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Project Narkle: The task ahead

Narkle sparkled on debut.  - Geelong Cats,Quinton Narkle
Narkle sparkled on debut.

WITH 31 seconds remaining in his debut match, Quinton Narkle was thrust into the centre bounce as Geelong chased the unlikeliest of come-from-behind victories.

Gary Ablett had just put them within three points of the Western Bulldogs in round 15 last season, with the Cats seeking to end a run of six straight losses after a mid-season bye.

However, it was Ablett, his generation's greatest player, who was sent to a wing as Narkle saddled up alongside captain Joel Selwood and first-year revelation Tim Kelly at the feet of Rhys Stanley.

Kelly and Selwood won the clearance, only for the ball to end up in Mitch Duncan's hands who found Harry Taylor, who missed the match-winner after the siren.

While Taylor's stabbing attempt on goal and the Cats' horror post-bye record received the headlines post-match, internally Chris Scott's men were confident they had found a player.

Narkle netted two goals, 14 disposals and six tackles on the Friday night stage before playing five more matches between midfield and attack.

This pre-season, Narkle's third at the Cats, the opportunity for more midfield time is driving the 21-year-old Western Australian.

Lessons from his debut season

Three goals and eight tackles on a cold, blustery June afternoon at Williamstown in front of the Cats' coaching staff meant Narkle simply couldn't be overlooked any more.

Just six games back in the VFL after a knee reconstruction in June 2017, Narkle looked a cut above alongside AFL regulars Harry Taylor, Lachie Henderson, Scott Selwood and Cam Guthrie.

With the Cats' forward pressure at AFL level a concern, Narkle applied the heat in the front half and also danced around his Port Melbourne opponents.

A quiet game for Cory Gregson the following day against Richmond at the MCG would ultimately be his final match for the club, while a hamstring injury to fellow small forward Lincoln McCarthy opened the door for Narkle.

 

An impressive debut was followed up by a win against Sydney in round 16, with Narkle playing alongside Lachie Fogarty and Jamaine Jones as a dangerous small forward trio.

After four more matches, Narkle found himself in the VFL side come August, marking his return with 34 disposals and 17 handball receives.

Unable to force his way back into the seniors, he played in the VFL finals series, with a lacklustre qualifying final against Casey before a solid finish against Box Hill as the Cats went out in straight sets.

With both AFL and VFL sides at season's end, it's not every day a second-year player can say they arrive as a princess to Wacky Wednesday celebrations with the captain.

Quinton Narkle celebrates with fans after his first win as a senior Cat. Picture: AFL Photos

Where can Narkle improve?

He has identified improving his engine as a way to unlocking more senior game time in 2019.

In three of his six games last year, Narkle recorded less than 70 per cent time on ground – the lowest of all fit Cats throughout each match.

Narkle has been put through extra cardio sessions away from the main group, with improvements in late December compared to early November already noticed.

Midway through one session in late November at Deakin University, Cats players were sent to complete 'extras'. Tom Hawkins took first-year forward Nathan Kreuger for set-shot goalkicking while Guthrie brothers Cam and Zach completed an intercept marking drill with the aid of the 'speccy' bag.

While many others worked on skills, Narkle completed several interval laps in a sign that he's taking it into his own hands.

 

In another running block to end a session early in pre-season, Narkle was afforded the biggest head start on teammates before they all breezed past him.

Having been delayed all last summer with his knee, ground has already been made up in the last six weeks before Christmas.

Pre-season lessons

Now in his third summer, Narkle's voice throughout training has noticeably increased.

In a contested evasive drill alongside leaders Joel Selwood and Mitch Duncan in early December, Narkle had no qualms in making his opinion known between repeats.

It's a sign the youngster is starting to feel more at home around his senior teammates.

In another 'keepings off' exercise, a minor decision error from Narkle brought the drill to a halt as assistant coach Nigel Lappin intervened with strong instructions.

While it was nothing sinister from the three-time premiership Lion, it's proof how highly the Cats' staff rate Narkle and are imploring him to improve.

What the club says

"We've got senior players who aren't going to give up their positions willingly – he (Narkle) has to work really hard for that," Cats head of football Simon Lloyd said last month.

"Quinton's very clear we expect high standards from him, but we all know that he's a real talent and adds a different factor to us as an inside midfielder.

"Being in his third pre-season, it takes time so we need to be patient. But we need to keep challenging Quinton to expect more from himself."

Role to play in 2019

Forward spots will be up for grabs as Lincoln McCarthy, Cory Gregson and Daniel Menzel depart, with Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan arriving.

Narkle will be fighting for three or four roles in attack with Dahlhaus, Rohan, Jamaine Jones, Lachie Fogarty, James Parsons, Gryan Miers and draftee Jake Tarca.

While his first aim will be to nail a spot in the best 22, the Cats have high hopes for Narkle to transform into a midfielder specialising at centre stoppages.

 

Up to August, before Narkle found himself in the VFL, he had the highest rate of centre bounce attendances turning into scoring opportunities for the Cats. His 16 per cent saw him just above Tim Kelly at 13.2 per cent.

It's why the Cats are pushing untried inside midfielder Charlie Constable, Brandan Parfitt and Narkle to step up.

"We need to get more midfield time into Quinton Narkle and Brandan Parfitt," Lloyd said.  

"Even when Quinton was running his 15-minute time trial (on December 19), people were yelling out at times, 'Focus, you're here to get into the AFL midfield'."

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs