By Sam Watson
FORMER Poowong young gun, Jai Newcombe was selected by Hawthorn with the second pick of the AFL mid-season draft last Wednesday.
After six dominant games in the VFL for Box Hill, Hawthorn knew Newcombe was their man, and they didn’t want to risk losing him to another club, so they snaffled him up with pick two.
It’s understood at least four other teams were interested in Newcombe’s services.
Newcombe’s dad Clint said he and his son were all pretty nervous leading up to draft, so once his name was called it was sheer jubilation.
“I was really happy for Jai, he was a bit more emotional than I thought he was going to be,” Clint said.
“It was a bit of a relief, there’s been a bit of talk about him over the past couple of weeks, which he’s probably not used to, but it all turned out well.”
While some of that talk was excitement about Newcombe’s play in the VFL to start the year, it was also about the way in which he entered the draft.
Newcombe, 19, was the only player in the draft to nominate under ‘other terms’, which left many AFL clubs wondering if Hawthorn were tampering with the draft to make sure they kept Newcombe in brown and gold.
But Clint said that didn’t really bother his son leading up to the big night.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of things written and there’s a lot of speculation that’s a fair way off the mark,” Clint said.
“So, you just brush it off, you know it’s just speculation and he takes a lot of it with a grain of salt I suppose.”
Clint, who is a 300-senior game player at Poowong, and Jai are both surprised with how quickly the midfielder’s rise to AFL level has been.
Before COVID-19 shutdown the VFL season last year, Gippsland Power head coach Rhett McLennan asked Newcombe if he’d like to play a practice match with Box Hill.
Newcombe must have impressed some higher-ups at Box Hill that day, because they invited him to train with the club this preseason, where he earned a spot on their list.
He played well enough in the practice matches to get a game round one, and a few months later he officially became a Hawthorn Hawk.
But Clint said his son, who is an apprentice carpenter, still has a lot of work to do before he can get a game in the AFL.
“He’s got to keep training, keep playing for Box Hill and just see what comes of it.”
“There’s no guarantees, he’ll go in, start at the bottom of the list and try to work his way up.”
Unfortunately, there is still some conjecture about what the coming weeks in the AFL might look like due to Victoria’s COVID situation, but Newcombe has already begun training and is now available for selection.
Clint said he, his wife Heather and 18-year-old daughter Macy can’t wait to see Jai get his chance at AFL level.
“We’re not expecting him to be the best player out there but we’re looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.”
“I know it’s a steep learning curve as soon as he crosses that white line for the first time if he gets there, but yeah it’s very exciting for him.”
Newcombe spoke to Hawthorn’s media team after the draft, which you can watch on the club’s Facebook page.