Luke Jackson has let the AFL’s worst kept secret out, officially requesting a trade home to Western Australia after months of speculation – but there’s a twist.
For months, Jackson has widely been expected to nominate Fremantle as his club of choice. But, in a major curveball, Jackson hasn’t nominated a preferred club, igniting what will be a sensational bidding war between the two WA clubs.
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In a statement, Melbourne said they would now work with West Coast and Fremantle to secure a suitable trade.
Melbourne list manager Tim Lamb said although the club was disappointed, it respected Luke’s decision.
“There is no doubt that we wanted Luke to remain at the Demons, but we respect his decision to want to return home to Western Australia to be closer to his family and friends,” he said.
“We will now work to secure a deal that compensates the club accordingly.”
Jackson’s willingness to be traded to either West Coast or Fremantle arguably puts the Eagles in the box seat if they are willing to give up their first round pick, which currently sits at No.2, but will become No.3 after a bid for Will Ashcroft is matched by Brisbane.
Although the Dockers will still hope to put forward a strong offer to the Demons after possible trades for Rory Lobb, Griffin Logue, Blake Acres, Liam Henry, Lloyd Meek and Darcy Tucker could leave them with a much stronger draft hand than what they currently have. As it stands, their indicative hand has pick 14 only, having already traded out their second, third and fourth round picks.
The 20-year-old Jackson has played 52 games with Melbourne since being drafted with pick No.3 in the 2019 draft.
The Dockers have reportedly offered Jackson a long-term deal worth up to $900,000 per season, despite heavy criticism over his body of work in the AFL, especially in recent finals.
Port Adelaide premiership player Kane Cornes was scathing in his assessment of Jackson’s performance in the Dees’ semi-final loss to Brisbane on Friday night.
“Luke Jackson plays one good game in every 12,” told SEN last Saturday.
“His reputation is higher than his performance and it seems harsh but that’s what happens when massive rival deals come, and you decide to put off contract talks.
“He would be a bit embarrassed about by some of his physical efforts on Friday night, he was in a good enough position to mark the footy a couple of times and he wasn’t physical enough.”
Jackson’s departure from Melbourne paves the way for Collingwood star ruckman Brodie Grundy to join Max Gawn at the Dees, a reshuffling from which Cornes believes the Demons would in fact benefit.
“I think it’ll be a blessing if Luke Jackson goes, because they’ll instantly be better if they get Brodie Grundy and they’ll get two first round picks from Fremantle for Jackson,” he said last week.
“They’ll be able to inject some young talent into the squad and they get a better ruckman with Grundy and Gawn”.
Dees skipper and Jackson’s ruck partner, Gawn, spoke to 7NEWS on Monday, saying he “wouldn’t hold any grudges” if this eventuated.
“I’m looking forward to him telling me; he hasn’t told me yet,” Gawn said at the time.
“Right now, he’s a Melbourne player and I presume he’s here.
“The club is still hopeful and there’s still a chance we can be a ruck combo for the next few years. But that’s the way footy is at the moment with the world we live in and free agency.”
How do Fremantle get the deal done?
Fremantle’s first pick in this year’s draft is pick 14, which won’t be enough by itself to secure Jackson, especially considering that pick will get shuffled back by at least one position after a bid for Will Ashcroft is matched by Brisbane.
The Dockers would likely need to either trade up to get into the top 10 – and even then, the Dees would probably ask for more – or find a way to bring in another first round selection.
They currently go into the 2022 draft without a second-round pick, having already traded it to Gold Coast, but they will likely get back into the second round in trades for Rory Lobb, Blake Acres and/or Griffin Logue.
Lobb has been strongly linked to the Bulldogs, who currently hold picks 11 and 29, but wouldn’t entertain giving up 11.
Acres is reportedly being courted by Carlton, who have pick 28 in this year’s draft, but probably won’t be willing to part with that – although they currently don’t have a third-round pick.
Logue, who has fallen in and out of favour with the Dockers after being drafted with pick No.8 in the 2016 draft, is in North Melbourne’s sights, but the Roos’ second pick after No.1 is currently 55, having already traded their second and third-round picks.
Fremantle’s Darcy Tucker, Lloyd Meek and Liam Henry have also attracted rival interest.
It makes for a busy October for Peter Bell and the Dockers’ list management team but means they should have enough moving parts to secure a deal for Jackson.
How do West Coast get the deal done?
Are the Eagles prepared to give up pick 2? That would almost certainly satisfy Melbourne, but West Coast may ask for something back the other way in return.
Expect lots of posturing in negotiations if pick 2 is on the table.
The Eagles have two second-round picks (20 and 26) up their sleeve, but neither (or both) are likely to tickle Melbourne’s fancy, unless they are packaged up with something else.
If the Dees ask for more than just pick 2 – possibly packed up with 20 or 26 – the Eagles would surely demand something back the other way, which is where it could get tricky.
Melbourne currently have picks 35, 41 and 53, which will all get pushed back after bidding and free agency compensation.
Where does he fit in at Fremantle?
Despite a possible monster contract worth nearly a million dollars per season if he chooses the Dockers, Jackson may again have to play second fiddle in the ruck department, with Sean Darcy having established himself as one of the premier ruckmen in the game.
But Lobb’s likely departure shapes as the hole that Jackson will fill. Lobb was a marking forward and reluctant second ruck, while Jackson is more of a dynamic ruckman who can play forward but is yet to prove himself as a star in the forward 50.
If the Dockers also lose one or both of Logue and Meek, Jackson’s height will become a strong necessity, working with hopefully a fully fit Matt Taberner and Nat Fyfe in the forward 50.
If Fyfe can get back to full health, he will almost certainly spend the majority of his time around goals after the Dockers’ young midfield brigade of Andrew Brayshaw, Caleb Serong and Will Brodie proved more than capable without the dual Brownlow medallist for most of 2022.
Where does he fit in at West Coast?
As the perfect heir apparent to the aging and ailing Nic Naitanui.
Nic Nat will be 33 early next season and, with his injury-prone body, it’s hard to see him going on past 2023.
West Coast are pretty thin in the ruck department, with Luke Strnadica, Bailey Williams and Hugh Dixon probably the next in line behind Naitanui, all of whom are yet to establish themselves as AFL players.
So, the Eagles are arguably more in need of Jackson than Fremantle.
And with Josh Kennedy’s retirement, there is a spot in the forward 50 for Jackson to rest, along with Jack Darling and Oscar Allen.