game,” Roos said.
Being the first overall pick can be as much of a burden as a recognition of talent and potential. It has taken a move interstate and what is shaping up as an All-Australian season from Tom Scully to silence his critics, while Tom Boyd has copped plenty of heat – only some of it self-inflicted – since his high-profile return to Victoria.
While lucrative contracts have added to the pressure on Scully and Boyd to perform, Watts has been copping criticism for so long that the three-year deal he inked a few weeks ago went largely under the radar. (It helped that the extension was announced on the same day as multi-season deals for fellow Paul Connors-managed players Josh Jenkins and Andrew Gaff.)
In an age where people crave instant gratification and many fans demand immediate results – much like last year’s top pick Jacob Weitering has provided at Carlton – Watts seems to have finally found his feet.
We know the bigger blokes take longer to develop, but Watts was still up against it from the get-go.
There were high expectations from a fan base that hadn’t tasted premiership success since the mid ’60s. However, in his seven seasons prior to 2016, Watts was involved in just 28 wins compared with 85 losses. From 2011-13, he played under four different coaches.
He wasn’t afforded the same luxury as so many youngsters these days – those in their early 20s who are held back to help their development, and who get to play their first handful of games surrounded by well-respected and battle-hardened veterans while reaping the rewards of a culture of success.
His style isn’t hard-nosed or flashy, and he spent large chunks of time out of favour and without a position, but the consensus top-two pick has finally shown he belongs.
By the numbers
Has there been a more maligned player in recent memory?
Well, Watts was always an easy target. But for a guy who has spent so much of his 133-game career under scrutiny, it’s time to acknowledge he might now be underrated.
Forget his name and reputation for a minute, and look at his season in isolation.
Let’s start by comparing some of his numbers with a few of his peers.
Player A: 18 games, 34 goals at 69.4 per cent, 16.2 disposals, 6.6 marks
Player B: 17 games, 36 goals at 60.0 per cent, 13.7 disposals, 6.2 marks
Player C: 17 games, 33 goals at 63.5 per cent, 19.1 disposals, 4.0 marks
Player D: 17 games, 35 goals at 64.8 per cent, 14.9 disposals, 3.6 marks
You guessed it, Player A is Watts, who hasn't missed a game.
Player B is Crows captain Taylor Walker, who is averaging just 0.2 goals a game better despite Adelaide having booted 47 more of them than Melbourne.
Player C is veteran Steve Johnson, who is right there in the All-Australian discussion in his first year at GWS (who are tied with the Crows for most goals scored this season).
And Player D is Jake Stringer, the young Bulldog who has created such hype he has been lauded by at least one influential media personality as a top-10 player in the game.
Obviously those four guys play different roles for their respective clubs, but Watts is also the only one who hasn’t had the quality around him to ensure a finals berth.
Also interesting to note is that of the 28 players who have kicked at least 30 goals this year, Watts trails only seven in conversion rate.
He’s averaging more contested marks (1.11) than Jeremy Cameron (0.93) and as many goal assists as Lance Franklin (0.72).
He’s averaging more disposals (16.17) than Mark LeCras (15.94) or Chad Wingard (15.88), and more contested possessions (6.00) than Heath Shaw (5.89), Marc Murphy (5.80) or Nick Riewoldt (5.41).
And at just 25, he’s a former No.1 pick who is listed at 196cm and is signed for another three seasons on a deal that won’t exactly break the bank.
The Dees would have to enter the post-Roos era confident that new contract was a pretty good idea.