JAKE NIALL of The Age looks at why Richmond's Jack Riewoldt is more than the sum of his stats.
SEVEN key-position players, plus a 203-centimetre ruckman, were preferred to Jack Riewoldt in the 2006 draft and the clubs that bypassed the Coleman Medal favourite had sound reasons for letting him go through to the Tigers, who grabbed him at what turned out to be a lucky pick number 13.
Riewoldt was then 192.3 centimetres - the shortest of all the key-position prospects picked in the first round of the draft - and he was relatively slow in tests at the mini-decathlon known as the draft camp.
His 20-metre time of 3.09 seconds put him in the bottom quarter for measurable pace.
His endurance running was better but certainly not exceptional like Essendon's Scott Gumbleton and North's Lachlan Hansen, who were significantly taller (197.1 and 196.7 respectively) and owned monstrous "tanks" for players of their size.
They were duly selected at picks two and three.
Collingwood pair Ben Reid and Nathan Brown and Melbourne's James Frawley were taller and far quicker over 20 metres.
Hawthorn's Mitch Thorp, a fellow Tasmanian (pick 6) who has since been delisted, Lion Matthew Leuenberger (4) and the Bulldogs' Andrejs Everitt (11) were the other talls preferred to the pale, talkative Hobart kid who could really mark.
The clubs that didn't pick him based their assessments on empirical evidence, not a hunch.
Riewoldt wasn't very tall compared to the others, and lacked pace.
He had a good, but not spectacular leap.
Where would he play, given those physical limitations? But Jack's best traits weren't so easily measured.
"We didn't think he was athletic or tall enough to play key position at either end," said North's then recruiting manager, now of Western Sydney, Neville Stibbard.
The Roos, he added, held a preference for a tall back - a stance shared by the Demons, who liked Frawley's pace.
Collingwood was in love with Reid and Brown.
Not overly tall, nor speedy off the mark like his cousin Nick, Jack Riewoldt has become - in a matter of two months - the game's leading goalkicker and possibly its hottest player, having booted 43 goals in the past eight matches, the best eight-game haul since Matthew Lloyd nine years ago.
He has grown since 2006, but even Riewoldt acknowledges that his official height of 195 centimetres is exaggerated; most close observers reckon he is closer to 193, six foot four in the old language.
Tall enough, if you're good enough.
Riewoldt's ascent has been as stunning as his team's.
As recently as last November, the Tigers saw him as a player who would need a taller teammate to provide genuine key-position structure in a suspect forward line.
This led them to draft a quick 198-centimetre forward, Ben Griffiths.
Richmond didn't envisage that Jack would be at this present level.
The riddle of Jack Riewoldt is how this unprepossessing physical specimen has managed to take the competition apart.
Not a freak athlete like Lance Franklin, a monster with locomotive power like Tony Lockett or an explosive fast-twitch forward in the Gary Ablett senior/Jason Dunstall ilk, what we are witnessing is the arrival of a freaky forward whose major assets are either pure footballer - marking, reading the play - or above the shoulders.
One trait, almost essential to full-forwards, that Jack doesn't lack is self-belief.
"I think he knows what he's good at," said Richmond general manager of football Craig Cameron.
Another club insider compared him to Dermott Brereton and Carlton's flamboyant premiership forward Peter Bosustow in the sense that he thrived under the spotlight.
As Brereton noted, few elite forwards lack for confidence, or "have an inner drive that is abnormally peculiar".
In the final quarter on Saturday night, Riewoldt took an astonishing pack mark about 25 metres out and booted a critical goal.
When replayed in slow motion, it appeared as though only one player was launching himself at the ball; the others in the pack, teammates or Dockers, were rendered static.
Kevin Sheehan, the AFL's talent identification manager, notes that Gary Ablett snr used to take those kinds of marks, which rely on the forward judging where the ball will end up and then launching himself.
All the great contested marking forwards - Wayne Carey, Royce Hart, Ablett snr - ascertained the flight path very early before their take-off.
The exceptional traits, as shown in that pack mark and many other grabs, are the judgment of the ball in flight, the confidence to attack it and the hands.
Brereton, who worked with Riewoldt casually last year as a favour to his friend, then caretaker coach Jade Rawlings, did the marking practice drill in which both players boot high-velocity balls at one another from seven-10 metres.
"He was as clean as anyone I've ever seen," said Brereton, who has seen plenty of champions, such as Dunstall and Leigh Matthews, up close.
Riewoldt's abilities have come to the fore, in part, due to changes in the way AFL teams play and in Richmond's game style in particular.
Observers at club level believe he has benefited from the trend towards long kicks to an isolated deep target.
When Riewoldt booted 10 goals against West Coast, eight were from one-on-one aerial contests in which he either marked, crumbed or received a free.
Zoning has created a mill of players close to the ball, with less space for a leading forward.
Consequently, teams are more willing to boot the ball to a man-on- man duel, which also allows them to set up a defensive "press" in the event of a turnover.
Under Damien Hardwick, the Tigers have become expert at keeping Riewoldt one-out, where his judgment, play- reading and footy nous see him win either aerial contests or cat-and-mouse games on the ground.
`'He's also smart enough to know how to play his opponent," Cameron said.
The most intriguing piece in the Riewoldt mosaic is his extroverted personality.
Such players are rare in football generally, are rarer still at Tigerland, where the playing group is mainly comprised of introverts.
But full-forwards are often "different cats" who cannot succeed without belief, since they are asked to do the improbable more than midfielders or defenders.
How many players would even attempt Franklin's running goals against Essendon in that final quarter?
Riewoldt would attempt - and take - an improbable mark, and try a difficult goal.
But much of his improvement has come by percentage football - holding marks, holding the ball in the forward line, and converting the goals that he should kick.
And, as recent weeks have shown, when he starts slotting them, he is apt to get on a roll.
"The bottom line is, he's just a smart footballer," Cameron said.
"He understands how to play different scenarios."