There are a couple of aspects that you’re probably never going to miss when you look at young Melbourne midfielder James Harmes.
One is the ferocious way he goes about his work out on the footy field; the other is the prominent teeth, which are shielded by a red-and-blue mouthguard on match day.
Both have led to a few nicknames over the years, notably the “Chomp’’ tag that followed the 20-year-old from Devon Meadows Football Club.
But Melbourne skipper Nathan Jones said his Demons teammates had come up with a new handle for Harmes.
“We actually call him ‘The Nut’,’’ Jones said.
“It took off in pre-season about not being able to crack the hard nut, and from there ’Nut’ has stuck with the playing group.
“We do give him a little bit of stick about his teeth, that’s for sure, and there’s no doubt ‘horse head’ has come up a few times, but it’s mostly ‘The Nut’.’’
Harmes is the Round Seven AFL Rising Star nominee after a career-high 26 disposals and three goals in the 73-point win over Gold Coast last Saturday.
Jones said it was “bloody good to see him doing so well’’. The pair’s connection pre-dates Melbourne’s selection of Harmes at pick No.2 in the 2014 Rookie Draft.
“He played with my younger brother Zac (now with the Swans) in the same year at Dandy Stingrays. They played together in the Under 18s Grand Final, so I sort of knew him around the traps because my brother’s pack was close with him.
“So when he got rookied to Melbourne I took a liking to him. We come from a similar areas and we’ve got some similar interests — we get down the coast and get out for a surf when we can with my brother a few of the other boys at the Demons, like Jayden Hunt and Jesse Hogan.’’
Harmes said this week that he came to AFL football and a “naïve and shy’’ tenager, who didn’t fully understand what was required to make the grade.
Jones saw it first hand, saying Harmes was from a tight-knit family in Clyde (just east of Cranbourne) and was just as happy heading home, getting out into the paddock and shooting rabbits.
“He was just a knockabout country kid who lobbed into the big wide world of playing AFL footy and, I think being a rookie you have to have an even more intense focus to make sure you don’t waste that opportunity,’’ Jones said. “You’ve got that one little window, you’re on reduced wages and if a spot comes up you’ve really got to grab it.
“I think Harmesy went through being not sure if he was going to make it and he had some tough conversations with the coaches, but credit to him he’s sought out the right people to support and help him along the way, which has really developed his game.
“He’s got some great attributes and has understood what makes him a good player and where he sits in with how we’re trying to play. From there he’s really grown as a player and begun to feel like he belongs. He’s a real locker-room favourite among the boys. He’s got great energy, he’s always up for a laugh and the boys just love him.’’
Jones said Harmes had developed an “understanding of elite standards and true professionalism with his preparation, his training and his mental attitude. He’s always had the talent, he’s a genuine footy player, but he had to understand about working on his fitness and improving his strength, his power and speed, those sort of things.
“He really put his head down and his bum up and worked on those things, as well as understand our game plan and structures around the game, stuff like that, and I think it’s helped him become a real student of the game.’’
It is a nice touch that Harmes is finding his way at Melbourne, the club he grew up supporting. “He loves being around the boys, there’s no doubt about that,’’ Jones said, “but I think deep down he’s got that genuine passion for the Melbourne Footy Club.’’
And if Jones needed any more reason to have an affinity with Harmes, there’s always the body ink.
“He started with some shockers,’’ Jones chuckled. “I remember he came in with a couple of measly little ones that he must have got in his under 18 year, but since then he’s improved out of sight in that area.
“I actually really like his sleeve, it’s pretty intricate and he’s got some quality work on there. He’s also got his chest done – I think he said when he first rocked up with that his mum was nearly fell over in shock. And I think he’s looking to do some more, too.
“I’m not sure if he’ll ever catch Swanny, though.’’
* Melbourne has had the most Rising Star nominees since the award’s inception in 1993, with Jared Rivers (2004) and Jesse Hogan (2015) the two Demons to have won the Ron Evans Medal.
Total club Rising Star nominations:
- Melbourne – 38
- Essendon – 37
- West Coast – 35
- Collingwood – 34
- Brisbane Lions – 34
- Western Bulldogs – 34
- Hawthorn – 33
- Richmond – 32
- Geelong – 29
- Fremantle – 28
- Carlton – 28
- Port Adelaide – 27
- Adelaide – 26
- St Kilda – 24
- Sydney – 24
- North Melbourne – 23
- GWS Giants – 14
- Gold Coast – 11
- Fitzroy – 6
- Brisbane Bears – 5