During Jarrod Witts’ time at the Gold Coast SUNS, the club have undergone significant change. Now, as the club enters its second season with Stuart Dew at the helm and a reinvigorated leadership group led by co-captains Witts and David Swallow, the energy around the SUNS has shifted. Witts spoke to AFLPlayers.com.au shortly after his appointment as co-captain about his journey from Collingwood rookie to AFL captain.
Congratulations on being named the SUNS captain. When were you told and what did the process involve?
I was actually told the Sunday evening before it was announced to the public. As a playing group we all filled out a survey based around a few indicators that we were looking to improve on in terms of leadership and scored the whole group on them. Off the back of that we were given scores and the guys who stood out in those surveys formed our leadership group. From there, they presented to the Board and they came back and appointed David Swallow and I as co-captains for season 2019. It’s a bit of a different process but effective.
Having the respect of your playing group and being named captain, how important is that to you?
It means everything. To have the respect of your teammates to be appointed captain is something I don’t take lightly and am honoured to take on. When it comes from the players and they see you in that light it does mean a lot.
You’re now entering into your third season at Gold Coast and during that time they’ve undergone some really significant periods of change. How has the energy around the club changed, particularly as you begin to feel more settled with Stuart Dew?
It’s been really positive so far this pre-season. We had 12 new players come in and 13 new staff, so it’s been a fair change year-on-year. We’ve been able to jell over these last four of five months of pre-season and things have been relatively positive going forward. We haven’t played a season proper game yet so it all changes when games come around but at the moment the place has got a really good buzz to it and definitely a positive vibe moving forward.
Given the season hasn’t started yet, is there something that really stood out for you off-field that’s changed around the club?
We’ve tried to recruit and keep players of good character. Then being able to nurture some of those younger guys that have come in through the draft and even through trading. I think that’s something that we’ve really tried to do, is bring in good blokes who can really lead the way for some of our younger guys and that will rub off really well. In terms of building the leadership, we’ve got a really young list so it’s been quite a lengthy process. Even last year to this year, the leaders we’ve seen develop out of some seriously young players who have come through has put a really positive light on us and shown that hopefully we can step up during the pressure situations of the year.
One of those guys is former Geelong player, George Horlin-Smith, who is also now in your leadership group. How has he impacted the club since his arrival?
He’s come from a really strong footy club that had sustained success while he was there so he’s been able to be a really good sounding board for us to really help us. Geelong have had sustained success and he was part of that. Apart from just being a ripping bloke he’s been able to help us in the leadership space a lot with different initiatives that we can bring to the playing group and work on. He’s a really impressive fella and actually just passed his MBA. He’s knocked off an under-grad and now just completed his MBA so he’s an impressive person.
Since arriving at the SUNS you’ve played the same amount of footy as in your time at Collingwood. How important was that move north for you in terms of your development not only as a footballer but also as a person?
Personally, it’s been one of the best moves I’ve ever made. I would have liked to have had a bit more success from a team perspective but personally it’s worked out really well. Initially it allowed me to build some continuity and confidence around my game and from there I was able to build the layers of leadership on top of that just by being exposed to different situations that I hadn’t really been put in previously. That allowed me to develop quickly.
You’re also Gold Coast’s AFLPA delegate, which has given you a level of responsibility to represent the playing group. What do you take away from that experience?
You’ve got to put aside your feelings and how you might be feeling or your thoughts on something and take more of a group approach as to how the group is feeling on an issue or the direction that they want to go in. It’s made me a bit more patient in my decision making and trying to push the agenda on various things. I’m very grateful for the exposure the PA gave me, not only for the opportunity to get up in front of the boys but also to be exposed to different situations and challenges that Tommy (Nicholls) and myself could help with. I’ve been able to get a really good grip on things before we make any decisions.
What are your own personal goals as your take the reins of the captaincy this year?
Initially, I’d like to stay the same. I know that might sound silly but I really want to try and stay as true to myself as possible in this new role. I think the boys have put me in this position to lead them, as well as the coaching staff, by being who I am as a person. I want to maintain a really good balance with the captaincy role, while on-field maintain good performance and off-field working through my under-grad, I think that’s the crucial thing. I think you can be a good leader but you’ve got to maintain your performance on-field to really drive that. I’m just trying to keep it as simple as possible, I hope that makes sense.
Absolutely and I really respect the honesty with that as well. Thank you for chatting with me and good luck with the season ahead!
No worries Kavisha. Thank you very much and I appreciate you taking the time as well.