And now, part two of this year’s player projections, no preface required.
11. Jarryd Blair
One of the most heavily debated players throughout 2014, a trend that I feel is likely to continue into next season depending on how the team performs as a collective. For the most part, a majority of the faithful acknowledge and even admire the way Blair goes about things, but 2014 did raise some worthwhile questions as to his ability to step up and by extension, his viability long term.
He is clearly rated highly by the playing group and coaches, which is understandable, but for all his tenacity and dedication on the track he does lack that something extra that inspires confidence in fans come game day. When the team is up and running, his value is apparent given his importance in keeping defenders honest whilst also creating opportunities for others, but often we find ourselves wishing he was a little quicker, a little cleaner or just a little more freakish.
Where a lot of people raise eyebrows – myself included on occasion – is that when we’re struggling his impact appears non-existent. Considering how many minutes he clocks up in the forward line, I think it is only reasonable that we expect a bigger return than 12 goals in 21 games. His tackle stats are commendable and an important element in the modern game, but when his efforts are not reflected on the scoreboard or the end result, it is not unreasonable to consider the possibility of a new direction.
I’m not blind to the space and opportunities he can generate for those around him, but he went long periods this year where his effort just wasn’t altering our fortunes. For the coming season, I would like to see him give us more when pushing up to the contest – both in winning contested ball and hindering the opposition – whilst he needs to make every touch he does win count.
I have no doubt that he’ll be amongst the first picked again in 2015, so we can only hope that his unwavering effort will be on show and have a more tangible impact on any given weekend. There are a few players developing who may put pressure on his spot in Kennedy, Broomhead and potentially even Freeman if he can stay injury free.
Whilst we achieved some results early in the year, having both Goldsack and Blair operating in the forward line seems to blunt our offensive capability. Given that Goldsack may be shifted elsewhere next season, there is a possibility that Blair’s worth may become apparent once more if he is surrounded with players who can do damage and capitalise on his efforts in harassing opposition defenders.
If we’re going to entertain pressure focused footballers up front, we can probably only accommodate one.
12. Matthew Scharenberg
If the back half of the year wasn’t difficult enough for black-and-white onlookers, the ACL injury to Scharenberg would have been enough to tip many who had found some sanity via resignation back into despair. With Freeman permanently sidelined, to see our first choice selection in last year’s draft succumb to such a devastating injury late in the year was gut wrenching.
Scharenberg was never going to be a factor in 2014 owing to the surgery he had on both feet; the best we could hope for was to see some late year signs of his class at VFL level. He managed a handful of games prior to his knee injury, where he showed his poise sporadically despite clearly being well short on fitness. What was most tragic about his injury wasn’t so much the fact that it would cost him the remainder of the year, but that it would set him back for 2015 as well.
As highly rated as Scharenberg was as a junior, he will have effectively lost two years by the time he gets back on the park next year. He has been deprived of two preseasons, which will put him behind the eight ball fitness wise; just as importantly, he hasn’t been able to spend enough meaningful minutes on field amongst his teammates, where he would be able to settle and take the first steps in getting to know his comrades and our structures in real time.
That said, talent doesn’t just disappear. The attributes that made Scharenberg such a highly rated prospect will for the most part remain: his reading of the play, decision making, aerial ability and of course, he possesses a desirable combination of size and class. We won’t get to see him at AFL level next year – barring some kind of miracle – so this year will shape up much like last, in that we’ll be aiming to see him get back on the park at VFL level from the halfway point, where he can build match fitness and hopefully show off some of his strengths.
Scharenberg – along with Freeman – will also serve as case studies when judging any improvement within our medical department after a disastrous 2014. Fans will be honing in on the health and fitness of both players throughout 2015 as a means to getting some insight in this area. Once Scharenberg has returned, it is critical that we manage him appropriately and at a minimum, see him get a few VFL games under his belt free of any setbacks before the year is out.
Given that Scharenberg was a prized draft pick, he will also provide an insight into the harmony of our youngest group based on whether we can secure his services beyond next season. There is little doubt that his first two years at the club will have been frustrating, if not demoralising to an extent, but it is of the utmost importance that we keep this generation together given how heavily we have invested in the draft in recent years.
