Jordan Roughead is learning his trade as a defender
I certainly don’t want to compare myself to Brian in any way
VERSATILE Western Bulldogs big man Jordan Roughead is being groomed as Brian Lake's successor at fullback, but don’t suggest to him or his club that he is replacing the champion defender.
Neither Roughead nor the Bulldogs are fond of what 'replacing' implies – or the unrealistic expectations that often come with it. And they have plenty of reason to be wary.
Star players are rarely replaced – not overnight, anyway. It's more a matter of clubs trying to find ways to cope without them and at least partially fill the void.
So it's grossly unfair to expect a raw defender like Roughead – a 22-year-old with just 35 games of AFL experience, and just eight of them in the backline – to step straight into the sizeable shoes of Lake, a two-time All Australian fullback and club best and fairest winner, and perform to comparable levels.
The Dogs are once bitten and twice shy on this issue. In the season past, Roughead's even younger, less experienced teammate Liam
Jones was burdened with this kind of pressure when, in the aftermath of Barry Hall's retirement, he was touted (externally) as the potential savior of the Dogs' attack.
Unsurprisingly, Jones failed to live up to the impossible expectations.
Roughead is coming from even further back than Jones as he takes the baton from Lake (who has since joined Hawthorn).
He has hardly played in the back half. Although he played the last seven games as a key defender this year, he reveals he hasn’t been a fulltime backman since playing in the under-13s at his local Ballarat league club Lake Wendouree.
"I'm remembering what I learnt back then and I'm trying to put it into practice now," he jokes.
In truth, no reasonable-minded follower of the game would expect Roughead to be a Lake clone who will take a handful of contested marks each game, make several other interceptions and occasionally find himself delivering the ball deep into the attacking zone.
They are entirely different types of players. Lake is a gambler; Roughead plays the percentages.
Nonetheless, Roughead is keen to douse any talk of comparisons with his former teammate.
"I certainly don’t want to compare myself to Brian in any way," he told AFL.com.au.
"The important thing is the coaches have shown faith in me to put me back there and I just want to repay that faith by being competitive and helping our team in any way I can. And I'm just one component of it – we want to develop a team within a team back there."
Roughead says he learnt a lot from Lake when they played together in defence this year. The veteran was good to him, he says.
But Roughead quickly adds that the Bulldogs defenders "certainly haven't traded down in terms of getting advice and coaching" with
Geelong premiership fullback Matthew Scarlett becoming a part-time specialist coach, Dogs great Rohan Smith being upgraded to the role of defensive coach, and veteran Dale Morris on the comeback trail.
"You want to learn from the best, so to have guys like 'Scarlo', 'Moz' and 'Bubba' to learn from is an amazing opportunity," he said.
Of Scarlett, he says: "I've only had about six sessions with him but he has been fantastic. We watch a lot of vision with him and do a lot of contested marking with him and (fellow ex-Cat) Cam Mooney. We're learning heaps."
It has been a steep learning curve for Roughead, who spent two-thirds of the 2012 season as a key forward and ruck understudy to Will Minson, before finding himself guarding superstars in the opposition goalsquare. An unusual destination for a young man of 200cm.
He actually played on Melbourne spearhead Mitch Clark in the Dogs' round four win at the MCG – the same night Clark landed awkwardly on his head – but it wasn't until later that Roughead was used in the back half with any regularity.
And that only happened for a variety of reasons – among them, the development of rookie ruckman Tom Campbell, personnel issues in defence and, of course, Roughead's own versatility.
He was beaten a few times but, perversely, is glad for the experience.
"I had a few goals kicked on me but I think that's going to happen when you’re learning the caper and you’re playing on guys like Jonathan Brown, Jack Riewoldt and Tom Hawkins," he said.
"But I felt comfortable down there, I enjoyed the challenge and I tried to embrace it as much as I could. It was a great opportunity to learn."
Even if Lake had remained a Bulldog, there was every chance Roughead would still have become the new fullback. The Dogs had been considering using Lake more in attack, for two main reasons: to provide more scoring power, and allow for the development of a younger back six that would hopefully provide stability for the best part of the next decade. The kind of backline that Dogs coach Brendan McCartney played a significant role in establishing at Geelong.
The first Roughead learned that he could be used more permanently in defence was in his post-season 'exit meeting' with his coaches in early September. The move was sealed when Lake was traded the next month.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "I've already played against some of the best key forwards so now I've got a bit more of an idea what it's about. Hopefully I can learn a lot more … and have a few less goals kicked on me."
The challenge is as much physical as mental, and Roughead is working hard in both areas.
His long arms appear to have more muscle definition. He says he hasn’t added any weight but feels stronger after doing a lot more "functional weights" under new strength and conditioning coach Andy Barnett.
Roughead is trying to achieve that finest of balancing acts - so crucial to 'bookend' players: being strong enough to hold your ground with power forwards and yet quick and agile enough to stay with them on the lead.
"That pace off the mark is something I probably didn’t have enough of last season," he said. "I'm working hard on developing that, and trying to get the first couple of steps in a fair bit quicker."
Former Bulldog defender Steve Kretiuk recently told AFL.com.au that Roughead and teenager Michael Talia could one day become All Australian defenders. Reminded of this, Roughead quickly deflects attention to Talia, declaring he "is going to be a great footballer".
Roughead isn’t sure whether his ultimate destiny lies at fullback, and wouldn’t complain either way.
"You'll hate me for saying it, but I'm just going to take it one week at a time and try to do whatever the coaches ask me to do. After that, whatever happens, happens," he said.
Finally, asked if there's anything else new about him or his life this pre-season, he says matter-of-factly: "No mate, I'm the same guy – it's just that I'm going to play at the other end of the ground."
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of the clubs or the AFL