NOTHING is certain in the AFL world right now, but St Kilda has found a way to roll with the punches during a chaotic pre-season.
The Saints have trained almost everywhere across the past couple of months, completing sessions at Brighton Grammar, Trevor Barker Oval, Highett and Bentleigh as well as on the secondary ground in Moorabbin on Wednesday, while they wait for the new surface to be ready at RSEA Park in February.
Only one player missed the session due to health and safety protocols with more than 15 players contracting COVID-19 since late December. Fortunately for the Saints, most of the cases were during the Christmas break, minimising the level of training disruptions other clubs have been forced to deal with in the first few weeks of 2022.
Fresh from signing a lucrative five-year contract extension last month, co-captain Jack Steele was one of the clear standouts in a session that was missing a handful of St Kilda's biggest names.
The 26-year-old has emerged as one of the premier midfielders in the competition in the past two seasons, winning consecutive Trevor Barker Awards and two Therabody AFL All-Australian blazers, after finishing equal third in the 2020 Brownlow Medal count and equal fifth last year.
With Steele expected to step up as sole captain in 2022 following another injury-interrupted season for veteran defender Jarryn Geary, the inside bull doesn't look like he's taken his foot off the accelerator since St Kilda's season ended in August.
Geary completed a running session on the dirt track at Moorabbin, along with Brad Crouch, Zak Jones, Tim Membrey, Hunter Clark, Jimmy Webster, Mason Wood and Jack Hayes, with new high performance manager Nick Walsh running an individual needs-based program on Wednesdays, around main training sessions on Mondays and Fridays over the pre-season.
The 33-year-old endured another frustrating campaign last year – managing only three appearances after breaking his leg in January before requiring season-ending shoulder surgery in June – but has returned to training and is on track to play in the practice matches next month.
Bradley Hill, Jack Billings, Jade Gresham and Dan Hannebery were part of a group who trained indoors, but all are expected to train with the main group on Friday.
Gresham hasn't played since rupturing his Achilles tendon against Essendon in round three last year, but the former first-round pick has re-joined the main group after a long stint in rehab and dominated training on Monday as he looks to reignite a career that has stalled due to injuries in the past two seasons.
Hayes is now midway through his third training week at the club as the Woodville-West Torrens star looks to claim one of two remaining spots on St Kilda's list for the 2022 season.
Hayes is the only player St Kilda has invited down so far this summer ahead of the pre-season supplemental selection period deadline on March 9 and could become the latest mature-age player plucked out of the SANFL to land in Moorabbin, following the recent success of Callum Wilkie, Tom Highmore and Cooper Sharman.
St Kilda coach Brett Ratten observed the majority of Wednesday's session from a distance, allowing new assistant coach Corey Enright, Brendon Lade, Ben McGlynn, Jarryd Roughead and Walsh to run training.
With just 58 days between now and St Kilda's season-opener against Collingwood, the Saints will begin cranking up match simulation sessions ahead of their intra-club next month, before their pre-season practice match against Carlton at Ikon Park and AAMI Community Series clash with Essendon at Marvel Stadium.