For an old war­rior life be­gins at 35

Sunday Tasmanian - - Classifieds - SAM ED­MUND

IF THE 2018 AFL sea­son were a game of poker, Jar­rad Waite has just gone “all in”.

Waite last Oc­to­ber agreed to a one-year ex­ten­sion at North Mel­bourne, stretch­ing a 231-game ca­reer full of freak­ish highlights, in­juries and sus­pen­sions into a 16th sea­son.

Turn­ing 35 in Fe­bru­ary and now the fourth-old­est player in the com­pe­ti­tion after man­ag­ing only 10 games last sea­son, Waite knows he’s tak­ing a risk.

But the enig­matic for­ward has never been the type to shy away from those.

“You live by the sword and you die by the sword. I’ve cho­sen to stay and I want to con­trib­ute,” said Waite.

“Ob­vi­ously, I had to work out if my body could hold out for an­other year, but I didn’t feel like my speed or agility had ta­pered off too much, so I was keen to go on.”

Waite and de­fender Scott Thomp­son are among the few sur­vivors of a ruth­less twoyear Ar­den Street clean-out that’s taken the Kan­ga­roos from the old­est list in the game to the third-youngest.

That pair are presently the only play­ers at the club aged over 30.

“It was re­ally the first year where I’ve con­tem­plated not play­ing on,” Waite said.

“There was def­i­nitely a bit of wrestling in my own mind and I’d spo­ken to a few mates who don’t play any more, who said things like, ‘You’re a long time re­tired’ and ‘If you get an­other con­tract, go on’.

“Play­ing foot­ball and do­ing it in the AFL is a dream job.

“It was then one of the more stress­ful off-sea­sons not know­ing [if he would get an­other deal].

“On one hand you want to know what’s go­ing on, but on the other hand you have to un­der­stand the club is in a po­si­tion where they have to make change and a lot of choices to see what’s hap­pen­ing.”

Waite missed chunks of last sea­son due to a shoul­der in­jury be­fore nag­ging calf prob­lems ended his year early.

But he has care­fully mapped out what will al­most cer­tainly be his swan song.

“I sat down with all the phys­ios and the con­di­tion­ing staff here and prob­a­bly for the first time, got a re­ally solid plan go­ing into the pre-sea­son.

“I said to them, ‘I don’t need to be fit come De­cem­ber 1; I need to be fit come Round 1 and then get through the sea­son’,” he said.

“I’ve al­ways been one who wants to take part in ev­ery ses- sion be­fore Christ­mas, but I’ve got to re­alise that’s no longer the smart thing to do.

“I sit out a few drills on a Wed­nes­day, my ma­jor days are Mon­days and Fri­days and I don’t run two days in a row.

“I have missed a lot of foot­ball, but the for­tu­nate thing is my body has had time dur­ing sea­sons to recharge.

“They haven’t re­ally been de­bil­i­tat­ing in­juries.”

The Roos’ ag­gres­sive list turnover means Waite now finds him­self sur­rounded by fresh faces and, at least for now, a bunch of rel­a­tive strangers.

“I’m hor­rific with names. I have to wait for the North Mel­bourne app to up­date so it’s got their faces,” he joked.

“I don’t act like one of the older boys, but I def­i­nitely feel it when these kids come along and they’re zip­ping around in train­ing while I’m just try­ing to get through.”

While hope­fully be­ing a solid con­trib­u­tor next sea­son, Waite will look to fast track the de­vel­op­ment of fel­low for­wards Ma­son Wood, Ben McKay and Nick Larkey.

He will also be do­ing some work with North’s re­cruit­ing team.

Pic­ture: GETTY

BAT­TLING ON: Jar­rad Waite is still in the pic­ture after an in­jury-plagued year.

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