When Ricky Henderson was delisted from Adelaide after the 2016 season at the age of 27, many thought his career was over. He had managed only nine games in 2016, and after a horrid run of serious leg and ankle injuries he was cut from Adelaide with a year left on his contract.
However, Hawthorn threw him a lifeline as a delisted free agent. Henderson signed a one-year deal for 2017, and after playing 18 games he won himself another one-year deal. In 2018 Ricky averaged 20 touches a game but was forced to wait until the contract deadline day to earn an extension at the Hawks to play on in 2019.
Nine games into the 2019 season and Henderson has put together his best season to date. Now 30 years old, he’s enjoying the paddock that is the MCG wing, gathering 27 disposals a game as well as kicking six goals. Henderson is set to play his 50th game for Hawthorn this weekend, against Port Adelaide in Tasmania.
When he arrived at the end of the 2016 season many thought Ricky would be a key member in the Box Hill side. But the evergreen Henderson has aged like a fine wine and has been arguably the most consistent Hawk this season so far.
In a season during which Isaac Smith and Chad Wingard have missed multiple games due to injury and former skipper Jarryd Roughead has been unceremoniously dropped due to indifferent form, Ricky has excelled in a side crying out for an experienced head atop two shoulders.
Henderson often provides the Hawks a linking option between the backs and the forwards, emphasised by offering the team over five score involvements per game. He’s an elite decision-maker, with a craft boot to accompany it, resulting in 77 per cent disposal efficiency.
Henderson is looking more and more likely to be the first-choice wingman of the All Australian side. However, with arguably two best-on-ground efforts in the wins against GWS and North Melbourne as well as pollable games in the losses against Geelong and Western Bulldogs, Henderson is in Brownlow-contending form.
Henderson’s career didn’t begin like most. He was never the gun footballer in his school side and he never represented a side in the TAC Cup. In fact he actually gave up football to pursue a basketball career at 14. It wasn’t until he was participating in an NBL talent camp at the age of 20 when Adelaide scout Hamish Ogilvie gave Ricky his card.
He was picked up by Adelaide in the rookie draft and he managed 90 games across seven seasons. However, after the 2016 season Henderson fell short of triggering a contract extension, which led to him missing out on a contract at Adelaide altogether.
Alastair Clarkson got into contact with Henderson, who was then recently married and expecting a child, and notified him that Hawthorn were wanting to recruit him as a delisted free agent.
Since signing with Hawthorn, Henderson has barely missed a match and has elevated his game to become one of the most consistent wingman in the competition this season.
As the siren blew to end a memorable semi-final that saw the fairytale season of the Brisbane Lions end in heartbreak, all eyes moved to the 35-year-old veteran Luke Hodge to see whether he would be chaired off and draw the curtain on a wonderful career.
With the 2019 season now officially over for the Hawks, all eyes will be on the list management decisions that are made by the football department in one of the more intriguing off-seasons the club has faced in some time.
The 7AFL Instagram page has been running polls this week to see who the public think is the greatest player from 2010 until now. These polls got me thinking about some of the great individual players this decade such as Garry Ablett, Nathan Fyfe and Trent Cotchin.