For the past year-and-a-half, Saints fans have intrinsically linked the word ‘mercurial’ with Hunter Clark. And rightly so.
Freakish sidesteps through traffic, seemingly endless time with the ball and an affinity for slipping tackles have comprised the youngster’s 55-game career. Just last week, he jagged a Goal of the Year contender which floored both opposition and teammate alike.
So when the Sherrin landed with the No. 11 late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s nail-biter against Gold Coast, everyone waited for – and expected – the magic to happen.
But instead of a graceful pirouette past the throng of incoming Suns, it was instead a simple handball over the top to Brad Crouch which conveyed the story of Clark’s impact.
The play nevertheless made the highlights reel as Crouch put the Saints 10 points ahead midway through the final stanza, all but securing the result at Metricon Stadium.
Clark’s nimble performance against the Suns (22 disposals at 86 per cent efficiency, nine marks) was the most recent in an influential sequence of outings, with standout efforts against Hawthorn (26 disposals, two goals) and Richmond (33 disposals) complementing the second month of his 2021 campaign.
And if it seems the 22-year-old has been dotting up all over the ground this season, there’s reason for it.
After beginning the year as an inside midfielder, Clark has gone on to play across half-back – the position which made him such an integral part of St Kilda’s defence last season – and most recently, pick up a role as a wingman/forward.
“I’m loving doing that and playing a bit of everywhere,” Clark told saints.com.au.
“It can be difficult if you’re not settling into a spot or you’re moving into different positions throughout the quarter, but at the same time I’ve loved it.
“It probably wasn’t the greatest watch (on Saturday), but you love playing in those games where you walk off the field and all the boys are just spent.”
The smooth-mover’s time was split between the wing/forward line against the Suns, with a shift to half-back in the final term helping nudge the Saints over the line.
But in whatever position he’s lined up on game-day, providing an “impact” has been front of mind.
Although Clark’s penchant for the astonishing has become a standout feature of his game in such a short space of time, it’s the nailing of the basics which have served as the catalyst for his classy displays.
“I have things where I know if I’m doing them well – which is my contest – and if I bring that, pretty much everything else will flow off that,” Clark said.
“If that’s down you can find other ways to impact the game, but I suppose for me every contest I get to, I need to put myself in the position to be able to win the ball or help teammates out.”
The courage to come off his man with less than a straight kick separating the Saints and Suns in the dying stages and flick a pass through to Crouch – who went on to seal the deal – was the prime example.
As has been the case every summer, getting fitter, getting stronger and improving his tank to play better for longer periods has been a focus for Clark, but added visualisation and meditation techniques have played a role in his on-field output.
While he admits some of last year’s final-quarter silk against the Suns was on his mind heading into this week, the young Saint’s pre-game visualisation isn’t about winning the game off his own boot or match-winning theatrics.
“It’s not so much ‘I’m going to do it and flip it around for us’, it’s more about ‘how can I impact the game’ and how can we all impact our teammates to lift,” Clark said.
“In that last quarter we didn’t change anything, really. We just started clicking a bit more with ball use and things like that.
“We knew we were capable and just had to help each other out.
“That’s been a focus over the last few weeks for us: how we can help each other rather than how we can help ourselves. That’s had a big impact on everyone.
“There’s a lot more selflessness around and everyone’s helping each other and our performances have probably indicated that.”