Jack Steele has had a pretty good month of footy.
He’s just one of 11 players in the competition this season to post three matches with 30 disposals or more, his output is as good as it’s ever been, and his side is happily perched inside the top-four following a 69-point thumping of Hawthorn yesterday afternoon.
All in all, it makes for usual reading for the two-time All-Australian and Best & Fairest.
But unlike the previous year, the skipper's efforts haven’t come packaged with the widespread, external praise Saints fans have come to expect.
Instead, the love has been shared around in the opening month of 2022, with several players elevating their game to turn Steele’s often-solo heroics of last season into part of a larger, team-oriented brand of football.
“It’s been great to see a lift in performance from a number of players,” Steele said at this morning’s press conference at the Danny Frawley Centre for Health and Wellbeing.
“Jack Sinclair is one of them, Brad Hill is another, Brad Crouch is another and Jade Gresham… they’re all players that have had great starts to the year.
“If you have the majority playing their role and doing what they need to do for the team, that’s what gets you consistency. It definitely takes the load off my shoulders and makes us an all-round team which is nice, so we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Hill was exceptional against his old side on Sunday, slotting a career-best four goals after Brett Ratten flipped the magnets to play the usual running half-back as a high half-forward.
It was a strategy which the Hawks struggled to counter, with Hill’s damaging two-way run leaving them exposed as he and the Saints piled on their highest score in almost a decade.
Where the 28-year-old is best suited still remains a much-discussed talking point, with Sunday’s performance adding another layer to the year-long debate.
“It’s a pretty hard question after he kicks four goals yesterday,” Steele said.
“I’m not really too sure where his best position is. I’d say it’s probably at half-back with the game in front of him and his run and skills.
“He’s quite damaging at times there, so I think that’s probably his main position, but it’s good to have the options to put him forward, put him on the wing and change things around and make the opposition think about us.
“We’ve got a few options. We’ve got some players who are very versatile and it’s always great to have that in the side.”
That versatility has been pivotal in St Kilda’s opening month
Sinclair’s past three weeks have been spent predominantly as an inside midfielder, but Sunday saw him return to a pure half-back position to register a career-best 35 disposals.
Defender Jarrod Lienert and wingman Daniel McKenzie traded roles in the second half against Richmond to strong effect, Tim Membrey has proven his influence behind the ball is just as valuable forward of it, while Mason Wood has upped his capacity as a hard-running winger. Seb Ross' work rate – coupled with his 26 touches – was equally important in freeing up the likes of Steele and Gresham on-ball.
Gresham too has been terrific following two injury-ravaged seasons, with another four goals against the Hawks validating his credentials as one of St Kilda’s most important players.
Despite being just four weeks into the 22-round season, Steele says if the highly skilled midfielder can keep the wheels ticking over, there’s no reason his season can’t end with a maiden All-Australian blazer.
“He has the potential to,” Steele said.
“He’s had a few injuries over the last couple of years and I reckon that’s helped him focus on his body a lot more. He’s become a professional which is great to see because he is such a talent.
“It’s just that consistency we need to see from Gresh, but he’s been able to do it two weeks in a row, so I don’t see why he couldn’t be an All-Australian at the end of the year.
“I hope he can be.”