No one laughing about Waite prediction now
LACHIE Henderson played against Jarrad Waite, with Jarrad Waite and now plays against him again.
The Geelong defender is as qualified as anyone to explain how Waite, an injury-prone 35-year-old key position forward, is still riding the wave - literally as well as figuratively.
Henderson and Waite remain surfing buddies, four years after sharing a locker room at Carlton.
"He was just born to play footy, the big fella," Henderson said.
"He's one of those blokes who, when he gets out on the ground, he's just meant to be there.
"The great thing about him is he's just a genuine footballer."
And the surfing?
"He's very good on the board. I reckon he's always got me covered," Henderson said.
"He's just a country lad from Benalla that loves the simple things like surfing, mates and having his family (wife Jackie and children Teddy and Lola) close to him.
"There's no secret."
Yet Waite's is the sort of rollercoaster football journey that has you convinced there has to be.
It's been a 17-year career at Carlton and North Melbourne mixed with freakish highlights, frustrating suspensions and a swag of different soft-tissue injuries.
Waite has played 240 games of a possible 350 - the bulk of those 110 matches lost due to a wide variety of niggling physical problems, while the judiciary has robbed him of nine.
You could almost hear the footy world scoff when Kangaroos coach Brad Scott declared "his best footy is ahead of him" after the forward signed a one-year deal for 2018.
Waite had managed more than 16 games in a single season once since 2008 (23 in 2015), but told the Herald Sun: "You live by the sword and you die by the sword."
I know everyone looked at Brad like he was a silly old bugger when he said Jarrad's best footy was ahead of him, but he hasn't been far wrong.
Almost halfway through this season, Waite is proving the critics wrong in a 6-4 Roos side doing the same.
Waite has kicked 22.11 in nine appearances while spending time up on a wing.
Former teammate Brent Harvey, the game's all-time record holder and a Kangaroos great, admitted he's been amazed by Waite's longevity.
"Mate, he's 35 years old. I looked at Jarrad Waite when we got him and thought, 'We'll get him for two years and that's about it'. But he's pushing through and there's no reason why he couldn't go again next year, at this stage," Harvey said.
"I know everyone looked at Brad like he was a silly old bugger when he said Jarrad's best footy was ahead of him, but he hasn't been far wrong. I think he was talking about this year and it's worked out 100 per cent," Harvey said.
"I know Ben Brown is going really well and Shaun Higgins is a great player, but he could nearly be North Melbourne's most important player, 'Waitey'."
After playing 23 games in his first season with the Roos in 2015, Waite's sparkling form has been derailed by missing large chunks of the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Harvey suspects his old club has got smarter. Waite had a delayed start to pre-season, carefully mapping out a plan that would ensure he'd be fit for Round 1, not December 1.
"He got rested a couple of weeks ago and I think they looked back to last year and the year before," he said.
"He's as good as anyone on the track. He's also a good teacher to the kids at training as well. He'll call them in, stop a drill and he sees the game really well. He's happy to express his opinion to make the side better."
Mick Malthouse had been in charge of Carlton for two years when Waite signalled his intention to leave for North Melbourne in September, 2014.
It was something of a messy end for the father-son forward, who had been fined by the Blues for being suspended in 2013 and a year later criticised by Malthouse for not making his announcement to leave until a month after Carlton's season had ended.
Asked about Waite this week, Malthouse was fatalistic.
"You want every player to stay, but you're very aware of managers, players and their right to move and if you can't control it, there's no use worrying about it," he said.
"I'm also very aware that you can't preach loyalty if you don't show loyalty and football clubs are very quick to move someone on. You can't be two-faced. you can't demand they stay when you're probably moving someone out the other door.
"Jarrad had no luck with injury. It wasn't through lack of effort trying to get his body in order, but he had soft tissue problems and he's clearly been managed very well (at North Melbourne).
"It's a bit like Chris Scott and Daniel Menzel. It doesn't matter how good they are, if they keep breaking down or have the potential to break down, it's a one year (contract), one year (contract). You've got to look after the club.
"Everyone knew how good he was. He's still had his ups and downs with injury, but by and large they've managed him very well and he's producing."
THE AFL'S FIVE OLDEST PLAYERS
Shaun Burgoyne (Haw) 35 - turns 36 on Oct 21
Aaron Sandilands (Frem) 35 - turns 36 on Dec 6
Dale Morris (WD) 35 - turns 36 on Dec 29
Jarrad Waite (NM) 35 - turns 36 on Dec 29
Kade Simpson (Carl) 34 - turns 35 on May 5