Jack Steele becomes the fourth player in the last 40 years to win back to back St Kilda best and fairest awards

On Friday night 17 September St Kilda co-captain Jack Steele won the 2021 Trevor Barker Award as Saints best and fairest in convincing fashion, polling 234 votes to finish 79 votes ahead of half-back Jack Sinclair with key forward Tim Membrey completing the top three on 136 votes. Steele is the only player to finish in the top three of the Saints best and fairest in each of the past four seasons from 2018 to 2021, recording back-to-back third placed finishes in 2018 and 2019 before winning his maiden Trevor Barker Award in 2020.

By winning the Trevor Barker Award in 2020 and 2021 Steele becomes just the fourth player to win back to back St Kilda best and fairests in the past 40 years, joining Robert Harvey (1997 & 1998), Nick Riewoldt (2006 & 2007) and Jack Steven (2015 & 2016) in this select group. Given how dominant Steele has been during the 2020 and 2021 seasons he is well placed in 2022 to become the first player in the history of the St Kilda Football Club to win the club’s best and fairest in three consecutive seasons. 

Steele grew up in Canberra, played Australian Rules football for the Belconnen Magpies and represented the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in under-age teams from the under 12’s onwards.

At the 2014 NAB AFL Draft Steele became the first GWS Giants Academy member drafted by the club, being recruited in the second round with pick 24. At 19 years of age Steele made his AFL debut in Round 12, 2015 and impressed on debut with 17 disposals and 10 tackles against North Melbourne. Steele played six consecutive AFL games from Round 12 to Round 18, however in two seasons with the GWS Giants he was unable to cement a position in the senior team. Across the 2015 and 2016 seasons Steele played 17 AFL games, was named an emergency 14 times and dominated at State League Level when he played in the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL).

Wanting to increase the likelihood of cementing his spot in an AFL team Steele was traded by the GWS Giants to the St Kilda Football Club during the 2016 trade period in exchange for the Saints 2017 2nd round selection.

Steele has been extremely durable at St Kilda, playing 102 of a possible 107 AFL games in five seasons at the club from 2017 onwards, only missing two games due to injury, both with a knee injury in 2019. Steele was dropped from the Saints AFL team twice before he had played 25 games for the club, being omitted for two weeks in the middle of the 2017 season and for one week early in 2018.

Mid-way through the 2018 season Steele was assigned a run-with role opposed to the opposition’s best midfielder. On the role change Steele commented to saints.com.au in mid-July 2018 “(My role) allows me to just get to work and try and stop them from getting the ball, but if it’s there to be won, just go and get it myself.”1

Playing as a run-with midfielder Steele flourished, negating the impact of his opponent whilst also making a valuable contribution offensively. Steele ranked sixth in the AFL for tackles in 2018 and led the league in this category in 2019, he recorded back to back third placed finishes in St Kilda’s best and fairest in 2018 and 2019.

During 2020 and 2021 Steele was unleased from his run-with role and played a more attacking game to great effect to elevate his game to a new stratosphere to be one of only seven players selected in both the 2020 and 2021 All-Australian teams. During the 2020 and 2021 home and away seasons Steele ranked in the top 10 of the AFL for tackles and contested possessions per game and in the top three for supercoach points per game.  

At the start of 2021 Steele was elevated to another role, that of St Kilda co-captain alongside defender Jarryn Geary. On his appointment Steele commented to saints.com.au “I’m really grateful to have been given this honour, it’s a true privilege. When you walk through the Hall of Fame at RSEA Park and see names like Frawley, Harvey, Barker and Baldock, it’s really humbling to now be continuing their legacy. To have Gears alongside me is also really special. He’s really taken me under his wing, and I’ve learned so much from him since joining the club. His leadership is second to none, not just his voice on-field, but also how he rallies the group off it.”2 

Jack Steele’s brilliant Australian Rules football career at junior level with NSW/ACT as well as the first 119 AFL games of his career with the GWS Giants and St Kilda is covered in more detail below:

Early life and junior career

Jack Steele was born on 13 December 1995, his parents are dad Stuart and mum Jo. Jack grew up deep in Rugby territory, his dad Stuart played Rugby League at club level in country New South Wales and several of Jack’s uncles also played Rugby League. Jack’s older sister Sophie represented the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in basketball as a junior. Growing up in Canberra Jack played several sports and influenced by dad Stuart commenced his Australian Rules football pathway by playing Auskick at an early age. Steele played junior football for the Belconnen Magpies and also represented the ACT in under-age teams commencing in the Under 12’s. Early on in his junior football career Steele played as a forward, as he got older he started to spend time in the midfield and over time the midfield became Jack’s primary position.

During the 10 July 2019 episode of the Saints Insider podcast, host Clair White asked Steele “When did footy become your main focus?” Steele responded “Probably when I was about 15, 16, when I sort of just needed to pick a sport. I played a lot of cricket and basketball as well. All my mates played footy with me and they did the same, they dropped everything else and really started to focus on footy.”

The Greater Western Sydney Giants joined the Australian Football League (AFL) as the 18th team, entering the competition in 2012. “In late 2009, the AFL commission approved a set of list concession rules that gave the GIANTS zoned access to AFL players from NSW and the ACT. The Academy was born to provide an improved development pathway for young players within the vast region.”3

Growing up in the ACT Steele became an early member of the Giants Academy. On his junior football career and being a member of the GWS Giants Academy Steele told Saints Insider “I was a part of the Giants Academy from when I was about 13. At the time that they made the academy it was still GWS, I think it was called that until they decided the name for the team. Eventually just worked my way up the ranks year by year and got to under 16’s, made the 16’s state team, had a bad year in my under 18’s top-age year and hurt my knee. So then I came back the next year in the under 18’s Rams and played well enough to get drafted.”

