Sport AFL When hope turns to hate: Jack Watts story turns ugly
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When hope turns to hate: Jack Watts story turns ugly

Jack Watts drops a chest mark against West Coast.
Getty
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When TND colleague Ed Sharp-Paul listed every club’s favourite whipping boy earlier this season, his choice of Jack Watts for Melbourne was not exactly rocket surgery, as Kerry O’Keeffe would put it.

Of course some Demons fans have their personal favourites, but they all fall short of the lofty standards required: Shannon Byrnes, for example, is the club’s equal top goal scorer this year; Cam Pedersen improbably kicked the winning goal against Carlton and has just come off his best game; and Dean Terlich did so much sterling work during the slaughters of 2013 that he would be a churlish nomination.

Young Jack at the 2008 draft camp, after which he was first picked. Photo: AAP
Young Jack at the 2008 draft camp, after which he was first picked. Photo: AAP

So Watts it had to be.

These lists tend to be a bit of harmless fun, admittedly at someone else’s expense, but hopefully not taken too seriously.

In the case of Watts, however, the laughs have well and truly dried up.

The barracking against Watts by Melbourne supporters on Saturday night was the most contemptuous I have heard in 40 years attending football.

Some supporters actually stopped watching the game and concentrated on Watts, blaming him for crimes both real and imaginary.

There was not a skerrick of humour in the abuse. None of the mickey-taking associated with ribbing the less gifted (Tony Dullard, Andy Goodwin, Paul Hopgood) or the almost pantomime booing of defector Tom Scully.

The anti-Watts sentiment has been mounting for weeks and has become so unpleasant that joining in is not an option for those with a natural distaste for lynch mobs. Some supporters on Saturday actually stopped watching the game and concentrated on Watts, blaming him for crimes both real and imaginary.

The Watts story is well chronicled. Champion schoolboy footballer, blessed with athleticism and talent and the popular choice as No. 1 draft pick, fails to make the impact that success-starved fans had craved.

For a player of Watts’ demeanour, the honour of being picked first and the resulting attention has proved a poisoned chalice. (Interestingly, the No. 2 pick from that draft, Nic Naitanui, is under similar pressure.)

In short, Watts seems to have a very low ‘warrior count’, which is just about the greatest sin a footballer can commit. Unlike blood cells, the warrior count is intangible, although it is instinctively recognised by football fans everywhere.

Nathan Jones has a high warrior count, Jack Viney perhaps too high, and so on. If you combined Chris Dawes’ warrior count with Watts’ talent, Melbourne would have a darn good forward.

Promising start: Watts had a good game in the midfield in round one. Photo: Getty
Promising start: Watts had a good game in the midfield in round one. Photo: Getty

Of course, this does not mean that Watts does not care. It is just that he does not appear to care. The fans want to believe that the people in whom they have invested hope, time and money care as much as they do. When they suspect that is not the case, they can be mighty unforgiving.

Watts plays in a laidback, lackadaisical manner. If it was effective, it would be endearing. But unlike, say, cricketers such as David Gower or Mark Waugh, he is not getting away with it.

He is playing like a rabbit in the headlights.

He did not help his cause last year when he said he would wait to see who was appointed coach before deciding whether to stay at Melbourne. In the eyes of supporters, he owes Melbourne, not the other way around.

Paul Roos made much during the pre-season about how he was going to turn Watts into a midfielder. That plan seemed to be going swimmingly after round one, when he described Watts’ effort against St Kilda as probably his best game for the club.

Since then, things have gone south, epitomised by the dropped chest mark against West Coast and the fumbled overhead mark just when Melbourne was looking competitive against Sydney. More critical has been the passivity, the lack of initiative, the seemingly desperate need to lay the ball off as quickly as possible to a teammate rather than doing something with it himself. He is playing like a rabbit in the headlights.

He has gone forward and back, but to no avail. Paul Roos, for all his talk of non-negotiables and collating dossiers, has stuck by Watts, indicating on Monday that he would be picked to play against Adelaide this weekend. Hopefully it works and the dogs are called off.

For Roos, resurrecting Watts might prove just as challenging a task as resurrecting Melbourne.