In September explosive midfielder Jack Steven won the Trevor Barker award as St Kilda’s 2015 best and fairest, polling 175 votes to finish 16 votes ahead of runner-up, fellow midfielder David Armitage, with reliable defender Sean Dempster polling 149 votes to finish in third place for the fourth time in five years. It is the second time in three seasons that Steven has won the Saints best and fairest, having also won in 2013, and his fourth consecutive top 10 finish, having finished 10th in 2012 and eighth in 2014.
In late March 2015, just days before he turned 25 Jack Steven signed a five-year contract extension with St Kilda until the end of the 2020 season. Before signing the extension Steven was contracted to St Kilda until the end of the 2015 season, at which point he would have become one of the most sought after free agents in the AFL. On signing the contract Steven commented “This effectively makes me a Saint for life, which I am thrilled about. There was some interest from other teams but I never entertained the thought of leaving the Saints. I’ve got some close friends here and there is a great vibe around the place with some positive things happening and this is the club I want to represent for my entire career.”1
During 2015 Steven was one of three Saints to play all 22 games, he averaged 79.8% game-time, 15.6 kicks, 11.3 handballs, 4.5 marks and 6.9 tackles a game with a disposal efficiency of 66.3%, and had a career-best season for kicks, marks, tackles, inside 50’s, goal assists and uncontested possessions per game and an equal career-best season for disposals, finishing 2015 with 591 disposals at 26.9 per game just as he had in his 2013 best and fairest winning season.
After every St Kilda game in the home and away season St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson and four assistant coaches awarded votes independently, giving each player a maximum of four votes.
David Armitage starred in St Kilda’s comeback win against the Western Bulldogs in Round 6 with a career best 45 disposals comprised of 21 kicks and a game-high 24 handballs to receive the maximum 20 votes from the St Kilda coaches, the only time during 2015 that a St Kilda player received 20 votes for a game. St Kilda recorded the equal fifth biggest comeback in VFL/AFL history to defeat the Bulldogs by seven points after trailing by 55 points at the three minute mark of the third quarter and from that point on kicked 12 of the last 14 goals of the game. 27 year-old Armitage played an inspirational game, having eight clearances, five tackles, four bounces, five inside 50’s, kicked a goal and won a game-high 16 contested possessions whilst operating at a disposal efficiency of 75.4%.
After Round 6 Armitage led the best and fairest on 73 votes, 22 votes ahead of Jack Steven, however the victory over the Bulldogs was the start of an outstanding month of football from Steven who earnt 15 votes in a game three times in five games, Rounds 6, 8 and 10 to reduce fellow midfielder Armitage’s lead to seven votes after Round 10. Against the Bulldogs Steven was one of St Kilda’s best players, with the dynamic midfielder playing a key role in the phenomenal comeback with a game-high 25 kicks, seven handballs, a career-high 11 marks, two goal assists, five tackles and an equal game-high seven inside 50s.
In Round 8 against West Coast hard-running and explosive Steven played an exceptional game with 17 kicks, a game-high nine marks, 20 handballs,12 tackles, four inside 50s, 10 clearances, 14 contested possessions, four goal assists and had an outstanding disposal efficiency of 78.4%. Only one other Saint had more than five clearances, Armitage with seven and no other St Kilda player had more than one goal assist. Steven’s four goal assists against the Western Bulldogs is the equal third most in a game by a St Kilda player, with Steven’s captain Nick Riewoldt holding the top two places on the list. Steven’s 12 tackles against West Coast is equal 13th on the all-time list for most tackles in a game by a St Kilda.
Against Brisbane at the Gabba in Round 9 St Kilda had their third win of the season, showing resilience to overcome a 29 point opening quarter deficit to win by 22 points. Steven impressed against the Lions with 17 kicks, nine handballs, seven inside 50’s, four clearances, a goal and had a disposal efficiency of 73.1% to earn 10 votes from the St Kilda coaching panel.