A week before the start of the 2013 NAB AFL Under 18 National Championships Steele dislocated his knee whilst changing direction on the basketball court at the New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory team’s training camp in Coffs Harbour. Two weeks after the injury Steele had an operation and quickly focussed on getting his body right for 2014.  

From 2012 to 2014 Steele combined playing junior football with playing some NEAFL football at senior level with University of Western Sydney (UWS) Giants from 2012 to 2014 and with Belconnen in 2013 and 2014.

Steele was eligible to be drafted at the 2013 AFL National Draft but was overlooked by all 18 clubs. One benefit of Steele missing out on being drafted by an AFL club at the first available opportunity was that the NSW/ACT Rams were re-established as a TAC Cup Club in 2014 which allowed Jack to play at junior level against quality opposition. In his six TAC Cup games for the NSW/ACT Rams, Steele was exceptional, averaging 24.7 disposals, 6.8 marks, 6.7 tackles, 12.0 contested possessions and 1.0 goals per game.

At the 2014 AFL Under 18 National Championships playing for New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory Steele rotated between the midfield and forward line to be named in NSW/ACT’s best players in all three games at the Championships and in two games was his side’s outright leading goalkicker. NSW/ACT won the Division two title, winning all three games against in chronological order Northern Territory (won by 81 points), Tasmania (9 points) and Queensland (13 points).

At the 2014 Under 18 National Championships Steele was phenomenal in his three games for New South Wales/ACT, averaging 13.0 kicks, 7.7 handballs, 5.7 marks, 3.0 tackles, 11.7 contested possessions and 2.0 goals per game to be named NSW/ACT’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). Steele was selected on the interchange in the 2014 Under 18 All-Australian team and was joined in the team by NSW/ACT teammates Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills who were selected in the midfield and forward line respectively.

On his 2014 season Steele commented to afl.com.au in October 2014 “I didn’t really expect to have such a great year and I’m pretty proud to make that team. In most games I’ve started forward and worked into the midfield and I think I’ve been able to show I can play in both positions.”4

Steele’s profile in the 2015 AFL Prospectus said “A goal kicking midfielder, he averaged 151 Champion Data Ranking points at the 2014 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships – ranked No. 1 for his side, No 1. of all midfielders and fourth in the competition. He ranked No. 1 of any midfielder for score involvements per match and second for assists per game. His kick rating was elite and the third-highest of any player in the competition who averaged at least 20 disposals per game.”5

At the 2014 AFL Draft Combine Steele finished in the top 10 for three tests – the three km time-trial, beep test/shuttle run and kicking test.  

2015 and 2016 AFL seasons with the GWS Giants

On the first day of the 2014 AFL trade period in early October a meeting was held at Docklands Stadium for AFL clubs to place bids on father-son and academy players. North Melbourne bid pick 15 for Giants Academy player Steele, the GWS Giants matched North Melbourne’s bid and drafted Steele with their next selection, pick 24, which resulted in Steele being the first Giants Academy member drafted by the club. Steele was the first AFL player recruited from Canberra in five years, with his predecessor being Jason Tutt who was recruited by the Western Bulldogs.

Making 2014 draft even sweeter, Steele wasn’t the only player from Canberra drafted, with his best mate and fellow Belconnen Magpie Logan Austin being selected by Port Adelaide late in the draft with pick 69. Only three players recruited from the Belconnen Football Club had played in the AFL previously – Brett Allison (228 AFL games comprised of 219 for North Melbourne and nine for Sydney), Don Pyke (132 AFL games for the West Coast Eagles) and Matthew Lokan (46 AFL games for Collingwood), so the odds of two team-mates from Belconnen being drafted in the same year and going on to play AFL football was massive.

Steele commenced the 2015 home and away season playing for the Giants in the NEAFL rotating between the midfield and forward line and was named an AFL emergency in five consecutive games from Round 6 to Round 10. Steele made his AFL debut at 19 years of age in Round 12 against North Melbourne at the Sydney Showgrounds. In his AFL debut against North Melbourne Steele was opposed to former St Kilda player and three-time All-Australian Nick Dal Santo at the first bounce. On debut Steele had six kicks, 11 handballs, three marks, three clearances and laid 10 tackles – ranked second for the game behind teammate Adam Treloar with 11.

From his Round 12 debut until Round 17 Steele played five consecutive games for the GWS Giants in the AFL and had at least 16 disposals in four games and laid at least five tackles in every game. A highlight was taking a contested mark in Round 15 against current St Kilda co-captain Jarryn Geary and kicking the first goal of his AFL career from the set shot 20 metres out on a slight angle. The Giants defeated the Saints by 35 points and Steele played in his first AFL victory in his third game. Steele was demoted to being the starting substitute in his last two AFL games of 2015 in Rounds 18 and 20.

In his second AFL season at the Giants Steele commenced 2016 in the seniors. Jack was omitted for Round 2 but his time in the NEAFL was short-lived, being recalled to the senior side in Round 4. In five AFL games from Round 4 to Round 8 rotating between the midfield and the forward line Steele averaged 18 disposals and a goal per game with the Giants recording five consecutive victories.

