Seb Ross’ journey from fringe player to two-time Saints best and fairest winner and 150 game player

During Seb Ross’ first four seasons at St Kilda from 2012 to 2015 he played 37 AFL games for the Saints and spent considerable time playing in the VFL for the Sandringham Zebras. In 2016 midfielder Ross cemented a position in the Saints team and he is the only player to finish in the top 10 of the St Kilda best & fairest in all five seasons from 2016 to 2020. Ross won the Trevor Barker Award as Saints best and fairest in 2017 and 2019, finished runner-up in 2018 and is one of only two current Saints players to have won the Trevor Barker Award along with fellow midfielder Jack Steele who won the award in 2020.

Ross suffered a severe hamstring strain during the 2015 pre-season which proved to be a turning point, he diligently went about his rehabilitation and became more aware of the need to meticulously prepare and what was required to become a consistent player at AFL level.

From Round 1, 2016 to Round 11, 2021 Ross was extremely durable, playing 113 of a possible 118 games for the Saints during this five and half season period to lead the club in this category ahead of midfielder Jack Billings (112) and key forward Tim Membrey (107).    

On Saturday evening, 29 May 2021 left-footer midfielder Ross played his 150th AFL game in the 20 point victory against North Melbourne in Round 11 at Marvel Stadium. Ross is the second current player to play 150 games for the Saints along with co-captain Jarryn Geary and became the 59th player in the club’s 120 plus year history to reach this milestone with St Kilda.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is p2130598-copy.jpgRoss’ strengths during his career to date have been his ball-winning ability, hard-running to win uncontested possessions, leadership and the ability to nullify the impact of his direct opponent. In all four seasons from 2016 to 2019 Ross ranked in the top 10 of the AFL for handballs received and the top 15 for uncontested possessions.

Seb Ross’ football career at junior level and with the St Kilda Football club is comprehensively covered below.

Early life and junior career

Sebastian Ross was born on 7 May, 1993 and grew up in Horsham, a Victorian country town with a population of approximately 16,500 people in the Wimmera Region, located approximately 300 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.

When he was growing up Ross played Australian Rules Football and basketball, having a promising junior career and reaching representative level in both sports. When the time came to make a choice between the two sports Ross decided to pursue football. On this decision Ross told afl.com.au in May 2013 “I thought it’d be harder to break into basketball. In basketball there’s only a starting five and in footy there’s a starting 18. I just thought there’s more opportunity in footy so I went down that path.”1

Ross played his junior football with the Horsham Demons and in the Under 17’s played in a premiership. About half of the players in the premiership side including Ross had played all their junior footy with the Horsham Demons.

Reflecting on his junior football career Ross commented to the Weekend Australian newspaper in late August 2016 “I was just no good. It wasn’t until I went up to under-17s and was in my bottom-age year that I went from being crap in my top-age under-14 year to winning the best and fairest as a bottom-ager in under-17s. I don’t know if it was just a maturity thing. Mum and Dad sent me (from Horsham) down to boarding school in Ballarat in Year 10. I never really actually thought I would play AFL one day.”2

After Ross debuted in 2010 for North Ballarat in the TAC Cup under 18’s as a bottom-age player and played 13 games he was included in the North Ballarat Rebels’ leadership group for the 2011 season. Ross aspired to be an AFL football player and knew that he had to work on his aerobic capacity during his top-age under 18 season to increase his chances of being drafted.

Inside midfielder Ross played 12 games for the Rebels during 2011, averaging 24.8 disposals, 4.6 marks, 4.3 clearances, 4.1 inside 50s and 3.4 tackles per game, he had a disposal efficiency of 63.4%. At the 2011 Morrish Medal Ross polled eight votes to finish equal 16th overall. 

Ross’ impressive form for North Ballarat earnt him selection in the Vic Country squad for the 2011 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships. Playing four games for his state side Ross averaged 14.5 disposals, 4.0 tackles, 3.5 inside 50s, and 2.3 clearances. 2011 was the first year that Ross had the opportunity to play football for his state. In 2011 Ross was given a taste at senior level, playing one game for North Ballarat in the VFL.

In February 2020 Ross received the Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly’s Grass Roots Award which has previously been won by current Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson. The award recognises athletes who commence their careers in the Wimmera region and after moving away to pursue their dreams have a successful career at the elite level. After Ross received the award he commented to saints.com.au “It’s something that I’ll really hold dear to my heart. I have really fond memories of growing up in Horsham and I still think about it in my preparation before I run out each week. Wimmera is a great place to grow up and it’s a real testament to the facilities, the coaching and all the sports we’re able to play there.”3

Drafted by St Kilda, playing in the VFL for Sandringham in 2012 and making his AFL debut

On the moment Ross realised he was a realistic chance to be selected in the 2011 AFL National Draft he commented to the Weekend Australian “(After time with Ballarat Rebels and Vic Country) we set up a meeting with Sydney and I was thinking, ‘Why do they want to come and talk to me?’ I was still playing good footy, but it wasn’t a reality to me — I was focused on school and living in the boarding house. It was in an interview with Melbourne — a casual one a few days before the draft — and as I walked out, the guy said, ‘Good luck wherever you end up’. And I thought, ‘Geez, maybe I will actually end up somewhere’. It wasn’t like the blokes that know they’re going top 10. I thought I could go anywhere from 30 to rookie or not even get drafted. It wasn’t until he said that.”4

Several phantom drafts published in the lead up to the 2011 AFL National Draft including the one published on afl.com.au had Ross being selected by Essendon with pick 31. Seb has a family connection to Essendon as his uncle is Tim Watson and Jobe Watson is his cousin. Tim & Jobe are one of the most accomplished father-son duo’s in VFL/AFL history with both Watson’s winning the Crichton Medal as Essendon best and fairest at least three times each to rank in the top 11 of all-time for Essendon in this category and captained the club for at least three seasons each.

