I want to let you off the chain next year, mate.

They were the words ringing in Jack Steele’s ears as he left his exit meeting after a tumultuous Season 2019.

A second consecutive podium finish in the Trevor Barker Award days earlier was just reward for another standout individual year, but his new coach Brett Ratten wanted more.

Jarryd Roughead, Head of Football Program David Rath and COO Simon Lethlean were among those at the table as Ratten laid bare his plans for the No. 9.

Steele had been deployed as a tagger under Alan Richardson midway through 2018 – a role in which he had thrived – and physicality had become the cornerstone of his game.

But Ratten’s philosophy to back in his players’ strengths meant change was on the cards for the budding ball-winner, and the message was simple:

It was time to put his stamp on the game.

“Ratts obviously saw a lot more room for growth in me,” Steele told saints.com.au.

“It was good to hear they backed me in then, because it allowed me to train hard and work towards something over the off-season and pre-season.”

Steele trains with off-season recruit Dan Butler during the shutdown period.

Steele left that meeting reinvigorated.

Genuine two-way midfielder was the goal, and the work started now.

With renewed purpose, Steele got himself in career-best shape over the summer, before COVID-19 put his and Ratten’s plans on hold.

Improvised training schedules and hurriedly constructed conditioning programs became the norm league-wide.

Steele headed home to Canberra, finding a training partner in childhood mate and Richmond ruckman Ivan Soldo.

And again he got to work.

“With all the uncertainty on when we’d come back to train or play, it was easy to fall into the trap of not training hard, or not training at all,” he said.

I used that as motivation to get ahead of everyone.

Steele leads the Saints after Round 14 for disposals, contested possessions, clearances, tackles and score involvements.

“I want to play finals this year, so that was another big motivator for me and always playing in the back of my mind.”

So far, the hard work is paying off.

The Canberra product has hit career-best form in Season 2020, leading the Saints after Round 14 for disposals, contested possessions, clearances, tackles and score involvements.

He has quickly become arguably the Saints’ most important player and is now considered a Brownlow medal chance and a possible All-Australian.

Perhaps most tellingly, the tagger has become the tagged.

The tagger has become the tagged.

From a second-string Giant in 2016, Steele’s rise up the ranks has been remarkable, and it’s not just on the field where he’s taking giant leaps.

Skipper Jarryn Geary has taken Steele under his wing, inviting the 24-year-old to sit in on leadership group meetings this season.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Ratten has spoken glowingly of the impact Steele is having on his teammates, in particular young midfielder Jack Bytel.

And it’s the young talent coming through that ensured Steele’s commitment to Saints was unwavering.

“I always wanted to stay at the Saints,” he said.

“The youth and depth we’re growing at the club excites me massively. I really want to be a part of taking this footy club forward.

“I have loved playing with the likes of Zak Jones and Jade Gresham in the midfield this year, and I think we will only improve as a group in years to come.”