On Thursday night hard running midfielder Jack Steven won his second consecutive Trevor Barker Award as St Kilda best and fairest and the third award of his career – having also won the award in 2013, to join rarefied company and become just the 10th Saint of all-time to win three St Kilda best and fairests awards. Only three players in the history of the St Kilda Football Club have won more than three best and fairests, current teammate Nick Riewoldt holds the record with six followed by Steven’s former teammate Robert Harvey and Bill Cubbins on four each, having won their awards in the 1990’s and 1920’s respectively. With his 2016 Trevor Barker Award win Steven joined six other Saints in the 100-year history of the award as a three-time winner being Wels Eicke, Jack Davis, Jim Ross, Darrel Baldock, Nathan Burke and Lenny Hayes.
In the 2016 St Kilda best and fairest count count Steven polled 172 votes to finish 15 votes ahead of small defender Jarryn Geary with Saints record holder for most games as captain Nick Riewoldt finishing in third position on 153 votes after polling the only perfect 20 of the night for a phenomenal game in the 58 point win against the Brisbane Lions in Round 23 at Etihad Stadium with an equal career-best nine goals, an outright career best 21 marks and 26 disposals. It was the ninth time in his career that Riewoldt finished in the top three in St Kilda’s best and fairest whilst Geary achieved this feat for the first time – surpassing his previous best finish of fourth in 2013. Steven recorded his fifth consecutive top 10 finish, as well as his wins in 2013, 2015 and 2016 he also finished 10th in 2012 and eighth in 2014.
During 2016 Steven was one of five Saints to play all 22 games, the second season in a row that he has achieved this, increasing his consecutive games tally to 49 – ranked second at St Kilda behind Jack Newnes with 66. In 2016 Steven averaged 81.9% game-time, 14.1 kicks, 13.9 handballs, 2.8 marks and 5.6 tackles a game with a disposal efficiency of 70.4% and had a career-best season for handballs, disposals, clearances, contested possessions and an equal career-best season for goal assists with 17, to equal his 2015 tally.
After every St Kilda game in the home and away season St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson and another four members of the coaching panel – Danny Sexton, Adam Kingsley, Aaron Hamill and Rohan Welsh awarded votes independently, giving each player a maximum of four votes so the maximum votes a player can receive in a single game is 20. Steven received at least 13 votes in a game six times during 2016, these games are listed below:
13 votes vs Port Adelaide in Round 1
15 votes vs Essendon in Round 9
15 votes vs Carlton in Round 12
13 votes vs Geelong in Round 14
16 votes vs Essendon in Round 16
14 votes vs Western Bulldogs in Round 18
St Kilda won five of the games that Steven polled 13 votes or more with the only loss being to Port Adelaide in Round 1. Steven’s brilliant performances in all six of these games is covered below.
Steven started the 2016 season strongly, having at least 29 disposals, five tackles, and six clearances in each of St Kilda’s first three games of the home and away season. In the 33 point loss to Port Adelaide in Round 1 at Adelaide Oval Steven had a game-high 19 kicks, equal team-high 17 handballs, a game-high eight inside 50s, seven clearances, 16 contested possessions and kicked a goal. After leading by 20 points at the 22 minute mark of the third quarter the Saints were overrun, being outscored nine goals to one for the remainder of the match.
After Round 8 St Kilda had only two wins for the season and six losses, however from that point of the season onwards the Saints closed the gap on the top eight with Steven playing a pivotal role in many of the Saints 10 wins from Round 9 to Round 23. At Etihad Stadium against Essendon in Round 9 Steven stood out with his line breaking speed, his ability to win clearances and his ball-use, having 20 kicks, 20 handballs, 10 clearances, 16 contested possessions, nine clearances and three goal assists to set outright or equal game-highs in all six categories. In the 46 point win Steven had at least 40 disposals in a game for the second time in his AFL career, kicked a goal and used the ball sublimely to have a disposal efficiency of 77.7%.
With Saints captain Riewoldt missing the Round 12 game against Carlton at Etihad Stadium due to a knee injury Steven was given the responsibility of being captain for the game. Steven led by example during the 32 point win, kicking an equal season best three goals (along with Round 3 against Collingwood), had an equal team-high 19 kicks, six handballs, a game-high nine tackles, five clearances, a game-high 10 inside 50’s, and six goal assists to equal the all-time St Kilda record set by Riewoldt in Round 17, 2006 against Richmond.
