‘Fyfe the knife’ a cut above the pack
At some stage during Sunday’s western derby, Fremantle’s Nathan Fyfe might find himself tackling West Coast ruckman Dean Cox.
Only four years ago, Fyfe was a cox himself.
Much has been made of Fyfe’s rise from obscurity to be one of the AFL’s hottest young properties, not the least the fact that, in 2007, the then Year 11 student couldn’t even force his way into the Aquinas College first XVIII.
Aquinas director of sport and 2005 South Fremantle premiership captain David Gault has copped his share of good-natured “stick” over Fyfe’s non-selection.
“Don’t worry, I’ve had plenty of people come up to me and say ‘gee, you guys really must not have known what you were doing’,” Gault chuckled.
“But there were a couple of reasons why Fyfey was playing for the second XVIII. One was that his approach to training maybe wasn’t the best. Another was that earlier in Year 11 he was the cox of our first VIII rowing team and would have weighed about 50 kilograms.
“Not too many people know that story and to put it into perspective, our cox this year was a Year 9 lad and he was absolutely tiny. Fyfey already had some of the skills you see today but physically, he just wasn’t there yet.”
Needless to say, Fyfe has grown – mentally and physically. Gault estimates Fyfe, who is now listed at 192 centimetres in some publications, is probably “a foot taller” than when he was sitting in the back of a rowing boat.
The growth spurts – both mental and physical – started before Fyfe reached Year 12 and in April 2008, on an Aquinas football trip to Melbourne, Gault realised he had something special on his hands.
“It was about the fifth or sixth minute of a game against (Melbourne school football powerhouse) Xavier College and Fyfey just took this unbelievable pack mark,” Gault said.
“It was pretty similar to the marks you now see him taking in the AFL. He never looked like being in the contest, then he suddenly flew in from the side and just clunked it really clean.
“(Aquinas first XVIII coach) Jamie Lockyer and I turned to each other and said ‘this kid can play a bit’.”
Fyfe helped Aquinas win that year’s Alcock Cup in Perth’s Public Schools Association. The next year, he starred for Claremont’s colts side, including one match of 34 possessions and eight goals.
By that stage he was well and truly on the radar of AFL scouts, if not necessarily for his consistency than for the repeated flashes of a unique skills set (“an X-factor” as Gault calls it).
St Kilda had kept tabs on Fyfe dating back to his school days but its first selection in the 2009 national draft wasn’t until No.32.
Brisbane (No.27) also had an interest and West Coast was said to be keen to take Fyfe with either pick 22 or 23.
Instead, Fremantle nabbed him at No.20 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Just how historical is a question that will be answered during the next decade but, based on his first 33 games, Fyfe is well on his way to a special career.
It’s impossible to compare him statistically with James Hird – the player he is most often likened to in style – because Hird debuted almost 20 years ago, when the game was completely different.
But if he keeps at his current pace (almost 21 possessions and 10 contested possessions per game) to season’s end, Fyfe will have had a better first two statistical years than Chris Judd, Daniel Rich, Scott Pendlebury or former teammate Paul Hasleby.
Fyfe doesn’t gather possessions as frequently as Joel Selwood but he has at least one skill that the Geelong star doesn’t.
At a still skinny 82 kilograms, Fyfe ranks sixth in the AFL this season in contested marks. To put that in context, he has one more contested grab in 2011 than Eagles star Cox, who stands 203 centimetres and weighs 106 kilograms.
Colourful AFL commentator and former star Collingwood full-forward Brian Taylor, who christened Fyfe “The Knife”, sees similarities with Geelong Brownlow medallist Jimmy Bartel.
“He (Fyfe) is a midfielder but his contested marking ability is unique and that’s what sets him apart from other midfielders, even some who are absolute champions,” Taylor said.
“Because of that, you can’t just play another midfielder on him. In that way, he is not dissimilar to Jimmy Bartel, who is also great overhead.
“Nathan Fyfe looks a 200-game player to me, without a doubt.”
If Melbourne’s Tom Scully is worth $1 million a season to Greater Western Sydney, then the question begs as to what Fyfe could fetch on the open market.
An even more interesting exercise is to look at where Fyfe might find himself if the 2009 draft was held over again today.
Would Melbourne have used either of its coveted first two picks on Fyfe? Would Fremantle have gone for Fyfe instead of Anthony Morabito at No.4? Would West Coast have sacrificed Brad Sheppard (No.7) to get hold of “The Knife.”
One thing is for sure – he wouldn’t have lasted until No.20.
Fyfe The Knife – performances in the first two years of AFL careers:
- Joel Selwood, 22.5 possessions-per-game, 7.9 contested possessions-per-game, 0.1 contested marks-per-game
- Nathan Fyfe, 20.6, 9.7, 1.6
- Paul Hasleby, 20.2, 8.6, 0.3
- Daniel Rich 18.3, 7.7, 0.3
- Scott Pendlebury 17.3, 6.3, 0.4
- Brett Deledio 17, 6, 0.4
- Chris Judd, 16.6, 9.4, 0.2
- Sam Mitchell, 15.8, 8.1, 0.1
- Adam Goodes 13.1, 6.2, 1
- Matthew Pavlich 13, 5.3, 1.2
- Gary Ablett Jr 12.6, 7.4, 0.3.