The Ben Long experiment down back is ticking all the right boxes, according to defensive coach Aaron Hamill.
Throughout his 30-game career, Ben Long has always been known for three things: aggression, speed and hardness; traits which ultimately led to his pre-season move down back.
Long was tried across half-back during his limited outings in the VFL last season, as well as in the Saints’ final game of the year against Sydney.
While a spot in St Kilda’s back-six for 2020 is looking incredibly competitive – and has seen Brett Ratten entertain new roles for players such as Josh Battle – Hamill believes Long is showing promising signs to potentially slot in.
“Longy’s still learning, but we like what he’s showing,” Hamill told saints.com.au.
“His decision-making and ball-use has been really strong, his ability to embrace team defence is good and he’s starting to get that concept, and he’s an excellent contest player.”
“Ben’s a small forward himself, so the quicker he can learn and adjust and read patterns, he’ll begin to get a leg-up against his opposition.”
Long has been playing opposite small forwards Jack Lonie and Dan Butler, and has employed his own forward craft to anticipate his opponents’ antics.
The 22-year-old cuts a sharp figure on the training track, with his dash out of the defensive 50 a potential hallmark of the side.
In particular, the fledgling defender has excelled in defensive one-on-one contests, neutralising his opponents and winning the footy both in the air and at ground-level.
“He’s keen to learn and he’s absorbing everything that’s thrown at him,” Hamill said.
LIGHT RYDER: Trimmed-down Saint looks to wind back the clock
“His speed and release are excellent, and because he’s an aggressive player, when he goes, he can be a real game-breaking defender.
“Longy’s still learning the tricks of the trade and I’m not suggesting he’s at that level, but he’s showing some really good signs.
“So far so good, but we’re only a week or so away from finding out how good he’s really going.”
Long hasn’t been the only defender to impress on the park in the lead-up to Season 2020.
Callum Wilkie “hasn’t missed a beat all pre-season” according to Hamill, with the second-year Saint’s leadership and voice becoming a defining feature.
Nick Coffield is also beginning to shape up after shoulder surgery in the off-season, Shane Savage has carried his reliability into his 12th pre-season, while Dougal Howard is continuing his strong campaign in new colours.
St Kilda will face Hawthorn in the first week of the Marsh Community Series on Thursday 20 February at RSEA Park.