After being taken with pick 35 in the 2015 rookie draft, Nic Newman had to ply his trade for two years in the NEAFL before getting his first chance at AFL level. Since grabbing his opportunity, the 24-year-old has begun to make his mark. He sits down with Aflplayers.com.au…
You must be pretty delighted with how you’re going from an individual perspective after a tough road to the AFL?
Yeah. To have played a few games this season has been really enjoyable, and the last few have been two of my better games. It’s been pleasing to play senior footy after a couple of years in the NEAFL.
Given you were selected as a mature-age rookie, and you were going to a successful club, you probably didn’t expect to play right away. What was it like spending two patient years in the NEAFL?
Obviously it was frustrating at times, especially in my second season when I was playing some good footy and pushing my case but wasn’t getting any senior games. It was a steep learning curve after my first year where I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen after being drafted. My second year was much more enjoyable in terms of the way I was playing and the fact that Rhyce Shaw was helping me as a development coach. He really helped to turn things around for me and got me playing the type of footy that was going to help me to stand up in an AFL environment. It was frustrating but enjoyable at the same time, and I think without those two years working away at my game pretty tirelessly I don’t know if I’d still be here, to be honest.
What happened in your first year? Would you say you weren’t applying yourself or working hard enough?
I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I wasn’t working as hard as I should have been, especially as a rookie. I was getting a little bit of footy in the reserves, but my defensive work needed to improve and I needed to step up in that area. I could get away with it at NEAFL level but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t up to AFL level, especially playing on some of the small forwards in the comp. I had to keep improving my work rate and the defensive side of my game. I owe a lot to Rhyce Shaw because he was great at pushing me and improving my endurance, especially in my second pre-season to get me to a good standard. Naturally, I’m an offensive type of player so those attributes were always there, but I had to work on the other side.
What is it about Rhyce Shaw that makes him a good coach? I’ve heard Harrison Marsh talk glowingly about how he turned his career around… What sort of attributes does he possess as a development coach?
Yeah, he’s great, and it’s no coincidence that most of the young boys who have debuted would say that he has played a fair part in it and I’m no different. As soon as he got the role, he was on the front foot in speaking to the young boys. The way he cares about his players and he will do anything for you — he puts in an enormous amount of time — he’s out at 7am on a day off doing extras with everyone who’s up for it. The thing that stands out is the time that he puts in with the young boys and his care factor is what sets him apart. I had one year playing with him on the list and you could tell why he was in the leadership group. He has played a big role in getting me to where I am today, playing senior footy.
How have you adjusted to living in Sydney over the last two years?
It hasn’t been too bad. Everyone has their own story about moving interstate, and I think being a mature-age draftee — which sounds silly given I was 21 — but I was pretty ready to move out anyway, if that was to play AFL or not. Like anyone, there was bit of homesickness in my first year, and I had to do long distance with my girlfriend for a year but once I got over all of that I have adapted well and view it as my home. I owe a fair bit of that to the club because they have created a family environment and the majority of players come from interstate so that helps with everyone spending a fair bit of time with each other away from footy.
Tell me about your history with Frankston in the VFL, and the ability they had to develop players and get them drafted? The likes of Michael Hibberd, Mark Baguley, Sam Lloyd etc.
They played a big part in me getting here, and I owe them a lot. I had a couple of years there — one in the development league and then my second playing seniors. They created a pathway for me and they’re great at giving young guys an opportunity and not being aligned with an AFL club helps that. I really enjoyed my time and played with a great group of mates and my brother. It was a shame to see them go under but they’re trying to fight their way back into the competition next year and I hope they do because it will give young guys like myself and Sam Lloyd an opportunity to take the next step to the AFL.
While you were there, you switched to defence and that paid dividends. Where had you played before that?
As a junior I played more as a midfielder, and then at the Dandenong Stingrays and in my early days at Frankston I played as a half-forward/winger. That’s where I had played all my footy and felt comfortable, but in my first year at Frankston I was lingering in the twos and wasn’t setting the world on fire so I spoke to the coaches and thought about trying myself down back. I went back there in the back half of my first year in the reserves and got a bit of footy down there, and then I did a pre-season the next year and began to feel more comfortable and haven’t looked back. It feels natural down there now.
You joined the club at the same time as Lewis Melican through the rookie draft… now, you’re both playing senior footy together which must be really rewarding. Did you use him as a measuring stick or someone to compete against given the way you both entered the club?
We’ve played a bit of footy together and obviously getting drafted together has been great. I’m rapt for him that he has been able to get his opportunity, and we’ve gained a relationship from playing with each other in the reserves for a couple of years. He is a great competitor and is someone I have great respect and admiration for because he has had to work hard for his chance and has overcome some injuries. To break in at the same time has been exciting for both of us.
This season has been bittersweet I imagine; given you have broken into the team, but as a group you’ve struggled for consistency…
That’s a fair observation to make. It has been nice to play some senior footy but the first half of the year has been disappointing. We’re definitely not happy with it. The main aim is to win every week and we have only a couple of times this year so we have to do it a lot more if we want to play finals.
What do you like to get up to off the field?
Off field I’m doing a little bit of study, but I don’t have any huge hobbies like surfing or anything like that. I enjoy my basketball and like my American sports, so I like to have a shoot around and a few of us have a bit of a crew who try and go for a shoot around. I do enjoy traveling around and seeing a few of the nice beaches in Sydney.
Growing up, who did you support?
I went for Brisbane until I was 11 or 12 because I have some family ties there. My grandfather played a few games for Fitzroy and I had some uncles who played under 19s there so I went for them until my cousin Chris started playing for Richmond. I was a young fella playing junior footy, and he was a guy I looked up to once he started playing AFL. Going from three flags in a row to Richmond made things interesting, that’s for sure.
Was Chris Newman someone that you spent a fair bit of time around when you were younger?
We had Christmas together and he was someone that was supportive of me, especially in the last few years when I was going through the process of getting drafted and the state combine as a 19-year-old with the Stingrays. He would send me a few messages of support and he continued to do that after I was drafted and played in my first game. I got to catch up with him recently as he coaches Box Hill in the VFL and my brother Josh plays for Williamstown against him. He is someone I looked up to and if I could have half the career he did I’d be going alright.
Good luck for the second half of the year!