Midfielder Jack Steven’s progression from nine games in three seasons to three St Kilda best and fairest awards in four seasons

Explosive St Kilda midfielder Jack Steven played his 150th AFL game against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval last month. From 2013 onwards Steven has been St Kilda’s most consistent and best performed player to win three of the club’s last four best and fairest awards – 2013, 2015 and 2016 to join a select group of five players who had achieved this feat of winning three b & f’s in four years with the Saints previously – Wels Eicke, Jack Davis, Jim Ross, Darrel Baldock and Nick Riewoldt. Only three players in the 110 year plus history of the St Kilda Football Club have won more best and fairest awards than Steven – current team-mate Riewoldt with six along with Bill Cubbins and former team-mate Robert Harvey with four each.

St Kilda recruited Steven with pick 42 in the third round pick of the National Draft in November 2007 when he was 17 years and seven months of age, making him the fifth youngest player on an AFL list for the 2008 season. 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. 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 games.

After finding it difficult to break into the St Kilda side during the first three seasons of his AFL career  Steven cemented his position in the St Kilda side at the start of his fourth season, 2011 starting the season as a forward, however from the middle third of the 2011 season onwards he has predominantly played as a midfielder. From Round 3, 2011 to Round 20, 2017 Jack has played 142 of a possible 150 games for St Kilda, missing Round 16 2012 due to a club suspension, five games in 2014 due to a foot fracture and two games early in 2017 due to a punctured lung. From 2013 onwards Steven 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 most influential players, a standing he will retain for several years to come. Except for 2014 when he was hampered by his foot injury and spent some games as the substitute, he has more than 25 disposals per game in each season from 2013 to 2017. On the eve of the 2015 season Steven signed a five year contract with St Kilda until the end of 2020.

During the 2013 home and away season Steven ranked in the top 10 of the AFL for total disposals, handballs and clearances, whilst in the 2016 h & a season he ranked second in the AFL for total  inside 50’s and in the top 15 for clearances and disposals. Steven was nominated in the 40 player All-Australian squad in 2013 and 2016. Steven led the AFL for inside 50’s during the 2015 home and away season, ranked second for tackles and fifth for kicks however he was controversially overlooked from the 2015 AA squad. Steven hasn’t been quite as consistent in 2017 as his 2013, 2015 and 2016 seasons, however he has had more than 26 disposals in 10 of his 18 games, ranks second at the Saints behind Sebastian Ross for disposals per game, third for contested possessions and inside 50’s.

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His profile in AFL Prospectus 2014 said “Steven was in the elite bracket for a midfielder for disposals, uncontested possessions, score involvements and pressure acts last season. He also rated above average for metres gained and clearances, ranking third in the competition for running bounces to illustrate he has a rare ability to burst out of congestion.”1 This 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 had enabled Steven to develop into a game-breaker and has been his greatest asset from 2013 onwards.

Asked on saints.com.au in the week of his 150th game about the impact head coach Alan Richardson has had on him as a player and as a person Steven responded “Yeah, he has been great, he really encourages me to take the game on and play my sort of footy, just play with that sort of freedom. That’s really good and brings out the best in me and he’s really supportive which I love.” When asked ‘Can you believe how much you have achieved in such a short space of time?’ Steven responded “Yeah it still doesn’t really sink in with me, it is something I’ll look back on when I finish that I’ll be pretty proud of.”

Junior career and AFL career with St Kilda up until 2010

Growing up in Lorne Jack participated in several sports including surfing, golf, cricket and football. Jack’s parents, mum Jenny and dad Peter both taught at local schools. Jack has two younger brothers Ted and George, mum Jenny comments on her sons ”My three boys have been very lucky, they love being here by the ocean” and she adds about Jack ”He loved his footy and loved surfing as well.”2 Whilst Lorne is an extremely popular holiday spot resulting in upwards of 15,000 people staying in the town during periods of summer it has a small permanent population that was officially listed as 975 people in the 2006 census when Jack was 16 years of age.

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. Jack was one of Lorne’s best players in the 2007 Grand Final victory and narrowly missed out on being best afield with team-mate Jaxson Barham receiving the award.

At the 2006 under 16 National Championships Steven played all three games for Vic Country averaging 10.7 kicks, 5.3 handballs, 1.7 marks and 2.3 tackles per game, with a disposal efficiency of 58.3%.

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 and 2.4 tackles per game, with a disposal efficiency of 71.5%, his outstanding season resulted in him winning the club’s best and fairest. Jack made an impact on the scoreboard, kicking 17 goals and having 12 goal assists, however he was inaccurate around goal, also kicking 20 behinds. His profile in AFL Prospectus 2008 said Steven “developed his outside game towards the end of the season, increasing his uncontested possessions average from 10 to 16 per game in the final six rounds, including a 36-disposal game late in the year.”3 During the 2007 TAC Cup season Steven averaged 7.8 contested possessions and 12.9 uncontested possessions per game resulting in 37.9% of his possessions being contested.

Playing predominantly as a half-back Steven played all three games for Vic Country at the 2007 under 18 National Championships, averaging 11.0 kicks, 5.3 handballs, 2.3 marks and 4.0 tackles per game, with a disposal efficiency of 73.5%. Steven’s Vic Country team-mates included Ben McEvoy, Scott Selwood and Nick Suban.

At the time of being picked by St Kilda with the No. 42 selection in the 2007 National Draft 17 year old Jack Steven was 180 centimetres tall and weighed 78 kilograms. Steven was recruited from Lorne and the Geelong Falcons Under-18s, he was the youngest player on St Kilda’s list for the 2008 season. Four of Steven’s Geelong Falcons team-mates were selected at the 2007 NAB AFL National Draft, Lachie Henderson (by Brisbane with selection 8), Adam Donohue (by Geelong with selection 60), Lorne team-mate Jaxson Barham (by Collingwood with selection 61) and Guy O’Keefe (by the Western Bulldogs with selection 63). Donohue and Barham were both father-son selections by their respective clubs, after spending two seasons at Brisbane Henderson was traded to Carlton for Brendan Fevola and pick 27 at the 2009 National Draft. Henderson is now at his third AFL club, having been traded by Carlton to Geelong in 2015 for pick 17 at the 2016 National Draft which was used to select Jarrod Berry. Henderson played his 150th AFL game in Round 18, 2017 – one week before Steven.

St Kilda had four selections at the 2007 National Draft, selecting McEvoy with their first selection – pick 9 overall, followed by Steven at pick 42, they re-drafted two-time Coleman medallist Fraser Gehrig at pick 57 and choose Eljay Conners with selection 70.

