At a glance:

  • St Kilda's Head of Football David Rath says Jack Steele is poised to break free as an inside midfielder in 2020.
  • Steele has primarily been deployed as a tagger during his time at the Saints.
  • Rath also credited Josh Battle's "merit" to play up both ends of the ground.

St Kilda’s Head of Football Program David Rath believes Jack Steele is ready to let loose as a fully-fledged midfielder ahead of the season restart.

The fierce combatant was deployed predominantly as a tagger in 2019 and helped nullify some of the league’s biggest game-breakers week-on-week.

But in line with Brett Ratten’s philosophy of developing a gameplan that plays to players’ strengths, Rath believes the 24-year-old can reach new heights when set free.

READ: Rath on Ratten's coaching philosophy

“What we’ve seen with Jack over the pre-season and towards the end of last year, is that he established himself as a quality midfielder,” Rath told SEN.

“I think Ratts’ approach we’ve seen so far in the pre-season and Round 1 was to let him off the leash a little bit.

We’ve seen Jack grow in doing that.  He’s got the capacity to actually take the game on without being shackled to a player, because he has some unique attributes.

- David Rath

"He’s a big-bodied mid in the classic type and his ability to break free and get through a contest is really strong, so we’re hopeful to see some more offensive output from Jack, for sure.”

Steele (151 votes) polled third in last year’s Trevor Barker Award behind Rowan Marshall (152) and Seb Ross (170) and topped the league’s tackle count with 164 tackles in 2019.

While a minor wrist injury has temporarily halted the plan, the No. 9 is on track to rubberstamp his prowess next Sunday against the Western Bulldogs.  

Jack Steele and Dan Butler back out on the training track. Photo: Corey Scicluna.

Rath also spoke glowingly of Josh Battle, whose best position in the side has been a hot talking point among Saints fans.

“It’s a work in progress for Josh, he’s an emerging talent and we see merit for him playing at both ends of the ground,” Rath said.

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“That could be seen as a bad thing for Josh, but it’s more likely to be a good thing because he’s got ultimate flexibility as perhaps that swingman within a game.

“He spent some time at both ends of the ground and he played down back in our match sim last week and acquitted himself really well.”

Josh Battle has highlighted his versatility since returning to RSEA Park. Photo: Corey Scicluna.

The Haileybury recruit has played forward for most of his footy career, but was thrown down back in 2019 as injury swept through the Saints’ defensive stocks.

“He’s got a lot of attributes to support his ability down back – he reads the play well, he marks it well, he’s a really good size and he’s a beautiful kick,” Rath said.

“But on the flipside of that, that conduit lead-up role is a really good opportunity for him up forward because of those attributes.

“I think he’ll probably play a little bit of both, and that’s going to be really valuable for us.”

Both Steele and Battle will have their hands up for selection when the Saints’ season gets underway on Sunday 14 June against the Western Bulldogs.