At the 2011 National Draft Ross was recruited earlier than he expected, being selected by St Kilda with pick 25. At the time of being drafted by St Kilda at 18 years of age Ross was 187 centimetres tall and weighed 83 kilograms. The profile for Ross in AFL Record Season Guide 2012 said “A hard-working midfielder, Ross stood out for Vic Country at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships for his ability to win contested possessions and his clean disposal.”5

St Kilda finished sixth on the ladder at the end of the 2011 home and away season with a record of 12 wins, one draw and nine losses, and were defeated by 25 points in an elimination final against Sydney at Etihad Stadium.

Due to expansion club GWS Giants entering the competition in 2012 they were provided with draft concessions which resulted in the new club having 11 of the first 14 picks at the 2011 National Draft. This pushed every other club’s draft selections down the order, the Saints in a trade with GWS Giants moved their first pick slightly down the order from 20 to 25 and acquired Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera.

Ross was the first of the Saints seven selections at the 2011 National Draft and one of three players from that crop that have played over 100 AFL games for St Kilda, being joined in this category by Jack Newnes and Jimmy Webster who were selected with picks 37 and 42 respectively. Newnes played 156 games for St Kilda before joining Carlton at the end of 2019. Webster has played 102 AFL games for St Kilda, having played his 100th AFL game in Round 9, 2021 against Geelong at Marvel Stadium.  

After being recruited by St Kilda at the 2011 National Draft Seb received advice from his relatives, Tim and Jobe Watson. In an interview with saints.com.au during his first AFL pre-season Seb commented on the advice he had received from his cousin “Jobe told me I’d be surprised how it becomes your absolute priority … how everything you do revolves around your job.”6

St Kilda had a very experienced team in 2012 which provided Ross with the opportunity to train alongside and learn from players such as Lenny Hayes, Nick Dal Santo, Brendon Goddard, Nick Riewoldt, Sean Dempster and Sam Fisher, however it also meant that he faced strong competition to get a game at AFL level with the Saints.

After playing 16 games in the VFL during 2012 Ross was given a late-season taste at AFL level, making his AFL debut in Round 22, 2012 at Marvel Stadium against the GWS Giants at 19 years of age. After starting the game as the substitute Ross replaced Lenny Hayes and played 40% game-time, he had five kicks, three handballs, four tackles, an equal team-high five clearances, seven contested possessions and a goal assist. St Kilda dominated to defeat the Giants by 128 points, the third greatest winning margin in the club’s history. Ross was named an emergency for St Kilda’s Round 23 game against Carlton.

Playing AFL for St Kilda and VFL for Sandringham from 2013 to 2015

Ross played the first two games of 2013 in the VFL before being promoted to the AFL, playing 10 consecutive games from Round 4 to Round 14. Ross had at least 17 disposals four times, however after a quiet game in Round 14 with only nine disposals he was dropped to the VFL. Ross was named an AFL emergency for six consecutive games before being recalled to St Kilda’s side for the last three games of the season. Ross had an equal-season high 22 disposals in the final round against Fremantle and kicked a goal.

During his third AFL season in 2014 Ross was on the fringe, starting the season in the VFL, he was given some opportunities in the AFL but twice got dropped back to the VFL, he finished the season playing four games for St Kilda in the AFL to play a total of 13 AFL games in 2014.

In February 2015 St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson commented to AFL.com.au “With Lenny (Hayes) moving on, Seb will get much more opportunity where he’s at his best and that is on the inside. For all the understandable reasons, he hasn’t quite imposed himself on games, but last year when he went back to the VFL he dominated. He’d made that step to being an AFL player playing in the VFL and you’d walk away from games and say, ‘He’s just too good for this now’. At times he had to play half-forward and while he has to grow that part of his game, that doesn’t really suit him. He’s an inside player and his pre-season has been very strong.”7  

Ross was playing well during St Kilda’s 2015 JLT game against Essendon at Morwell Recreation Reserve on 7 March, however he injured his hamstring half-way through the third quarter when he was kicking the ball and got pushed in the back. Ross was unable to run off the ground and his injury was more serious than a typical hamstring injury which resulted in him missing the first seven rounds of the 2015 home and away season due to the injury.

Whilst Ross’ hamstring injury was frustrating at the time, he learnt significantly from the rehabilitation process. In the week leading up to his 150th AFL game Ross commented to St Kilda Football Club Multimedia Content Producer Chris Nice for a special edition podcast Fatherhood, work ethic and hardships ahead of Ross’ 150th game which was published on saints.com.au “From that hamstring injury which I have talked about previously, the things I learned about being meticulous in your preparation and really diligent, ticking every box to get that hamstring right. That taught me a lot about myself and the requirements of becoming a good AFL footballer and those sort of lessons towards playing a heap of VFL footy and not being able to do it at AFL level. Trying to work that and having the set-back with the 12 week hamstring, never really been injured in my career and learning about how tedious and how long that took. I think that really set up my career really.”