The profile for Steven in the AFL Record Season Guide to 2008 said “The fiercely competitive midfielder/forward has been likened to Geelong tough-nut Paul Chapman. Quick with good endurance, he excels at winning the contested ball.”4

Steven was the fifth youngest player on an AFL list in 2008 having been born on 28 Match 1990, with the four younger players being in order from youngest to oldest, Callan Ward (pick 19), Trent Cotchin (pick 2), Patrick Dangerfield (pick 10) and Brad Ebert (pick 13), Ward is just 13 days younger than Steven. Highlighting the quality of these five midfielders, four of them, Ward, Cotchin, Dangerfield and Steven have each won at least one AFL club best and fairest, and Ebert finished equal second at Port Adelaide in 2012. Cotchin and Dangerfield have both won a Brownlow Medal and all five players are in their AFL club’s leadership group with Cotchin being captain of Richmond and Ward co-captain of GWS.  Steven was the only one of the youngest five that was not selected in the top 20 at the 2007 National Draft and has proven to be one of the most astute selections at this draft. If you were re-ranking the 2007 National Draft class on their performances to date late in their 10th AFL season Steven would certainly be in the top 10 and a strong case could be mounted for his inclusion in the top five.

In a 2008 NAB Cup match against Geelong Steven kicked the final goal of the match to play a pivotal role in the five point victory. St Kilda went on to win the 2008 NAB Cup however Steven was not selected in the Grand Final side. During 2008 Steven completed Year 12 and played 20 games for Casey in the VFL averaging 16 disposals per game and kicked a total of 17 goals, he impressed with late season form to be named as an emergency for St Kilda’s last two finals.

During Steven’s first season on St Kilda’s list in 2008 he wore number 34 and received guidance from St Kilda legend Robert Harvey who was in his last AFL season. Harvey also gained from this experience and in his retirement press conference on August 6 2008 he said “I share a locker next to Jack Steven now, who comes in every day and takes his school uniform off and puts his bag down – and that was me. Being next to him has been good because it has ignited my memories of that.”5

Steven missed the start of the 2009 VFL season with an ankle injury and made his first appearance for Sandringham in Round 5. Steven finished fifth in Sandringham’s 2009 best and fairest despite only playing 15 games, he kicked nine goals for the season.

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. The pressure applied by the entire St Kilda side was phenomenal, and demonstrated that the Saints relied more on each player performing their role and maintaining the team structures rather than the personnel available. On making his AFL debut Steven reflected “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.”

Despite playing well on debut Steven was left out of the side for Round 20 as St Kilda had to make room for their returning stars. Jack was named an emergency for three of St Kilda’s final six games of the season including the preliminary final victory against the Western Bulldogs.

In the first two seasons of Steven’s career St Kilda had been involved in the finals deep into September, having made the preliminary final in 2008 and the Grand Final in 2009. St Kilda had a very experienced side during this period as indicated by the youngest Saints to play the 2009 Grand Final being Zac Dawson, Sam Gilbert, Andrew McQualter and Farren Ray who were all 23 years of age. Given that these four players had all been on AFL lists for over four years and had on average played 64 games they could hardly be called inexperienced. St Kilda had one of the most successful home and away seasons in the history of the club to record 20 wins and two losses in 2009 with losses being by less than a goal, to finish on top of the ladder two games ahead of Geelong. St Kilda defeated Collingwood by 28 points in a semi-final and the Western Bulldogs by seven points in a preliminary final to progress to the Grand Final. The St Kilda Grand Final side had an average age of 26 years with 145 games AFL experience. Despite playing an intense brand of football on Grand Final day and laying 118 tackles inaccuracy in front of goal proved catastrophic for the Saints, kicking nine goals, 14 behinds,  Geelong had three less scoring shots but scored 12 goals, eight behinds to win by 12 points.

Although Steven played only one AFL game in his first two seasons St Kilda still had high expectations for him and at the start of 2010 promoted him to the number 3 jumper previously worn by St Kilda greats including three-time best and fairest winner Nathan Burke and 1967 Brownlow Medallist Ross Smith. Although St Kilda planned to use Steven as a forward during 2010, as he gained more AFL experience he was expected to spend additional time in the midfield making a similar transition to the one made by current St Kilda teammate Leigh Montagna who was a third round selection at the 2001 National Draft, started his career as a small forward, took several seasons to cement his position in the St Kilda team and became a 250 game player and developed into an All-Australian midfielder.

Steven injured his foot early in the first quarter of St Kilda’s 2010 Round 1 NAB Cup match against Collingwood which prevented him from playing again until the opening round of the VFL season which was played on the same weekend as Round 3 of the AFL season. Steven was rewarded for his good form in the first three rounds of the VFL season with selection in St Kilda’s Round 6 side against the Western Bulldogs. Jack retained his place for Round 7 against Carlton but was then relegated to the VFL for the next five weeks. Upon regaining his spot in the Saints line-up Steven played six consecutive matches for St Kilda from Round 13 to Round 18.

Steven’s most impressive AFL performance during 2010 was in Round 13 against Geelong when in only his fourth AFL match he turned the game on its head during the third quarter kicking three goals in a row in the space of 10 minutes to swing momentum St Kilda’s way after the Saints had trailed by 16 points at half-time. After Steven’s hat-trick of goals St Kilda never looked back and went on to record an impressive 24 point victory. 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. Jack finished the game against Geelong with nine kicks, five handballs, nine marks and three goals. Given how influential his third quarter was on the result of the match Steven was unlucky to miss out on a Rising Star nomination. Tom Rockliff had 26 disposals and kicked a goal for Brisbane in Round 13 against Richmond to gain the Rising Star nomination.

The following week against Melbourne Steven played well, with nine kicks, nine handballs, seven tackles and a goal. Steven’s form dropped away with nine disposals in Round 17 against Hawthorn and four disposals against Essendon in Round 18 which resulted in him being dropped for Round 19. Steven was unable to regain his position in the St Kilda side for the rest of the season although he was close to senior selection, twice being named as an emergency including for the preliminary final against the Western Bulldogs.

