Bradley eyes versatile role
It’s taken seven seasons in the AFL system, but Fremantle big man Kepler Bradley is hopeful the new interchange rules will help him finally settle into his ideal position.
Bradley, a former first-round draft pick who has survived rather than thrived since being recruited by Essendon with pick No.6 in the 2003 AFL Draft, is a candidate to play the ‘Leigh Brown role’ for Fremantle this season.
Much like Brown did for Collingwood in its premiership charge, Bradley filled dual roles for Fremantle in 12 games last season, averaging more than a goal a game as a mobile forward and offering support in the ruck.
With interchange benches reduced to three players and one substitute in 2011, having a versatile forward-ruckman shapes as an important asset for clubs this year.
And after a four-month program that has seen him shed weight and reduce his skinfolds to a career low, Bradley said he was ready to nail down the position for Fremantle.
“The interchange has probably hindered some tall blokes, but I reckon it might be to my advantage,” Bradley told afl.com.au.
“The club’s put me on a really strict diet with the interchange rules, so I’m down to 100kg now and my skin folds are down to 44, the best they’ve ever been.
“I feel like I’m running over the ground the best I ever have and that’s all got to do with how the game’s changing now and all the running involved.
“The days of the big ruckman and back-up ruckman, that’s gone. You have to play a couple of positions now being a taller bloke, and I’ve grown up playing on the wing, half-forward, and I’ve played down back.
“I think that’s only going to help me nail a spot down for Freo.”
There will be hot competition for the forward-ruckman role at Fremantle this season, with Adelaide recruit Jon Griffin, athletic tall Michael Johnson and emerging ruckman Zac Clarke all options.
Bradley, however, could also be a candidate for the substitute position, offering versatility and a running ability that was overlooked when the Bombers attempted to turn their prized recruit into a power defender.
“I’ve come from a background where I’ve come from the wing and a lot of people have forgotten that because I went to Essendon and played centre half-back for five years,” he said.
“I was a bit lost at Essendon. I had never played down there and they chucked me on the best gun forwards in their prime.
“I found that a bit tough, and coming to Freo I’ve played mostly ruck and forward.
“That’s more like my game, playing on the half-forward flank, centre half-forward and running all day.”
The similarities between Bradley and Brown aren’t limited to the roles they play. Brown was also an early draft pick (No.5 overall at the 1999 AFL National Draft) and his career hit a flashpoint when he was delisted by North Melbourne in 2008.
Bradley, who last July signed his third consecutive one-year deal, said he was grateful to still be in the AFL system after being delisted by Essendon at the end of 2007.
The 25-year-old is not concerned by the short-term contracts, and is hopeful his best football – and team success – awaits.
“I’ve played 85 games now and haven’t played in a final, which is pretty disappointing,” he said.
“At Essendon we made one finals series while I was there, and obviously last year we made it, but I didn’t make it – I was an emergency.
“That definitely motivates me. The closest thing I’ve played to a final was an Anzac Day game, so hopefully this year I can play in a final.”