On return from his hamstring injury Ross had 23 disposals for the Sandringham Zebras in the VFL, after a second game in the VFL he was selected to make his AFL return. Ross played five consecutive AFL games for the Saints from Round 10 to Round 15 with his best game during this time being in Round 14. Ross had 25 disposals, 12 contested possessions and spent some time opposed to his cousin – Essendon captain Jobe Watson. Two weeks later Ross was dropped to the VFL and played three games for Sandringham at this level before returning to the Saints line-up to play the last five games of 2015. Before his recall Ross had played 32 AFL games and had recorded at least 19 disposals in a game nine times but had never achieved this feat in back to back games. In five consecutive games from Round 19 to Round 23 Ross elevated his game to another level to average 21.2 disposals and 5.2 tackles per game, he had at least 19 disposals in all five games.

In Ross’ first four seasons at St Kilda from 2012 to 2015 he played a total of 37 AFL games and averaged 7.6 kicks, 8.4 handballs, 2.6 marks, 2.1 inside 50’s, 3.5 tackles and 9.9 uncontested possessions per game.

Ross plays every game for the Saints in 2016 and finishes sixth in the best and fairest

The improvement Ross showed in the closing stages of 2015 continued in 2016 with the midfielder taking his game to a new stratosphere, having at least 28 disposals in four of his first five games of the season.

Ross played his 50th AFL game at 23 years of age in Round 14, 2016 against Geelong at Docklands and was able to celebrate his milestone in fine style with St Kilda recording an upset three point victory and Ross playing a pivotal role in the victory despite being opposed to the most dominant player of 2016 and that season’s eventual Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield. Ross had a game-high 33 disposals, a team-high 12 contested possessions and five clearances whilst still performing well defensively on Dangerfield who had 29 disposals however only 12 of these were kicks and he wasn’t as damaging as usual. Ross was rewarded for his exceptional game with three Brownlow Medal votes, the first time in his career that the umpires had judged him best afield.

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Ross polled 10 Brownlow Medal votes in 2016, ranked third at St Kilda behind Nick Riewoldt and Jack Steven with 19 votes and 16 votes respectively. At the 2016 best and fairest Ross recorded his first top 10 finish, polling 122 votes to finish sixth, just five votes behind Leigh Montagna in fourth place. His profile in AFL Prospectus 2017 said “Ross had the fifth-biggest rise in AFL Player Rating points between 2015 and 2016 of any player to play at least 10 games in both seasons. Drafted as an inside ball winner, he has won more outside ball in every season, averaging an elite 19 uncontested possessions per game last season. While he only kicked one goal, he ranked third at St Kilda for score assists and his delivery into the forward-line went from poor in 2015 to elite last season.”8 One of Ross’ biggest improvement during 2016 was the ability to spread from the contest and win uncontested possessions. During 2016 Ross won 62% more uncontested possessions per game than he had in 2015, rising from 11.7 per game in 2015 to 18.9 per game in 2016. During the 2016 home and away season Ross ranked sixth in the AFL for uncontested possessions, ninth for handballs received and equal 11th for inside 50’s.

Elevated to the leadership group in 2017 and wins St Kilda’s best and fairest

Three experienced players from St Kilda’s 2016 leadership group in Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster stood down from the leadership group in 2017, believing younger players were ready to drive the leadership of the St Kilda Football Club. Ross was one of three new additions to the Saints 2017 leadership group along with Dylan Roberton and Josh Bruce.

After starting the 2017 season slowly with 16 disposals against Melbourne in Round 1 Ross had at least 20 disposals in his remaining 21 games, including 14 games with more than 29 disposals.

In the 19 point Round 2 loss to the West Coast Eagles at Subiaco Oval left-footer Ross earnt an equal season-high 15 votes in St Kilda’s best and fairest for a performance in which he had 19 kicks, 10 handballs, five tackles, five clearances and a goal assist.

St Kilda played their first Friday night game in more than two years against GWS in Round 7 at Marvel Stadium. Ross polled an equal season-high 15 votes in the Saints best and fairest for a performance in which he had 14 kicks, a team-high 17 handballs, a game-high nine clearances, and one goal assist. As well as winning a game-high 17 contested possessions Ross was also influential with the run he provided St Kilda, particularly in the last quarter when the Saints kicked six goals to one to turn a seven point three-quarter time deficit into a 23 point victory.

In Maddie’s match 2017 St Kilda played their best football of the season to defeat Richmond by 67 points in Round 16. The Saints led by four goals at quarter-time and put the result beyond doubt with nine goals to none in the second quarter to lead by 82 points at half-time. Ross shut-down the best player of 2017 – Richmond midfielder Dustin Martin, restricting him to 19 disposals, the second and last time of 2017 that Martin had less than 20 disposals in a game. Ross still had a significant impact offensively, having an equal game-high 18 kicks, 15 handballs, four marks, eight tackles, five inside 50s, five clearances, two goal assists, 10 score involvements and kicked a goal. The umpires awarded Ross the three Brownlow Medal votes for being best afield and the coaches agreed with this assessment, awarding him the maximum 10 votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award.

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During 2017 Ross elevated his game to another stratosphere to convincingly win the Trevor Barker Award as St Kilda best and fairest, polling 159 votes, to finish 35 votes ahead of rebounding defender Dylan Roberton, with Saints captain Jarryn Geary a further three votes adrift on 121 votes. Ross polled votes in St Kilda’s best and fairest in 20 of a possible 22 games, with the exceptions being Round 1, and Round 17 against Essendon, Ross polled more than 12 votes in a game five times.

