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There wasn't much talent to work with in the Carlton twos when Ross Lyon was coaching the club's reserves more than a decade ago. One kid, however, showed raw potential. He was an exceptional specimen, with a jack in the box leap, size and speed. He could clunk a mark, too.
Jarrad Waite duly became a 150-gamer, and one of Carlton's most influential and watchable players. He's a success by the basic measures. Yet, whereas Nick Maxwell could not have extracted a millimetre more from himself, Waite remains, at 31, an unfulfilled talent and consumate coodabeen.
When Nick Riewoldt shreds a defence, we marvel at his ageless, metronomic consistency. When Waite does it, we wonder when it will happen next, and think wistfully about what this bloke might have achieved but for injury and other failings. Perversely, the reaction to his best games, such as Friday night, is a mixture of wonder and career condemnation.
Whatever Waite does in the remains of his enigmatic career will have little impact on Carlton's premiership prospects. The Blues, despite the North upset, are long past midnight on Mick Malthouse's premiership clock – they've awoken in fright at 6am – and have no choice but to embrace that word that has never been popular at Visy Park: rebuild.
Meanwhile, far away on the other side of the continent, Fremantle is trying to win a flag before the clock strikes 12 and the older players turn into mice. As their inexplicable loss to St Kilda shows, the Dockers have a need for a second key forward, just as the Hawks lacked a power defender in 2011 and 2012. Matthew Pavlich still needs a hand. Scott Gumbleton, hired cheaply as a speculative key forward, hasn't been fit and able.
Waite, as he considers his next move, should have his manager on the phone to his old reserves coach. If Waite signed with the Dockers, he might be the difference between a podium finish and that first gold medal. Even if they win the flag this year, he's still a logical acquisition – just as long as the window is ajar, and until Michael Apeness, Fremantle's 200-centimetre key forward prospect, is ready.
Waite can be Fremantle's answer to Brian Lake.
''It's not dissimilar to Lake,'' said one Victorian club's list manager, when considering Waite exchanging navy blue for purple. ''It's an absolute free kick (for Fremantle). He's a free agent.''
While Lake's career at the Bulldogs was more productive and consistent than Waite's at Visy Park, there are obvious parallels. Lake was likewise injury-prone, with temperamental tendencies (ask Drew Petrie). He could frustrate his coaches (ask Rodney Eade) and wasn't bankable. But he was a natural and if he could help win the odd game in his hobbled dotage, he wouldn't play long enough to see his team play on grand final day.
Hawthorn had a specific need that Lake filled. The Hawks, thus, enabled him to complete his career as a Norm Smith medallist and premiership player.
Hawthorn lacked a tall back, Freo is a big forward short. The Hawks offered Lake a longer contract, and fewer dollars. Waite, who has been well remunerated (estimated $500,000), should consider the same type of arrangement – a two-year deal, on less money, perhaps with incentives.
A change of club revitalised Lake, who had become stale and seemingly sloppy at Whitten Oval. He sought to win the respect of his new, hardened teammates and worked harder, improving his fitness.
If Waite ticks the boxes for Fremantle, and vice versa, the major difference between Waite and Lake is that Carlton will not gain the draft return that the Bulldogs garnered by trading him. Lake was under contract. Waite is coming out. So whereas the Dogs did a pick swap and drafted Nathan Hrovat and traded for Toby Stevens with the Lake picks, the Blues will get squat for Waite.
They will save themselves money, however, and will be able to plan every week without wondering whether Waite is available. The case for shedding Waite is like the business argument that was once mounted in favour of the (now deceased) carbon tax – that it provides certainty. Waite has plenty of positives, but the only certainty with him is that he will not play 20 games.
Carlton is yet to re-contract Levi Casboult, who has the largest gap between marking and kicking ability of any current AFL player. Lachie Henderson is much better player who, ideally, would be the second target. Carlton will have to find a key forward, regardless of whether Waite stays. The Blues' decision to delay contract negotiations with Waite was sensible – why rush to re-sign a player whom Mick Malthouse had consigned to the VFL?
If Waite stays, the likelihood is that he will be on significantly reduced money at Carlton, with incentives for games played. The Blues are mindful of both Waite's history and their future.
Carlton supporters will note that Waite's history with the club includes the significant contribution of his late father, Vin, a premiership player. For those who retain a flicker of romance about the game – and professional sporting culture has reduced the sentimental folk – the idea of Waite in purple may be jarring.
But it's no more so that the sight of Heath Shaw in a GWS jumper. Or, worse, Josh Kennedy – third generation of Hawthorn royalty – winning a premiership against Hawthorn. These days, fans have adjusted their thinking to the point that it's a reprieve that Shaw didn't end up at Carlton, or Kennedy at Essendon. It's a mercy that the son of a gun goes to an interstate team in a funny jumper.
Waite wouldn't look so bad in purple.