The kicking was pinpoint, the hands sharp, the brain as quick as ever. The adductor muscle is sore and, underneath, the knees weary, but still, Simon Black moved well at training during the week as he looked to prove his fitness ahead of the Brisbane Lions’ trip to Darwin to take on Melbourne on Saturday.
The 34-year-old has already indicated this is likely to be his last year and will leave a massive gap in the list. He is as close as it gets to being irreplaceable, yet the Lions may just have found themselves the next best thing.
Sam Mayes, drafted last year with pick No. 8, looks, and plays, in the Black mould. Like Black, he isn’t quick, but he is an elite endurance athlete and has one of the most valuable commodities a player can possess – time, lots of it.
Lions assistant coach Adrian Fletcher made the comparison directly. “He’s got that (innate) ability, that 360 (degree) perception,” he said.
“He’s very similar to Simon Black. They take pictures in their head; they know exactly where the opposition players are, and that makes their ability to make a better decision a lot easier, because they’re already a step ahead.”
And when Mayes picks out a target, he almost invariably hits it. From his 20 possessions against North Melbourne last weekend, he had four direct assists to go with his three goals, and seemed to be involved in almost every meaningful passage of play.
Black isn’t the only player to whom Mayes has been compared. Last year, Port Adelaide development coach Daniel Healy suggested the 18-year-old was a combination of Geelong’s Andrew Mackie and Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas.
Like Pendlebury, Mayes represented his state in basketball before making football his priority. Before being drafted, he played for North Adelaide in the SANFL, and has the mature build to show for it.
Naturally rangy, he looks born to play on a wing. But he was touted as a medium forward ahead of the draft, where his marking and elite kicking could do the most damage.
“It’s all about which contest can you impact, because at half-forward you do get lost in between a lot,” Fletcher said. “He took that in and adapted really well. That’s a good thing, he’s very coachable.”
Mayes knows his next step is to round out his game.
“Obviously I pride myself on my ball use,” he said. “But (I need) to balance that out (with) contested footy. I’ve been playing on the wing, so I’ve been able to get a lot of uncontested ball. So developing that inside game, the tackling and defensive parts, I need to take that to a new level.’’
Fletcher said: “You want your best players coming out of congestion and using the ball. He knows when to kick and when to handball; he draws the players. Obviously he’s still got things he needs to improve in his game, but he’s got the energy to do that.
“He’s a mature body. His body’s ready for it. It’s, is he mentally ready for it? He finds that quite easy, because he’s already got that ability to know where the pressure’s coming from.”
There is one chink in the mental armour though, and in this aspect Mayes is reminiscent of a another Lions winger, Tim Notting. It’s his pre-game nerves, he’s a ritual “chucker”.
“That’s not good,’’ said Fletcher. “That’s giving up energy that you probably need in the last quarter. You don’t want to be getting rid of your fuel.
“But I remember Tony Lockett being a chucker as well. If the biggest man in the game was a chucker, I think Sam Mayes can do it.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.