Move down back is fine with Jack

Deniliquin Pastoral Times - - RURAL OUTLOOK -

It’s dif­fi­cult to ac­cu­rately gauge the im­pact that for­mer Deni Rams ju­nior Jack Hen­der­son has had in his first sea­son at Wer­ribee just by look­ing at his num­bers.

The 18-year-old de­fender was voted best afield for his side against Rich­mond in round four – just his fourth game in the “big W” and his fi­nal as his club's 23rd player – but fin­ished with just nine dis­pos­als and five marks.

In the stun­ning round nine up­set win over the Box Hill Hawks – the side he will again come up again this week­end in the be­yond­blue Cup – his seem­ingly mod­est 13 dis­pos­als and four marks again saw him cred­ited as one of the key con­trib­u­tors to the end re­sult.

A bet­ter mea­sure of Hen­der­son’s im­pact can be found in the num­bers of his di­rect op­po­nents – or, rather, his abil­ity to re­strict those num­bers.

Against the Tigers, he lined up on livewire AFLlisted for­ward Shai Bolton, who had looked in omi­nous touch across the open­ing two games of the sea­son with a re­turn of 5.5 and an av­er­age of 17.5 dis­pos­als and 6.5 marks.

Un­der close at­ten­tion from Hen­der­son, Bolton was re­stricted to nine dis­pos­als – which in­cluded only one ef­fec­tive kick – and was un­able to hit the score­board or take a sin­gle mark.

The story against the Hawks was a sim­i­lar one. The dan­ger­ous Billy Mur­phy al­ready had two goals and seven kicks when Hen­der­son was as­signed to him just af­ter quar­ter time.

He kicked the very next goal of the game, but it would be his last kick for the day, Hen­der­son ap­ply­ing the screws to help swing the game sharply in Wer­ribee’s favour.

With his re­sume also in­clud­ing im­pres­sive negat­ing per­for­mances on Essendon’s Josh Green, Colling­wood’s Travis Var­coe, and for­mer Gee­long Fal­cons team­mate and cur­rent Gee­long AFLlis­ter Gryan Miers, Hen­der­son has quickly es­tab­lished him­self as one of the premier small lock­down backs in the com­pe­ti­tion just 16 games into his VFL ca­reer.

‘‘It’s been a tremen­dous ef­fort to have played ev­ery game as an ex­it­ing TAC Cup boy,’’ Wer­ribee se­nior coach John La­mont said.

‘‘It doesn’t hap­pen too of­ten that a player starts as a 23rd player and then main­tains his spot, so he’s done re­ally well.

‘‘He’s had some good jobs on spe­cific play­ers and re­ally es­tab­lished him­self among the play­ing group.

‘‘Be­fore his knee re­con­struc­tion, Max Augeri­nos had sort of de­fied the odds last year in com­ing in from the Fal­cons.

‘‘Prior to that, you have to


go right back to (for­mer cap­tain) Scott Sher­lock, who came in from the Jets and played a lot of footy in his first year, so Jack’s def­i­nitely ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions, which has been great.’’

Mak­ing Hen­der­son’s firstyear suc­cess all the more re­mark­able is the fact he ar­rived at Wer­ribee without a wealth of de­fen­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.

While the boy from Blighty – who first made the trip down south to board at the pres­ti­gious Gee­long Col­lege – ini­tially started down back with the Fal­cons in their suc­cess­ful 2017 TAC Cup premier­ship cam­paign, he had come to at­ten­tion pre­dom­i­nantly as a high­fly­ing mid­fielder and for­ward ca­pa­ble of be­ly­ing his 177cm stature with an almighty leap.

‘‘He ended up back in de­fence for the Wil­liamstown prac­tice match, and he just showed that tenac­ity he’s got and de­sire to beat his bloke, so we just kept go­ing with it,’’ La­mont said.

‘‘Michael Sodomaco was play­ing through the mid­field, so there was a real op­por­tu­nity for an­other small de­fender, par­tic­u­larly to lock down on guys and en­able Dane McFar­lane to run and gen­er­ate some play.

‘‘He showed a bit and got the gig for round one and hasn’t looked back, re­ally.’’

The new role has meant Hen­der­son has had to con­tain his nat­u­ral flair at times, but he’s none­the­less thriv­ing on the op­por­tu­nity to push be­yond his com­fort zone and is quick to credit the role of his Wer­ribee team­mates and coach­ing staff in al­low­ing him to adapt so well.

‘‘I was pretty over­whelmed those first cou­ple of games,’’ Hen­der­son said.

‘‘I wasn’t sure if I was

Photo cour­tesy Jes­sica Ward

go­ing to play down back be­cause I’d played for­ward in most of the prac­tice games, but it’s been great. It’s been a bit of a chal­lenge at times, but I’ve loved ev­ery bit of it.

‘‘I def­i­nitely couldn’t have got through it without the sup­port of the rest of the back six on the ground, and go­ing through the vi­sion ev­ery train­ing ses­sion with ‘Rock’ (de­fen­sive coach Shayne Stone) has been enor­mous, so I’ve learnt a lot from each game.’’

While Hen­der­son looks to have es­tab­lished his niche down back, he rates be­ing “pretty ver­sa­tile” as one of his big­gest strengths as a player and so re­mains open to the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­turn to the mid­field or the chance to push for­ward.

But con­tin­u­ing in his de­fen­sive role could well be in Hen­der­son’s best in­ter­est – not to men­tion Wer­ribee’s – if La­mont’s view that those sorts of lock­down ca­pa­bil­i­ties could in­creas­ingly be­come in de­mand in the AFL en­vi­ron­ment is any­thing to go by.

‘‘There’s def­i­nitely a role in foot­ball at higher lev­els for guys who have the nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion to want to stop the dan­ger­ous op­po­si­tion play­ers,’’ says La­mont.

‘‘There’s a trend in AFL foot­ball to­wards smaller for­ward lines, and Rich­mond is lead­ing the charge, so to beat those teams, the op­po­si­tion must have play­ers who are will­ing to sac­ri­fice their own game to lock down and negate on op­po­si­tion play­mak­ers.

‘‘I think the time will come when play­ers like Jack will gen­er­ate more in­ter­est at AFL level.’’

Jack Hen­der­son in ac­tion for Wer­ribee against the Box Hill Hawks ear­lier this year.

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