During the 2010 home and away season St Kilda had 15 wins, one draw and six losses to finish third on the ladder, two wins behind minor premiers Collingwood and six premiership points behind Geelong in second place. St Kilda recorded a thrilling four point victory against Geelong in the qualifying final and defeated the Western Bulldogs by 24 points in their preliminary final to make the 2010 Grand Final against Collingwood. Leading by 24 points at half-time Collingwood looked to be in control of the grand final, however led by Lenny Hayes and Brendon Goddard St Kilda fought back, scores were level at the conclusion of the game, resulting in a draw, the first drawn Grand Final since 1977 and the third and final draw in AFL history as the league have since changed the rules to play extra time if scores are level at the conclusion of the fourth quarter. The first half of the Grand Final replay played out in a similar fashion to the game a week earlier with Collingwood leading by 27 points at half-time. In the Replay however, St Kilda were unable to fight back, Collingwood extended the lead in the second half to record a comprehensive 56 point victory.

During 2010 Steven played eight matches for St Kilda averaging 88 minutes, 6.3 kicks, 5.0 handballs, 2.5 marks and 3.9 tackles per game with a disposal efficiency of 76.7%. Steven was very accurate around goal, kicking ten goals and two behinds to be ranked equal eighth at St Kilda for total goals and fifth for goals per game with 1.25.

Steven was mainly used as a small forward during 2010 “winning 30% of his disposals inside the forward 50 and his forward pressure was excellent as he averaged four tackles per game – ranked equal seventh at the club.”6

Cementing a position in the St Kilda side during 2011 and 2012

Steven cemented his spot in St Kilda’s best 22 during 2011 and 2012, however 2011 did not start well with Steven receiving a club suspension, he was one of four players along with Paul Cahill, Rhys Stanley and Zac Dawson who breached team rules on St Kilda’s pre-season training camp to New Zealand in January 2011, as a result the four players faced disciplinary action.

In a media statement on 31 January 2011 the St Kilda Football Club confirmed that “on its recent training camp to New Zealand four players breached team behavioural standards, including the use of alcohol, misuse of prescribed medication and leaving the team hotel against a player established policy.”7

All four players were suspended for six weeks, they were unable to train with the St Kilda Football Club during this time, instead training with VFL affiliate Sandringham. The four players received counselling and were required to have full-time employment for the duration of their suspension.

The incident was a big setback for all four players involved and Steven had to remain disciplined and diligent after returning to the St Kilda Football Club to earn back some of the respect he lost from other players and staff at the Saints.

During 2011 Steven lived with teammates Steven Baker and Zac Dawson and commented that “Bakes does everything right and living with him, you learn how to do everything properly and what is expected.”8

After being overlooked for the first two rounds Steven was brought into the St Kilda side for Round 3, replacing Lenny Hayes who missed the rest of the 2011 season due to having a knee reconstruction.

In his first three matches of the season Steven averaged 14 disposals a game and kicked a total of five goals, as the 2011 season progressed Steven began to spend less time in the forward line and be given significant opportunities in the Saints midfield.

In Round 9 against Melbourne Steven set a new career best for disposals with 14 kicks and 13 handballs including 11 contested possessions and was damaging with his ball use having a disposal efficiency of 85.2%.

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. Against Fremantle Steven had 13 kicks and 14 handballs to equal his personal best for disposals in a game, 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. Nick Dal Santo received the three votes for 30 disposals and eight clearances, whilst Jack’s fellow 2007 draftee Ben McEvoy had 14 disposals and 28 hit-outs to receive one vote.

From the time Steven was drafted until his Rising Star nomination St Kilda had been one of the most experienced and best performed clubs in the AFL, limiting the opportunities for Saints youngsters, 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 current St Kilda captain Jarryn Geary in Round 8 2009.

The winner of the AFL Rising Star Award “must be under the age of 21 at January 1 of that year, must not have played more than 10 games to the start of that season and must not have been suspended by the AFL or State League tribunals during the season.”9 Jack Steven only just met the age and games criteria having turned 21 on March 28 2011 and had played nine AFL games at the start of the 2011 season.

Less than a decade before Steven’s nomination St Kilda players won back to back Rising Star Awards with Justin Koschitzke winning in 2001 and Nick Riewoldt taking the honours in 2002. The only  Saints player to receive at least one vote in a Rising Star Award from 2003 until 2010 was Luke Ball who finished third in 2003 with 17 votes behind Sam Mitchell and Graham Polak.

Against Collingwood in Round 11 Steven led St Kilda for contested possessions and clearances with 13 and six respectively, he also had 13 kicks, 10 handballs, took five marks and laid four tackles.

In a Friday night Round 12 match against the Western Bulldogs Jack Steven continued his career best form to have 12 kicks, eight handballs, 10 contested possessions and lead St Kilda in tackles (11) and clearances (6). Steven’s work-rate led to Nick Dal Santo kicking St Kilda’s third goal of the night, after Jack cleverly kept the ball in play on the wing along the boundary line, Shaun Higgins just beat Jack to the ball, however a Steven tackle caused Higgins to kick the ball in the wrong direction, Steven followed up to gain possession and handball to Adam Schneider who quickly handpassed to Dal Santo who kicked a team lifting left foot goal on the run from 40 metres out.

Extending his sequence of games with at least 20 disposals to seven Steven had 17 kicks and nine handballs against Port Adelaide in Round 16, a remarkably consistent performance from the young midfielder who had only had 15 or more disposals twice in his 14 matches before commencing his hot streak. Steven also took five marks, kicked a goal and had seven clearances, ranked second at St Kilda behind Dal Santo.

Steven had been a revelation since moving into the St Kilda midfield in Round 9 with his ability to win the contested ball and clearances standing out. It was no different against the Gold Coast in Round 19 with Jack being ranked second for St Kilda in both categories with 10 contested possessions and five clearances. Steven had a then career best 29 disposals against the Gold Coast and after not reaching 20 disposals in a game during his first 14 matches he achieved this feat in nine of his next 10 matches, a remarkable transformation.

St Kilda started the 2011 season slowly to be 15th on the ladder after Round 8 with one win, one draw, five losses and one bye. The Saints finished the home and away season strongly with eight wins from their last 10 games to end the home and away season in sixth position and host a final against Sydney at Etihad Stadium. At 21 years of age Steven played in his first and so far only final, with Sydney defeating the Saints by 25 points. Only seven players from St Kilda’s 2011 elimination final side remained on the club’s list in 2017 including Sean Dempster who retired late in the 2017 pre-season due to head knock concerns and Nick Riewoldt who has announced his retirement effective at the conclusion of St Kilda’s season. The remaining four players are current captain Jarryn Geary, Leigh Montagna, Sam Gilbert and David Armitage who has been restricted to only two games in 2017 due to groin injuries.

