IMAGINE feeling like you're 10 minutes away from not having a job.
For Nic Newman, it was that feeling which inspired a turnaround in his football future.
The defender, who had spent the previous four years of his life at Sydney, felt like his career was at a crossroads at the end of 2018. Uncontracted, out of favour and on the move, Newman appeared destined for Carlton during a hectic trade period.
But, with 10 minutes remaining in the window, a move was no closer to eventuating.
The feeling of unease that such uncertainty brought struck a chord with Newman. As he waited impatiently to see if the Blues could finalise a deal with the seconds ticking away, he realised the valuable importance of what a second chance meant to him.
"My trade went right down to the wire," Newman told AFL.com.au this week.
"There were 10 minutes to go and I was pretty stressed, not knowing whether you've got a job or not. It probably clicked once the trade went through. I thought, 'That was pretty stressful.' I didn't want to be in that situation again.
"Once the trade went through, I realised that I had to change the way I was going about things if I wanted to stay in the system for a period of time. I feel like I've been able to do that. To now be 30 and to have another couple of years on my contract, it's something that I'm proud of."
Newman had taken the long road to earn his spot on an AFL list. Overlooked in his draft year, he spent a few seasons plugging away at VFL level with Frankston being finally being recruited to Sydney as a mature-aged rookie at 21.
But, as Newman's career flashed before his eyes during that trade period, he was left with a feeling of total unsatisfaction with how his four seasons in the League had panned out. Suddenly, he was desperate to make amends.
"I was probably a little bit young and naive when I was at Sydney," Newman said.
"I was 21 when I moved up and it's all a bit of fun. You're young and you're in a different stage of your life. To be able to come back here at 25 and settle down a little bit more, being back around family, I think I needed that change of environment.
"I've definitely matured as a player, but probably more as a person coming to Carlton and being able to come here when we'd come off two wins in 2018. To be part of that and come up to now, being in a preliminary final, it's pretty cool."
Newman has his regrets about the time he spent at Sydney. The club played in nine finals during his four years there, including a Grand Final in 2016. But he featured in just three of those, playing 31 total games, fully aware that was down to his own shortcomings.
Gold Coast and North Melbourne had also shown an interest in him throughout his final season at the Swans, but it was Carlton where he felt a pull to the challenge. The Blues weren't just offering him a second chance as a footballer, but a chance to mature as a person by helping a young group in its development.
"I needed a fresh slate," Newman said.
"There's no doubt I didn't hold up my end of the bargain at Sydney. I'd be the first to admit now that I wasn't professional enough, and there were some other things where I wasn't doing the right stuff all the time.
"I needed a blank canvass. When I was able to get a trade here, I felt like it was a second chance for me. Especially with the young group, being 25 at the time, I felt like it was a really good opportunity to have a new perception on who I was and be a bit more of a leader and a mentor for some guys."
Newman, having eventually been traded to Carlton with just a tick under 10 minutes remaining before the deadline, turned into a reliable role player featuring mainly as a small defender throughout his first few seasons at Ikon Park.
But when Michael Voss took over the reins of Carlton at the end of 2021, bringing a new backline coach in Aaron Hamill from St Kilda with him, yet another change of perception was needed on who and what Newman was as a footballer.
Hamill and Newman took a walk around Princes Park in their first few days working together. It was during that stroll where Hamill made it abundantly clear to Newman that he could become one of the League's best defenders, if he put his mind to it.
"It was the way he competes," Hamill told AFL.com.au this week.
"He's a competitor, he's a warrior. He's an exceptionally good leader of men. I saw it a lot and he backs it up with actions. He's got really good footy nous, which helps. I felt he had all of the ingredients, and he does.
"I still feel that he's untapped, from where he could get to, with his level of both skill and application. He's a product of hard work. He's got a really good understanding of the jumper and the legacy he wants to leave.
"Two years ago, we walked around the park and he said he wanted to be consistent and reliable. I feel like he's certainly that, and more. But I feel that he's still untapped from where he could take his footy and his level."
The result of that influential conversation with Hamill has been a career best couple of years for Newman, who was deservedly raised in All-Australian discussions this season following a campaign where the confidence instilled in him by Carlton's coaching group has fully shown through.
According to Champion Data he has rated 'elite' for disposals (23.4 per game), contested possessions (6.5), marks (7.8), intercept possessions (7.0), pressure points (31.2) and tackles (3.6) this season, while he had also rated 'above average' for intercept marks (1.7) and metres gained (395.2m). All thanks to that walk and talk with Hamill.
"He was the first one that thought I could get to a level around that mark," Newman said.
"He showed a fair bit of belief in me and the footy I could play. He believed in where I could get to. It was more than I ever believed in myself, I just jumped on and followed. He's been awesome.
"I did have a few people messaging me around the All-Australian thing. To be honest, I was just pumped that I was even being spoken about like that. To actually be in that conversation, it was pretty cool given where I'd been.
"I've never finished top-10 in a best and fairest, so to even be spoken about in that All-Australian regard and around some of the other defenders that were there was a pretty cool thing for me."
What's made Newman's season all the more impressive is the fact that his offensive numbers haven't been dampened by the difficult defensive tasks he has been asked to fulfil by Carlton's coaches this season.
Earlier this year, he held Giants superstar and All-Australian captain Toby Greene to just five disposals – the second fewest of his career – in a performance that typified his ability to nullify some of the League's best forwards.
In Saturday evening's preliminary final he will have an equally difficult task, given he is the man most likely to be entrusted with stopping dual All-Australian small forward Charlie Cameron. According to Newman, thwarting the Lions livewire is just about the toughest job in footy.
"He's up there. It's probably him and Toby Greene that are the hardest. I played on Charlie for parts of the game earlier in the year and he kicked four against us. He did some damage," Newman said.
"For different reasons, him and Toby are probably up there. There are not too many blokes quicker than Charlie. He only needs a metre or two and he's gone, so you've got to be on your game."
If it's not Cameron then it could be Zac Bailey, who also kicked four goals against Carlton earlier this year. Or maybe former No.1 pick Cam Rayner. Or Lincoln McCarthy. Then there's Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood, who will likely be manned by key defenders Jacob Weitering and Caleb Marchbank.
It's a daunting Brisbane attack to try and topple, but if there is any guarantee at the Gabba it's that a Carlton backline group led by a newborn leader in Newman are certainly going to relish the task.
"We feel like there's a fair bit of responsibility on us this week," Newman said.
"But what better opportunity for us as a back seven, an away crowd, a preliminary final, against the best forward line in the competition, to show what we're about. We're looking forward to it."