By Marc McGowan
Nick Watson held out faint hope until recently of a late growth spurt that would remove the novelty of his height from any discussion about him.
For everything Watson does well – and the list is long for the silky-skilled teenager dubbed “the Wizard” for his outrageous bag of tricks – the “but” about his height is never far away.
Nick Watson is one of the best prospects in this year’s AFL draft crop.Credit: AFL Photos
The Eastern Ranges forward measured in just shy of 170 centimetres at the AFL draft combine. That is enough, in his own words, to tower over his mum, Lori, but his dad, David, is almost 20 centimetres taller.
“I wouldn’t know the measurements, but Mum’s like five-foot-two, five-foot-three, so I’ve definitely got her genes,” Watson told this masthead.
“I had a bit of hope because of Dad’s height, but sort of always knew I was going to be small, so I prepared for it the best way possible. There’s been heaps of, ‘He’s too small’ and this and that, but I let my footy do the talking, and, hopefully, I can change their minds. But it doesn’t really bother me either way.
“When it comes to game day, I think my height’s pretty irrelevant.”
Recruiters tend to agree. There may be as few as four players called out before Watson on November 20, with Hawthorn one possible destination for him. If not the Hawks, the Western Bulldogs pick next, and are a decent chance to select him.
Even those who rate Watson a little lower still have him inside the top 10.
But he will almost certainly have to give up his Collingwood fandom, given the premiers probably won’t make their first selection until more than 20 have already been made, with club academy and father-son bids pushing them back.
“I haven’t spoken to the Pies, which I’m spewing about,” Watson said.
He is stuck wearing a moon boot for the short term after suffering an ankle injury in the first half of Eastern’s grand final that was later diagnosed as bone ligament stress.
But in a sign of Watson’s competitiveness, and not wanting to let his teammates down, he kept his injury quiet and played the rest of the decider with his balky ankle.
“I knew if I told someone, I could have been gone, so I just didn’t say anything,” Watson said.
“Next minute, the coaches go, ‘We’re going to play you in the midfield in the second half’ and I was like, ‘shit’, but I just pushed through it. I was pretty cooked at the end of the day, but it wasn’t too bad, and they didn’t give me a spray or anything [for not mentioning the injury], which is good.”
Watson finished with 20 disposals, 12 contested possessions, seven clearances – five of them out of the centre – and six score involvements, including a goal of his own. No wonder no one could tell he was sore.
It was his 24th match of the season across the Talent League, private school, the AFL under-18 championships, and the AFL Academy’s two clashes with Carlton and Port Adelaide’s VFL sides.
Watson projects as a small forward capable of centre-bounce cameos at the highest level but played all over the ground this year, in an attempt to illustrate he could be something more.
Watson studies star Demon Kysaiah Pickett.Credit: AFL Photos
His 14 goals for Victoria Metro from four championships matches were more than anyone else, with three bags of at least four. But he had to endure two grand final defeats, firstly for Caulfield Grammar against Haileybury, then another to Sandringham in the Talent League.
“It’s been a long year. My body was slowly tiring at the end of the year, and obviously, I did this [injury] as well in the granny, so my body was just cooked,” Watson said. “Towards the end of the year, that final series, I was just struggling to get up for games. I felt like I put my best performances through that middle of the year, when my body was at 100 per cent.”
There are some grand predictions about how Watson’s career could pan out, before he is even drafted.
Some talent scouts believe he is capable of kicking 500-plus goals in the AFL, which would place him in the company of small forward greats such as Eddie Betts, Stephen Milne, Luke Breust and Brent Harvey.
Watson is flattered with those comparisons – although the player he watches most is Demon Kysaiah Pickett, who happens to be 171 centimetres tall – but has stopped thinking about what could be, including the number he might be drafted at.
“If I’m being honest, about six months ago, I was a bit like that,” he said.
“I wanted to be as high as possible [in the draft]. Right now, I’m not too fussed. I just feel like I’ve matured. I just want to have an impact on AFL level as soon as possible. That’s my main goal.”
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