PORT ADELAIDE football boss Chris Davies says Jack Watts will leave the club in a better position than when he arrived, after the utility announced his retirement from AFL football.
Watts announced his decision on Thursday, admitting he’d been considering his future after struggling physically and mentally with the toll of returning from a serious leg injury suffered early last season.
The utility – who played forward, back and on the wing - leaves the game after 174 games with Melbourne and Port Adelaide.
Davies explained how the decision played out, praising Watts for his selflessness.
“We returned from Queensland earlier in the week and Jack asked for a catch-up with both Ken and I. In fairness we’d been talking to Jack and his manager Paul Connors, who does a fantastic job with his players, over the last period of time,” Davies said.
“It became clear that Jack was ready to move on and look at what’s next for his life.
“He battled through this year. We tried to remain as positive as we possibly could for him and with him but I think the physical and mental toll took a toll and he’s made this decision now.”
Davies said it was an emotional meeting with Watts experience both sadness and relief.
“When you look at Jack’s career, he hasn’t spent one minute of those 12 years not under the spotlight and when you’ve spent that amount of time with scrutiny on you – some that he’s obviously brought upon himself but the majority of it because of where he was picked in the draft – there was a range of emotions,” he explained.
“He knew that the time was right to move on and he’s left the club in a better spot than he found it.
“You guys only really get to see him as a player. Jack Watts is an amazing individual who has brought an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm to our group at a time where we needed someone like that to bring that to us and bring the group up.
“He’s been fantastic for our team and make no mistake, he leaves our club in a far better place than what he found it and our club, right now, is indebted to Jack for making a selfless decision right now, but also for the work that he’s put in for us.”
Initially drafted at pick 1 in the 2008 AFL draft, Watts was traded to Port Adelaide ahead of the 2018 season and managed 21 games before breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle against Carlton in Round 2 last year.
He pushed to play again this year, but Watts himself admitted his body had let him down and he’d struggled with the physical and mental rigours of getting back to full fitness.
Davies said he had been close to a return and leaves with a year left on his contract.
“At various points he got close to a level of fitness that may have allowed him to play but the reality is the physical toll that took in even getting to that point and the mental toll was significant so I think that having gone through a similar situation myself with my own sporting career – which wasn’t nearly the equal of what Jack’s was – you know you get to a point where you know it’s the right time,” he said.
“Jack’s done a fantastic thing for both himself and the club in what is a selfless decision to move on because you do see some players who are willing to go through the motions in their last year just to collect a pay check.
“That’s not Jack Watts, it never has been and we should commend him for that.”
Watts has been much maligned throughout his career with the spotlight heavily on him because of his number 1 selection.
Davies said he should be remembered for his talent and his last game against Melbourne in Round 1, 2019, showed his immense ability.
“He was a supremely talented player who read the game amazingly well,” Davies said.
“What was abundantly clear to us was that not only did he read the game well, he was a fantastic teammate to have around our group.
“Unfortunately, his career now was cut short through injury and probably a want to push through.
“You don’t play 170-odd games by chance. He fought through adversity on a number of occasions.
“His last game at the level was probably his best one for us and as I said, he leaves the club in a broader sense in a better place.”
Watts has not had an opportunity to address the group as a whole due in part to the COVID-19 protocols and the fact the players have had two days off after returning home from Brisbane after Monday night’s game against Collingwood.
He will no longer be subjected to the AFL’s strict COVID-19 protocols and will have the opportunity after the season concludes to celebrate his career with his teammates.