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What's next for Jack Watts?

Good times: Jack Watts looks forward to his new understudy role at Melbourne training on Thursday.

Good times: Jack Watts looks forward to his new understudy role at Melbourne training on Thursday. Photo: Joe Armao

He's 196 centimetres, can run like a gazelle and kicks the ball beautifully. Yet, Jack Watts has somehow become the poster boy for the failure of the Melbourne Football Club since his draft in 2008.

Few players arrived in the game bearing a heavier burden that they were less equipped to carry than Watts. His debut game, on the Queen's Birthday of 2009, was a promotion in both senses of the word. His first seconds as an AFL player epitomised his career: the moment he left the interchange gate, he was jumped on by three Collingwood players.

All that Watts did - and didn't do - was scrutinised, criticised, or hyped. First seen as a saviour, he soon wore the label of an under-achieving player.

Melbourne's plan for Watts couldn't be called a resurrection, because the No.1 draft pick hasn't stood upright as a good AFL player. The public demanded greatness, which was more than he could deliver. The fans wanted a key position player, when his lithe body restricted him to flanking roles in attack and defence.

But under Paul Roos, the Demons have devised plans for Watts that are based on what he can do, rather than what we thought he should do. The new Watts plan is modest and predicated on the notion that the only way he'll become a good player is to stop expecting him to be a great one.

The Watts plan that has evolved since Roos was appointed coach can be split into three headings: expectations, his new position and the way he'll be handled on a human level.

1. Just play your role.

Roos and his assistants have recognised that Watts has laboured under the weight of massive expectations - and that these external hopes hindered his development. Thus, they're treating him as a role player. Roos compared Watts with a support actor who'd been asked to play the lead in a blockbuster, without any acting experience.

''Unfortunately for Jack, he started off as the lead role in a blockbuster movie, as a young actor ... he should have started off as a support actor,'' said Roos.

''So we're saying 'be a support actor - that's what we want. We're happy for you to do that, we're happy for you to play your role and wherever you get to, we're happy as long as you're playing your role'.''

While Roos has likened Watts' size and athleticism to Adam Goodes, the hope is that he will emulate another, less obviously gifted Swan, Kieren Jack.

''What good teams do is have players who play their roles,'' Roos explained. ''That's what we want him to do. Kieren Jack's a great example, and [Steven] Motlop, [Allen] Christensen, they started off as role players.''

Roos is of the view that the Demons can learn from what he termed ''the Jack Watts' experience'', which has been to demand too much from youngsters just because they're picked early in the draft.

''We as a club have got to get better at learning from the Jack Watts' experience, there's no question.

''I'm really pleased with the way he's going but we've got to learn from the past and not put such high expectations on these young players and what we're asking Jack to do now is play a role and play a role in the team - and we feel he can play a significant role within the team.

''The main thing for the Melbourne players to learn - and this is not Jack Watts - is no one person is going to save this footy club, it's going to be a collective.

''If Jack plays his role, and Jack Trengove plays his role, and then the other early draft picks, Hogan and Toumpas and Viney, that's all I'm asking: play their role, learn, listen and keep getting better.''

2. The tall midfielder, with ''ball in hand.''

The role that Watts has been slated to play is about matching his skill set, and maximising his ability to kick the ball.

As Roos has previously stated, the intention has been to play Watts between the arcs - once called a wingman - where his pace and foot skills can be used best. Hitherto, Watts has largely played as a tall forward or tall back. ''I've said I'll play him as a midfielder,'' said Roos.

It will be interesting to see if the Melbourne coach sticks with the plan for round one, given that injuries have deprived the Dees of their three prospective key forwards.

''He's a beautiful kick, we want the ball in [his] hand. We have to reprogram him.''

Team needs, too, are part of the Watts equation. While there's a case to say that he is slightly better suited to a role behind the ball - where he can read the play and accumulate - the Demons are relatively well-stocked for key backs, with James Frawley, Tom McDonald and Colin Garland. Says Roos: ''Our defence is pretty solid.'' 

3. Carrot, not the stick.

Watts, from the moment those Magpies assailed him, has borne an unusual amount of opprobium. In Mark Neeld's first season, Watts was dropped and challenged to toughen up. Unlike some players, it was apparent that Watts, who played with minimal aggression, did not respond well to critical appraisals.

Roos, unsurprisingly, has chosen to deploy more carrot than stick for Watts - an approach that he is applying to most Melbourne players.

''I don't think Jack expects me to mollycoddle him, but I think he expects me to praise him and also to show him when he's doing things wrong and more importantly give him some corrective methods to get better, so that's what we try do with most of the players.''

Roos says that if the club is positive with Watts and uses his skills, ''he's a good player for us.'' And a good player, not a messiah, is all the Dees want. 

5 comments so far

  • Jack has the potential to be a great player. It's a pity that a natural forward was expected to play on the back line in order to prove himself. We hardly ever saw even the great Ron Barassi attempt to accomplish that little trick.

    At last we have a Coach who has proven himself at the highest level. He'll get the most out of the team and the Dees will be back !

    Commenter
    Rod
    Date and time
    March 21, 2014, 8:30AM
    • Whats next for Jack? Repeat after me..."would you like fries with that?"

      Commenter
      Captain Grumpy
      Location
      Kingsville
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 9:38AM
      • What you think ill buy mac as after the game? Interesting

        Commenter
        Go Blues
        Date and time
        March 21, 2014, 9:14PM
    • I agree Rod, the Demons will be back.
      Back at the bottom

      Commenter
      Isays
      Location
      Launceston
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 10:57AM
      • The older retired footballers must laugh at all this. Watts reminds me of Gibbs. Neat skills, good football brain, does all the right things with conditioning etc but no dog in them, questionable competitive instincts and no inclination to prove their worth. Their problems seem to be ones of attitude rather than aptitude. Both of these #1 picks have baulked in contract negotiations, Gibbs recently. The whole 'I'd like to see who the next coach is?, where the teams going?, I want to play finals' routine is shopped about by them as well as others. Where is the loyalty? Where is the 'well I haven't done much for a #1 pick and the club has stuck by me so I'd like to stay and keep earning the respect of my teammates and the fans'. Is this so unreasonable? It's ok for Roosy to talk about 'support actors' but #1 pick is BRUCE WILLIS Roosy. #1 IS supposed to be the saviour, rightly or wrongly. Sometimes these picks don't go to plan. In such cases, humility is good and perhaps a few less excuses. ps $700,000 per for Gibbs? Joke.

        Commenter
        Des Tiolle
        Location
        Preston
        Date and time
        March 21, 2014, 7:28PM

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