In 2017 Ross developed to have one of the most balanced midfield games in the AFL, he was effective offensively whilst also able to perform a run-with role in the midfield, could win the contested ball and also ran hard and effectively to win uncontested possessions.

Ross finished equal eighth in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year award with 68 votes, 2017 Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin won the award with 122 votes, ahead of 2016 Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield on 118 votes and a large gap to Rory Sloane in third position on 78 votes.

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Ross played all 22 games for St Kilda in 2017, averaging 83% game-time, 14.5 kicks, 15.4 handballs, 3.6 marks, 4.3 tackles, 20.2 uncontested possessions and 4.0 inside 50s per game with a disposal efficiency of 72.8%. Ross led the Saints for total disposals, handballs, clearances, inside 50s, contested possessions and uncontested possessions, he ranked second for kicks and tackles, and equal fourth for goal assists. Ross set new career-highs in 2017 for kicks per game, handballs, rebound 50s, clearances, contested possessions and uncontested possessions. Ross was one of two St Kilda players selected in the 2017 All-Australian squad of 40 players, being joined by defender Roberton. During the 2017 home and away season Ross ranked eighth in the AFL for total handballs, third for handballs received, sixth for disposals and fourth for uncontested possessions. In October 2017 Ross signed a three year extension with St Kilda until the end of the 2021 season.

In 2017 three of St Kilda’s most experienced players – Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster all retired, defender Sam Fisher had retired at the end of 2016. In his acceptance speech after winning the 2017 Trevor Barker Award Ross made special mention of these four players and the impression they made on him, commenting “Rooey, Joey, Shinna and Chips, the legacy you left on me, you taught me how to work as a young kid. It probably took me three or four years to figure it out and those three or four years watching you guys each day in your home life, you just put your head down and your bums up and you worked hard, you’re as loyal as they come, you’re some of the greatest mentors I’ve ever had, some of the greatest blokes I’ve ever met and I just wish you guys well in the future.”

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The profile for Ross in AFL Record Season 2018 said “After improving in 2016 to become a solid contributor, Ross again elevated his game last year. A genuine star of the competition the left-footer had a huge impact with and without the ball. Despite the unfashionable style, Ross is one of the Saints’ better kicks, while his hands are exceptionally clean in tight. His tackling, defensive running and negating skills are valuable, but most importantly, the leadership group member can rack up disposals even if assigned a task on the opposition’s primary ball-winner.”9

Finishes runner-up in St Kilda’s 2018 best and fairest

On continuing to be a member of St Kilda’s leadership group in 2018 Ross commented to SEN’S Time On in February 2018 “It’s something that I’ve been involved in throughout my juniors and then in the TAC Cup and I spent a bit of time in the emerging leader’s group as a young player at St Kilda. It’s something that I’ve never really aspired to, but as my performances have improved in the last couple of years, I’ve earned some trust from the boys and they’ve voted me in. So as long as they keep voting me in, it’s something that I will continue to do.”

Ross performed well in Round 1, 2018 against the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium, having 20 kicks, 12 handballs, six marks, an equal game-high seven tackles, an equal game-high seven inside 50’s and two goal assists in the 25 point victory.

In St Kilda’s Round 5, 2018 draw against GWS at Etihad Stadium Ross had a game-high 21 kicks, 10 handballs, seven marks, an equal game-high seven inside 50’s, four clearances, an equal team-high 11 contested possessions, 19 uncontested possessions and a game-high three goal assists – setting a new career-high.

Entering their Round 13 clash at Metricon Stadium against the Gold Coast Suns, St Kilda hadn’t recorded a win since Round 1 and looked extremely unlikely to add to that tally when they trailed the Suns by 31 points at three quarter-time. Ross played a pivotal role in the Saints over-running Gold Coast to kick five goals to nil in the last quarter to record a fight-back two point victory after Jade Gresham roved a hit-out from Billy Longer to kick a snap goal from the boundary line to put St Kilda in front with just over a minute left in the game. Ross finished the game with 15 kicks, a game-high 18 handballs, 10 marks, an equal team-high seven tackles, 10 clearances, 13 contested possessions, 20 uncontested possessions and polled three Brownlow Medal votes.

St Kilda captain Jarryn Geary missed the club’s Round 12, 2018 game against Sydney at Docklands which resulted in Ross captaining the Saints in a home and away game for the first time. On why Ross had been chosen to captain the club in Geary’s absence St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson commented “This opportunity allowed us to have the discussion as to who should lead the team and why. The why for Seb are pretty simple. His ability to both challenge and support his teammates is really high and they have great respect for the way he goes about his football. He hasn’t captained the team in a home-and-away season match before, so it’s a great chance for him to develop his leadership.”10

In his 99th AFL game against the Western Bulldogs in Round 20, 2018 Ross had 40 disposals and kicked three goals to set new career-highs in both categories. Seb finished the game with a game-high 22 kicks, a team-high 18 handballs, nine marks, five inside 50’s, three clearances, an equal team-high 10 contested possessions, a team-high 26 contested possessions and kicked a team-high three goals.

The following week Ross played his 100th AFL game at 25 years of age against Essendon in a Friday night game at Docklands on 10 August. Ross became the sixth player on St Kilda’s 2018 list to play 100 AFL games for the club, joining Sam Gilbert (206 games), Jarryn Geary (181), Jack Steven (174), David Armitage (165) and Jack Newnes (133). Against Essendon Ross had a game-high 22 kicks, an equal game-high 21 handballs, a game-high nine inside 50’s, four tackles, four rebound 50’s, three bounces, a team-high five clearances, nine contested possessions, 35 uncontested possessions and a goal assist. In his milestone game Ross set new career-highs for disposals (43), kicks, inside 50’s and uncontested possessions and an equal career-high for bounces (3).

