David Walls and Karl Worner meet face to face for the first time in a café on a Friday morning in Glen Iris.
The NAB AFL Rookie Draft is set to kick off at 3pm that afternoon.
After missing out on selection for the second straight National Draft, Worner is on the brink of having his AFL dream crushed once again.
He knows that most clubs, including Freo, are simply using the rookie draft to relist players and there will be few spots, if any, left available for him.
A phone call from Walls asking to catch up would have given Worner hope, but nothing is guaranteed.
Because of Covid, this is the first time the pair have had a meeting that wasn’t on Zoom, and to Walls, this is one last chance to get a character assessment of the winger.
“I just wanted to see what frame of mind he was in more than anything,” Walls said.
“I called him first thing in the morning and he was just disappointed. He knew that there wouldn’t be many live picks in the Rookie Draft, so I could tell he was flat.”
There’s a reason why this phone call didn’t fill Worner with the hope it probably should have.
While Fremantle had one place available on their rookie list, they also had the option of giving a handful of players the opportunity to train through the summer and compete for that spot.
The 19-year-old didn’t know what Walls had in mind, but either way, he was ready to pack his bags for WA.
“When we met up for breakfast, we spoke for about an hour,” Walls said.
“He was just so impressive with how he bounced back as well as his attitude. We didn’t guarantee him anything in the rookie draft. We said we might look at him as a train on and definitely didn’t guarantee that we’d pick him.
“He basically said, ‘just pick me! I’m coming even if it’s just to be a train on, I’ll walk to Perth if I have to. Just get me there.’”
Back in Perth, on that same Friday, Josh Treacy says hello to the media team on his way to the dining room for lunch.
We’ve just announced Worner as our rookie pick, and since he and Worner are Victorians of the same age, we ask if they know each other.
Treacy makes a joke about not knowing any of the city kids.
While the pair will always have that Vic Country / Vic Metro rivalry, they are also the only two players on Fremantle’s list who know what it was like to go through a draft year that was heavily impacted by Covid.
In both 2020 and 2021, Fremantle took four West Aussies in the National Draft and a Victorian rookie, with Treacy in 2020 and Worner in 2021.
Treacy didn’t get to play a single game in his draft year, while Worner played just six competitive games in the past two.
Walls says both Treacy and Worner share the trait of using the Covid shutdowns to their advantage.
This hard work alone on the track and in the gym resulted in Treacy playing 15 AFL games in 2021, and he said Worner should feel he has a similar opportunity.
“It’s impressive that Karl found a way to make the lockdowns be a benefit for him,” Walls said.
“All he could do was train, present, test better and improve on a lot of areas physically and show resilience, and he did that. For us, that was a massive tick.
“That was what Josh Treacy, to a large extent, did last year, where Josh was able to get himself super fit, lose some weight, get his running going so much better, all so that we can see that he was serious.
“Neither of them took the foot off the gas or moped around and went backwards with their footy, they got themselves in ripping physical condition.”
Then for the second time in a week, someone mentioned Craig Mottram in to me in conversation.
Mottram is an Australian Olympian, 2006 Commonwealth Games Silver Medallist in the 5000m and a 2006 World Cup Gold Medallist in the 3000m.
At Fremantle’s pre-season time trials, Nathan O’Driscoll has surprised everyone to finish second overall behind Andrew Brayshaw, with Brayshaw praising O’Driscoll after the run saying ‘he runs like Craig Mottram’.
As it turns out, Brayshaw now has another Mottram-esque challenger to the time trial throne.
“We saw Karl play a lot at Carey Grammar in 2019, where he was more of an intercept defender and third tall,” Walls said.
“At that time he was running a 7.10 2km time trial. In the shutdown, he worked on his running with Craig Mottram and he’s got that down to 6.05, which is an elite time.
“Karl will be running with Andy Brayshaw, he’ll be one of the best runners at Freo.
“He’s made huge gains and improvement with his footy and that’s what’s excited us. I think he’ll handle the pre-season and training really well, but he’s probably a bit of an unknown as he’s missed so much footy the past two years. The key is how quickly he gets up to speed with the AFL tempo.”