Competition for spots in the GWS Giants senior line-up in 2016 was strong with the club easily exceeding their previous best finish of 11th in 2015 to finish fourth at the end of the 2016 home and away season with 16 wins and six losses. From Round 9 to Round 14 Steele was named an emergency four times and played two AFL games. After playing consecutive AFL games in Round 16 and Round 17 Steele missed Rounds 18 and 19 with a hand injury and was unable to regain his place in the Giants AFL team.

In a NEAFL preliminary final victory against Sydney University Steele had 41 possessions in the UWS victory which secured them a Grand Final berth. Days later Steele fractured a metatarsal in his left foot whilst training at the Giants training base at Olympic Park which caused him to miss the rest of the season.  

The Giants recorded their first ever AFL finals victory in 2016, defeating cross-town rivals the Sydney Swans by 36 points in a qualifying final at ANZ Stadium in front of 60,222 spectators. In a home preliminary final at Spotless Stadium the GWS Giants lost a thriller to eventual premiers the Western Bulldogs by six points.

Throughout 2016 Steele was on the fringe of the Giants AFL team, playing 10 games in the AFL and was named an emergency seven times. Steele was dominant at State League level in 2016, in 10 games for the GWS Giants in the NEAFL he averaged 36 disposals, eight marks, eight tackles, seven inside 50’s and 1.5 goals per game.

From 2015 to 2016 Steele played 17 AFL games for the GWS Giants and was named an emergency 14 times, in the AFL he averaged 6.5 kicks, 8.4 handballs, 3.4 marks, 4.8 tackles, 6.2 contested possessions and 0.5 goals per game.

2017 AFL season with St Kilda

Wanting to increase the likelihood of cementing his spot in an AFL team Steele decided to leave the Giants and nominated St Kilda as his preferred club. During the 2016 trade period Steele was traded by the GWS Giants to the St Kilda Football Club in exchange for the Saints 2017 2nd round selection.

On the decision to leave the GWS Giants and join St Kilda Steele told Saints Insider in July 2019 “I really wanted to be playing consistent AFL footy, and at the Giants and with their list and the players they had it was just too hard to crack, if you did play one bad game I suppose you felt like your spot was in a bit of jeopardy, I didn’t really want that stress. I did want to stay there and be a one club player and try and win a premiership with that team but at the end of the day I wasn’t playing AFL footy so I think coming to St Kilda was the best thing I have done.” On choosing the Saints Steele commented “I thought the Saints at the time were a young team, they were an upcoming team, they didn’t have as much depth as the Giants I thought and I just thought it was a perfect team for a fresh start and I am glad I am here now.” 

St Kilda had finished the 2016 season in ninth position with 12 wins and 10 losses, percentage behind North Melbourne who finished eighth. 2016 was Alan Richardson’s third season as St Kilda’s head coach and the fifth consecutive season that the Saints had missed the finals. St Kilda’s previous final was the 2011 elimination final loss to Sydney.

Nick Riewoldt had been a St Kilda captain for 11 seasons including nine seasons as St Kilda’s sole captain from 2008 to 2016. At St Kilda’s 2016 best and fairest Riewoldt stepped down from being the Saints captain. Riewoldt holds the club record with 208 games as captain ahead of Danny Frawley (177 games) and Darrel Baldock (104). Small defender Jarryn Geary was appointed St Kilda’s captain in 2017.

Due to his left foot injury sustained late in the 2016 season Steele wasn’t able to start running in pre-season training with St Kilda until December. In Round 1, 2017 Steele made his club debut for St Kilda against Melbourne and set a new personal best of 23 disposals in an AFL game comprised of eight kicks and 15 handballs, he also had 12 contested possessions and took seven marks.

Steele played 11 consecutive AFL games for St Kilda in the first half of the 2017 season, he had more than 17 disposals nine times and laid at least eight tackles in a game eight times during this period. After Steele had a season-low 15 disposals against Adelaide in Round 12 he was omitted for the Saints Round 13 game North Melbourne which surprised many people in the football community but not Steele himself. In November 2017 Steele commented to afl.com.au about being omitted in the middle of the season, saying “I didn’t have a very good game against Adelaide, so I did see it coming. Richo told me what it was about. I knew exactly what it was. I just wasn’t as there as I was earlier in the season, like my pressure and tackling wasn’t quite there.”6

After two weeks in the VFL playing for the Sandringham Zebras including having 36 disposals in his second game Steele was recalled to the Saints side in Round 15 against Fremantle and played the last nine games of the season at AFL level, he had more than 21 disposals in seven games during this period.

In his return to the Saints team in Round 15, 2017 against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval Steele had 15 disposals, kicked a goal and laid 17 tackles to equal the Saints club record for most tackles in a game set by David Armitage in Round 10, 2016 vs Fremantle at Docklands Stadium. One of Steele’s 17 tackles changed the momentum of the game, Fremantle were leading by five points with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter and looked certain to extend the lead when Brennan Cox received a handball in space 40 metres out from goal, however as Cox run towards goal and then steadied, Steele who had chased hard to make up ground made a lunging tackle which brought Cox to ground, prevented him from kicking what looked like a certain goal and earned Steele a free kick with Cox being penalised for holding the ball. St Kilda overran Fremantle in the last quarter, kicking four goals to two to win by nine points.