During 2011 Steven played 21 matches averaging 93 minutes,10.9 kicks, 11.0 handballs, 3.7 marks and 4.0 tackles a game with a disposal efficiency of 70.3%. Steven played the last 21 games of the 2011 season for St Kilda and kicked 13 goals, ranked equal sixth at the club. Jack had 20 or more disposals 11 times including five games with at least 26 disposals. Steven polled one vote in the 2011 AFL Rising Star Award to finish equal seventh, the top four were Dyson Heppell (44 votes), Luke Shuey (37), Zac Smith (21) and David Swallow (18). Jack was the first St Kilda player since Luke Ball in 2003 to receive a vote in the Rising Star Award. His profile in the 2012 AFL Prospectus said “Steven was the second-most improved player at St Kilda behind Ben McEvoy in 2011, recording the fourth-biggest jump in disposals across the past two years of any AFL player to play at least five games in both seasons. He was a regular in the midfield from Round 9 onwards, he attended the third-most centre bounces of any Saints midfielder in this time, with the club winning the clearance 44% of the time – the second-highest percentage of the top 10 midfielders at the club. He ranked third at the club across the whole season for pressure acts.”10

His profile in the AFL Record Season Guide 2012 said Steven “Had a breakout year in 2011, cementing himself as part of the St Kilda midfield and earning a reputation as the most exciting player on the club’s list. His speed and ability to find a goal made the football world take notice.”11

In St Kilda’s 92 point Round 2 2012 victory against the Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium Steven received one Brownlow Medal vote for a performance in which he had 11 kicks, 11 handballs, six tackles, one goal, one goal assist, four clearances and 13 contested possessions – ranked equal second for St Kilda with Dal Santo, one behind Lenny Hayes.

One of St Kilda’s all-time greats Lenny Hayes played his 250th AFL game against Sydney in Round 9 at Etihad Stadium, entering the game with a record of four wins and four losses St Kilda played superbly to record an upset 28 point victory over Sydney who had won six of their first eight games to be fourth on the ladder. Midfielder Steven was listed as St Kilda’s third best player behind Armitage and Hayes in the AFL’s official records, having 12 kicks, 12 handballs, six tackles, five inside 50s, kicked two goals and had 12 contested possessions, ranked equal second for the Saints behind milerstone man Hayes with 13.

In Round 15 St Kilda went in as heavy underdogs for their Saturday night game against Essendon on 7 July 2012 at Etihad Stadium, with Essendon fourth on the ladder with 10 wins, four wins ahead of the ninth placed Saints, however the Saints performed brilliantly to win by 71 points in small forward Stephen Milne’s 250th game, Milne starred, kicking five goals and receiving one Brownlow Medal vote. Steven had a quite game by his standards with just 15 disposals and after the game had some drinks to celebrate St Kilda’s magnificent win. Whilst driving to St Kilda’s Sunday morning training session at Seaford the next morning Steven was stopped for a random breath test, he 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 this 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 AFL Players Association before the Saints imposed them on Steven. St Kilda’s then head of football Chris Pelchen said “While Jack believed he would be all right to drive … he has made an error of judgment that is clearly unacceptable by the community and the standards expected at the St Kilda Football Club. Jack has apologised for his mistake and acknowledges the broader responsibility that comes with being an AFL footballer.”

Before the one game club imposed suspension Steven had played the first 14 games of 2012 to increase his consecutive games streak to 35. 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.

During his fifth AFL season Jack Steven played the 50th AFL game of his career at 22 years of age against GWS in Round 22 at Etihad Stadium. St Kilda dominated to defeat the Giants by 128 points, the third greatest winning margin in the club’s history. Steven played well, having nine kicks, 14 handballs, two goal assists, six inside 50’s and five clearances, recording equal team-highs in the last two categories.

St Kilda finished the 2012 home and away season in ninth position with 12 wins, two games behind North Melbourne in eighth place, it was the first time the Saints had missed the finals since 2007 when they also finished ninth, two premiership points and percentage behind the Adelaide Crows in eighth pace. In Steven’s first four seasons at St Kilda from 2008 to 2011 the club played in 11 finals howvere Steven only played in the last of these games.

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 David 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’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2013 said “Steven is one of those rare players who can win the ball at a stoppage and then burst from that congestion. He ranked equal-fourth at the club for clearances and equal-46th in the AFL across the H & A season, with 38% of his clearances resulting in a score – the highest percentage of the top 50 clearance players.”12

Elevating his game to a new stratosphere Steven wins the Saints 2013 best and fairest

Steven had a consistent start to the 2013 season, having at least 21 disposals in his first six games including 32 disposals and a goal in the 72 point Round 3 victory against GWS. Against Carlton in the nine point Round 7 win Steven had a then career high 39 disposals comprised of 22 kicks and 17 handballs, as well as six marks, seven tackles, nine clearances, four inside 50s, one goal assist, received two Brownlow Medal votes and had 19 contested possessions, ranked equal fifth on St Kilda’s all-time list, with the only Saints to have had more contested possessions in a game being Stewart Loewe with 22 and Robert Harvey, Luke Ball and Leigh Montagna ranked equal second with 20.

At the MCG in Round 13 against Melbourne several Saints celebrated milestones, with Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo both playing their 250th game and defender Sean Dempster played his 150th AFL game. As was the case in Lenny Hayes 250th game the previous season Steven was one of the Saints best players, having 18 kicks and 12 handballs, setting team-highs for inside 50’s and clearances with nine of each, had 10 contested possessions, one goal assist and received one Brownlow Medal vote.

Port Adelaide dominated the first half of their Round 19 game against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium to have a 39 point lead at the main break. Steven played an instrumental role in St Kilda mounting a strong fightback, kicking an equal team-high three goals (along with McEvoy), had 15 kicks, 10 handballs, five marks, seven clearances, 10 contested possessions and an equal game-high six bounces. Steven kicked all three of his goals in the second half including two goals in three minutes during the last quarter to twice reduce Port Adelaide’s lead to 10 points. Although St Kilda hit the lead just before time-on, Jasper Pittard kicked the final goal of the game at the 21 minute mark and Port Adelaide won by five points.

For his performance in the midfield against Sydney at the SCG in Round 21 Steven received two Brownlow Medal votes, having 35 disposals comprised of 17 kicks and 18 handballs, and had seven inside 50’s to have team-highs for all four categories, he also kicked two goals and had six clearances to have equal team-highs in the last two categories.

In their first 20 games of the 2013 season the Saints had three wins and 17 losses, however they finished the season with back to back wins, starting with a 46 point win against Gold Coast at the Docklands.

