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'The sky's the limit' for Ben Brown

Mark McGowan - AFL.com.au  April 19, 2017 3:56 PM

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Kangaroo Ben Brown's hopes of going from Sideshow Bob to the main event up forward may depend on his ability to emulate teammate Jarrad Waite's elite defensive prowess.

The 200cm, 101kg Tasmanian with the trademark shock of red hair has proven again this year he can fill Waite's goalkicking void. 

But Champion Data statistics rate Brown, 24, as 'poor' for tackles and 'below average' for forward-half pressure, two areas regarded as increasingly important in the modern game.

They contrast with Brown's 'above average' rating for a key forward in goals, goalkicking accuracy and forward-50 groundball gets, and plus-10 per cent relative rating for his position and age. 

Brown brought up his 100th career goal – in his 59th match, after being drafted as a 21-year-old in 2013 – with the third of his four majors against the Western Bulldogs on Good Friday. 

He also won North's goalkicking for the first time last year with 41, a nine-goal rise from his first full season in 2015 and good for equal 20th in the AFL with Nick Riewoldt and Jesse Hogan. 

Brown is yet to surpass his four-goal breakout against Essendon in the elimination final three years ago, but matched it four times in his next 50 games. 

A major left knee injury as a teenager played a role in AFL clubs overlooking him early, and recurring knee problems restricted him in each of his pre-seasons to date. 

Brown's "naturally good motor" and appetite for hard work enabled him to overcome that disadvantage, according to Kangaroos forwards coach Leigh Tudor. 

"Ben's pretty special in that way. He plays big game time and how he manages his body and off-field stuff is excellent – he's ready to go every week," Tudor told AFL.com.au

"He's had to work out a way to get as fit as he can and he smashes his off-the-legs stuff and understands his body and makes sure he does the extras when he has to."

Adelaide's Josh Jenkins, one of the AFL's most prolific goalkickers, offers an interesting career comparison and potential insight into where Brown is headed. 

They are contrasting forwards in style, with Brown taking 31 per cent of his marks on the lead (the 14th-highest percentage of the top-100 players for marks).

He has also kicked 69 per cent of his goals from set shots, quite different to Jenkins' 40-plus per cent in open play.

Jenkins, like Brown, was a mature-aged recruit, is the same height – albeit 7kg heavier – has similar progressive season goal tallies and took until his 42nd appearance to kick five in a match. 

The towering Crow, in his sixth season and with 95 games under his belt, now has seven individual goal hauls of at least five, with a best effort of eight. 

Jenkins' 62 majors last year ranked fifth across the competition.

Ben Brown is treading a similar career path to Adelaide's Josh Jenkins. Picture: AFL Photos

The pair are also barely separated in average disposals, contested possessions, uncontested and contested marks, and marks inside 50 and groundball-gets inside 50. 

Brown has Jenkins covered in goalkicking accuracy (67.3 per cent to 63.7) and ranks ninth overall in that statistic among the top-50 goalkickers since 2014.

"If he gets a good run at it, the sky's the limit for Browny," Tudor said. 

"He's one of those guys who has improved every year, in spite of having a few injuries." 

Waite, 34, and Brown have each kicked 101 goals in the past three-and-a-bit seasons, with the former Carlton star playing five fewer games. 

Brown transforms from Robin into Batman in Waite's absence, thriving as the focal point of the Kangaroos' attack in their three seasons as a combination. 

His teammates targeted him more than 2.5 times as often – from 5.4 up to 14 – in his 13 games without Waite, plus last year's round 19 contest when a hip injury ended Waite's night in the second term. 

Brown justifies the extra attention, kicking more goals and grasping extra forward-50 and contested marks. 

Tudor said he had also adjusted well to dealing with the opposition's best defender and had developed multiple ways to win possession. 

What sets Waite apart is his work off the ball.

"The way the game's changed; forwards have to defend," Tudor said.

"Jarrad realises that and rates it and enjoys tackling and chasing … he knows the team rates it and we love him for it. He's a great example to all key forwards." 

North Melbourne has lost 12 of 14 matches without Waite, while winning 26 of 38 with him. 

* 'Without Waite' stats include one game in which Waite played 39 minutes