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The unexpected joy of learning to love Jarrad Waite

Jarrad Waite of the Kangaroosis congratulated by team mates after kicking a goal during the First AFL Elimination Final match between the Richmond Tigers and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 13, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Editor
22nd August, 2018
10

‘Mercurial’ is one of those words regularly ascribed to footy players that you won’t see me use too often, probably because most who do use it seem to think it means something different to how I’d understand it.

But in the sense that to be mercurial means to be erratic, to be volatile, to be prone to both dizzying highs and disappointing lows, there’s no more accurate way to describe the career of Jarrad Waite.

On a week-to-week basis, Waite was often like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never knew what you were going to get.

This inconsistency, particularly in his later years as a Carlton player, often saw Waite become the butt of the joke.

He was known as one of the most injury-prone players in the league and if he wasn’t busy getting injured, he might well have been busy getting suspended.

In 2014, as the season started to wind down, the steady hum of whispers slowly grew louder that North Melbourne aimed to sign Waite as a free agent, alongside the then similarly injury-prone Shaun Higgins.

As a North fan, it was enough to make you want to develop trichotillomania, and I spent many hours nervously breathing into a brown paper bag.

In the end though, despite my apprehension, I was quick change my tune, as I always am when someone puts on royal blue and white.

I’m nothing if not an optimist – always quick to see what could be rather than what is (sometimes too much so) – and Waite’s ‘could be’ has always been significant.

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It took North fans a while to warm to Waite. He went goalless in his Round 1 club debut before of course kicking seven the next week (classic Waitey), albeit against the lowly Brisbane Lions.

I recall seeing my fellow Roos fans still question his value late in the 2015 season, but any doubts over his worth abruptly dried up during finals.

In particular Waite’s four goals and seven tackles in the elimination final win over Richmond was one of his most memorable performances as a North Melbourne player.

For those who happened to have a taste for yellow and black schadenfreude, it was particularly delicious to note that it came just two years after he had knocked the Tigers out of finals with a bag of four while dressed instead in navy blue.

Jarrad Waite

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

However, the opening six weeks of the 2016 season should ultimately be remembered as the best football of Waite’s career.

In the space of a month and a half, he tore the league apart and after the opening six rounds he was rated as the No.1 player of the season by Champion Data.

He kicked 22 goals and laid 27 tackles across six games, praised by Brad Scott just as much for his defensive pressure as his dominant ability.

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But numbers don’t do it justice.

The most quantifiable way to describe the quality of that six weeks is that it was dominant enough for me talk good mate Anthony Wingard into shopping together this iconic image.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long before that mercurial streak cropped up again – Waite kicked just seven more goals for the year and only played two more games after Round 12.

He managed only ten games in 2017, and another 12 (with one to come) this year.

However, if you think for a second that North fans have been at all disappointed in him then you’d be a mile off.

Whether or not he was able to do it every week, Waite at his best was like a force of nature. He played with an infectious joie de vivre that was impossible not to get swept up in.

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He was the kind of player to make you take the train out to a game you might otherwise have watched from home, the sort who had you believing that anything could happen.

He was like the mythological Icarus, if Icarus had rebuilt his waxen wings and tried to touch the sun about another 30 or 40 times.

If the definition of madness is, as per Albert Einstein, to try the same thing time and time again hoping for a different result, then those of us North fans who learnt to love Jarrad Waite are surely the maddest of them all – and we loved every bloody minute of it.

In the end, the telling thing about Waitey is that four years ago, we North fans rent our clothes and asked the heavens why on Earth our club would waste time with someone we thought was a washed-up old hack – and now we’d all give an arm and a leg just to see him semi-regularly tear it up for one more year.

Go well into retirement, Jarrad. You were worth your Waite in gold.

Jarrad Waite North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2017

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)