After Round 13 Steven had polled 102 votes to lead the best and fairest by 19 votes from Geary with Riewoldt in third position one vote further back. In a thrilling Round 14 contest against ladder leaders Geelong at Etihad Stadium St Kilda started in blistering fashion to lead by five goals late in the first half before Geelong hit back strongly to kick 10 of the next 14 goals and led by nine points at the 18 minute mark of the last quarter. First year player Jade Gresham showed extraordinary poise and class to kick a spectacular snap goal from the forward pocket to reduce the margin to three points and bring the Saints within striking distance. With four minutes remaining Steven kicked a soccer goal off the ground from 17 metres out directly in front, gaining enough elevation to kick the ball above Cat, Tom Lonergan and Saint, Paddy McCartin who were standing at the top of the goal square. The Steven goal at the 22 minute mark put St Kilda three points in front and was the final score of the game.
Steven was instrumental in St Kilda’s Round 16 victory against Essendon at Etihad Stadium, winning 22 contested possessions – twice as many as the second ranked Saint, laid a game-high 12 tackles, 12 clearances – five more than the second ranked player, a game-high 21 kicks, 20 handballs, nine inside 50s, and kicked a goal. St Kilda started the final quarter nine points in front however Essendon dominated the first half of the final term, having the first seven scoring shots to lead by seven points at the 17 minute mark. Steven was exceptional in the final quarter, having 13 disposals and kicking a goal at 28 minute mark to extend St Kilda’s lead to 17 points, a late Joe Daniher goal reduced the final margin to 11 points. Jack’s 22 contested possessions for the game equalled the St Kilda record set by key forward/ruckman Stewart Loewe in Round 11, 2000 against Port Adelaide. In the press conference after the Round 16 victory St Kilda coach Richardson commented “Two guys in particular, Jack Steven and Jarryn Geary (who polled 14 votes for the game) were just outstanding for us all day and probably even stronger for us again late.”
In the 15 point victory against the Western Bulldogs in the Round 18 Saturday night game at Etihad Stadium Steven had 39 disposals comprised of 17 kicks and 22 handballs – setting game-highs in all three categories, he also had a team-high seven tackles, equal game-high six clearances, a game-high 14 contested possessions, one goal assist, kicked a goal and used the ball well with a disposal efficiency of 74.4%. Steven used his hard running to full effect to amass 30 disposals by the six minute mark of the third quarter. The victory over the Western Bulldogs moved the Saints into finals contention, winning seven of their nine games from Round 9 to Round 18 including two victories over eventual 2016 finalists – Geelong and the Western Bulldogs. It is no coincidence that this was the exact period that Steven was in his richest vein of form for the season – polling at least 13 votes five times in nine games from Round 9 to Round 18. The only other time for the season that Steven received 13 votes or more for the season was in Round 1 with 13 votes against Port Adelaide.
After Round 22 Steven on 160 votes led the best and fairest by seven votes from small defender Jarryn Geary and polled 12 votes to Geary’s four votes in the Round 23 win against Brisbane to secure his third Trevor Barker Award.
Steven had more than 20 disposals an equal career-best 20 times in 2016, including nine games with at least 30 disposals. Steven ranked second in the AFL for inside 50s, equal 12th for clearances, 14th for disposals and equal 16th for handballs. Steven’s 250 contested possessions in 2016 is the sixth most recorded by a St Kilda player in a season, of these top six Steven’s 11.36 contested possessions per game ranks second behind Armitage with 12.43 per game in 2015. Jack was the only St Kilda player named in the 40 player All-Australian squad in 2016, the second nomination of his career having also achieved this feat in 2013 when he won his first St Kilda best and fairest. At the conclusion of the 2016 season Steven was ranked 14th overall, the eighth best midfielder and first at St Kilda in the Official AFL Player Ratings. After his purple patch from Round 9 to Round 18, 2016 Steven was ranked 10th overall.
St Kilda finished the 2016 season in ninth position with 12 wins and 10 losses, an identical win-loss record and position as 2012. Whilst St Kilda made some difficult list management decisions which was a contributing factor in the Saints only recording 15 wins and a draw from 2013 to 2015 these difficult and in some cases unpopular decisions have made vindicated with St Kilda’s rapid improvement in 2016.