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Ross had at least 36 disposals in a game six times in 2018 including the last four games of the season. Ross finished second in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 175 votes, 16 votes behind fellow midfielder Jack Steven who won his fourth Trevor Barker Award, Jack Steele finished third with 134 votes.

In 2018 Ross ranked third in the AFL for handballs received, 14th for total kicks, seventh for  disposals, sixth for uncontested possessions, equal ninth for inside 50’s, 10th for metres gained and 18th for handballs. Ross ranked second at St Kilda with six Brownlow medal votes, receiving three votes against Gold Coast in Round 13, two votes against Brisbane in Round 1 and one vote against Essendon in Round 21.  

During 2018 Ross played 21 games for St Kilda, he missed Round 17 against Carlton due to being ill, throughout the season he continued to predominantly play in the midfield however he also spent some playing behind the ball. In 2018 Ross averaged 16.1 kicks, 14.1 handballs, 5.4 marks, 4.0 tackles, 20.2 uncontested possessions and 4.7 inside 50s per game with a disposal efficiency of 72.8%. In 2018 Ross led St Kilda for total disposals, kicks, handballs and uncontested possessions, ranked second for clearances, tackles and inside 50’s, third for marks and contested possessions, fourth for score involvements and equal fourth for score assists.  

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Ross wins second Saints b & f in 2019 and is acting captain for most of the season

In October 2018 Brett Ratten was recruited as a senior assistant coach at St Kilda, he had previously been head coach at Carlton for five seasons from 2008 to 2012, having won the job after spending the last six games of the 2007 season as Carlton’s caretaker coach. Richardson and Ratten had worked closely together previously, in 2011 and 2012 the roles had been reversed with Richardson being a senior assistant to Ratten at Carlton.

St Kilda named a five-man leadership group for 2019 with Geary to captain the Saints for the third consecutive season, Ross was promoted to the role of vice-captain. St Kilda commenced their season with a nail-biting one point victory against Gold Coast at Marvel Stadium. Ross had 16 kicks, 11 handballs, four marks, seven inside 50’s, one goal assist, 22 uncontested possessions and five bounces to set game-highs in the latter two categories and polled two Brownlow Medal votes.

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In Round 4, 2019 Geary was a late withdrawal due to illness which resulted in Ross captaining St Kilda against Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium. Ross played an exceptional captain’s game against the Hawks, amassing a game-high 39 disposals comprised of a team-high 21 kicks, 18 handballs, an equal team-high six inside 50’s, six clearances, 13 contested possessions, a game-high 27 uncontested possessions, took four bounces and kicked a goal on his preferred left-foot from 50 metres out after receiving a handball from Jack Steele and taking five steps, the goal at the eight minute mark of the second quarter give St Kilda a five point lead. St Kilda trailed Hawthorn by 24 points at the 16 minute mark of the third quarter but then responded brilliantly to kick the last four goals of the game to record a thrilling five point victory. For his exceptional game in the victory against Hawthorn Ross won the Silk-Miller Memorial Medal and received three votes in the Brownlow Medal.

Geary returned to captain St Kilda against Melbourne in round 5 however he endured a nightmare season from that point on, being restricted to one more game due to two separate leg injuries. In round 5 Geary suffered from compartment syndrome due to a severely corked quad that required an emergency operation and three separate surgeries. In Geary’s comeback from injury in Round 11 against Port Adelaide in Shanghai he broke his fibula. Geary missed the remainder of 2019, playing a total of five games which resulted in Ross being the St Kilda captain for the other 17 games during the home and away season.

Late in the 2019 season Ross was a guest on the Saints Insider podcast and was asked by the podcast’s host, St Kilda Communication Manager Clair White “Acting captain is a role that you have had to sit with for most of the year, how has that been for you?” Ross responded “It has been a pretty big learning curve thanks Clair, I got to do it a couple of times last year but that was under the guidance of Gears a little bit more because he only missed the two games last year. It’s been pretty cool obviously to run out and lead the club each week and it has sort of been a little bit indifferent, take the Adelaide game for instance we had about nine guys out there who had played 25 games or less so not having that wholistic experience around you has been a little bit different. Guys like JB (Jack Billings) and Skunk (Tim Membrey), these guys have had to step up around me because I am learning too, I am not the greatest leader there ever was. I have still got plenty to learn in that space but it has been something that I look forward to, Gears has still been there right by my side, he sits on the bench each week and gives me tips and he is always there for me during the week.”

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With his hard two-way running and work at the clearances Ross played a key role in St Kilda’s resurgence after trailing Gold Coast by 28 points five minutes into the second quarter of their Round 13 game at Townsville the Saints fought back to have a thrilling four point win. Seb finished the game with 14 kicks, a team-high 17 handballs, four inside 50’s, a team-high five rebound 50’s, a game-high 10 clearances – five more than the second ranked Saint, an equal game-high 14 contested possessions and 19 uncontested possessions.

On 15 July, two days after St Kilda’s Round 17 loss to Geelong Alan Richardson stood down as St Kilda’s head coach, realising that he wouldn’t be coaching St Kilda in 2020. Brett Ratten was appointed as the Saints caretaker head coach for the remainder of the 2019 season.  

