Recruit of the year

Brad Scott reflected on Tuesday on the element he hadn't anticipated when Nick Dal Santo became the second significant casualty for St Kilda under the heading of free agency. He knew the footballer he was getting, but what he brings to North Melbourne's playing group off the field has been a huge bonus.

"The players very quickly voted him into our leadership group on the basis of one pre-season - that gives you an idea of how impressive he is as a person, how well he prepares," Scott said.

"He's been huge for us, particularly in the absence of Andrew Swallow. It was great on the weekend (in the drubbing of Brisbane Lions) to see them working in combination."

Coaches swoon over seasoned athletes who can enter a foreign environment and, through their teaching and the example they set, instantly make it a better place. Such input is both invaluable and immeasurable, yet judging by the numbers Dal Santo is also a compelling contender for player of the year among the competition's club-swapping recruits.

Champion Data, the game's statisical gurus, rank him at the top of a pile that is not so much recycled as reinvigorated - ahead of Buddy Franklin, Jared Polec, Dom Tyson and Heath Shaw. Always a big ball-winner, the 30-year-old's 27.5 disposals per game is the second-highest of his career, ditto his five clearances.

As one insider who worked closely with him at St Kilda notes, the perception that "Nicky Dal" has made a career out of being a smooth outside runner who kills you by foot has conveniently overlooked the fact that he wins his own ball too. In eight games in blue and white stripes he has been tagged consistently, yet a dozen of his average weekly possessions have been hard-won.

He describes Dal Santo as "an intelligent person and an intelligent footballer", whose fondness for the media and furthering his "brand" might take him down that path in retirement, but who has the attributes to be a successful coach. Under Ross Lyon there was an expectation that senior players guide and educate not only on the training track and in reviews, but within games. Even if it's as small as moving a teammate three metres at a stoppage, North benefits.

His football has been as good as ever. Against Port Adelaide in round three it was the Kangaroos who were supposed to wilt against the renowned big finishers, but Dal Santo was key to turning a 10-point three-quarter-time deficit into a seven-point win. His goal that gave North the lead, sneaking past Leigh Adams and striking like a marksman on the run from 45 metres, was emblematic of his power to hurt the opposition.

Says the close observer: "He's the guy that's going to carry the ball, run the big metres and hurt you with his finishing. He hasn't gone to half-back like people thought he might have, because you want him at the end where he can do most damage. If you get Dal, you go a fair way towards winning."

North's four premierships are testament to a knack for luring players from its competitors and reaping the ultimate reward. Among Ron Barassi's 1975 history-makers were four men who'd made big names for themselves at other clubs - Brent Crosswell, John Rantall, Doug Wade and Barry Davis. The master coach added Stan Alves, Peter Keenan, John Cassin and Bill Nettlefold two years later (and Phil "Snake" Baker, given he'd spent 1975 with Geelong sandwiched in between eight seasons as a Roo).

Similarly, Denis Pagan's 1996 premiership team featured John Blakey, Robert Scott, Dean Laidley and Mark Roberts, and he brought in Martin Pike and Winston Abraham in 1999. Shopping second-hand rather than showroom new hasn't held back the Shinboners.

Among Dal Santo's assets has been incredible durability - after missing the first chunk of his second season with a quad injury, he has averaged 23.4 games a season over the past 10 years. If the planets align and North contends for a fifth premiership in the near future, he should be right in the thick of it.

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