At risk of sounding like a decrepit middle aged man, allow me to just put something into perspective.
At 34 years of age, I was six years retired from the AFL, most likely holidaying on a tropical island with a little dog, drinking cocktails out of coconuts and telling local folk how great a player I was in the ‘good old days’.
In contrast, at 34 years of age (35 in February) Jarrad Waite is remarkably gearing up for his 15th year in the AFL with North Melbourne and Carlton, and where my importance to Geelong in my final year was minimal at best, Waite’s importance to a young, but rapidly improving Kangaroos outfit is critical, and equal in my opinion to anyone else on North Melbourne’s list for the upcoming 2018 season.
The “Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is an underrated Hollywood film about a man named Benjamin (played by Brad Pitt) who is born with an abnormal condition that manifests itself by him growing physically younger as he grows chronologically older.
In simple terms, it’s age in reverse – kinda like a fine wine that just gets better and better in texture and taste during this graceful process we humans call ageing.
And while Jarrad Waite may be on the wrong side of 30 from and AFL perspective, he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and just like an exquisite Claire Valley Shiraz, the North Melbourne superstar just keeps delivering in spades, each and every year.
Waite has been an enigma of the AFL competition for the best part of a decade-and-a-half.
Originally selected by Carlton with pick 41 in the 2001 National draft, Waite would make his debut for the Blues in Round One, 2003, bursting onto the scene as an energetic forward and quickly become a favourite of the Blues faithful shortly thereafter.
A brilliant key position player who can turn a game on its head in a heartbeat at Centre Half Forward, (the toughest position on the planet), the only thing that seemed destined to restrict him from reaching the game’s elite status with a bullet at the Blues was Jarrad Waite himself.
Known for his hardness, athleticism, X-factor and non-negotiable attack on the footy, Waite could also frustrate fans as quickly as he would woo them, with annoying little injuries and occasional brain fades early in his career that resulted in several minor, yet completely avoidable suspensions at Carlton.
After 12 years with the Blues, Waite made the call to be traded to North Melbourne, and despite the odd injury, which is understandable for key position jets in their early thirties, Waite has flourished at Arden Street and completely vindicated the Kangaroos decision to take a chance on the then 31-year old veteran.
Away from the field, Waite is equally as dynamic, and one of the leaders of a group of eight Kangaroos studying their Certificate III in Carpentry at the Trade Institute of Victoria (TIV).
“My wife and I love property and the idea of renovating our own home and we both get right into it,” Waite says.
“To be honest it’s taken me 15 years to find a course (TIV’s Certificate III in Carpentry) that I actually wanted to finish and see through to the very end,” he adds.
Already with a Certificate IV in Building and Construction under his belt, Waite understands the importance of having a qualification to his name as he enters the twilight of his career and prepares for life after football.
“The ultimate goal will be to become a registered builder, but at the moment it’s really about having another string to your bow and having an external interest away from the club on our day off,” Waite says.
In reality, Waite has played enough high level footy over such a long period of time to have comfortably set himself up financially for what awaits him when he eventually makes the call to hang up the boots on a brilliant and illustrious career.
Despite this, the reserved but loveable big man was one of the first in line to commit to the Carpentry program at TIV, and doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to just getting it done with his North Melbourne teammates on their day off, with the overarching objective of becoming a qualified Carpenter and Registered Builder.
“There is a definitely more a focus on the importance of life after football now than ten years ago, but I also feel like we have less time now,” Waite says.
“We definitely had more (time) when I first started at Carlton, but when you’re 18 and you’ve come down from the country and surrounded by all these great players that you look up to, it’s hard to be told that doing something away from footy should be a priority,” he adds.
Although a great bloke, he’s a calculated man also, who has been in the AFL system long enough to not suffer fools and be able to quickly decipher the genuine from the fickle.
He is quick also to talk up his North Melbourne teammates and the Carpentry program in general at TIV.
“It’s a great dynamic we have here at TIV,” Waite says.
“It’s a nice blend of young guys like Wags (Corey Wagner), Durds (Sam Durdin) and Kayne Turner along with some leaders like Thommo (Scott Thompson) and Ats (Shaun Atley) so the whole group just ticks along really nicely,” he adds.
For a man of such experience and ability, who has played with and against some of the all time great players in recent years, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects to Jarrad Waite is who he rates as the all time best players he has played with (at Carlton and North Melbourne) and against as an opposition player.
“Nick Riewoldt is the best player I’ve seen in full flight,” Waite says categorically.
“I played on him a couple of times as a defender, and his knowledge of the game and work rate is just exceptional,” he adds.
“Boomer (Brent Harvey) was the best I’ve played with at North, and Juddy’s (Chris Judd’s) attention to detail and preparation at Carlton was a good as it gets.”
As the 2018 AFL season approaches, I can’t help but wish the absolute best for a ripping bloke like Jarrad Waite and his North Melbourne TIV teammates.
And if he sticks to the script of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” well who knows, we might just be having this same conversation in twelve months time…