During a 19 point victory against Melbourne at Marvel Stadium in Round 19 Ross had 14 kicks, an equal game-high 17 handballs, seven marks, nine tackles, a game-high nine inside 50’s, six clearances, an equal game-high 15 contested possessions, a game-high 18 uncontested possessions, kicked an equal season-high two goals and polled three Brownlow Medal votes.

At the 2019 Brownlow Medal Ross led St Kilda with 12 votes ahead of Jack Billings with 11, it was the third time in four seasons that Seb reached double figures, following 10 votes in 2016 and 14 votes in 2017. St Kilda won nine games in 2019 including four games by less than a goal and it was in these close victories with the game in the balance that Ross was at his best polling Brownlow Medal votes in all four thrilling victories. During 2019 Ross had at least 27 disposals in 11 games, including four times in his last five games. During the five game period from Round 19 onwards Ross averaged a goal a game and polled six of his 12 Brownlow Medal votes for the season. During 2019 Ross ranked seventh in the AFL for total handballs received, equal 12th for running bounces, equal 14th for uncontested possessions and equal 15th for inside 50’s.

In 2019 left-footer Ross played all 22 games for St Kilda, averaging 85.5% game-time, 14.7 kicks, 11.3 handballs, 3.8 marks, 4.1 tackles, 17.7 uncontested possessions and 4.5 inside 50s per game with a disposal efficiency of 72.8%. Ross led the Saints for total disposals, kicks and inside 50s, he ranked second for handballs, uncontested possessions and tackles, third for clearances, equal fourth for goal assists and fifth for contested possessions.

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Ross won his second Trevor Barker Award in three seasons, finishing the 2019 count with 170 votes, 18 votes ahead of ruckman Rowan Marshall with fellow midfielder Jack Steele a further vote behind in third place on 151 votes. Ross was the sixth St Kilda player to win two Saints best and fairest awards in three seasons during the 39 seasons from 1981 to 2019, joining the following players in this category – Greg Burns, Robert Harvey, Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Jack Steven.

Brett Ratten commented on Ross winning the 2019 Trevor Barker Award “It’s really great to see Seb honoured with his second Trevor Barker Award. He’s shouldered a lot this season, standing in for Jarryn as acting captain for most of the year, but took it all in his stride. He’s a consummate professional and is always the first to lend a hand to his teammates. Seb’s a pillar of our group and thoroughly deserves this accolade.” The average age of the top 10 players in St Kilda’s best and fairest was 24.5 years and at the Saints best and fairest Ratten commented “Looking at the top ten is really encouraging. The average games played of that list is just under 92 games. We know we have areas to work on over summer and we can’t wait to get to work.”

In his acceptance speech for winning the 2019 Trevor Barker Award Ross said “I’d like to start by thanking my beautiful fiancé Marnie and daughter Charlotte. It’s probably been the best year of my life to date off the field, welcoming my daughter in December and the support they’ve been able to give me and Marnie putting the hard yards in at home to allow me to get to training early and prepare for games each week, I love her dearly and love the support she gives me.” In late December 2019 Seb and Marnie got married.  

The profile for Ross in AFL Prospectus 2020 said “He was involved in 29% of his teams’ scoring chains, the sixth-highest percentage of any midfielder in the AFL. Ross excels on the outside and ranks third in the AFL for uncontested possessions since 2016.”11

Saints make finals in 2020, Ross has fifth consecutive finish in top 10 of the b & f

On 5 September 2019 Brett Ratten was appointed as St Kilda’s head coach, having impressed with his ability to build relationships with players and staff during his time as an assistant coach and caretaker coach at St Kilda and also having the experience of more than 100 games as a head coach at AFL level with Carlton.

For the 2020 season St Kilda players, coaches and football staff voted in a leadership group with Geary and Ross continuing in their roles as captain and vice-captain respectively. The six player leadership group was completed by Tim Membrey, Jack Billings, Dylan Roberton and Brad Hill.

St Kilda identified deficiencies on their list and targeted players to improve these areas. In the 2019 trade period the Saints recruited midfielder Zak Jones from Sydney, wingman Brad Hill from Fremantle, small forward Dan Butler from Richmond, key defender Dougal Howard and ruckman Paddy Ryder both from Port Adelaide. Several players were traded by St Kilda, most notably four-time best and fairest winner Jack Steven to Geelong.

In the week before the 2020 AFL home and away season commenced it was announced that due to the uncertainty regarding the coronavirus that the structure of the season and length of games would be condensed. During the 2020 home and away season each club played 17 games comprised of one game against each of the other 17 AFL clubs, a reduction from previous seasons when each team played 22 games across 23 rounds. The length of quarters was reduced from 20 minutes plus time-on to 16 minutes plus time-on to enable a shorter break between games if required.

Round 1 of the 2020 season was played as scheduled from March 19 to 22 however crowds weren’t allowed in Victoria and with the number of COVID-19 cases escalating rapidly and the Australian Government imposing travel restrictions the AFL season was paused for just under three months.

In Round 2, 2021 against the Western Bulldogs on 14 June at Marvel Stadium Ross had 14 kicks, seven marks, 10 handballs, laid an equal team-high six tackles and had five clearances in the Saints 39 point victory.

After Round 5 in early July all Victorian clubs entered hubs outside Victoria with St Kilda being based in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in South East Queensland.