Not expecting too much from the kid until he has had a clear run, with a view to 2016 being his debut year where this highly touted young man will hopefully justify his draft position. For the time being, it is on the club to get him healthy and keep him happy after what has been a difficult start to his career.
13. Taylor Adams
A much discussed player during his first season at the club, with his early signs raising some concerns which culminated in much angst given who we traded to bring him into the fold. As the season progressed, he seemed to settle more and an argument could also be made that the roles that were thrown his way – often finding himself sweeping half-back – had a hand in exposing some of his more pronounced weaknesses whilst preventing him from displaying his strengths.
His kicking was a genuine concern and certainly an area that he’ll need to be mindful of refining, but his competitive ferocity and ability to find the ball was evident more often than not. Whilst 2015 will only be his second season as a Magpie, it shapes as an extremely important one on an individual and team-wide basis.
The retirement of Luke Ball places a considerable amount of responsibility and expectation on Taylor’s shoulders — how he responds to such a situation will tell us a lot about his career to come. In some ways, the departure of Ball may simplify things for Adams. Where he was moved around a bit in 2014 in an effort to either fit him in alongside Ball and Thomas or to have him work on aspects of his game, the role in 2015 should be of a more straightforward and consistent variety.
I expect that he’ll be cast as a regular amongst our midfield brigade, with the directive of winning contested ball or preventing opponents from doing likewise. In this role, Adams can concentrate on winning first use and easing the burden on Pendlebury at the coal face. A weighting of his strengths and weaknesses marks him as a pure inside midfielder; if he can polish up his ball use and decision making, whilst continuing to accumulate possessions, he’ll become an integral part of our engine room for the next 8-10 years and will also prove a factor in general play.
The concerns and criticisms of his early form were understandable, but he does possess senior level talent and the scope to become a critical component. In 2015, we’ll hopefully see him make further inroads into realising this potential.
14. Clinton Young
The final year of his initial contract as a free agent is upon Young and after getting on the park more often than not in 2014, it is important given the growing inexperience of our list that Young does some serious heavy lifting – or at least heavy running – in 2015.
Young has always been an outside type, a peripheral player not incapable of making a difference but inconsistent in doing so. What he brings in run-and-carry and long kicking, he lacks in consistent short passing and contested reliability. We would have known what we were getting when we brought Young to the club, but in failing to gain ascendancy at the centre bounce we have been unable to extract full value from what Young brings on the outskirts.
He runs harder than most and does get to the right positions, rounding this out by also being prepared to overlap and get involved throughout the length of the field. As with a few others, his impact is going to depend on the ability of those around him to get on top of their opponents, but for a player of his experience we do need him to be more of a driving force.
We’ve brought in free agents and traded cheaply for discarded players with a view to plugging some holes on game day and bolstering the experience at the club, but to date the players we have brought in have been underwhelming for the most part. I understood the philosophy at the time and still do, as we looked to invest in the draft whilst trying to offset our experience deficit cheaply, but nonetheless Young needs to stand taller next year with a view to improving our outside and transition game.
We’ll be looking towards Young, Seedsman, Varcoe and possibly even Freeman and Crisp to revive our running game. With Maxwell’s departure, we’ll also be looking for Young to work back often and in conjunction with the likes of Goldsack to assist our defensive group.
15. Jarrod Witts
Witts was another silver lining for us in 2014, playing 20 games with an average of 18.8 hitouts and 3.5 tackles. For ruck men it is often a case of slow and steady improvement, before they hopefully embrace the role completely and break out in their mid-20’s. At 22 years old and coming from an alternative pathway via the scholarship scheme, Witts is tracking well in my opinion.
Despite being on the receiving end of a spray from Buckley for not asserting himself to the fullest extent, generally aggression is a strong suit for Witts and one that he controls admirably. He follows his ruck work up with intent and what he lacks in agility and speed, he makes up for with reach and determination.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of his development this year was that he looked to be making progress in his positioning at ruck contests, whilst also showing the early signs of mindful tapwork. His contested marking in the final game against Hawthorn is something he’ll hopefully carry into next year, as he took some towering grabs around the grab that opened the game up for us.