Against the West Coast Eagles in Round 20 at Marvel Stadium Steele polled the first Brownlow Medal votes of his career in his 34th AFL game, receiving the three votes for being best afield in a performance in which he set game-highs or equal game-highs for handballs (17), tackles (12), clearances (10) and contested possessions (20). In the eight point St Kilda victory Steele also had nine kicks, kicked an equal team-high two goals and polled the maximum 10 votes in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award.

During 2017 Steele played 20 of a possible 22 AFL games, led the Saints in total tackles, ranked second for handballs and contested possessions and third for clearances. Steele ranked third in the AFL with 158 tackles during the home and away season, behind Rory Sloane (176) and Brad Ebert (165), he laid 64 more tackles than the second ranked Saint – fellow midfielder Seb Ross (94).

Despite ranking in the top three for the Saints in a few important stats and easily leading the club for tackles Steele didn’t finish in the top 10 at the 2017 Trevor Barker Award in October, he was actually a long way off it, finishing 18th. In February 2018 Steele commented to The Age on his low best and fairest finish, saying “It did annoy me a little bit. It was disappointing but I guess it just means there’s more to work on so I’m just looking to build on last season and hopefully crack top 10 or even get higher than that so the sky’s the limit, really. Anything could happen so it’s definitely motivation for me. It just means they think I’ve got more to prove, I guess. That’s what I’ve got to do – try to prove myself even more.”7

Steele finishes third in the Saints 2018 and 2019 best and fairest awards

During the 2017 trade period Steele’s former Belconnen Magpies teammate, defender Logan Austin was traded to St Kilda from Port Adelaide for St Kilda’s 2018 third round selection. Austin made his AFL debut for Port Adelaide in 2016 and played 13 games for the club from 2016 to 2017. In 2018 Steele and Austin, having grown up together in the ACT got to live out a boyhood dream and played seven AFL games for St Kilda as teammates. Austin spent two more years on St Kilda’s list but was unable to add to his AFL games tally and was delisted at the end of 2020.

Steele started the 2018 season at AFL level with St Kilda but after having 18 disposals against Brisbane in Round 1 and 14 disposals against North Melbourne in Round 2 he was dropped to the VFL for the second time in his first 25 games with the Saints.

After spending one week in the VFL with the Sandringham Zebras and missing the Saints Round 3 game against Adelaide Steele was recalled back to AFL level for St Kilda’s round 4 away game against Geelong and retained his position in the seniors for the remainder of the season. After Round 12 Steele had only polled 22 votes in the Trevor Barker Award, however a role change to that of run-with player was the catalyst for a barnstorming finish to the season which led to him rapidly moving up the leader-board.

On his role change Steele told Saints Insider “Richo just gave me a role, he thought we needed to have a defensive midfielder inside the centre square playing on the opposition’s best player each week I guess, and I put my hand up and said I’d do that which was great because I get to sort of sit on the back of the best player. The ball’s always getting hit to him and get to play a lot more minutes obviously. It was an opportunity for me that I am grateful for and sort of develop my game in all areas, learnt a lot from the best players around the competition.”

During the second half of the season Steele excelled and polled votes in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award for games when he performed run-with roles on Clayton Oliver in Round 15, Ollie Wines in Round 16, Patrick Cripps in Round 17 and Callan Ward in Round 19.

Against Carlton in Round 17 opposed to Cripps, Steele showed what he was capable of offensively, amassing a then career-high 33 disposals comprised of 12 kicks and 21 handballs and had a phenomenal disposal efficiency of 97%. Steele also laid a game-high 10 tackles, had a team-high seven clearances, a team-high 15 contested possessions, a goal assist and kicked a goal. Cripps also had a strong offensive game with 35 disposals, 10 clearances and kicked a goal.

In Round 23 against North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium Steele had a then career-high 35 disposals comprised of 12 kicks, a game-high 23 handballs, a game-highs nine tackle, equal game-high 15 contested possessions, a team-high 20 uncontested possessions, seven clearances, kicked an equal team-high two goals and polled one Brownlow Medal vote.  

During 2018 Steele played 21 of a possible 22 AFL games for St Kilda, averaging 9.9 kicks, 13.6 handballs, 4.0 marks, 6.7 tackles, 10.2 contested possessions and 0.33 goals per game. In 2018 Steele led St Kilda for total tackles, ranked second for contested possessions, third for disposals, handballs and clearances and fifth for uncontested possessions. Steele ranked sixth in the AFL for tackles. Steele polled 134 votes at St Kilda’s best and fairest to finish third behind fellow midfielders Jack Steven (191 votes) and Sebastian Ross (175) and just ahead of small forward Jade Gresham (126). At St Kilda’s 2018 best and fairest Steele also won the Lenny Hayes Player Trademark Award for the second year in a row.

Speaking to saints.com.au backstage at the 2018 Trevor Barker Award Steele commented on the development of his game after being assigned the run-with role mid-season, saying “The role simplified the game for me and I found it really easy to get involved offensively and defensively so as the season went on I thrived, so hopefully I can do that next year.”

Steele’s profile in AFL Record Season 2019 said “It was remarkable how much the former Giant improved in the second half of last year. After assuming a negating role, Steele stopped some big names, including Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver, Port Adelaide’s Ollie Wines and Gold Coast’s David Swallow. The Canberra product racked up plenty of the ball as well, with his disposal tally dipping below 24 just once in the final eight rounds.”8 

Brett Ratten joined St Kilda as an assistant coach for the 2019 season in charge of the forward line and ball movement. Ratten played 255 AFL games from 1990 to 2003 for Carlton as an inside midfielder, he played in Carlton’s 1995 premiership, won three best and fairest awards (in 1995, 1997 and 2000) and was named in the All-Australian team twice. Ratten was Carlton’s head coach for 120 games from late in the 2007 season to 2012 with Carlton making the finals in three seasons during this period.