Days before Steven’s 100th AFL game he had a joint press conference with St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson. When asked ‘How have you seen Jack’s year?’ Richardson replied ‘Jack’s been really impressive, yeah, he has stepped up not only as a player but as a leader, he is not an official member of our leadership group but he is one of those players that inspires and almost embarrasses people into greater effort because of his energy and enthusiasm and his passion for the game” he loves the game, he loves playing with his team-mates, he gives real spirit and energy to the way that his team-mates play because of his own actions.”
Steven played his 100th AFL game in the Round 10 loss to Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium, becoming the 10th player on the Saints 2015 list and the 122nd player in the club’s history to reach this milestone. Steven won the Silk-Miller medal for being the best St Kilda player in the Blue Ribbon Cup match between the Saints and the Hawks. In his milestone game Steven had a season-high 38 disposals comprised of 23 kicks and 15 handballs, eight marks, a team-high seven clearances, four more than the next ranked Saint, four tackles and five inside 50’s. Jack’s strengths in his 100th game as they have been for most of his career were his ball winning including his ability to win clearances, and his explosive speed allowing him to create space, break away from his opponent and provide drive for the Saints.
Against Essendon in Round 14 Steven had 16 kicks, 13 handballs, eight marks, a game-high 11 tackles, four more than the next ranked player and an equal game-high three goal assists to receive 12 votes in St Kilda’s 110 point victory at Etihad Stadium, St Kilda’s biggest ever win against Essendon and the first time since 2012 that the Saints had a win by at least 100 points.
For much of the Saints 2015 best and fairest count very little separated Steven and Armitage in the top two places on the leader-board, after Round 20 Armitage led by four votes, however he missed Round 21 due to a shoulder injury, in this game Steven had 16 kicks, 10 handballs, 10 contested possessions, seven tackles and two goal assists in the draw with Geelong to earn 11 votes from the St Kilda coaches and gain the lead in the 2015 Trevor Barker Award for good.
During the 2015 home and away season Steven led the AFL for inside 50s and AFL fantasy points, ranked second for tackles, fifth for kicks, sixth for uncontested possessions and 10th for disposals. Highlighting Steven’s diverse skill-set, he was the only player in the league to be ranked in the top 10 of the AFL in all six categories. Steven led St Kilda in five of these categories, the exception was being ranked second for disposals, six behind Armitage. Steven also led St Kilda for goal assists, ranked second for contested possessions, handballs and clearances, and equal second for bounces. Steven had more than 20 disposals an equal career best 20 times in 2015, including seven games with at least 30 disposals.
At the 2015 Brownlow Medal Steven was voted best afield twice, and was the equal St Kilda leader on 12 votes along with Armitage. Steven almost doubled his career Brownlow Medal votes tally, having polled a total of 13 votes in his first six AFL seasons from 2009 to 2014.
On the night of the 2015 Trevor Barker Award after being crowned the winner, when asked which of his Trevor Barker award winning seasons does he rate better Steven commented “Maybe the first year was my break-out year and this year was a little bit better, other clubs knew more about me and I had to find other ways to find the footy and adapt to that so maybe this year.”
Growing up in Lorne Jack participated in several sports including surfing, golf, cricket and football. Jack played in several under-age football premierships with the Lorne Dolphins, including an under 17s premiership in 2005 when he was 15. The Grand Final ended in a draw, however Lorne won the replay the next week with Jack being best afield. Jack made his debut for the Lorne senior team in the Colac and District League at 16 years of age and played in back to back premierships for the senior team in 2006 and 2007.
During 2007 playing in the midfield and as a half-forward Steven was outstanding for the Geelong Falcons in his 15 games in the TAC Cup, averaging 13.9 kicks, 6.7 handballs, 4.2 marks 2.4 tackles and 1.1 goals per game, with a disposal efficiency of 71.5%, his outstanding season resulted in him winning the club’s best and fairest. Jack represented Victoria Country at the under 16 national championships in 2006 and the under 18 national championships in 2007, playing three games at each championship.
St Kilda recruited Steven with the number 42 selection at the 2007 National Draft in November when he was 17 years and seven months of age, making him the fifth youngest player on an AFL list in 2008. Steven played a total of only nine AFL games in his first three seasons, comprised of nil in 2008, one in 2009 and eight in 2010. During this period the Saints were one of the most experienced and best performed teams in the AFL, making the Preliminary Final in 2008 and the Grand Final in 2009 and 2010, making it difficult for young players to break into the team with Steven being no exception.