He’s still a few years away from his peak, so next season we’ll hopefully see him continue to build by continuing to refine his ruck work, whilst becoming more of a factor when resting forward. We could do with some mature ruck insurance, but for the time being I can see both Grundy and Witts driving one another to bigger and better things.
16. Nathan Brown
The injury setbacks throughout Brown’s career have made it difficult to rank him in terms of his importance to our structure. Over the span of a season we seem to remember his importance briefly, before he is sidelined once more. It has to be said though, that even when fit key forwards have had a tendency to get hold of him in a big way on occasion. His tactics are at times crude and entirely too visible and he can occasionally play a reactive brand resulting in getting beaten on the lead or outpointed on the last line.
When his confidence in his body and ability is up, he has put together patches of football where he controls his opponents whilst being proactive in playing the ball on its merits. This confidence not only comes from his own form and fitness, but from the structure that he is playing within. Brown is one of those players who simultaneously forms an integral part of a defensive line, but is also highly dependant on his cohorts to be at his most effective.
The progress of Frost this year and the hopeful return of Keeffe to his best after a difficult season may create some interesting discussion on how we structure up. We have been robbed of seeing Brown at his best in recent times – through injury and structural deficiencies – but having him with a clean bill of health and ably supported down back, not to mention up the field, will be important in reversing the current trend team wide.
Whilst I’m leaning towards returning Reid to the back line, if Brown is available then we may be able to afford the luxury of continuing with Reid up forward — all depending of course on how Reid performs in that role, along with the form of White up front and Keeffe/Frost down back. Where Freeman and Scharenberg will provide tests for our medical room, both Brown and Reid shape as similar studies for fans disgruntled with the club’s management of injuries. We can ill afford to have such senior players – who are on contracts of some consequence to our salary cap – sitting in the stands.
17. Jonathon Marsh
Another silver lining in 2014 despite the disappointing hamstring injury that ended his year. He came to the club as an athletically gifted but raw prospect in terms of the fundamentals, so his progress in year one once sent down back was pleasantly surprising and a testament to our development program.
Being charged with minding and negating a key forward, it wasn’t long before Marsh started outpointing his opponents at ground level and even calling upon his vertical leap to not only spoil, but out-mark his man. After a few games up forward where his kicking left something to be desired, he started to polish up both his execution and decision making when rebounding from down back.
He is a work in progress but he is far ahead of where I expected him to be after watching his first couple of games. He has some weapons in his athleticism and most notably his pace, as he tends to recover a lot quicker than his key position sized opponents and isn’t afraid to use his jets to escape from the contest.
I would persist with Marsh down back for the first half of next year to consolidate the gains he made prior to injury, but I am hoping that should he establish himself once more, we look to experiment a little by playing him from a wing and even occasionally up forward. We stand to gain by adding as many strings to his bow as possible, giving him the opportunity to view and learn the game from different vantage points.
A very pleasing first year and hopefully he’ll pick-up where he left off in year two.
18. Travis Varcoe
A contentious trade target when replacing Lumumba, as many – including myself – coveted another draft pick within the top 30 given the state of our list. There’s no doubt that some added experience was probably needed, but preferably that would have come from a player who has proven capable of shouldering that responsibility on a more consistent basis. Varcoe has been one of those players who teases fans with occasional brilliance, without ever cementing himself as a consistent driving force amid a Geelong outfit that has so often set the standard over the last seven years.
Hine has already earmarked Varcoe to perform an outside running role for us, not tethered to the half-back role that he was most recently used in at Geelong. It is an area of need for us and in this vein, he is very much a direct replacement for the departing Lumumba. The success of his arrival will depend on whether he can find the ball regularly and most importantly, use it a lot more effectively than Heritier this past year.
Outside of just running the wings, we’ll need Varcoe to go when it’s his turn and break the play open for us whenever possible, whilst also running hard to get in behind the defence in transition. If he can finish well whenever he does this, we may come to celebrate his arrival.
For the reputation of our list management team, it is crucial that we finally get a win or two from the acquisition of both Greenwood and Varcoe. The faithful have become restless as to our trade targets and their eventual contributions, and there is a feeling that we are well overdue for a success story on this front.
