Boasting a strong running game might not be at the top of the bill for most key position defenders, however Callum Wilkie isn’t ruling anything out as he and the Saints look to bolster their speed and endurance for the upcoming season.
Wednesdays at RSEA Park are usually reserved as a “de-load day”, focusing in on specific skills and concepts as opposed to the rigours of the Monday and Friday training blocks, however the demanding 20-minute running component to cap off each session has been a constant to-date.
From the tall forwards, key backs and lumbering big men, no one is exempt from the testing runs. Gruelling as they’ve been, Wilkie has benefitted from them so far by charting a new personal-best at the club’s recent time trial. Now as the loads increase, the next step is to take Ross Lyon's vision for a fast-paced Saints outfit that can go the distance into game day.
"We’re probably starting to step it up now, looking at about 13+ kilometres a session," Wilkie told saints.com.au.
"Running at the end can vary from one to three kilometres, depending on whether it’s short-speed stuff or some of the longer endurance runs. It’s not that fun, but it’s got to be done and is good for the mental strength as well.
"I think we definitely came back (from the Christmas break) and have hit the ground running. We had some good strong times in the time trial so that allows us to get right into footy and really focus on that and the improvements that we need to make from last year.
"We’ve been looking at enhancing those strengths, which was our defence and our run from behind, but our ball use going inside-50 is a big focus area. We were pretty average at it last year, albeit with a young team and young forward line, but that’s where we feel we can make really strong growth."
Even with an improved three-kilometre time on side, Wilkie says it’s the ease in which some of the Saints’ newest youngsters glide across the turf that is “making all us old fellas look silly”.
"We’ve got these young kids coming in running on top of the ground. Darcy Wilson has been very good in terms of his running and taking the game on, same with Hugo Garcia. He’s pretty speedy and attacks everything 100 miles an hour," Wilkie said.
"Angus Hastie has got real speed off the half-back line and Lance Collard can do some special things up forward. They all add some extra strengths that we can look to implement in time.
"I think everyone’s stepping up in the leadership way, problem-solving out on the track. Steeley’s leading from the front coming off rehab and he’s been training really well.
As for Wilkie’s own game, improving upon a maiden All-Australian season and another second-placed finish at the Trevor Barker Award which takes him to 109 consecutive games since debut will be yet another mountain to conquer.
But as has been the case for the stalwart backman so far, helping his teammates new and old will bring the best football out of him.
“One of my main focuses is helping the young lads and getting them up to speed. If we can fast-track their development, it’s going to make us a better team,” Wilkie said.
“I just want to keep improving and be the best player I can be. There’s a few aspects of my game that I can improve on, but it’s probably not changing a whole lot. It’s just keeping the same routine and making sure that I can back up what I did last year.”