Ross played St Kilda’s first eight games of the 2021 season but then missed three games from Round 9 to Round 11 due to a calf injury. In the previous five and a half seasons Ross had been extremely durable, playing 100 of a possible 101 AFL games for the Saints from Round 19, 2015 to Round 8, 2021.

Speaking about his role in 2020 Ross told SEN Breakfast during their 16 September 2020 episode “I have had weeks where the plan going in has been to sit on someone and try and take away their influence, particularly at stoppage or sometimes it might be in game where a midfielder might be starting to get on top and try and sit on them for a quarter or two just to quell them as well.”

On St Kilda players, coaches and staff living in a hub in Noosa, Queensland Ross told SEN Breakfast “It has certainly had its challenges along the way but I think the positives have definitely outweighed the negatives. We have got a really young group and we traded in a lot of players over the last off-season so its been a really good opportunity for us all to get to know each other, and not only the playing group, a lot of the wives and partners sort of just have a few functions throughout the year where it is all just a little bit of small talk so they have had a good opportunity to get to know each other a lot better as well. A few of us, myself included have young kids up here and their confidence has grown like you wouldn’t believe.”

St Kilda won their final home and away game of the season against the GWS Giants at the Gabba by 52 points in Round 18 to secure the club’s first finals berth since 2011. Only one St Kilda player remains on the Saints list from that elimination final loss to Sydney, co-captain Geary who started the final against Sydney as the substitute and played 34% game-time after replacing David Armitage.

The Saints finished the 2020 home and away season in sixth position on the ladder with 10 wins, seven losses and a percentage of 116.3% to finish ahead of the seventh placed Western Bulldogs on percentage and one game and percentage ahead of ninth placed Melbourne. Four of St Kilda’s losses in the home and away season were by a goal or less and only two losses were by more than three goals which highlights how consistent the Saints level of performance throughout 2020 was.

After a very long wait Ross was finally able to play his first AFL final for St Kilda at 27 years of age in his ninth season at the club in his 139th AFL game. Ross could never have anticipated that when he played his first final the Saints would be playing a fellow Victorian team at a neutral venue outside Victoria. In a normal season without the impact of COVID-19 the Saints would have played the Western Bulldogs at their mutual home ground Marvel Stadium, not two states away at the Gabba in Queensland. The St Kilda Football club embraced the challenge of living in a hub for an extended period during 2020 which contributed to their successful season.

A four goal to one third quarter for the Saints in the elimination final at the Gabba against the Western Bulldogs set up a 24 point lead at the final change. The Bulldogs fought back to mirror the third quarter and outscored the Saints four goals to one in the last quarter, St Kilda held on to record a thrilling three point victory. It was the Saints finals victory since defeating the Western Bulldogs by 24 points in the 2010 preliminary final, the only player remaining from the Saints 2010 list, Geary was an emergency for that game.

In St Kilda’s 31 point semi-final loss to reigning premiers Richmond, Ross was opposed to Dustin Martin for most of the game and had an equal team-high 25 disposals along with Jack Steele, had an equal team-high four rebound 50’s, 11 contested possessions, a team-high 15 uncontested possessions, kicked a goal and had a goal assist to be one of the Saints best players.

During 2020 Ross played 16 of the Saints 19 game, averaging 9.1 kicks, 8.8 handballs, 1.8 marks, 2.8 tackles, 11.0 uncontested possessions and 2.3 inside 50s per game. Ross ranked fourth at the St Kilda for total handballs, third for score involvements, fifth for clearances, sixth for disposals, contested possessions, uncontested possessions and tackles. Ross finished 10th in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 92 votes to record his fifth consecutive top 10 finish, being the only Saints player to finish in the  top 10 in all five seasons from 2016 to 2020.

Ross reaches 150 AFL games in 2021

In 2021 Ross remained a member of the Saints leadership group for the fifth consecutive season however he was demoted from vice-captain to leadership group member. Jarryn Geary and Jack Steele were appointed co-captains, with Tim Membrey and Dougal Howard as vice-captains and the seven player leadership group was completed by Ross, Callum Wilkie and Jack Billings.

The 2021 AFL season structure reverted back to every club playing 22 games over 23 rounds with the quarters being 20 minutes plus time-on as it had been in 2019. When the AFL released the 2021 fixture it included the opponent and venue for all 23 rounds however the dates and times were only announced for the first six rounds, with times and dates of games for later rounds released as the season progressed. Due to an increase in COVID-19 cases and state borders being closed changes have been required to be made for the venue and time of some games.  

During the Saints first home game of 2021 against Melbourne at Marvel Stadium Ross had 13 kicks, a team-high 15 handballs, five marks, four tackles, four inside 50’s, four clearances, 11 contested possessions – ranked second for the Saints behind Stele with 14, and 18 uncontested possessions.

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Against Port Adelaide in Round 6 at Adelaide Oval Ross had 19 kicks, a team-high 12 handballs, a team-high 10 marks, laid an equal game-high eight tackles, had an equal team-high six clearances, a game-high three bounces, 511 metres gained, 13 contested possessions and 18 uncontested possessions, setting team-high’s in the latter two categories.

In a 69 point victory against Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium in Round 7 Ross had 17 kicks, 12 handballs, six marks, four inside 50’s and an equal team-high 24 contested possessions.

On Ross’ 28th birthday, Friday 7 May, 2021 his wife Marnie gave birth to twin boys. Seb was at the birth and was unable to make the Saints chartered flight that afternoon so was a late withdrawal for the Saints Round 8 game against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium on Saturday 8 May. Three weeks later Ross played his 150th AFL game for St Kilda in the 20 point victory against North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium, however due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne spectators weren’t allowed to attend the game.

