Saying Callum Wilkie is consistent is the St Kilda equivalent of saying the sky is blue.
That isn’t news to a great many Saints fans – it may be to broader footy circles – but it’s a sentiment which hasn’t cheapened whenever it’s been said. In fact, his season just gone has given it more weight.
Three seasons after being plucked from the SANFL as a 22-year-old rookie, Wilkie is yet to miss a game since debuting in Round 1, 2019, has become a highly respected member of St Kilda’s leadership group and this Friday just gone finished fourth in this year’s Trevor Barker Award – his third straight placing inside the top-10.
The latest recognition is arguably the biggest pointer to that ‘Mr Reliable’ moniker being more than just a casually bandied-about term.
18 marks, 13 intercepts and no goals conceded between them.— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) June 27, 2021
Dougal Howard and Callum Wilkie stood tall on Friday night. pic.twitter.com/1hiLaFXvt0
In his brief time at RSEA Park, Wilkie has become a pivotal lynchpin in defence who continually finds a way to get the job done, despite fighting well outside his weight division more often than not.
It’s been a remarkable transformation for the former accountant who was initially drafted as an intercepting half-back.
“Cal is someone I’m definitely trying to emulate,” fellow defender Tom Highmore told saints.com.au.
“Every week Cal gets just about the best opposition forward between he and Doug(al Howard). He just gets his job done every week, it’s no fuss, it’s never about him or it’s never about how many disposals he’s getting or how he’s going, it’s just about what he can do for the team.
“Part of what he does so well is just drag guys like myself along with him and makes us better players, which is just such an important attribute to have.”
Wilkie’s leadership qualities and refusal to give an inch on-field were influential in spurring the Saints towards a strong finish to Season 2021.
Alongside defensive partner-in-crime, Dougal Howard, the No. 44 continued to be uncompromising in his standards and wasn't afraid to speak up and give honest feedback, despite being a newcomer to the leadership group with just 63 senior games to his name.
While the numbers can be attributed to the team at large, Wilkie was a key player in drastically improving St Kilda’s key stats across the board post-bye.
The Saints went from conceding 90 points per game (13th in the AFL) between Rounds 1-13 to just 69 (sixth) from Rounds 14-23, and in the same timeframe also turned their inside-50s against (13th) and defensive-50 intercepts to forward-50 transition (9th) numbers into the fourth and second-best in the league respectively.
Like a great many defenders in the competition however, Wilkie’s work is often slept on.
He’s not a flighty, ball-winning half-back like the revamped Bailey Dale, a key intercepting powerhouse like Aliir Aliir or a tall timber full-back like Harris Andrews, but his blend of all the right attributes – plus his footy smarts – render him one of the Saints’ most adaptable players.
Although undersized as a key back, Wilkie continued to grapple – and hold his own – against opponents giving away far more size, weight and experience this season. His oversized influence, meanwhile, speaks volumes.
He placed in the top-10 for key defenders through his elite kicking efficiency (85.5 per cent) and charted in St Kilda’s top-three for rebound-50s (89), effective kicks (212), intercepts (118), intercept marks (35) and spoils (90).
His display against Sydney in Round 21 where he kept eight-time All-Australian Lance Franklin to five disposals and a goal was hands-down the best of his year, but as his placing at this year’s Trevor Barker Award showed, his importance to the team was year-round.
“We go through plenty of vision during the week and in our backline meetings and previews for games and it’s almost like he knows exactly how it’s going to play out and what’s going to come,” Highmore said.
“He rarely gets beaten one-on-one, he’s an absolute competitor and the standards he sets both on and off the field.
“I’m probably pretty lucky coming in and having someone like Cal there straight away.”