The West

The day Jetta graduated with flying colours
Lewis Jetta. Pic: AFL Media

In the words of St Kilda coach Scott Watters, Lewis Jetta entered a 2009 WA game against South Australia as a young player with potential and finished it with an AFL home assured.

With Jetta set to scorch back home as a key weapon in Sunday's top-of-the-table clash between West Coast and Sydney at Patersons Stadium, Watters reflected on how as State coach that day he saw the breakout game of a future star.

WA had not beaten SA for 15 years and after convincing Watters he could revel in the wintry conditions in Perth that day, a pencil-thin Jetta set the scene for an upset with the first two goals of the match.

Later, he would seal a one-point win with a spectacular 75m running goal with two minutes to play in a precursor to the dash and brilliance he now displays in the AFL.

"My most vivid memory was that in the build-up we knew the ground was going to be quite wet and boggy," Watters said.

"I remember walking behind him and said, 'What do you weigh, Jetts?' I think he said something like 68kg. Then I asked him how he would go in the wet and he just turned around and said, 'I'm very good in the wet'.

"From that moment I just said he'd be playing.

"WA hadn't beaten SA for 15 years and on that day they had a very mature and strong side, and the conditions didn't necessarily suit someone of Lewis' physique.

"But he just glided through the middle of the ground and he was one of the only ones floating on top of it. The goal he kicked was exactly what you see him do now, offensively, and you give him space at your own peril.

"One of the key things for a lot of players is who wants to take on responsibility at key times in games, and he was relishing the moment.

"Prior to the game we thought he was a kid that had the potential to get drafted and after the game it was just a matter of sitting back and watching where he was going to go.

"He'd look very good in a St Kilda jumper, but with any one of those young guys who you cross paths with along the way, it's just great to see them getting a game."

Jetta's father Peter said the family was far from financially flush as they tried to decide the merits of his then teenage son's football future.

He said he and his wife Francis had sometimes forgone meals so they could take him to Perth to help fuel his football dreams.

Those dreams, in their infancy, were just wanting to play at Bunbury alongside brothers Peter and Graham and cousin Neville, who has battled a string of injuries in his four seasons at Melbourne.

But when the Demons drafted Neville with pick No.51 in the 2008 national draft, the competitive edge in Jetta was triggered.

After a season with Bridgetown, he relaunched at Swan Districts in 2009 after a stalled WAFL start two years earlier.

"We came from not much ... we were on poverty street, you know, and it was hard," Jetta Sr said.

"We didn't have much money at the time and we were sort of sacrificing our meals for him to make sure he had a meal so he could play footy. It got to the stage where we were wondering whether it was all worth it because there were country clubs offering him all this money.

"It's all a bit of a laugh now when you think about it. I still can't believe what's happening, that he's playing AFL and there's all this media hype about him."

Jetta Sr, who was one of 13 siblings, will lead a family entourage to Patersons Stadium on Sunday.

He said his son's lightning speed most likely traced back to his wife, who was the undisputed sprinting champion of her Carey Park primary school peers.

"I used to be a fast runner but my height wasn't too good," he joked. "In the 70s and 80s, you had to be, like, six foot to get a game ... unless you were the Krakouers."

Sydney ruckman Shane Mumford said this week that his 23-year-old teammate's pace was electric to the point that if the two knuckled down for a 50m sprint, Jetta would beat him by 30m.

Mumford said Jetta's improvement had been sharper than anyone at the club had expected.

"He's obviously an excitement machine who has really turned it on this year," Mumford said.

"To go from his last couple of years to this year, he's found himself a really good work rate, which I think has been the biggest thing for him.

"Especially through the pre-season, he really pushed himself and has got the best out of himself.

"He's grown with a lot more confidence this year and it's really helped his footy. He knows where he should be running and he's absolutely flying at the moment.

"I think he's exceeded all expectations and I'm very happy to have him in our side. I'd hate to be having to man up on him when he's bolting forward."

Jetta infamously booted 19 behinds in his first 15 games in 2010 before kicking a goal. He finished the season with 7.21.

He then kicked another wayward 9.12 in 20 games last year, but solved the problem in the pre-season by shortening his approach in his set-shot routine.

The result has been 32.11 so far this season in a spree littered with goal-of-the-year nominations.

Jetta admitted earlier this year that he had struggled to balance his life as a professional athlete with his duties as a first-time father to Lewis Jr.

But he had profiled some of the game's more prolific indigenous stars, such as Cyril Rioli, Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett, in a bid to make his game more rounded and dynamic.

Sydney coach John Longmire said the move had paid off in spades for the player specifically acquired from Swan Districts to add run and stun to an already tough inside team.

"We've tried to maintain the foundation of our game and that's always about winning strong 50-50 ball and being strong defensively," Longmire said. "But we also knew we had to keep evolving as a footy team.

"Whether that was through personnel or game style, we had to keep evolving because the game changes so quickly and we had to be mindful of that.

"Lewis is what we recruited him for. He's given us a point of difference and he works really hard on his game.

"He still continues to work hard on his game now and that's a real credit to him.

"For a young kid, he understands the game really well and sees the game really well and is trusted by his teammates, which is really important.

"As long as he builds the foundation of his game, his chase and his pressure and the areas that he's really improved, other things tend to flow from that."

The West Australian

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