Hawk highlight: Jarryd Roughead, being congratulated by teammates, is making his mark as a flexible and generous powerhouse. Photo: Getty Images
COMING back from Tasmania two weeks ago, I was seated next to two heavyweights of the Hawthorn administration.
Understandably, given the 115-point hiding they had just handed out to North Melbourne, they were well satisfied with the day's work. However, as is the case with all good, balanced football people, they were very much aware of the mountains of work that lay ahead of them as they attempt to make their mark in September.
What they were willing to do, though, was lavish praise on their big key forward and the sizeable impact he has had on their football club, on and off the field.
Given that Lance Franklin had just put on a football clinic, kicking 13 goals against a Roos team that was powerless to stop him, you would be forgiven for thinking it was ''Buddy'' we were talking about.
Like most football lovers, I could talk about Franklin all day long, and I suspect the Hawk officials would have happily accommodated me, but it was his partner in crime, Jarryd Roughead, who was the main topic conversation.
It is hard to go past Lenny Hayes' sensational return from a knee reconstruction as the comeback story of the year, but for me, Roughead's return to the Hawthorn side after rupturing an Achilles tendon in the middle of last year has been even more remarkable, and the possible ramifications for the Hawks even more profound. Roughead has slowly and steadily built his football credentials to the point where he now stands as, arguably, the most influential member of the Hawthorn Football Club.
As always, there needs to be a rider when it comes to Franklin. On field, he is without peer in the manner that he goes about playing the game. It is instinctive, brash, unpredictable and breathtakingly brilliant. He will always be ''the man'' in whatever team he plays in.
But it is Roughead's emergence as a genuine leader at the club that has Hawthorn people so excited and impressed. Combine that with the fact that, as the club's ruckmen continue to fall by the wayside, he has seamlessly been able to assume his share of that responsibility while maintaining an imposing presence in the forward line alongside Franklin.
Roughead is right up there as the Hawks' most valuable asset.
In the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding Hawthorn's preliminary final loss to Collingwood last year, Roughead's absence was the most sorely felt. What ifs are a fruitless exercise when it comes to premiership musings, but among the Hawthorn faithful, Roughy's shredded Achilles tendon was a despised factor last September.
Roughead the leader was not a title that naturally came to mind for me early in his career. He was a figure of great interest and enjoyment to me and my colleagues in the media, and we revelled in his emergence as an AFL footballer. His laconic sense of humour and engaging, laidback country style established him as a favourite in our radio box from day one.
If we were honest, the interest during his early days probably stemmed more from his flowing red mullet than anything else, but his talent quickly became obvious.
To not recognise his leadership qualities, however, is yet another example of how little we know unless we are inside the camp. My two companions on the Tassie flight could not have been more effusive in their praise for the way he has grown into the role and embraced all aspects of it.
They made particular mention of his ability to engage with the younger members of the team and how much time he devoted to making them feel welcome and to ensure they fully understood how the team wanted to play and what was expected of them within that framework.
Never underestimate the significance of someone taking on this role. Senior footballers can be intimidating figures for first and second-year recruits, and having a strong ally in that experienced group, prepared to have you over for a meal, share a coffee or simply be open and thoroughly approachable at all times, is a comforting and invaluable resource. Roughead plays that role, I'm told, better than anyone.
Most impressively, and significantly for the Hawks and where they hope to go this year, his off-field influence has been replicated on field. Three years ago, I wrote in this paper that Roughead may very well turn out to be Hawthorn's latter day version of Jason Dunstall, with Franklin playing the role of Dermott Brereton.
While Hawthorn supporters are blessed to be able to even contemplate the comparison, three seasons on, it is not as simple as that. The modern-day stars have earned the right to their own billing. As huge as ''Derm'' was in his day, Franklin's celebrity may even exceed him, which is testament to his extraordinary exploits on the ground.
And while Dunstall had no need to wander anywhere outside of the 50-metre arc to showcase his incredible talents, Roughy continues to display a flexibility and willingness to roam the field, as the situation demands it, to leave his mark on the game. And the mark he leaves continues to impress with every game he plays. As stated, no one outshines Franklin in the razzle-dazzle stakes, but Roughy is assembling a pretty unbelievable trick bag of his own.
Freakish snaps from the boundary line, instinctive volleys from midair that sail through the sticks, control of the ball at ground level with a deft flick between his legs or a soaring pack mark that showcases his outstanding athleticism.
And while this is a delight for all the purists, it is his appetite for taking on a mighty load that probably defines him best. He has not shirked the responsibility of rucking when required, and he continues to get better at the craft. But it is his efforts once the ball hits the ground after the ruck contest that I admire most.
It was typified against Port Adelaide last Sunday. He was involved in a goal before the ball came back to the centre for the restart. I remember thinking he looked particularly weary. Undeterred, he contested the ball, then followed it and made a desperate lunge at Kane Cornes that forced him to mistime his kick and turn the ball over.
The game was already decided, but that one action, for which he will get no stat and which will not make any highlights reel, sums up his contribution. The Hawks will be hoping that he's fit and strong come September. If so, he'll be leading from the front.