In 2019 Steele continued to be utilised effectively for the Saints as a run-with player in the midfield. In his fifth season on an AFL list Steele didn’t play any games in a State League for the first season in his career, playing 20 of a possible 22 games AFL games with St Kilda, missing Rounds 13 and 14 due to a dislocated knee-cap.

Opposed to Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps in Round 10 at Marvel Stadium Steele had 10 kicks, a game-high 18 handballs, took five marks, laid a game-high 10 tackles and polled one Brownlow Medal vote in the 15 point victory.

Against North Melbourne in Round 16 at Bellerive Oval Steele laid 18 tackles to set a new club record for most tackles laid in a game, surpassing the previous record of 17 which he was a joint holder of along with David Armitage.

From Round 6 to Round 17 St Kilda only won two of their 11 games to have a record of six wins, 10 losses and be 15th on the ladder. After Round 17 Alan Richardson stepped down as St Kilda’s head coach with Brett Ratten taking over as care-taker coach. St Kilda won three of their last six games of the 2019 season with Ratten as the head coach.

The profile for Steele in AFL Prospectus 2020 said “Steele continued to be given plenty of responsibility and was one of only three midfielders to have at least 10 major match-ups last season. His opponents were the most difficult of any player and he recorded a defensive rating of +7% with his scalps including Clayton Oliver and Rory Sloane. He has built his game around defense, averaging 3.2 AFL Player Ratings from defensive acts – ranked No. 1 amongst midfielders.”9

During 2019 Steele averaged 9.8 kicks, 12.1 handballs, 4.0 marks, 8.2 tackles, 9.6 contested possessions and 0.15 goals per game. In 2019 Steele had at least 20 disposals in 16 of his 20 AFL games and laid at least seven tackles in 17 games. Steele led the Saints for total tackles in 2019, ranked third for disposals, handballs and contested possessions, fourth for uncontested possessions and fifth for clearances. Steele led the AFL for tackles with 164, three ahead of West Coast midfielder Elliot Yeo. At the Trevor Barker Award Steele polled 151 votes to finish in third place for the second year in a row, behind fellow midfielder Seb Ross (170 votes), and one vote behind ruckman Rowan Marshall (152) with wingman Jack Billings (140) finishing fourth.

Steele wins the Saints 2020 best and fairest and is selected in the All-Australian team 

On 5 September 2019 Brett Ratten was appointed as St Kilda’s head coach. There were significant changes to St Kilda’s list between the 2019 and 2020 seasons with Jack Steven, Josh Bruce and Blake Acres being traded to Geelong, the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle respectively. St Kilda identified deficiencies on their list and targeted players to improve these areas, recruiting 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.

From the second half of the 2018 season until the end of the 2019 season Steele was one of the best run-with players in the AFL, excelling in the role of negating his opponent and also winning the ball himself, however new St Kilda head coach Brett Ratten wanted to free Steele up and enable him to focus more on the offensive side of his game in 2020. During Steele’s exit meeting at the end of the 2019 season Ratten commented to Steele “I want to let you off the chain next year, mate.” In early September 2020 Steele commented to saints.com.au on his 2019 exit meeting with Ratten, saying “Ratts obviously saw a lot more room for growth in me. It was good to hear they backed me in then, because it allowed me to train hard and work towards something over the off-season and pre-season.”10

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 AFL clubs, a reduction from each team playing 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.

After 82 AFL games from his debut in Round 12, 2015 until Round 4 2020 Steele had polled a total of five Brownlow Medal votes including one best afield performance against West Coast in Round 20, 2017. In a phenomenal 2020 season Steele polled 20 Brownlow Medal votes commencing with three votes against Carlton for a Round 5 performance in which he had 11 kicks, a game-high 12 handballs, took six marks and laid a team high nine tackles – four more than the second ranked player for the game, Steele also polled the maximum 10 coaches votes.

In five of his next six games from Round 5 to Round 10 Steele polled Brownlow Medal votes including four best afield performances to amass 13 votes during this period, with the Saints winning all five games that Steele polled votes in. Highlighting how dominant Steele was during this six week period only 11 players polled more than 13 Brownlow Medal votes for the entire 2020 season.

The one game in the six game stretch from Round 5 to Round 10 that Steele didn’t poll any Brownlow Medal votes proved to be a turning point. St Kilda led Fremantle by 37 points early in the second quarter, however the Dockers overran the Saints 11 goals to four from that point on to win by a goal. In the “Insider Access: The ‘hard conversation’ that sharpened up Steele” video St Kilda head coach Brett Ratten commented “We had a pretty hard conversation after the Fremantle game. It was around him and his influence on others and from that moment onwards I could see him shift some of the behaviours and he really grew from that moment. It was a bit of an uncomfortable conversation for him, but we had to have it and it was one that I think he really stood up and took ownership of that conversation or the moment that he was in, in the game and then I think he started to know how he could influence others by not just his performance but by his body language, his voice, his support, these things which was really critical.“

After the loss to Fremantle in Round 6 St Kilda had a record of three wins and three losses and were seventh on the ladder two games behind the ladder leading Port Adelaide and one game behind Geelong who were second on the ladder.

