Stats show why Tigers’ Graham gain is rivals’ pain
HIS former coach was flabbergasted when he watched Jack Graham shockingly become one of the AFL's great draft sliders.
"A player of Jack's pedigree deserved better,'' said long-serving South Australian under-18 mentor, 2002 Sturt premiership coach and SA Football Hall of Famer Brenton Phillips.
"He had the formline of Winx (Australia's champion racehorse) and should have been a first-round draft pick, at absolute worst a high second-round pick.
"I didn't know what the AFL recruiters were thinking. Maybe they thought he was a bit of a man child. There can't be any other explanation for it.
"Why else does a Kevin Sheehan and Larke Medallist (player of the carnival for the national U16 and U18 championships) slip so low in the draft? It defies logic.
"As the draft was unfolding and he continued to slide I was thinking, wowee, there must be a lot of good players in front of him.''
Graham plummeted to No. 53 at the 2016 national draft, with suggestions since that some clubs had concerns about his weight.
But Richmond didn't, gratefully pouncing on the midfield bull.
Powerfully built at 181cm and 82kg, Graham already has made the 16 clubs that overlooked him - Hawthorn was the only club not to have a shot at getting him before the Tigers - pay a heavy price.
After overcoming a broken ankle that derailed the start of his Richmond career, Graham, now 20, has played six consecutive AFL matches - and been a difference-maker for Damien Hardwick's side.
His impact has been enormous.
Graham - joining a club that had won just two finals since losing the 1982 grand final - has yet to taste defeat.
His AFL career record stands at six games, six wins and one premiership.
After debuting against Fremantle in round 22 last season and literally grabbing his opportunity with both hands by laying 11 tackles, the product of SANFL club North Adelaide played in all three of the Tigers' finals wins, against Geelong, GWS and Adelaide.
His performance against the Crows in the grand final was one of the finest played by a first-year player in VFL-AFL history.
At 19 the youngest player in the grand final, Graham was awarded a Norm Smith Medal vote from dual Brownlow medallist Chris Judd after putting the clamps on his childhood hero Rory Sloane and kicking a game and career-high three goals.
"Not many players win an AFL premiership in just their fifth game, but am I surprised at what he has already achieved, no,'' Phillips said.
"If you look at his history, he played in all of SA's under-age sides, was captain of the under-15s, under-16s and under-18s and an All-Australian in his draft year, when he averaged the most disposals (25) and clearances (five) in the championships.
"What else do you have to do?''
Graham - renowned as a natural leader of men and for having an insatiable work ethic - is leading the way for the new-look, tough Tigers with his pressure and tackling ability.
He has averaged a modest 14 disposals in his six games, but is a pressure machine.
No player has averaged more pressure points than him in the past two seasons.
His average of 70.8 is four more than the next-ranked player, Geelong's Scott Selwood (66.9).
Graham's eight-tackle average ranks second behind Selwood (10.7) and his 106 pressure points in Richmond's round one win against Carlton is the sixth-highest tally in an AFL game.
"Jack is just a tremendously competitive kid who does all the small things that you love in a footballer - the ability to tackle and pressure people to spill the ball that allows teammates to get hold of it,'' Phillips said.
"He's an all-round workhorse who is equally good at being able to attack and defend. He's the type of player everyone wants to have on their side.''
- Andrew Capel