Melbourne's No.1 draft pick of 2008, Jack Watts, has declared he wants to stay with the Demons, despite speculation he could be among a number of senior players headed elsewhere at the end of 2013.
Watts, who is out of contract at the end of this year, appeared alongside stand-in coach Neil Craig at the press conference following the Demons' 35-point defeat at the hands of St Kilda, and said that after having endured some of the club's darkest days, wanted to still be there when they turned around.
"I do want to stay," Watts said. "It's a great group of blokes that I've spent the last five years with. Obviously it's been tough, and at the moment, as 'Craigy' says, we're non-competitive, and it's frustrating. But I think the things that are going on behind closed doors, the way we're training, I want to be there for when things turn around. Hopefully that's sooner rather than later."
Craig was strong in his support for Watts, saying it was up to the club to provide a fit enough environment for players coming out of contract to want to stay. "That's part of our responsibility. The responsibility for Melbourne footy club is to get our act in order, to provide an environment that when people come to the club, they have an absolute belief they can be the best they can possibly be ... so when it comes to somebody like Jack Watts re-signing, it becomes an absolute no-brainer."
Craig, in his first game in charge since the sacking of Mark Neeld last Monday, said the Demons were still uncompetitive when it came to matching expected AFL standards.
"We're non-competitive in real terms," he said. "We need to get our standard up in what the competition looks like. Our first quarter, the contested ball was minus 17 - that's not going to get you close. For the next three quarters we were really even in that area, but we've got to tidy up. The easy execution, at the moment we're not competitive with that.
"That means we're a non-competitive side - let's not muck around with that. Let's make sure we know exactly where we are. What I do know is I have great faith in this playing group to want to get better ... so we'll continue to work really hard."
Craig admitted Melbourne was the subject of much scorn from the rest of the football world. "This club will continue to be ridiculed, continue to be made fun of, continue to be belittled until we improve our performances," he said. "I personally don't like it, but that's what we've got. We'll accept the responsibility for our performances, and we'll accept the responsibility to try and get out of it. Some of it disappoints me to be honest. But that's what we've got. We've created it. We need to get out of it."
And he said he would use the remaining 10 weeks of the season to "get clarity" on whether he wanted to apply to take on the Melbourne job full-time at the end of the year, his position after parting ways with Adelaide and until recently that he had no desire to coach again at senior AFL level.
"Whoever sits in the chair next year, you have to have the passion to do it," he said. "It's the passion and enthusiasm you need that to keep coming up, because it's tough industry. I enjoyed it (today). I have great empathy for Mark (Neeld). I feel for the players, what they're going through. Jack Watts says he's had four coaches in five years - no, you don't want to expose players to that. That's not what high-performance sport's all about. I have great empathy for them. I want to care for them for the rest of the year, and we need to play some better footy, because that's where the real enjoyment comes from."
St Kilda coach Scott Watters said he had put the onus on the Saints' team leaders to ensure the club's playing group maintained its focus on the occasion of the 250th games for captain Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo, and 150th for Sean Dempster, despite the potential for distraction following the indefinite leave handed veteran Stephen Milne after he was this week charged with four counts of rape.
But Watters conceded there had been some pre-game uncertainty about just how big an impact the events surrounding a popular and long-serving teammate would have upon the rest of the playing group.
"We've got a terrific playing group, and we've got a great group of leaders, so we asked them for a fast start, an aggressive start," Watters said. "We knew that contested ball was going to be an absolute key focus early in the game, when both clubs have had the weeks they've had, and our leaders stood up. David Armitage early, Jack Steven early, 'Joey' Montagna I thought was fantastic, 'Kosi' [Justin Koschitzke] early in the game was very good. We asked for a strong response from our leaders and they gave it to us, and that set the game up for us.
"You're never certain on that [the impact] because it's very, very difficult to measure. What I knew was they trained very well this week, and certainly you could sense their commitment to making sure that our players playing a milestone were respected. We had some champions of the club tonight, significant milestones, so that was a really good focus for us pre-game. You're never 100 per cent certain, but I knew they'd give everything that they had."
Watters said he still hoped that Milne, who attended yesterday's game, would be available to play within three to four weeks, but conceded that was timeframe which was far from absolute.
"Our main priority is to make sure Stephen's looked after from a duty of care point of view," he said. "We'd be hopeful that within three to four weeks, he's back playing, but we'll monitor that as we go."
Asked why the timeframe set had been three to four weeks, Watters responded: "If we don't say that, we'd probably have to say indefinite, and that scares evveryone. So the main thing is just to assess it week by week. He needs to look after his family. Right at this point, footy's secondary, but I know how resilient he is and at the right time when he thinks he's right to go we'll bring him back in, so it's a 'guestimate' and we'll assess it week to week."