Given the spate of injuries in the AFL at the moment, this year's AFL Mid-Season Draft presents a unique opportunity for over 300 hopefuls that a crack (or another one) at the top level might be forthcoming, and none more so than former Pie and Saint, Nathan Freeman.
Currently in the midst of an incredible patch of form in the VFL for Frankston that has seen him average 41 disposals a game, while leading the league in kicks - with an average of 25.6 - Freeman has finally opted to nominate for the draft.
Admittedly, there is a huge jump from VFL to AFL level, however recent examples of players given a lifeline who have proven they belong at the top like Will Snelling, John Noble and Marlion Pickett highlight that it's potentially worth the punt for the right club.
It's important to point out that the player Freeman is now is very different to the one who was drafted with a top ten pick by Collingwood. No longer able to use his trademark burst of pace and power or penetrating kick, he's transformed himself into a player who thrives at the stoppage, winning contested possessions at will, while maintaining his elite running capacity.
There are never any guarantees in footy but here are some suggestions for clubs where he could have the biggest impact.
The Kangaroos could use any help they can get - especially from ball accumulators who can lighten the load on their star midfielder, Ben Cunnington. Today, coach David Noble confirmed they currently only have 28 healthy players on their list to choose from, it's not hard to imagine they could use an in-form and match-fit, AFL-ready body to help ease the pressure on a young playing group.
Noble explained that he only has a maximum of 28 fit players at the present.@zerohanger
— Ed Carmine (@ed_carmine) May 21, 2021
With no Jed Anderson, Aidan Bonar, Jaidyn Stephenson or Luke McDonald for at least another five weeks, North Melbourne would seem the most in need at this point in time.
Unlike North Melbourne, Hawthorn's injury list is not horrific, however they are looking to get games into young players this season and that sort of approach can easily lead to fatigue and injury with youngsters who aren't yet conditioned to play full seasons of AFL football early in their careers.
Despite having just played the two games at AFL level, Freeman has at least been there before and understands the requirements. If you factor in a mastermind like Alistair Clarkson - who has a fantastic track record for reviving AFL careers off the scrap heap - and you could make an argument that a 6-month contract for Freeman at the Hawks could lessen the load on the kids, however minor that impact may be.
Losing a contested beast like Matt Crouch indefinitely is blow that could be softened by taking a punt on Freeman, particularly with Tom Lynch still out for another 7-9 weeks.
The Crows can ill-afford to lose any more players and with Rory Sloane never far away from a week or two off due to his courageous nature, a ready-made Nathan Freeman could prove to be a good foil to ensure the load Sloane has to carry isn't too great.
The Bombers are currently light on for big-bodied contested midfielders, with Darcy Parish doing the bulk of the work at the moment. Having to go without Jye Caldwell and Dylan Shiel for at least another 10 weeks - while likely not having Devon Smith or Jake Stringer for another three - there's certainly an opportunity for someone to come in and focus on winning contested ball to release the likes of Zach Merrett and Andy McGrath on the outside to really do the damage going forward.
Freeman could suit them as role player, or at the very least, some list depth.
Stay with us on this one. Yes, they have injuries to Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia, Shane Edwards, Kane Lambert and Shai Bolton, who will all return over the next month, however the main reason this might possibly work out is simply that the Tigers have form in this department.
Marlion Pickett and Sydney Stack both benefitted from the Tigers' culture and the specific way that each player in their system has a role to play. Freeman could offer them an upgrade in that they currently have low contested footy numbers, currently ranked in the bottom 5 in the league in this department.
They're also third last in clearances, and if any club could pull this risk vs reward gamble off, it's the Tigers.
Similarly to the Tigers, the Eagles are 15th in contested possession and with no Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey or Liam Duggan, they are light on in the middle at the moment. Throw in their low contested footy numbers in comparison to the rest of the competition (they rank in the bottom 4) and you could mount an argument that they could use some depth on the inside of the contest.
With the club reportedly looking for players who thrive on contested football, Freeman presents a very cheap short-term option, albeit one with a low chance of sustained output.
Another one that you'll need to indulge us in.
To begin with, and most crucially, the Lions are currently proving to be the best club in the competition at resurrecting careers blighted by injuries. Look no further than Joe Daniher and Lincoln McCarthy. Couple that with their ranking as second lowest total disposals in the competition and you could make a case for Freeman to be the replacement for Mitch Robinson's role, whose spot in the team is entirely based around the contested footy to give off to silkier players such as Hugh McCluggage and Jarryd Lyons.
Again, it's incredibly unlikely but it's food for thought.
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When interviewed today on SEN by Dwayne Russell, Freeman said he was "mentally in a better headspace... if ever I was going to put my hand up and have another crack, it's probably now... It's probably just clicked at the right time."
"There's a little bit [of interest]... I'm probably just more clear mentally and as sound physically as I've ever been... my body's matured and I've, you know... got a really good stretch of form and uninterrupted training and playing under my belt that my body's probably more durable and withstands the impact and backing up every week."
Though there are plenty of reasons to doubt he would cut it if given another go at AFL level, every season seems to throw up a Cinderella story, why can't this year's be Nathan Freeman?
Should your club give Freeman another shot?