Prior to Round 1 in Adelaide, Seb Ross had only collected more than 25 possessions on one occasion. After five rounds this season, the inside midfielder has done it four more times, as he continues to emerge as an important component of St Kilda’s evolving engine room.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old nearly got himself to the starting line of last season in the same condition as he did this year, before misfortune struck. Late in the NAB Challenge series, Ross suffered a serious hamstring injury, which restricted him to just ten senior games in 2015 and ruined his impressive pre-season preparation.

But this year, the North Ballarat Rebels product completed the vast majority of the pre-season program, with the additional summer on the track helping build his aerobic base to increase his outside game. The results have been profound early, with Ross averaging 27.2 possessions, 5.2 tackles, 4.0 inside 50s and 3.8 clearances per game.

And whilst his work in tight has been of a high quality, there is no secret behind Ross’ rise on the outside, with the onballer crediting a comprehensive pre-season, both from an individual and midfield line perspective, for his strong start to 2016.

The Wash Up: Round 5 v Greater Western Sydney

“Purely because I didn’t miss many training sessions so I got that continuity in my training so it’s a really good building block coming into the season and I played all the NAB games,” Ross told after the Saints 47-point loss to GWS Giants.

“I’ve really been working on my outside game and going with that is my engine. I was really able to work on that over the pre-season and it’s helping me out in games now.

“Well that’s (balanced midfield) something we’ve worked on over the pre-season as well. We’ve got a number of blokes on the inside that can really smash in and win the contested ball, so it’s about getting plenty of games in together and really working on that chemistry so when one bloke is striking at the ball we can work off him.”

In the aftermath of St Kilda’s underwhelming performance against Greater Western Sydney, Ross was disappointed with St Kilda’s inability to apply pressure, particularly given how strong the Saints have been in that area. Alan Richardson’s side ranked 11th for pressure points in Rd 5, down from 3rd across the opening month of the season.

Richardson: Intensity and urgency found wanting

“We were really happy with the way we played against the Hawks last week, so we thought we’d been building into this game to give it a really good crack today. Our pressure dropped off today, comparing it to the last few weeks,” Ross said.

“We had 52 [inside 50] entries today so it wasn’t like the team wasn’t getting opportunities to lock it in the forward half and keep that pressure on. And that’s not just the forwards, that’s the mids and the backs. That’s the team game so it was disappointing not to get that pressure gauge up today.”

St Kilda will get an opportunity to redeem themselves on Saturday when the Saints face Melbourne at Etihad Stadium. The Demons have been one of the more impressive teams so far this season, winning three of five games, including successive victories for the first time since 2011.