In Round 19 2009 Jack Steven made his AFL debut as a 19 year old against Hawthorn in Launceston. The St Kilda side was missing stars Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Lenny Hayes, Brendon Goddard, Sam Fisher, Sam Gilbert and Nick Dal Santo. On debut Steven had 10 kicks, four marks, five handballs, kicked a goal and laid four tackles to perform his role in St Kilda’s 25 point victory. On making his AFL debut Steven comments “It was down in Tassie so … it suited me, it felt a bit like a country game and all the boys really looked after me down there, that was in 2009 we were buzzing at the time, it was a great experience.”
Playing predominantly as a small forward Jack made the most of his opportunities around goal to kick an extremely accurate total of 11 goals, two behinds from his first nine AFL games with his best performance being a match turning 14 disposals, three goals and four marks inside 50 in the 24 point Round 13 2010 win against Geelong at the MCG in just his fourth game in the AFL. In his first AFL game at the MCG Steven displayed exceptional composure to have 86% disposal efficiency in the wet conditions and also be St Kilda’s most effective forward marking target, 20 year old Steven’s five marks inside 50, amazingly was one more than his 21 St Kilda teammates combined.
For breaking team rules, including the use of alcohol and misuse of prescription medication on a training camp in New Zealand during January 2011, Steven along with three of his St Kilda team-mates received a six week suspension during the 2011 pre-season. After this incident Steven had to win back the respect of St Kilda team-mates and coaching staff, after starting the season in the VFL Jack played his first game of 2011 for the Saints in Round 3 and went on to cement his position in the St Kilda side, playing the last 21 games of the 2011 season.
During Round 10 against Fremantle at Domain Stadium Steven contributed to St Kilda’s procession of sublime goals from the boundary line with one from the right forward pocket 47 metres out from goal in the last quarter to extend St Kilda’s lead to 55 points. Steven had 13 kicks, 14 handballs, took five bounces, had four inside 50’s and a score assist to receive the Round 10 AFL Rising Star nomination as well as two Brownlow Medal votes, the first votes of his career. Steven became just St Kilda’s second Rising Star nominee since Sam Gilbert in Round 16 2007, with the Saints other nominee during this time being Jarryn Geary in Round 8 2009.
In his first 14 AFL matches before Round 9 2011 Steven averaged 11.8 disposals per game and only had more than 14 disposals twice, in his last 16 games of 2011 Steven relished spending more time in the midfield and elevated his game to a new level to average 21.9 disposals per game and had at least 14 disposals 14 times in these 16 games.
Steven played the first 14 games of 2012, however his sequence of 35 consecutive games which commenced in Round 3 2011 ended when he received a one game club suspension for Round 16. Steven was stopped for a random breath test and was over the 0.05 limit, recording a reading of 0.08 which resulted in him losing his driving license for six months and receiving a $423 fine. In addition to these penalties imposed by Victoria Police the St Kilda Football Club suspended Jack from playing in the AFL or VFL for one game and fined him $5,000, penalties which were approved by the AFL and the AFL Players Association before the Saints imposed them on Steven.
After serving the one game suspension from the St Kilda Football Club in Round 16 Steven was recalled to the St Kilda team for Round 17 and played the last seven games of the season with the Saints, he played his 50th AFL game against GWS in Round 22 at Etihad Stadium
During 2012 Steven played 21 of a possible 22 matches, averaging 98 minutes, 11.9 kicks, 8.3 handballs, 3.7 marks and 4.0 tackles a game with a disposal efficiency of 68.7%. Steven finished 10th in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 65 votes, one behind Armitage in ninth place. Steven was ranked second at St Kilda for loose-ball gets and third for inside 50s, contested possessions and hard-ball gets, fourth for goal assists, equal fourth for clearances, sixth for handballs and disposals, and kicked 17 goals, ranked equal sixth. Steven had 20 or more disposals 12 times with a season-high of 25 disposals in Round 14 against North Melbourne.