In the final round of 2013 two St Kilda players, Justin Koschitzke and Adam Schneider played their 200th AFL game, it was also the final AFL game for Koschitzke and two players who were already members of the 200 game club, small forward Stephen Milne (275 games) and defender Jason Blake (219 games). The Saints provided a fitting send-off, playing their best football for the season to defeat  Fremantle who finished the season third on the ladder by 71 points at Etihad Stadium. On the eve of the finals Fremantle took the opportunity to rest many of their star players. 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, which in his 73rd game was the first time he had been judged best afield by the umpires.

St Kilda finished 16th on the ladder in 2013 with five wins and 17 losses, six games outside the eight, three games ahead of 17th placed Melbourne and four wins ahead of the GWS Giants.

Steven played all 22 matches in 2013 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 23 year-old 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 six 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 with 79 each. Steven polled eight Brownlow Medal votes, ranked second at St Kilda behind 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.

Steven has a distinctive running style which has been likened to 2011 Brownlow Medallist Dane Swan and a duck. Another thing Steven has in common with Swan is that they were both amongst the most benched players in the AFL in 2013, yet were both able to have a devastating impact during their time on the ground due to their hard-running, ball-winning ability and clever play. His profile in AFL Prospectus 2014 said ”Steven was the second-most benched player in the competition in the H & A rounds and averaged the sixth-fewest minutes per stint on the ground of any midfielder to play more than three games.”13 Dane Swan’s profile from the same publication said “Again he was highly rotated – the sixth most benched player in the competition – and he ranked No. 1 in the AFL for disposals per minute.”14

Steven won St Kilda’s 2013 best and fairest in convincing fashion with 152 votes, 32% more than runner-up Nick Riewoldt with 115, Leigh Montagna finished third with 112 votes. Jack was overwhelmed at winning his first Trevor Barker Award, upon accepting the award Jack commented “You’ll have to bear with me here, I’m freaking out a fair bit.” Jack went on to say “Congratulations to these two legends (Riewoldt and Montagna), they have had a great year. I love to play for the Saints and I love all the boys I play with. I’m not much for standing up here, but I want to keep playing for the Saints. Thank you – have a good night.”

A foot fracture during the pre-season hampers Steven’s 2014 season

On 27 February 2014 Steven fractured the sesamoid bone in his right foot in an incident during training, he did not require surgery, however he was unable to train for a month. On the day of the injury St Kilda released a club statement in which then head of football Chris Pelchen said “Jack has been training strongly throughout the pre-season but pulled-up sore after training today (Thursday). Scans conducted late this afternoon revealed a fracture in his right foot which is obviously disappointing for both Jack and the club on the eve of the 2014 season. It’s important to note that the fracture is not stress related and followed an innocuous incident during training.”15

Due to the foot fracture Steven missed the first three rounds of the 2014 AFL season, he made his comeback on 13 April in Round 4 against Adelaide at Etihad Stadium and received a goal of the week nomination for a clever first quarter goal. Armitage kicked the ball to a one on one marking contest between Steven and Matt Crouch on the goal-line, neither player could take the mark and the ball landed in front of Steven in the goal square, with Rory Sloane approaching him from the front Steven knew that if he grabbed the ball he would be tackled immediately so with quick thinking and facing away from the goal Steven lent back and kicked the ball out of mid-air over his right shoulder for a skilful goal just before Sloane reached him. Steven finished the game with 10 kicks, 10 handballs, four tackles, nine contested possessions, five clearances and five inside 50’s, both of which were equal team-highs.

Steven played 12 consecutive games before missing Rounds 17 and 18 with a thigh injury, he returned to the St Kilda side as the sub in Round 19 against Gold Coast and went on the ground to start the second half.

In the inspirational Lenny Hayes’ farewell match against Adelaide in Round 23 at Adelaide Oval Steven had 11 kicks, 19 handballs, five bounces, four tackles, 10 contested possessions and received one Brownlow Medal vote, his only vote for the season.

The Saints finished last on the ladder in 2014 with four wins and 18 losses, percentage behind Melbourne and two games behind the 16th placed GWS Giants.

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%. Jack polled 67 votes at St Kilda’s best and fairest to finish eighth, four votes behind David Armitage in seventh place. Steven was ranked third at St Kilda for handballs and handballs received, fourth for tackles, inside 50’s, clearances and contested possessions, fifth for disposals and sixth for uncontested possessions. Jack had at least 20 disposals 12 times in 2014 including six games with more than 28 disposals. Steven’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2015 said “After rating elite for a midfielder in a number of key areas in 2013, Steven had an injury interrupted pre-season last year and suffered a drop in form as a result. He experienced the sixth-biggest fall in Champion Data ranking points of those who played at least 10 games in each of the past two seasons. He ranked elite in one category for a midfielder, centre clearances per game – after rating elite in six categories in 2013.”16

Steven wins the Saints 2015 best and fairest and leads the AFL for inside 50s and AFL Fantasy points

In late March 2015, just days before he turned 25 years old 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.”17

During the Saints Future Fest in September/October 2014 19 young players that had arrived at the club in the previous three years re-signed contracts committing to the St Kilda Football Club, however it was imperative to also get a similar buy-in from the players in the middle stages of their career such as Steven. After Steven had signed the five year contract extension St Kilda Chief Operating Officer Ameet Bains said “For a player such as Jack to commit to the club in such an emphatic manner shows the faith our playing list has in the club and its direction. Jack is one of our best and most valuable players and is becoming a genuine leader around the club. Considering his age in comparison to our young playing group, he is a vital part of our list and our plans.”18

In the first five rounds of 2015 Steven had at least 27 disposals three times and polled Brownlow Medal votes in three games. In Round 3 against the Gold Coast Steven fared the worst of all 44 players in the game in terms of free kick differential – conceding four free kicks and not receiving any free kicks, however after the game he was judged best afield by the umpires, having 13 kicks, nine handballs, five marks, laid a game-high 10 tackles, had four inside 50s, nine contested possessions and a goal assist in the 28 point win at Metricon Stadium.

In 90 AFL games up until the end of the 2014 season Steven only received the three Brownlow medal votes once – Round 23 against Fremantle in 2013, however the umpires judged him to be best afield twice in his next five games. Steven had 31 disposals comprised of an equal game-high 17 kicks and 14 handballs in Round 5 against Essendon to receive the three Brownlow Medal votes, he also had six tackles, five inside 50s, a goal assist and kicked a goal in the two point loss.

