“He’s an angry man,” Callum Wilkie jokes when asked about his great mate Dougal Howard.
“I mean he’s pretty relaxed off the field, but when we’re playing FIFA or on the golf course, things get pretty heated.
“He doesn’t mind bashing his club into the ground after a bad shot, and he actually takes his shirt off when we are playing FIFA on the playstation because he gets the sweats up.
In one sense, Wilkie and Howard are cut from the same cloth.
Both defenders in the early stages of their careers at the Saints, both mature young men driven to succeed, both exuding an easy-going nature not often found among AFL ranks.
But they are also very different.
Howard was a talented country football star from an early age, drafted from Wagga Wagga to Port Adelaide in the 2014 draft after growing up on a cattle farm.
Wilkie – on the other hand – was a budding young accountant from Adelaide, finally given his AFL chance at the age of 22 when tax returns and state-league dominance for North Adelaide appeared his lot in life.
The unassuming defensive duo has formed an inseparable bond after a winter spent on the road and a shared responsibility to marshal St Kilda’s young backline.
While Wilkie doesn’t mind stirring Howard about his temper, the second-year Saint says it is this dose of white-line fever that makes him such a formidable defender.
“He can be pretty animated on the field, and if someone isn’t in the right position or hasn’t come back hard enough, he doesn’t mind letting them know,” Wilkie said.
“It’s exactly what we need with such a young group, to set really high standards, and the boys love him for that.”
Howard’s leadership was no hidden secret, having been elevated as a leader at the Power and even captaining the club last year.
But it’s a quality that was desperately needed at the Saints.
With Jarryn Geary playing a forward tagging role in the first half of the season, Howard would often find himself the second-most experienced defender with just a tick over 50 games.
But together with Wilkie, who has played every game since he was drafted at the end of 2018, they’ve created a powerful unit with youngsters Nick Coffield, Hunter Clark, Ben Paton and Ben Long, as well as seasoned defender Jake Carlisle.
“Cal is such a versatile player who can play on both talls and smalls and just rarely loses a one-on-one,” Howard said.
“He’s had a pretty awesome start to his career when you think about it, playing every game since he was drafted.
“We knew each other a little bit from when we were both in Adelaide, and he was someone who I became really close with as soon as I joined the Saints.
“There is a pretty big group of us who are around the same age and all get along really well, which makes things enjoyable.”
Howard and Wilkie can often be found in the Noosa Hub together, with Dan Butler and Logan Austin not usually far behind.
“It’s Butts and I versus Doug and Loges when it comes to FIFA, and we’ve got the wood over them,” Wilkie said.
“The games are pretty willing and there’s often a few choice words coming out of our room.
“It’s been great to get know everyone better, and that extends to our partners too, who are now spending a lot of time together and who have become close friends in their own right.
“I think because our group is so young and there are so many new faces this year, that it’s just meant we’ve been able to develop those relationships a lot quicker than we would have had we been based in Melbourne.
On the field, the relationship is flourishing, with the Saints’ developing defence one of the big positives to emerge from 2020.
The growth of Coffield, Paton, Long and Clark has been eye-catching, but Wilkie and Howard have often taken the big jobs and got them done with minimal fuss.
“We know there is a lot of improvement in us but the confidence is definitely growing,” Wilkie said.
“Hopefully we are going to play a lot of footy together over the next 10 years which is pretty exciting.”