Steven played all 22 matches in 2013 and in the final Round of the season St Kilda hosted Fremantle at Etihad Stadium, Steven and Montagna had 47 disposals each to set a new St Kilda record for most disposals in a game, surpassing 45 disposals by two-time Brownlow Medallist Robert Harvey in Round 19, 1999 against the Western Bulldogs. Steven also set a new record for most handballs in a game by a St Kilda player, with 30, six more than the previous best of 24 which was held by Geoff Cunningham, Brendon Goddard and Robert Harvey who reached this mark twice. Steven received the three Brownlow Medal votes, surprisingly the first and to the start of the 2015 season the only time the umpires had adjudged him best afield.
Predominantly playing in the midfield Steven had an outstanding 2013 season, averaging 93 minutes, 14.2 kicks, 12.7 handballs, 3.8 marks and 4.0 tackles a game with a disposal efficiency of 70.4%. During 2013 Steven led St Kilda for handballs, goal assists, contested possessions and clearances, was ranked second for kicks, disposals, inside 50s, uncontested possessions and tackles, and equal fifth for goals with 16. Steven had 20 disposals or more in 20 of his 22 games, including seven games with at least 30 disposals. Steven excelled at winning clearances in 2013, amassing a tally of 118, 49% more than Leigh Montagna and Armitage who were ranked equal second at St Kilda with 79 each. Steven polled eight Brownlow Medal votes, ranked second at St Kilda behind Leigh Montagna with 16 votes. In recognition of his magnificent season Steven was nominated in the All-Australian squad of 40 players, the only other Saint nominated was key-forward Riewoldt. At the end of the home and away season Steven ranked eighth in the AFL for total disposals and 10th for handballs and clearances.
On 27 February 2014 Steven fractured the sesamoid bone in his right foot at training, he did not require surgery, however he was unable to train for a month, which limited the fitness work he could do in the pre-season and adversely effected his match conditioning throughout the 2014 season. Steven missed the first three games of the AFL season and despite missing five games in total for the season he remained a valuable contributor for St Kilda to finish eighth in the club’s best and fairest. During 2014 Steven played 17 matches averaging 91 minutes, 12.1 kicks, 11.0 handballs, 2.6 marks and 4.6 tackles a game with a disposal efficiency of 68.7%.
In his 112 game AFL career to date Steven has averaged 12.49 kicks, 9.96 handballs, 3.6 marks, 0.66 goals and 4.6 tackles per game. Records of disposals per game have been kept from 1965 onwards and Steven ranks seventh on St Kilda’s list for most disposals per game from 1965-2015 with 22.46, behind a top six of Robert Harvey (25.21 disposals per game), Leigh Montagna (23.52), Ian Stewart (23.02), Ross Smith (22.88), Lenny Hayes (22.52) and Nick Dal Santo (22.51).
Steven’s workload was carefully managed in 2015 which was a key factor in him recapturing the superb form that he had in 2013. During 2013 and 2015, seasons Steven had an injury-free run he has been extremely consistent to have at least 20 disposals in 40 of his 44 games, representing 90.9% of his games across these two seasons, and consistently be in St Kilda’s best three players. At 25 years of age Steven is in the prime of his career and can be expected to maintain a similar level of output for several years to come. In the lead-up to games match committees frequently discuss which opposition midfielder to tag and whether it should be an inside midfielder or an outside midfielder. Steven has the rare mix of being able to win the contested ball whilst also being able to utilise his speed to burst away from the pack, create space for himself and provide drive for the Saints. It is extremely difficult for a tagger to be able to contain such a player in both facets of midfield play. These skills enabled Steven to develop into a game-breaker and have been his greatest asset in becoming a two-time Trevor Barker Award winner in 2015.
After finding it difficult to break into the St Kilda side during the first three seasons of his AFL career Jack Steven cemented his position in the St Kilda side at the start of his fourth season, 2011. From 2013 onwards he has elevated his game to another level and with increased maturity his leadership skills have developed, although he leads more so with his actions than his words, his attack on the ball, creativity and unrelenting hard running have enabled him to develop into one of St Kilda’s best and most influential players, a standing he will retain for several years to come.
By Dean Andrews