We can ill afford to merely be providing a boost to the retirement funds of players looking to get the most financial reward out of their twilight years, so it is imperative that Varcoe not only contributes regularly but also takes some of the heat away from our youngsters, setting a standard on the track and on game day. The bottom line is that Varcoe needs to have a tangible impact on our senior outfit. I hope that this has been spelled out for him with no uncertainty, and that Varcoe has embraced the challenge.
I’m cautious, but remain open minded.
19. Levi Greenwood
A solid acquisition that was dampened by who we were losing in the process. Greenwood enjoyed his best season of football in 2014, which saw him fall just shy of winning the best and fairest for a club that played off in a preliminary final. He is a committed two way runner who’s also not without ability in the clearance stakes, so whilst the departure of Beams was a significant loss for our midfield, Greenwood’s arrival is important when considering this.
As I’ve already mentioned, whilst Greenwood’s most recent season is more than commendable, we must remain mindful of the fact that he has existed on the fringes of the Kangaroos list for quite a while prior to really grasping his opportunity this year. There is risk involved in targeting Greenwood, because if he rests on his laurels given the security of the contract we have offered – no longer driven by the prospect of a contract’s expiry and a career evaporating – then some hard questions will be rightfully asked.
If however, Greenwood replicates his form of this year wearing a new shade of stripes, then he’ll prove to be a valuable addition. The importance of Greenwood is that he’ll not only provide Pendlebury with some much needed support in lieu of recent departures, but in doing so he could also open the window once more for the likes of Pendlebury, Cloke, Reid and Sidebottom to achieve further success within the remaining years of their respective careers.
I have no doubt that whilst investing in youth and facilitating a changing of the guard, the club wants to contend once more sooner rather than later, so with this in mind the acquisition of Greenwood is important for our list demographic. The idea being that we have enough ready made players who can contribute meaningfully at senior level, with the necessary finishing touches coming from development within.
The jury will be out for a little while, as Greenwood will need some time to settle in his new environment – as we saw with both Jolly and Ball early in 2010 for instance – but after the first month or two I am hoping we’ll have an idea as to whether Greenwood peaked for a single year, or has plenty to offer for the duration of his contract.
20. Ben Reid
As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m beginning to lean towards returning Reid to the back line with a view to improving our ability to turn defence into attack. Having already secured an All-Australian nomination at centre half-back, Reid is a proven asset in a critically important position. At his best, he’s capable of beating a direct opponent whilst also reading the play well enough to peel off and intercept regularly. His field kicking is amongst the best at the club, even though we haven’t had the joy of watching him unleash that left foot too often in 2014.
Although Frost’s progress in 2014 was encouraging, he is a dour defender first and foremost whilst Lachie Keeffe’s battles for form and confidence saw him get exposed on several occasions. Keeffe is capable of distributing the ball cleanly when in possession and I do believe that once his confidence is up again, he’s capable of being even more creative coming out of the back half, but in 2014 he looked overwhelmed by expectation.
If we were to return Reid to the back half, he wouldn’t necessarily have to play as one of our two key defenders, as he does have the ability to fill the role left vacant by Maxwell. He’s obviously not quite as mobile at ground level, but I think he can compensate for this deficiency by being far superior in the air and giving us much more punch when rebounding.
Reid’s appeal as a forward isn’t lost on me however, as his ability to read the play serves him just as well when up front, as he generally judges the flight of the incoming ball better than most, guarding the drop zone and using his reach and reliable mitts to advantage. Once he had settled and found some rhythm, his conversion rate was also a breath of fresh air.
We also need to be mindful that with Brown, Frost and Keeffe we have at least three immediate options for key defensive posts; not to mention the developing Marsh and the possibility of Darcy Moore also shaping as another key defensive option, given his swingman potential. When considering this, we may have the luxury of starting Reid forward, although Buckley has to be quick and willing to make a move if our structure isn’t paying dividends.
The conundrum is that we need something extra up forward and a solution down back. We were without an adequate target to operate in tandem with Cloke last year, whilst our inexperienced back line suffered for top shelf talent and leadership down back, especially once both Maxwell and Brown were out of the equation. It is going to be a case of working out where Reid is needed most from the start of next year.
I couldn’t finish with Reid without mentioning his injury concerns, so as interesting as it will be to see where he is played should he be available, what is most interesting is going to be tracking the club’s ability to keep him on the park.