Sport

Free agents cream of the AFL crop

Jordan Russell of the Blues spoils a mark by Ahmed Saad of the Saints during the round seven AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Carlton Blues at Etihad Stadium.
Jordan Russell of the Blues spoils a mark by Ahmed Saad of the Saints during the round seven AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Carlton Blues at Etihad Stadium. Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

A FEW weeks ago I wrote an article on one of the more ruthless aspects of the playing industry of AFL - the reshuffling of the playing list.

This year at Carlton, we said goodbye to many people through delisting, injury-forced delisting and, for the first time in VFL/AFL history, out-of-contract players informing their clubs that they would like to test their value in the waters of free agency.

At the beginning of the year, the AFL released this media statement to clarify the rules of free agency:

"Under the rules that were agreed between the AFL and AFL Players Association (AFLPA) in February 2010, restricted and unrestricted free agents may consider offers from rival clubs during the post-season period, following the 2012 Toyota AFL Premiership Season.

"An offer to a player only includes capped salary and capped ASA (Additional Service Agreements) amounts."

In summary, the difference between restricted and unrestricted free agents is that the former is bound can have their current club match any opposing offers made by other clubs.

If you ever the chance to look up who the free agents are for this coming off-season, you'll see a number of high-quality players.

This year, Carlton HAS let go two free agents in search of a new home, both with plenty to offer at whichever club they may find themselves by 2013.

One of these is not only a great mate of mine, but quite possibly the biggest steal a club could make during this revolutionary period.

Jordan Russell came down to Carlton, as a fresh-faced, unassuming young bloke from the 'province' of West Adelaide, having been picked ninth overall in 2004 National Draft.

Rocking up alongside his good mate Hamish Hartlett, who quickly spread Jordan's childhood name of 'Noof' upon arrival, Carlton recruiting staff described the Noof as "a slimly-built, free-running and pacy wingman".

In his debut year as, Noof found his feet in the VFL with the Northern Bullants, at first up forward, but later across half back, where a string of consistent efforts eventually brought a call-up to Carlton's senior team.

He made his debut in Round 15, 2005 while Dennis Pagan was still at the helm, against St. Kilda in a debut he quickly forgot.

Noof only had 30 minutes of game time off the bench, had a few touches as he and his team-mates were put the sword by 80 points.

He was dropped next week, yet shrugged it off quickly.

He had a solid belief that he had plenty more to offer at the top level, it was just going to take some more pre-seasons and few more gym sessions.

He was right in a sense; Noof accumulated ten more games in 2006, highlights including a game starting on the ground against Hawthorn and his first career goal against Fremantle.

Whilst Carlton itself tried to find it's way out of a five-year slump, bolstered by high draft picks, key trades and a new coach in Brett Ratten, the Blues were once again on the rise, and Russell's emergence as a creative defensive sweeper was one of the factors.

Established in Carlton's best 22 at half-back, he averaged 19 matches per year between 2007 and 2009, with a handy aggregate of 13 goals over the same period. He could play in the midfield

2009 was the breakout year, Noof finished sixth in the club best and fairest, playing defensive shut down jobs in the midfield and down back.

Despite being dropped mid-season, it was the blessing in disguise and the kick up the bum that, by his own admission, Noof needed.

Hip surgery, consistency and form curtailed Noof's next couple of seasons given that both internal and external expectations had risen.

This year, I became lucky enough to meet Noof.

It was ability to converse with everyone off-field in a positive manner and be so respected by his work ethic on the training track that saw him initiated into the leadership group for the 2012 season.

It was amazing, Noof admitted he had a disappointing year in regards to performance in 2011, but he was a leader nonetheless.

Again 2012, was again disappointing for Noof. In conversations with him, Noof felt he was thinking too much.

That when he got the ball, a million thoughts raced through his mind at once.

The result was a turnover by foot or hand, or being run down. The game hadn't passed him, but its complexity made him start doubting himself.

For the young boys at the club who were plying their trade in the VFL, Noof's regular presence down there was invaluable.

Within the Carlton sanctum, young rookie Frazer Dale nominated Noof as his mentor and flourished under his care and tutorage.

For regular Northern Blues players, 20-year-olds Kane Lambert and Adam Marcon - both in line for the draft this year - have pointed to Noof as an on-field mentor and the main reason they excelled this year.

Off-field, in my 19 years of existence. I've never met a genuinely nicer bloke.

His ability to start a conversation with anyone regardless of gender, interests or age, is amazing.

He has an infectious laugh, to match a laid-back personality where everyone in the room is included.

It is for these off-field qualities - as well as just being 25 and with plenty to offer on-field - that Jordan Russell will be one of the biggest steals when the Free Agency period rolls around from October 1 to October 19.

For mentoring and easing young blokes into the rigors of professional AFL, there's never been anyone better.

Noof's felt the elation of consistent football and all of the positives that come out of being a regular selection in an AFL side.

He also knows full well the disappointment of being no longer required at an AFL club and baring the full brunt of supporter's frustration as he walks off the ground.

I plead to the other 17 AFL clubs that you could make far worse decisions than to pick up my mate Noof.

I may make the condition that he stays in Melbourne, because this is one man that you will want both in your professional and personal life as a friend, team-mate, or mentor.

Topics:  afl aussie rules carlton blues sport



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