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Richmond’s Broad approach

Blink and you might have missed it.

In a typical weekend of AFL news, there’s a myriad of stores that get debated at length, whether negative or positive.

One you may have missed occurred at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

After 600 days on Richmond’s list, 24-year-old Nathan Broad managed his third game for the club in their 31-point triumph over Brisbane.

You can be excused for missing this one, however.

Before enjoying a stellar 2015 season with Swan Districts in the WAFL, Broad had largely given up on his AFL dream after four years in a row of being knocked back.

A subtle shift in his approach refreshed the medium-sized defender as he began to launch a last-ditch attempt to live out his boyhood dream.

“The dream to play AFL never went away, but the thought of it and the pressure of trying to make it did,” Broad told, less than 24 hours after making his return to senior football.

“I still wanted to get drafted but thought that it had passed me by. I was pretty happy at the time. I decided that I’d like to play 150-or-so games in the WAFL and get back to enjoying playing footy with mates and getting comfortable. Once AFL clubs started to get interested, that was just a bonus.”

While playing with his mates at WAFL level, Broad was in the early stages of a plumbing apprenticeship and was beginning to get his post-football ducks in a row.

But a consistent build-up of form that included 20 senior WAFL games in 2015 started to pique the interest of some AFL clubs.

“A few clubs started asking questions halfway through the 2015 season, and most of the interest in me came from Victorian clubs — including Richmond — but I was thinking I was more of a chance to be selected as a rookie being a 22-year-old.”

He got more than he bargained for.

Being taken at pick 67 in the 2015 National Draft came as an almighty shock, to say the least.

“I had family round to watch the draft — I think I was the fourth-last pick so we kind of packed everything up and we were prepared to turn it off but then Richmond selected me. I was rapt.”

Following his selection and subsequent move east, Broad took some time to acclimatise to life in Victoria, and specifically in the VFL.

And while the physical expectations weren’t going to be an issue, the professional side came with a few surprises.

“The AFL landscape is a bit different to what I imagined. I knew the training would be hard, but I didn’t realise what else goes on with things like pilates and yoga.

“I took a bit of time last year to get used to the VFL after playing at WAFL level. There’s smaller grounds and it’s a bit more contested.”

They weren’t the only aspects of his move to Victoria that he struggled to overcome, with a positional logjam potentially stunting his growth.

Despite having a tumultuous season after three straight finals appearances, the one part of Richmond’s set-up that appeared settled in 2016 was their defence.

“Squeezing past those boys was pretty tough, so I only managed two games in my first season at AFL level,” Broad says.

As he was on the precipice of launching into his second season on the back of a big pre-season, injury struck.

Two days before Round 1, Broad contested with a couple of teammates and managed to land on his shoulder and injured his AC joint.

“I went and had scans and they proved that I needed to have a reconstruction which wasn’t ideal. I went into surgery and it was an 8-10-week recovery period. I was back playing in eight weeks through the VFL, so it was a pretty big setback before Round 1.”

That would just prove to be another stumbling block in an already interrupted, yet resilient story.

Back through the VFL, his form and consistency came, culminating in selection against the Lions over the weekend.

And despite what you may have thought, the transition into the AFL side for just the third time in his career wasn’t as daunting as some might have imagined, because of some key allies.

“The boys made it easy,” Broad modestly explains.

“Playing with the likes of Alex Rance, David Astbury and Dylan Grimes makes things simpler for the half-backs. I felt very comfortable and I kept up with the pace pretty well. Offensively, I could have had a bit more of an impact, but defensively I held up strong due to the help from those boys.”

The similarities between Grimes and Broad are quite easy to see.

Both would describe themselves as defensively sound, but without the tendency to hurt opposing teams the other way.

And that’s why they’ve gravitated towards each other.

“I do a fair bit of work with Dylan Grimes. I watch his vision each week after games and learn from the way he defends one-on-one which is a real strength of his. I try and mould my game on his because of the way he plays on talls, but also has the ability to play on smaller opponents if need be.”

And while he’s working with Grimes to further extend his defensive capabilities, he’s working equally as hard with his housemate, Brandon Ellis, to bring out the offensive side in his game. If that can be extracted, it may go a long way to cementing a contract extension.

The three-game, mature-aged recruit is out of contract at year’s end, and while his management has begun discussions with the Tigers’ brass, nothing is a certainty in today’s environment.

In some ways, Richmond’s new approach in 2017 mirrors Broad’s ascension.

He maintains that Punt Road is an exciting place to be at the moment and a lot of that is down to both personnel changes and the emphasis of playing to one’s strengths, rather than overthinking things.

The acquisitions of Neil Balme and Blake Caracella, and the re-introduction of Justin Leppitsch has gone a long way in shifting the internal feeling.

“When you’re losing, you can look too deep,” Broad explains.

“You try and change too many things at once or try and find solutions to problems that aren’t there. Win, lose or draw, we still play the same way and look to play to our strengths.

“Everyone brings something different to the team, and that’s why we’ve seen the likes of Dan Butler and Jason Castagna this year really come out of their shells and bring that pace and excitement. The club has been buzzing for the whole year, even before we won a game. It’s a great place to go every week.”