St Kilda recorded the equal fifth greatest VFL/AFL comeback of all-time, rebounding from being 55 points down early in the third quarter against the Western Bulldogs in Round 6 2015 at Etihad Stadium to record a monumental seven point win. Steven was one of St Kilda’s best players, with the midfielder playing a key role in the phenomenal comeback, having 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, received one Brownlow medal vote and had an outstanding disposal efficiency of 78.4%. Only one other Saint had more than five clearances, David Armitage with seven and no other St Kilda player had more than one goal assist. Steven’s four goal assists against the Western Bulldogs was the equal third most in a game by a St Kilda player, with Steven’s then captain Nick Riewoldt holding the top two places on the list with six against Richmond in Round 17 2006 and five against Melbourne in Round 10 2008.

In the 99th AFL game of his career in Round 9 against Brisbane at the Gabba 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%.

At the press conference on 4 June 2015 with Alan Richardson and Jack Steven, when asked “(Has) a hundred games crept up on you.” Jack responded “Yeah, obviously it took me a while just to get to one even, I’m pretty stoked to get to the hundred, when you look around the locker room there’s Rooey and Joey and Schneids and Chips and all those boys that have played a lot more, so yeah pretty happy though.”  On signing a five-year contract with St Kilda on the eve of the 2015 season Steven said “I am very happy here, we have got a great bunch of boys coming through and led really well by Richo and I am really happy with the direction we’re heading in.” On St Kilda’s on field performance in 2015 compared to 2014 Jack commented “The way we’ve been playing is a lot more exciting and we’re kicking a lot more goals, and it feels like we are in the game a lot more, compared to last year where there were a few depressing games, I think this year we are really showing some positive signs, and the boys are really buying in, I have been loving it and that’s why I signed earlier on in the year.”

When asked ‘How have you seen Jack’s year?’ Alan 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.”

At the press conference in the week of his 100th AFL game Steven commented on having to fight hard to establish himself in the St Kilda team in the early stages of his career “I think I have earnt every game that I’ve played, when I got here we were a pretty strong team so I definitely didn’t get gifted any games and I’m really proud of that.” When asked if it has made him a better player, Jack responded “I think so, in my second year the Saints won 19 in a row and it was really hard to crack into that team and the year after that (2010) we were in the Grand Final again and I think I played 10 (eight) that year, just having to earn week in week out there in the VFL I had some pretty consistent performances, yeah I think that has helped me when I got to the AFL being able to deliver each week.”

Steven became only the fourth player picked outside the top 40 selections at the 2007 National Draft class to play 100 AFL games, joining Dennis Armfield (selected by Carlton with pick 46), Cale Hooker (selected by Essendon with pick 54) and Craig Bird (selected by Sydney with a NSW scholarship selection at pick 59).

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 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 over 100 points.

For much of the Saints 2015 best and fairest count very little separated St Kilda’s two best midfielders 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.

Jack Steven won St Kilda’s 2015 best and fairest with 172 votes, 13 ahead of runner-up David Armitage with Sean Dempster third on 149 votes followed by Leigh Montagna on 143 votes and Jarryn Geary in fifth place on 132 votes. 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.”

His profile in AFL prospectus 2016 said “Steven’s run-and-carry and pressure defines him as a player. He ranked fifth in the competition for both tackles and pressure points per game, while making an impact on the outside, rating elite as a midfielder for both uncontested possessions and metres gained per game. Steven finished the season with 35 score assists, the equal sixth-most of any player in the league.”19

During 2015 Steven was one of three Saints to play all 22 games, he averaged 97 minutes, 15.6 kicks, 11.3 handballs, 4.5 marks, 5.5 inside 50’s 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.

In his 90 AFL games before 2015 Steven had 20 games with more than 25 disposals, with a season best of eight times. Highlighting how effective he was at winning the ball in 2015 he comfortably surpassed this mark, having 13 games of 26 or more disposals.

Stevens gets elevated to the St Kilda leadership group in 2016 and wins the third best and fairest of his career

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 had 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.”20 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.”21 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.”22

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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%.

Against Fremantle in Round 10 at Etihad Stadium St Kilda trailed Fremantle by 19 points at the 18 minute mark of the third quarter, however the Saints dominated from this point on to kick the last nine goals of the game to win by 34 points. Steven had 15 kicks, an equal team-high 17 handballs, five marks, nine tackles, five inside 50’s, six clearance, an equal team-high 14 contested possessions, one goal assist, one goal and a superb 84% disposal efficiency to receive the three Brownlow Medal votes for the second consecutive game.

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, 84% disposal efficiency 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, a game-high 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 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 in the St Kilda best and fairest 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.

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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.

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.”

In the 2016 St Kilda best and fairest 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 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. 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.

Steven’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2017 said “If the opposition stops Steven it goes a long way to shutting down the Saints midfield. He averaged the equal 11th most AFL Player Rating Points in the competition and had the eighth biggest differential between wins and losses. He had 30 disposals in wins and 26 in losses but it was his scoreboard impact that dried up. He averaged 14 points per game for scoreboard impact in wins, but only three points per game in losses.”23

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.”

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.

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The profile for Steven in the AFL Record Season Guide 2017 said “Last season might have been the best of Steven’s eight-year career. He wins clearances and his ability to break away from the contest and make himself a threat in front of goal confirmed his place as one of the competition’s gun midfielders. An aspect of his game that doesn’t receive the plaudits are his defensive efforts – Steven isn’t afraid to tackle and is aware of where his opponent is at stoppages.”24

Steven polled a career-high 16 votes at the 2016 Brownlow Medal, surpassing his previous best of 12 votes in 2015. Jack ranked second at St Kilda behind Nick Riewoldt with 19 votes, and equal 19th overall. In his 120 AFL games up until Round 8 2016 Steven had received the three Brownlow Medal votes in three games. He more than doubled his tally being judged best afield four times in seven games from Round 9 to Round 16, 2016 – Round 9 vs Essendon, Round 10 vs Fremantle, Round 12 vs Carlton and Round 16 vs Essendon. St Kilda won all four games and in fact the club won all six games that Steven polled a Brownlow vote in during 2016.

Steven reaches 150 AFL games late in the 2017 season

After having 27 disposals in St Kilda’s Round 1 loss to Melbourne Steven suffered a punctured lung late in the Round 2 loss to West Coast at Domain Stadium. After the game Steven was taken to hospital for observation, St Kilda’s GM Football performance Jamie Cox commented “Due to the nature of the injury, Jack is unable to fly for the next day or two and will remain in Perth with club doctor Tim Barbour before flying back as soon as he is medically cleared.”25 The morning after the game Steven was ruled out of the Round 3 match against Brisbane at Etihad Stadium, ending a sequence of 51 consecutive AFL games.

