‘God, I hope the ball doesn’t come my way’: The man this breakout Blue does not want to play on
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There are times at training when Nic Newman finds himself playing on Charlie Curnow. Even inside a locked-out Ikon Park with nothing on the line and only the coaching staff and teammates on hand, it is a daunting proposition.
This is a player who can sit on your head, kick goals from long range and lace-out 50-metre passes off a step. Few players in the modern game have had that capacity. One of them retired recently – Lance Franklin.
Nic Newman with Charlie Curnow.Credit: Getty Images
“I played with Buddy, and he’s starting to get to that level a bit where you’re just starting to get in awe sometimes,” Newman, who spent his first four seasons at Sydney, told this masthead this week.
“And you’re almost out there feeling like a bit of a fan – some of the things he does, you shake your head and go ‘gee whiz, I don’t think anyone could have stopped that.’
“He [Franklin] was probably one of the best field kicks I’ve seen, and probably underrated just because he did so many other things so well. Charlie’s a bit the same.
“Some of the kicks he takes inside 50 to set up others, you just shake your head. Fifty-metre laser passes to Matt Owies out the back. They get there quick, he punches them hard. Some of his marks, he leaps above, and you just shake your head, you can’t help but be in awe a bit.
“Sometimes you’re on him, and you think ‘God, I hope the ball doesn’t come my way.’ He’s a pretty daunting player to play on let alone in front of 80,000 of the ’G, so I’m pretty happy he’s on my team.”
There are plenty at Carlton happy Newman is on theirs as well. When it comes to the headline-makers down Royal Parade, Newman is well down the batting order. Curnow, Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh he ain’t, but when it comes to importance, he’s up there with the glamour boys.
The former Swan has been instrumental to the Blues’ surge with his ability to read the play and generally dependable ball use. He is one of few to have blanketed Toby Greene.
In a career-best season, Newman’s past five weeks have been exceptional, averaging 27.3 disposals, nine marks (two intercepted) and nearly five tackles. His impact on games has been noted by the coaches, who have awarded him votes in the AFL Coaches Association’s MVP in each of the Blues past five games – three of which have come against top-four clubs.
Nic Newman is having a career-best season.Credit: Getty Images
His name will almost certainly come up for discussion with All-Australian selectors, while a top-five finish looms in the Blues best and fairest – not bad for a player Carlton acquired for a future fourth-round selection.
“I felt like I’ve had seasons where I’ve played good games throughout the year, but probably my lower games or my not-as-good games have been more frequent in previous years,” Newman said.
“I felt like last year, I played some consistent footy, but it was as just a good role level whereas this year I’ve been able to play some good quality games and my base-level games haven’t dropped too low either.”
How does a 30-year-old in his ninth campaign have what he describes as “comfortably” his best season? There’s no sole factor but a number of little reasons when combined has had a pronounced effect.
All-Australian half-back Sam Docherty’s move into the middle created an opening in the Blues’ defence for Newman to play a more attacking game. Back-to-back pre-seasons for 2022-23 also helped Newman, whose training had been hampered by a serious patella tendon injury in 2020.
This year, he has bought more into the mental side of the game. He writes down goals, which brings more personal accountability, and has learned to stay more present in games, ensuring more consistent performances from quarter to quarter. Then there’s the backing of coach Michael Voss and defence coach Aaron Hamill.
Nic Newman and Jacob Weitering have been Carlton’s generals in defence.Credit: AFL Photos
“I’ve had some great coaches, but I don’t know if I’ve probably had a line coach sort of show that much belief in me,” Newman said of Hamill. “In terms of the player he thinks I can be like, it probably started with him. He believed in me and how good I could be before even I did – he’s been a big influence.”
So, too, has Jacob Weitering, the Blues’ 25-year-old vice captain who Newman describes as an “old soul” who has the wisdom of a 35-year-old with 300 games’ experience.
They are the generals of a Blues back line that has formed the competition’s most miserly defence – the first time this has happened this deep into a season since 2001. Though not an official member of Carlton’s leadership group, Newman has assumed more of an on-field leadership role.
It’s evident in his play and instruction. When Tom De Koning was about to rush after receiving a 50m penalty at a tight stage of a match early this year, Newman dashed over telling him to slow down and take time off the clock.
This is the inner coach in Newman coming to the fore. Newman has been an assistant coach for Carlton’s AFLW side and spent 2020 coaching the Blues’ reserves for scratch matches in the hub while he was injured.
“I’ve sat in the coach’s box when I’ve been injured a few times in the last few years,” Newman said. “You sort of see things from a coach’s point of view. I think it definitely has helped me understand what the coaches value and what is really important in the game.”
Carlton’s resurgence after what appeared a terminal mid-season slump will go down as one of the storylines of 2023. There are numerous opinions at Carlton on when the turning point came. The significance of Camp Curnow, a bonding session at Ed Curnow’s Torquay residence, has grown legs with every win.
For Newman, it was the second quarter against Gold Coast in round 14, when the Blues piled on nine goals after they had been struggling to kick six in match, which was the fire starter.
“You got an understanding of what it felt like out there when we bring that pressure and heat – and it’s flowed on from there,” Newman said.
“It was partly being a better teammate, defending a bit better, just a real crack on the contest and defence side of the game and actually just putting the oppo under heat and just getting at ’em.
“For all that we’ve done well, we’re still fighting for a spot in the eight. We’ve got a couple of big games against Gold Coast, who are very good up there, and the Giants, who need to win to keep a spot in the eight and are playing good footy as well. The job’s far from over.”
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