In February 2016 the Saints playing group voted on which players should be included in the St Kilda Football Club’s leadership group. The same seven players were voted in as 2015 being Nick Riewoldt as captain, together with four players who have each been at the club for at least eight seasons in Leigh Montanga, Sean Dempster, David Armitage and Jarryn Geary, along with 24 year-old Mav Weller and 23 year-old Jack Newnes. The St Kilda seven man playing leadership group together with head coach Alan Richardson and football manager Jamie Cox asked Steven to join the playing leadership group. Riewoldt commented “The really encouraging part about … the conversations with Jack was he wanted to know why was it important for him to come into the group. I think he understands the influence he has over the rest of the playing group. Jack Steven has been our best player for a few years now and is a really influential guy around the group.”1 On Steven’s elevation to the leadership group Richardson told radio station SEN “Jack’s one of those guys that’s really incredibly enthusiastic and passionate. There’s probably no one at our footy club who gives greater effort on game day – he’s unbelievable Jack. He ticks a lot of boxes. He’s not the person to get up and sell the footy club at this stage. That sort of stuff makes him a bit anxious. But he’s a terrific person; he’s just committed to our footy club for a further five years. He’s a real Saints man, we love the way he goes about it.”2 On his elevation to the leadership group Steven commented “It’s both an honour and a big challenge to be named in the leadership group for the first time – I am very keen to help drive our young list. I really love the spirit in this playing group and people would have seen that on show last season. This group really has a crack and doesn’t give in and, as a leadership group, we need to make sure people keep improving. We took a step in the right direction last season but we need to keep getting better.”3
During his captain’s address at the 2016 best and fairest Nick Riewoldt said “In the interest of the footy club it’s the right time for me to step aside to give a new player the opportunity to lead. It has been my absolute privilege and honour to captain St Kilda for the past eleven years. I’ve experienced a great deal in my tenure as captain and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve as a group when we’ve been contending right at the pointy end of the competition. I’ve also been really pleased by the improvement that a lot of our younger guys have shown and the people they’re becoming while we’ve spent time rebuilding.” After not being voted into the leadership group by the St Kilda players at the start of the 2016 season Jack Steven vindicated the decision of the club’s leaders to overrule this decision and add him to the leadership group, believing it was in the best interests of both Steven and the football club. Such was Steven’s progression as a leader during the 2016 season that he is considered one of the three players most likely to succeed Riewoldt as captain in 2017 along with 28 year old’s Jarryn Geary and David Armitage.
In an interview with saints.com.au after winning the 2016 Trevor Barker Award Steven was asked “A three-time club champion now, tell us what that honour means to you.“ Steven responded “Yeah it’s huge, like I am pretty pumped at the moment, I am not sure what to say, but it was a really good night with all the boys and yeah, I am super stoked.” Steven commented on his season “I think I had more impact on our wins which I was really happy about, I thought I helped the team win 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.
Steven’s progression from a junior player with the Geelong Falcons in the TAC Cup to playing a total of only nine AFL games in his first three seasons on St Kilda’s list through to developing into a multiple Trevor Barker Award winner is covered below.
During 2007 playing in the midfield and as a half-forward Steven was outstanding for the Geelong Falcons under 18’s 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 superb 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 which made it difficult for young players to break into the team and Steven was 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, 2011 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, 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 AFL 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 in the 41 point win 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%.
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 set new career-bests in a 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. 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 of these 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.
In his 134 game AFL career to date Steven has averaged 12.75 kicks, 10.6 handballs, 3.5 marks, 0.66 goals and 4.8 tackles per game. Records of disposals per game have been kept from 1965 onwards and Steven ranks third on St Kilda’s list for most disposals per game from 1965-2016 with 23.36, behind Robert Harvey (25.21 disposals per game) and Leigh Montagna (23.78) and ahead of Ian Stewart (23.02), Ross Smith (22.88), Lenny Hayes (22.52) and Nick Dal Santo (22.51).
In his three best and fairest winning seasons of 2013, 2015 and 2016 Steven has been very durable, playing all 66 games and has been extremely consistent to have least 20 disposals in 60 games, representing 90.9% of his games across these three seasons and routinely be in St Kilda’s best three players. 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 three-time Trevor Barker Award winner in 2016.
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, 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.
On the eve of the 2015 season Steven signed a five year contract with St Kilda until the end of 2020. In Round 10 2015 Steven played his 100th AFL game and given that he is at the peak of his playing powers, the influence he has on the playing group and turned 26 years old the day after St Kilda’s opening game of the 2016 season a strong case could have been made at the start of 2016 that no player was going to be more important to the St Kilda Football Club during the term of that five-year contract extension from 2016 to 2020 than Jack Steven. This argument has been further strengthened during 2016 given Jack Steven’s development as a leader and his outstanding performances on the field to win the third Trevor Barker Award of his career and second in succession, consolidating his status as St Kilda’s best player.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777