After missing two games because of his punctured lung Steven returned in Round 5 against Geelong at Etihad Stadium. In the first half against Geelong Steven had 21 disposals, he kicked a long goal early in the third quarter to put St Kilda eight points in front. St Kilda led by five points at three-quarter time but were completely overrun, kicking one goal whilst conceding eight goals to Geelong in the last quarter. Steven had nine disposals in the second half to finish the game with 30 disposals comprised of 12 kicks and a team-high 18 handballs, five inside 50’s, a team-high seven clearances – two more than the second ranked Saint and a team-high 16 contested possessions.

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Due to having a poor record on the road St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson addressed the Saints leadership group shortly before the club’s Round 6 game against Hawthorn in Tasmania and stressed the importance of returning to Melbourne with the four premiership points. In his regular Monday night appearance on Fox Footy program ‘AFL 360’ two days after the victory Richardson said “It was a message of it’s not going to happen unless you blokes get it done, unless you blokes inspire your teammates, unless you blokes instruct and basically get it done.” With the Saints leaders showing the way St Kilda dominated from start to finish and defeated Hawthorn by 75 points, ending the Hawks 19 game winning streak at York Park, with the previous loss having been in Round 5, 2012 to Sydney.

Steven was one of St Kilda’s best players against Hawthorn, having 18 kicks, 18 handballs, five marks, eight tackles, five inside 50s, 24 uncontested possessions, an equal team-high 13 contested possessions and a game-high 36 disposals. Seven of St Kilda’s eight leadership group members played against the Hawks with the exception being David Armitage who missed the game with a groin injury that limited him to just two games in 2017. St Kilda’s seven leadership group members that played certainly delivered what coach Richardson wanted, having 186 disposals and kicking seven goals between them in the thrashing of Hawthorn.

St Kilda played their first Friday night game in more than two years against GWS in Round 7 at Etihad Stadium. St Kilda entered the game with a record of three wins and three losses whereas GWS had a record of five wins and one loss. The Saints gave a brilliant team performance of intense skilful football to defeat GWS by 23 points. Despite being tagged by Giants vice-captain Stephen Coniglio Steven was superb, having 18 kicks, 11 handballs, an equal team-high six inside 50s, seven clearances, 13 contested possessions and kicked two goals in the last quarter.

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In Maddie’s match 2017 St Kilda played their best football of the season to defeat Richmond by 67 points in their Round 16 game. The Saints led by four goals at quarter-time and put the result beyond doubt with nine goals to none in the second quarter. Steven was phenomenal in the second quarter with 14 disposals including the final goal of the half to extend the Saints lead to 82 points at half-time. Steven finished the game with 16 kicks, 17 handballs, eight marks, five inside 50’s and seven clearances.

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When asked to describe his own from at the press conference for his 150th game Steven commented “(My year has) been OK, a bit up and down like the teams. I’ve had a few tags, a few bad games, a few good ones, so it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.” When asked about dealing with tags Steven said “It’s tough, but I think there’s a lot of ways you can go about it. As long as you’re helping the team win I don’t think it’s necessarily how many possessions you get or whether you beat the tag or not. I’m always working with Adam Kingsley our midfield coach and I think I’m getting a lot better at it.”

Asked on Saints.com.au in the week of his 150th game about the impact head coach Alan Richardson has had on him as a player and as a person Steven responded “Yeah, he has been great, he really encourages me to take the game on and play my sort of footy, just play with that sort of freedom. That’s really good and brings out the best in me and he’s really supportive which I love.” When asked ‘Can you believe how much you have achieved in such a short space of time?’ Steven responded “Yeah it still doesn’t really sink in with me, it is something I’ll look back on when I finish that I’ll be pretty proud of.” Jack and his girlfriend of seven years Indi are expecting a baby in September, Jack commented to saints.com.au “Yeah, so expecting in early In September, so very exciting, it will be a different off-season for myself but very excited.”

Steven played his 150th AFL game at 27 years of age against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval in Round 19. A recurring issue for the Saints throughout 2017 has been inaccurate kicking at goal and this was again the case against Port Adelaide, kicking three goals, 12 behinds in the first three quarters to trail Port Adelaide by seven points at three quarter-time. The Saints turned it around in dramatic fashion to kick five goals, one behind during the final term and led by 10 points after a Tim Membrey set-shot goal from 40 metres out on an acute angle with two minutes remaining. Aaron Young kicked a goal to reduce the margin to four points with a minute remaining. From a boundary throw in 60 metres out from Port Adelaide’s goal with 19 seconds left Port Adelaide ruckman Paddy Ryder tapped it straight to team-mate Robbie Gray who has won Port Adelaide’s past three best and fairest awards, Gray was able to ran into open space and kicked a goal on the run from 49 metres out with the ball just clearing the line to put the Power in front by two points with seven seconds left. At the post-game press conference St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson commented on the final stoppage As the umpire got the ball it was pretty sound, but when the ball went up, things shifted and we just lost a bit of shape. It’s really important to have the best stoppage player in the game covered. I think he had six or seven clearances in the last quarter. He’s a star, in particularly in the contest, we just couldn’t control him in the middle, on a day when we did pretty well in the clearance.”

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Team’s learn more from their losses than their wins and the week after the loss to Port Adelaide the Saints were in another close game, this time they retained their composure to win a close game against the West Coast Eagles at Etihad Stadium by eight points after kicking four of the last five goals of the game to fight back from a 14 point deficit seven minutes into the last quarter.

After Round 21 St Kilda are 11th on the ladder with a record of 10 wins and 10 losses with a percentage of 96.1% to be one win and percentage behind eighth placed West Coast Eagles who have a percentage of 105.7%, Melbourne are seventh on the ladder also on 44 premiership points and have a percentage of 106.0%. St Kilda’s two remaining games are both Sunday 3.20 pm games against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium in Round 22 and against Richmond at the MCG in Round 23. St Kilda need to win both these games and have several favourable results in other games to make the finals. The two point loss to Port Adelaide is the only game St Kilda have lost in 2017 by less than 18 points whilst the Saints have had had four wins by less than three goals.

During the first 21 Rounds of 2017 Steven has played 18 games, he is averaging 78.8% game-time, 12.8 kicks, 12.8 handballs, 3.0 marks, 4.1 inside 50’s and 4.7 tackles a game with a disposal efficiency of 69.6%. Steven ranks second at St Kilda for total clearances behind Sebastian Ross, third for contested possessions, handballs, inside 50’s and tackles, fourth for disposals and sixth for kicks.