 

After Round 11, 2021 St Kilda are 12th on the ladder with five wins and six losses, one game and percentage behind Richmond in eighth place. During 2021 Ross has played 10 of St Kilda’s first 11 games of the season, averaging 11.6 kicks, 10.7 handballs, 4.1 marks, 3.2 tackles, 14.9 uncontested possessions and 3.0 inside 50s per game. Ross ranks third at the Saints for handballs, disposals and clearances, fourth for uncontested possessions, fifth for contested possessions and equal sixth for tackles.

Epilogue

In the first few seasons of his AFL career Ross was the epitome of a fringe player, towards the end of this period he was dominating at VFL level for the Sandringham Zebras but was unable to perform at the same level consistently in the AFL.

Just when it looked like Ross was well placed to cement a position in the Saints AFL team he suffered a setback with a severe hamstring injury during the 2015 pre-season. During his first four seasons at St Kilda from 2012 to 2015 Ross played a total of 37 AFL games and had more than 25 disposals in a game once.  Ross learnt from the arduous rehabilitation process for his hamstring injury and after he had another pre-season under his belt he commenced performing consistently at AFL level to become a fixture in St Kilda’s team.

From the start of the 2016 season up to and including Round 11 2021 Ross was extremely durable, playing 113 of a possible 118 AFL games for St Kilda. In each of the four seasons from 2016 to 2019 Ross averaged more than 25 disposals per game and ranked in the AFL’s top 20 for several statistics including ranking in the top 10 of the AFL for handballs received and the top 15 for uncontested possessions in all four seasons. Ross’ strengths have been his ability to win the ball whilst still nullifying his direct opponent, consistency, provide hard running and leadership.

Ross joined the St Kilda leadership group in 2017 and was appointed the vice-captain for the 2019 and 2020 seasons which resulted in him being the acting captain for most of the 2019 season due to   Geary’s leg injuries. In 2017 Ross won his first Trevor Barker Award as St Kilda best and fairest, finished equal eighth in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of The Year Award and was named in the All-Australian squad of 40 players. Ross maintained a consistent level of performance to be runner-up in St Kilda’s 2018 best and fairest and won his second Trevor Barker Award in 2019. Whilst Ross didn’t cement a position in the Saints team until 2016 he has been able to maintain a high standard from that point on and is the only player to finish in the top 10 of the Saints best and fairest in the past five seasons from 2016 to 2020.

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As per the AFL Record Season Guide 2021 “9.6% of AFL players play 150 games+ and the average number of games per player is 50.”12 On Saturday 27 May Ross became the 59th player to reach 150 games for the St Kilda Football Club placing him in the top 10% of AFL players. Ross’ two St Kilda best and fairest awards rank equal 11th on the club’s all-time list. Former team-mate Nick Riewoldt has won six Saints best and fairest awards followed by Robert Harvey, Bill Cubbins and Jack Steven with four each.

In his first 150 AFL games for St Kilda Ross has averaged 12.1 kicks, 11.5 handballs, 3.6 marks, 3.8 tackles, 3.7 clearances, 15.8 uncontested possessions and 3.5 inside 50s per game. From 1965 onwards detailed records of statistics such as disposals from AFL games have been kept. Records for more specific stats such as uncontested possessions didn’t get rewarded until much later. For players that have played at least 20 games for the Saints Ross’ average of 23.6 disposals per game ranks fourth for the club behind Robert Harvey, Jack Steven and Leigh Montagna, he ranks second for handballs behind team-mate Jack Steele. Ross averages 15.8 uncontested possessions per game which ranks second at St Kilda behind former team-mate Leigh Montagna (16.2)

Reflecting on his career to date in the special edition podcast for his 150th AFL game Ross told saints.com.au “It has been fun, it has been amazing, it has changed my life in so many ways and I think each day I come in here and I am really grateful to be able to whack on a Saints jumper and run out with the boys because I know it wont last forever. It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice and blood sweat and tears to get to this spot but still just as motivated as ever to keep going.”

“If I can just be remembered as someone that, now I am not a religious man or anything but made the most of what god gave me and worked with what I have got. I know I am not the most talented footballer by any stretch of the imagination but I feel like I have been able to do some pretty good stuff with what I have been given.”

 By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

1 https://www.afl.com.au/news/61641/ross-enjoys-pendlebury-comparison

2 https://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/afl/teams/st-kilda/seb-ross-never-thought-hed-play-afl-right-up-until-his-draft-day/news-story/bf949a459d5e0ae722ac5a0bf412cd2c

3 https://www.saints.com.au/news/563901/ross-honoured-with-wimmera-grass-roots-award

4 https://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/afl/teams/st-kilda/seb-ross-never-thought-hed-play-afl-right-up-until-his-draft-day/news-story/bf949a459d5e0ae722ac5a0bf412cd2c

5 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2012, page 286

6 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2012-01-27/rosss-family-ties

7 http://www.afl.com.au/news/2015-02-12/seb-the-next-lenny

8 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – the essential number-cruncher for season 2017, 12th Edition, page 324

9 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2018, page 301

10 http://www.saints.com.au/news/2018-06-07/ross-to-captain-saints

11 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – the essential number-cruncher for season 2020, 15th Edition, page 325

12 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2021, page 757

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey, such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey sportspeople have had during their career.

A link to Milestones and Misses homepage is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

 

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