Season 2016 is remembered as one of disappointment at North Wagga. But amid the failure to make finals there was a pointer to the future, when a 19-year-old Jake May was crowned best-and-fairest, even outpolling the club’s star midfielder Lachie Highfield.
Two years on, and after being troubled by ankle injuries last year, May is back, bigger and better than ever.
The midfielder, now 21, has been named in the Saints’ best in seven of his nine games this season, including three best-on-ground efforts in his last three games.
Calling it a purple patch isn’t overstating it. May is equal second in the player-of-the-year award (voted on by coaches after each game).
He would still be in the top four even if you only counted his last three games.
“I’m feeling pretty good but it’s more the team around me than anything, everyone just gelling real well and that makes it easy,” May said.
May has worked on his fitness and physicality with plenty of hard work in the gym. But he’s also worked hard on his game, learning from players like Lachie Steward how to influence a game by imposing yourself on it.
Because sometimes, less is more.
“A couple of years ago I was trying to those standout things… this year I believe I can get to the ball first and get first use of it,” he said.
“It’s more just not trying to do too much. Instead of trying to go forward and kick a goal, drop back, fill in a hole and rebound a bit more. And just trying to keep that workrate up.
“(Steward) has been a massive help to myself as well as to our little midfield brigade. He’s just full of knowledge.”
May was overseas for two weeks early in the year, including North Wagga’s only loss of the season – to their old nemesis East Wagga-Kooringal at Gumly.
Saints haven’t been beaten since, while the Hawks have dropped four games including their last two heading into Saturday’s local derby at McPherson Oval.
“The rivalry’s huge. And it doesn’t matter who’s in the better form either,” May said.
“It’s always going to be a good game. Obviously I’m going to back us to do good job but it’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure.”
The Hawks haven’t been helped by injury but the return of ruckman/forward Nick Hull (among others) adds to the danger for the Saints.
But North Wagga have a couple of crucial ins themselves, with Steward and Highfield both coming back in to the side on what is set to be a big occasion as the Saints celebrate their annual Ladies Day at home.