Luke Jackson has confirmed the worst-kept secret of the season: He is coming home to Western Australia.
The only surprise in his declaration is that Jackson has not declared his WA club of choice — West Coast, or Fremantle, who have courted him for a long time.
And the real shock in this saga might be just how far West Coast will go to derail Fremantle’s recruiting “coup” — and how the Dockers are then compelled to outbid the Eagles for Jackson’s trade next month.
The winner will be Melbourne. It can now open trade talks with West Coast and Fremantle by demanding two first-round draft picks.
The loser could be the WA team that pays this price. This deal also end up more painful than West Coast’s fistful of valuable first and second-round draft picks given up to claim Tim Kelly from Geelong.
Jackson leaves Melbourne with a fair resume after joining the Demons as the No. 3 pick in the 2019 AFL national draft. He has a premiership. He was the Rising Star in his debut season in 2020. He is seen to have “potential”, highlighting just how speculative any investment in Jackson will be.
Melbourne, just as West Coast has done in losing Junior Rioli to Port Adelaide, will talk up the disappointment of losing a player who carried a heavy price at the draft table.
True to script, Melbourne football manager Alan Richardson set the landscape for the trade race for Jackson saying: “We’re disappointed to lose Jacko, there’s no doubt about that. The upside of him is going to be quite amazing so we’ll be looking for the right level of compensation”.
Potential. Jackson has plenty. But he also has several flaws in his game that should make the Dockers understand just when to fold in this race for Jackson’s signature — and should remind the Eagles of the mistake they made in the Kelly trade.
Jackson had a bitterly disappointing finals series. He had just seven disposals in the qualifying final loss to Sydney and only nine in the semifinal exit to Brisbane. He did not kick a goal in either final — a pair of donuts that should leave Fremantle with reason to ask again if Jackson can solve the Dockers’ clear-cut needs in attack.
Despite spending vast portions of his match time as a forward, Jackson kicked just 11 goals this season.
Jackson has shown little forward craft. So why is Fremantle so keen?.
Jackson’s performance does not justify the significant seven-year contract Fremantle put to his management at the start of the season.
The other dilemma in Jackson moving to Fremantle is how to handle current Dockers lead ruckman, 24-year-old Sean Darcy. He too has struggled as a forward, kicking just 10 goals this season.
Along with Andrew Brayshaw, Darcy is the spiritual leader of the Dockers midfield. Jackson’s inclusion runs the risk of upsetting team chemistry.
The other elephant in the room is how the Fremantle players will take a recruit being paid on potential rather than performance.
Surely, Fremantle cannot — as is being said — consider working Jackson as an inside midfielder. This is far too risky considering he has never played this role.
After a straight-sets exit from the finals series, Melbourne has the ability to rebound instantly. Jackson’s desire to return home does not dent this enthusiasm.
The Demons will pursue out-of-favour All-Australian ruckman Brodie Grundy from Collingwood.
Grundy is a far superior ruckman to Jackson. The added bonus to Melbourne is Collingwood paying as much as $300,000 a year for the next five seasons to clear away the $1 million-a-year, seven-season handed to Grundy two years ago.
Melbourne premiership captain Max Gawn and Grundy have a combined eight All-Australian selections.
They will pair as the AFL’s most formidable ruck duo.
Melbourne also will back recruiting boss Jason Taylor to secure two elite prospects at this year’s draft. Jackson’s trade allows the Demons to strengthen their long-term playing stocks.
How is it that West Coast can be once bitten and still return to the trade table to be burned?
Geelong outpointed West Coast at the end of 2019 when midfielder Kelly gained his wish to return to WA.
West Coast burned more than $800,000 a year for six seasons to sign Kelly. It sent to Geelong the crown jewels of draft picks 14, 27 and 37 plus a future first round pick (that was No. 16 in the 2020 draft).
Kelly has been a shadow of the player he was at Geelong. At his new home at West Coast, Kelly has not delivered on the hefty investment made by the Eagles. His deal has severely limited West Coast’s ability to replenish its ageing playing list. The draft picks to do such were with Geelong.
Fremantle cannot back out of its offer to Jackson.
This year’s finals series have revealed to all that Fremantle many needs to balance its list. An inconsistent ruckman who is yet to find a sure position is not the answer.
Fremantle could be on the verge of a trade it will regret, just as West Coast will with the Kelly trade.
Melbourne will get significantly stronger — not weaker — in letting Jackson go home.
Melbourne ended 57-year premiership drought in a grand final played on WA soil. Trading Jackson to Fremantle is sure to produce another significant victory in the west for the Demons.