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On the afl.com.au Brownlow predictor for 2017 Steven has polled 11 votes after Round 21 to be ranked second at St Kilda behind Sebastian Ross on 12 votes with Jack Billings third on nine votes. In his first three games after returning from his lung injury AFL.com.au predict Steven will poll at least two votes in each game, being two votes against Geelong in Round 5 followed by a pair of three vote performances in Round 6 against Hawthorn and Round 7 against GWS. The only other game that Steven is predicted to poll in is Round 16 against Richmond with three votes. The three games that Steven is predicted by AFL.com.au to receive three votes for are arguably St Kilda’s best three games of the season and there is no doubt that Steven has become a barometer for the Saints. With opposition clubs recognising the influence that Steven has for the Saints it has become the rule rather than the exception that Steven gets tagged. Steven has had mixed success combating the tag in 2017, however has the season has progressed taggers have had more success curtailing Steven’s influence.

One area that Steven has noticeably fallen away in during 2017 is his accuracy at goal, kicking six goals and 14 behinds, he hasn’t scored at all in the past four games. During 2016 Steven made the most of his opportunities around goal to kick a very accurate 14 goals, 6 behinds, the opposite of his output this season to date. Inaccurate goalkicking has been one of St Kilda’s biggest deficiencies in 2017, seven of the players ranked in the top 13 for goals at St Kilda this season have kicked more behinds than goals.

In the official AFL Player Ratings Jack Steven is ranked 21st in the AFL and first at St Kilda ahead of fellow midfielder Sebastian Ross who is ranked 51st. After Round 9 2017 Steven achieved his peak ranking of ninth overall and eighth among midfielders. The rankings are based on a players performance during a rolling period of two years limited to a players past 40 games. After Round 21, 2017 Steven and Ross were the only St Kilda players ranked in the top 100, however the Saints have good depth as indicated by having 24 players ranked in the top 340, five more than the AFL average of 19.

Summary and future

In his 152 game AFL career to date 27 year-old Steven has averaged 12.8 kicks, 10.9 handballs, 3.4 marks, 0.62 goals, 4.8 tackles per game and 4.0 inside 50’s 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 1965-2017 with 23.62, behind Robert Harvey (25.21 disposals per game) and Leigh Montagna (23.85) and ahead of Ian Stewart (23.02), Ross Smith (22.88), Lenny Hayes (22.52) and Nick Dal Santo (22.51).

In Round 21, 2017 against Melbourne Steven played his 152nd AFL game to draw level with fellow midfielder David Armitage, only four active players on St Kilda’s 2017 list have played more games than Steven being – Riewoldt (334), Montagna (287), Gilbert (195) and Geary (160). Geary is the only one of the quartet signed with the Saints for next season and earlier this week signed a one year contract extension for 2019. Riewoldt is retiring at the end of the season and decisions on the playing futures of Montagna and Gilbert are yet to be made.

In 2018 Steven is going to be one of the most experienced players on St Kilda’s list and he will be required to provide more leadership. The decision of the St Kilda leadership group in 2016 to elevate Steven into the leadership group 18 months ago even though his team-mates didn’t vote him into the group has proven to be the right one with Steven enhancing his leadership skills during the past two seasons, this will prove invaluable for Steven and the Saints as they embark on a new era in 2018 without Riewoldt, Dempster and possibly one or two other very experienced players. Although Steven has only played one final his experience of being at St Kilda when they were playing deep into September from 2008 to 2010 will prove valuable, especially given that few players from that era remain at the club. Steven has a pivotal role to play in St Kilda’s attempt to make the finals for the first time since 2011 both with his leadership and his playing ability, however to improve their chances to make the finals Steven will need to fare better against the tag. Whilst the Saints have an abundance of inside midfielders they aren’t as well placed for outside midfielders and would ideally recruit a player form a rival club in this category during the 2017 trade period. With salary cap space and two first round picks due to receiving Hawthorn’s 2017 Round 1 pick in a swap of draft picks last year St Kilda will attempt to recruit an experienced player(s) from a rival AFL club either as a free-agent or via a trade.

With St Kilda in premiership contention during his first three years at the club from 2008 to 2010 Steven had to fight for every game he got and only played a total of nine games during this time. During 2011 and 2012 Steven cemented his position in the St Kilda side and from 2013 onwards he has been a game-breaking midfielder able to make an impact on the inside and the outside. In winning three St Kilda best and fairest awards in four seasons from 2013 to 2016 Steven joined a select group five players who had achieved this feat with the Saints previously. It was a phenomenal progression to go from playing eight games in 2010 to comprehensively winning St Kilda’s best and fairest in 2013.

Throughout his 150 plus game AFL career to date predominantly playing as a midfielder Jack Steven’s strengths have been his 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 which has enabled him to become a game-breaker. Steven makes a significant impact offensively however he is also adept at laying tackles and applying defensive pressure. Steven will turn 28 years of age on 28 March 2018 and is signed with St Kilda until the end of the 2020 season giving him at least three more seasons to add to his individual awards but also more importantly play in some finals victories with the Saints

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2014, 9th edition, page 319.

2 http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/footy-wins-out-over-lure-of-surf-20110531-1ferx.html 

3 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2008, 3rd edition, page 274-5.

4   AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2008, page 263

5  The Slattery Media Group, Harvs St Kilda legend – souvenir of a Saints champion,  page 77

6 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2011, 6th edition, page 257.

7 St Kilda Football Club, Media Statement on 31 January 2011 on http://www.saints.com.au

8 AFL, NAB AFL Rising Star round 10: Jack Steven, 31 May 2011 by Luke Holmseby, www.AFL.com.au

9 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2011, page 553

10 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2012, 7th edition, page 286.

11 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2012, page 296

12 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2013, 8th edition, page 299.

13  Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2014, 9th edition, page 319.

14 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2014, 9th edition, page 100.

15 http://www.afl.com.au/news/2014-02-27/st-kilda-star-out-for-six

16 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2015, 10th edition, page 323.

17 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2015-03-26/stevens-2020-vision

18  http://www.saints.com.au/news/2015-03-26/stevens-2020-vision

19 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2016, 11th edition, page 323.

20 http://www.afl.com.au/news/2016-02-09/steven-steps-up-as-saints-leader-despite-voting-snub

21 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2016-02-09/richardson-steven-a-true-saints-man

22 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2016-02-09/jack-steven-joins-leadership-group

23 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus the essential number-cruncher for season 2017, 12th edition, page 325

24 AFL, AFL Record Season 2017, page 300

25 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2017-04-02/steven-remains-in-perth-with-punctured-lung

 

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