Whilst Steele wasn’t an official member of St Kilda’s leadership group he started to attend leadership group meetings during 2020 and took on more responsibility in this area.

Later in “Insider Access: The ‘hard conversation’ that sharpened up Steele” Ratten commented on Steele “I think his performance on the field sort of speaks for itself, but I thought it was the work he did away from the game, his care for others he’s prepared to put in extra time with the Bytel’s and sit down. I think he started to speak up and I think that is a bit of self-confidence as well. In his performance he could feel that his performance was going to this level and I think that allowed him to really start to direct the group and lead from a leadership point of view.”

Against Adelaide in Round 7 Steele had 13 kicks, a team-high 13 handballs, took three marks, had a game-high 13 clearances – six more than the second ranked player for the game, 20 contested possessions – 10 more than the second ranked Saint, kicked a goal and scored 162 SuperCoach points in the 23 point victory at Adelaide Oval.

After Round 10 St Kilda had a record of seven wins and three losses to be second on the ladder, a game and percentage behind Port Adelaide. The Saints lost three of their next four games which included back to back nail-biting losses to Brisbane by two points in Round 13 and to Melbourne by three points in Round 14.

In early September 2020 it was announced that Steele had signed a two-year contract extension with St Kilda until the end of the 2022 season. St Kilda’s head of list management James Gallagher commentedWe’re rapt that Jack has recommitted to the Saints. After finishing in the top three in both the 2018 and 2019 Trevor Barker Awards, Jack has elevated his game in 2020 to a very high level, which is just reward for the hard work, competitiveness and determination that we at the football club see from Jack on a daily basis. As pleasing as Jack’s performances in 2020 have been, his leadership and positive influence on his teammates have been equally as impressive. He’s an incredibly competitive footballer, and also a very popular, humble and well-respected player off the field.”11

St Kilda’s final round victory against Steele’s former club – the GWS Giants by 52 points at the Gabba secured the club’s first finals berth since 2011. Only one St Kilda player remained on the Saints list from that elimination final loss to Sydney, Jarryn Geary.

St Kilda won a thrilling elimination final against the Western Bulldogs by three points at the Gabba to record the club’s first finals win since the 2010 preliminary final which was also against the Bulldogs. Steele had an equal team-high 25 disposals and kicked a goal in St Kilda’s 31 point semi-final loss to reigning premiers Richmond who went on to win the 2020 AFL premiership.   

Steele was extremely consistent throughout 2020, and despite the quarters being reduced from 20 minutes in 2019 to 16 minutes in 2020 Steele had at least 21 disposals in 16 of his 19 games during 2020 including six games with more than 24 disposals.

During 2020 Steele played all 19 games for St Kilda, averaging 10.7 kicks, 11.2 handballs, 3.8 marks, 5.5 tackles, 11.0 contested possessions and 0.6 goals per game. Steele led St Kilda for disposals, handballs, contested possessions, score assists, clearances, tackles and inside 50’s, ranked second for kicks, third for uncontested possessions and equal seventh for goals.

At the 2020 St Kilda best and fairest Steele polled 207 votes to be a run-away winner of the Trevor Barker Award, 81 votes ahead of runner-up Dan Butler with key defender Dougal Howard third on 122 votes. At the best and fairest Steele also won the Lenny Hayes Players’ Crest Award and the Dare Iced Coffee Sainter of the Year Award as voted by St Kilda supporters. Steele was selected in the 2020 All-Australian team on the interchange, becoming the first Saints player to make the team since Nick Riewoldt in 2014. Small forward Dan Butler was selected in the 40 player All-Australian squad but didn’t make the final 22 player team.

At a press conference on 25 September 2020, the day after being named in the 2020 All-Australian team Steele commented. “I suppose going back three years if you had of told me that I was going to be in the All-Australian side I probably wouldn’t have believed you, yeah, I am extremely honoured.”

During the press conference on 25 September Steele commented “One part of my game that I just wanted to get better at is just my consistent performance and I feel like I did that this year and was lucky enough to be rewarded with the honours.”

On his leadership Steele commented “Yeah, that has been a focus off-field and on game-day just to become a leader for this group, this young group. Ratts came to me about it and it is definitely something I have been working towards.” 

During the 2020 AFL home and away season Steele ranked second in the AFL for total tackles, third for pressure points, equal fifth for clearances, equal sixth for score assists, eighth for contested possessions and 15th for disposals. Steele averaged 122.5 supercoach points per game, ranked third in the AFL behind Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn (139.9 points per game) and Brisbane midfielder Lachie Neale (134.4).    

At the 2020 Brownlow Medal Steele polled quadruple the number of votes that he had in his career before the 2020 season. After polling a total of five Brownlow Medal votes in his first five seasons from 2015 and 2019, Steele polled 20 votes in 2020 to finish equal third with Christian Petracca, 11 votes behind Brownlow Medal winner Lachie Neal and one vote behind runner-up Travis Boak. Steele’s 20 votes were comprised of four 3’s, three 2’s and two 1’s. Steele’s four best afield games ranked equal fourth with Cam Guthrie and Toby Greene, behind Lachie Neale (10), Christian Petracca (6) and Travis Boak (5).

