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Waite, there’s more, as Jarrad gets better

Soon after North Melbourne's preliminary final loss to Sydney in 2014, the Kangaroos' football manager Cam Joyce raised Jarrad Waite's name with several senior players.

They were taken aback that the club was considering him as a potential recruit.

Jarrad Waite: respected and popular at North Melbourne.

Photo: AAP

After all, Waite was turning 32 before the next season started and had averaged 12 games a season since 2009, bringing his games tally to 184.

Although he had won Carlton's goalkicking in 2014, his tally of 29 goals was, at that point, the lowest one-season tally for a Blues' leading goalkicker for 17 years.

And sadly, the reputation he had as a wasted talent appeared as hard to remove as a tattoo.

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Adding to the uncertain response from some of the club's players was the fact the Kangaroos already had another tricenerian in Drew Petrie who was 31 and had also added veteran Saint Nick Dal Santo through free agency a year earlier.

They hardly needed another teammate regaling them with stories of spending their free time on weekends at kids' birthday parties.

Eventually, as they were brought into the picture, the players recognised the value he might add and embraced the idea.

That decision was against the trend but showed the trust the players had in the football department because the AFL considered him no great loss to Carlton, deeming that no compensation would flow the Blues' way, a decision that outraged his former club.

Fast-forward to now and the decision has paid off spectacularly, with Waite kicking 115 goals in 56 games and winning respect for both his talent and his attitude.

His teammates love the man who has already kicked 22 goals this season and averaged three goals a game in his past seven matches.

But there is more to Waite than just numbers. The 35-year-old dad who enjoys a surf is a player who teammates gravitate towards, and his sledging during goalkicking practice among the best the club has heard.

Waite has formed a valuable partnership with fellow forward Ben Brown.

Photo: AAP

"He's one of those old-fashioned footballers that is great to have around the club. He knows when to be serious. He knows when to have a laugh. He's fantastic in line meetings," Leigh Tudor, North Melbourne's forwards coach, told Fairfax Media.

His presence around the young forwards such as Ben Brown and Mason Wood has been invaluable with the Coleman Medal leader Brown rating Waite's guidance as critical to his own development.

After round two he underlined why Waite was retained, after playing just five of the final 11 games in 2017.

"It absolutely does make a noticeable difference having him there," Brown said.

Tudor is not surprised that Waite's importance is now being recognised but he said he has always made his teammates better.

"He's very good at judging patterns of play and where he needs to be and what other guys do around him, where they run, where he needs to run, whether he needs to go to the initial contest or run to the next contest," Tudor said.

"He is just a smart player."

That phrase wasn't always the one used when Waite was mentioned, with occasional brain fades costing him games at Carlton through suspension.

However he appears happier at North Melbourne, with coach Brad Scott understanding that Waite doesn't need to put on a serious face to prove he's switched on.

Tudor can understand why others might have misread the fun-loving Waite at times but he said the truth is different.

"He's as committed a footballer as I have seen. He hardly misses a session. He is a total pro to be honest," Tudor said.

Waite knows that his most productive seasons have come after a solid pre-season combined with regular training but he is also smart enough to know that at his age a well-timed break is necessary.

It's why he was rested for the game against Sydney in round seven before he became too sore to play, the pre-emptive strike freshening him up for the past three matches.

He is second at North Melbourne for score involvements and has a set shot accuracy percentage of 57.9, which ranks him 33rd of the 104 players to have taken 15 set shots at goal this season.

And his hang-time when flying for marks is unique, leaving him in a marking contest for so long you could imagine him capable of executing a grand jete if he took up ballet.

But individual pursuits aren't the way Waite rolls; the boy from Benalla growing into a man at North Melbourne and winning plaudits after 240 games for being the same player he has always been.

"He's just such a team man," Tudor said.

"He doesn't care about anything other than the team winning and how he can help his teammates.

"He's like another coach, out on the ground he understands our structures [and] how we want to play."

Peter Ryan

Peter Ryan joined The Age in 2017 having covered AFL as a senior reporter with AFL Media.

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