Steele was one of four players to finish in the top five of the Brownlow Medal, AFL Players’ Association Most Valuable Player Award and the Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award along with Lachie Neale, Travis Boak and Christian Petracca which highlights how influential he was during 2020. Steele finished fifth in the AFL Players’ Association Most Valuable Player Award behind fellow midfielders Lachie Neale, Travis Boak, Christian Petracca and key forward Tom Hawkins. Steele polled 72 votes to finish fourth in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award behind Neale (93), Petracca (78) and Boak (77), with Collingwood midfielder Taylor Adams (60) finishing fifth.

Steele gets promoted to Saints co-captain for 2021 and again wins the St Kilda b & f and is selected in the All-Australian team 

In February 2021 Steele was appointed St Kilda co-captain alongside Jarryn Geary who had been the Saints sole captain in the previous four seasons from 2017 to 2020. Tim Membrey and Dougal Howard were named joint vice captains and the seven man leadership group was completed by Seb Ross, Jack Billings and Callum Wilkie. Due to a fractured leg Geary missed the start of the 2021 AFL season and was expected to make his return in the middle of the season. St Kilda had multiple captains in 2021 for the first time since the club had three captains in 2007 – Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Luke Ball.

On being named St Kilda co-captain Steele said “It’s a real honour and a privilege to lead the St Kilda Football Club out in the season coming, especially doing it next to Gears who has been my captain since I got to the club, so it’s a real honour and I am proud to do it.”

At the press conference Steele was asked “Does it take a bit of pressure off you (being a co-captain), do you feel you could have done it on your own?” Steele responded “Yeah, it probably does take a little bit of pressure off me. I feel like I still have full support of the playing group and Gears himself so whether he was next to me standing here now or he wasn’t I would still feel as though I have a lot of support around me.”

At the press conference in February 2021 Geary was asked “Was this on the cards regardless of the injury, or did this expediate the process?” Geary responded “It was certainly on the cards, it was probably a longer process this year than it had been previous. Probably because we hadn’t had anyone who had stood out as much as Jack had, previously. The process is probably a little bit longer, probably conversations I had been having with Ratts and Lethers and Roughy and Jack probably before Christmas on what leadership looked like this year. It has been a bit of a process and I am just really thankful it has come to this point, I am really proud to stand next to Jack, the person and the player he has become is something that I have been really impressed with and I am really confident that he is going to be a great leader, not just for this year but many years to come.”

In a video “Insider Access: The ‘hard conversation’ that sharpened up Steele” published on AFL.com.au on 17 March 2021 Steele recalled his first AFL goal and the progression to now be Saints co-captain alongside Geary, saying “It’s a funny thing, I took my first contested mark and kicked my first goal on Gears. That’s when I was playing at the Giants so I feel like I’ve got his respect before I even walked in the doors of this footy club. He’s always had a lot of faith and confidence in me and how I play, the leader that I can potentially become for this football club.” 

An undermanned St Kilda line-up started the 2021 season well on the road in wet conditions, defeating the GWS Giants by eight points at the Sydney Showgrounds in Round 1 after trailing by 12 points at the 14 minute mark of the last quarter. Several Saints players from their best 22 were injured or unavailable with players in this category being ruck duo Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder, midfielders Brad Crouch, Zak Jones and Dan Hannebery, key forward Max King, and small defenders  Geary and Ben Patton. From this group of eight players Crouch and King both played 20 games during 2021 to be the only ones to play over 13 AFL games for the season. Jones and Marshall played 13 games each, Ryder played 12 games, whilst Geary and Hannebery were restricted to three games and two games respectively. Due to a broken leg in the pre-season Patton didn’t play a game.

In Round 3, 2021 at Marvel Stadium Steele played his 100th AFL game at 25 years of age against Essendon.  Steele was the 10th player selected at the 2014 National Draft to reach 100 AFL games, joining the following players in that category: Touk Miller, Brayden Maynard, Harris Andrews, Caleb Daniel, Isaac Heeney, Lachie Weller, Christian Petracca, Liam Duggan and Jordan De Goey.

During his milestone game Steele had a then equal career-high 35 disposals comprised of 18 kicks and 17 handballs, however St Kilda were outworked, laying a total of only 32 tackles for the game and Essendon thrashed them by 75 points.

At the 16 minute mark of the third quarter in their Round 4 game against West Coast at Marvel Stadium St Kilda trailed by 33 points. The Saints lifted their pressure and finished the game full of running to dominate from that point on, kicking eight goals, six behinds to West Coast’s solitary behind to have a 53 point turn-around and win by 20 points. Steele led from the front throughout the crucial game, receiving the maximum 10 votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award and three Brownlow Medal votes for his performance in which he had 15 kicks, a game-high 18 handballs, a game-high 33 disposals, five marks, six tackles, six clearances, an equal game-high seven inside 50’s, a game-high 17 contested possessions and kicked the penultimate goal of the game to extend St Kilda’s lead to 14 points at the 22 minute mark of the final term. 

Against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium in Round 8 Steele kicked two of St Kilda’s first four goals of the game to play an influential role in St Kilda remaining within striking distance at the change. After trailing Gold Coast by 15 points at three quarter time St Kilda kicked four unanswered goals in the final quarter to win by nine points. Steele finished the game with 18 kicks, 10 handballs, seven marks, a team-high eight tackles, an equal-high six clearances, an equal team-high 11 contested possessions, kicked an equal team-high two goals, polled three Brownlow medal votes and an equal game-high eight coaches votes along with teammate Billings. The victory against Gold Coast squared the Saints ledger with four wins and four losses.

Although St Kilda recorded only one win in five games from Round 9 to Round 13 Steele maintained a high level of performance during this period, polling a total of four Brownlow Medal votes comprised of the single vote against Geelong and North Melbourne in Rounds 9 and 11 respectively and two votes against Sydney in Round 12. Co-captain Geary played his only AFL games for the season during this period, playing his first AFL game of 2021 in Round 10 vs the Western Bulldog. Playing in his third consecutive game in Round 12 against Sydney Geary dislocated his shoulder when he attempted to tackle Sydney key forward Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin. Due to Geary’s injuries Steele was St Kilda’s only playing co-captain for the vast majority of the season.   

At their Round 14 bye St Kilda had a record of five wins and eight losses which left them very little margin for error if they were to make the finals for the second season in a row. In Round 15 at the MCG St Kilda played exceptional football to limit Richmond to two goals for the entire game and won by 40 points. Steele had 25 disposals, a game-high nine tackles, nine clearances, 13 contested possessions, polled eight coaches votes and one Brownlow Medal vote.

In the week after the victory against Richmond Steele was interviewed by Chris Nice on Sounds of the Saints podcast. Nice asked “Do you feel as co-captain a responsibility, do you sort of wear that (close losses) a little bit more than anyone else and especially seeing that you are out there, just yourself at the moment, not with Gears, you have got a great leadership group around you but do you feel as though you wear that or feel that that little bit extra.” Steele responded “Definitely, yeah I feel like since I have been in the role I don’t really worry about my performance too much, it is more around the team and how we go and how we perform collectively. It’s funny I never thought it would really change as much as it has but it has changed quite a lot. But like you said, got a great leadership team around me, Doug and Tim are both our vice’s so they’re out there with me or they have been for most of the games this year without Gears being there. Feel like I have still got a lot of support out there on the field. We are all pretty tight-knit too so we all work together.”

On his first season as St Kilda co-captain Steele told Sounds of the Saints “Before the season even  started I was thinking that I am almost walking into it at the right time when things are going well, we should be winning games of footy, things are going to be easy, whereas that hasn’t happened. Looking back now it probably is a good result that I have faced quite a lot of adversity early in the piece so that when things do go south further on in my captaincy I know what to do and how to respond and what actions to take. It has definitely been tough, a roller-coaster is probably the perfect way to put it because we have won some great games of footy and we have had some stinkers. It has been tough but it has been a learning I suppose.”  

On 1 July 2021 Steele commented on leadership and his leadership style to the Sounds of the Saints podcast, saying “I always just pigeon-holed that [being vocal] as being the captain; if you weren’t that then you can’t be captain. On the field I am probably not the quietest but I’m not the loudest and I don’t really probably articulate myself as well as some other leaders that I play with including Gears, so I feel like I’m one that goes out there and tries to lead by example. Even through juniors I was never a captain, was never seen as a leader I don’t think, but there’s just so many different types of leadership and that’s one thing that I’d love to tell everyone. Everyone leads in their own way. There’s blokes that aren’t in the leadership group that are leading their own way. I just never thought I was going to be in that position, I suppose. It’s still a bit weird to be in this position, but there’s just so many different types of leadership. It’s just important to stick to your way and don’t be someone or something that you’re not.”

Against Collingwood at the MCG in Round 16 Steele had a game-high 36 disposals comprised of 16 kicks and 20 handballs, five marks, a game-high 14 tackles, a team-high six inside 50’s, eight clearances, a team-high 15 contested possessions, a team-high 18 uncontested possessions and a game-high three goal assists in the nine point victory to poll 3 Brownlow Medal votes and 10 coaches votes.

In Round 17 against Brisbane at the Metricon Stadium Steele had a game-high 32 disposals comprised of 13 kicks and a game-high 19 handballs, laid an equal game-high seven tackles, six clearances, 12 contested possessions, an equal game-high 20 uncontested possessions, one goal assist and kicked two goals in the upset 32 point victory to be judged best afield by the umpires and coaches for the second week in a row.

A 13 point loss to Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium in Round 18 ended St Kilda’s winning streak at three games. Steele had a game-high and career-high 37 disposals comprised of 15 kicks and a game-high 22 handballs, he also had seven tackles, 13 contested possessions, 20 uncontested possessions, kicked a goal and polled two Brownlow Medal votes. Port Adelaide midfielder Ollie Wines had 36 disposals, 11 clearances and kicked a goal to be judged best afield.

For the 10th time in 2021 Steele was in the Brownlow Medal votes against Carlton at Marvel Stadium in Round 20, polling one vote for a performance in which he had a game-high 36 disposals comprised of 20 kicks and 16 handballs, he also laid a game-high 14 tackles, eight clearances, a game-high 19 contested possessions, 18 uncontested possessions and two goal assists in the 31 point loss.

Against Sydney at Marvel Stadium in Round 21 Steele played his 100th AFL game for St Kilda, becoming the 131st player of all-time and the eighth current Saints player to achieve this feat, joining Geary, Seb Ross, Jack Billings, Tim Membrey, Jack Sinclair, Luke Dunstan and Jimmy Webster in this category. Following three consecutive losses the Saints returned to the winners list with a 29 point victory against Sydney. Steele had a game-high 34 disposals comprised of 15 kicks and a game-high 19 handballs, he also had six marks, seven tackles, seven clearances, a team-high 14 contested possessions, 20 uncontested possessions, one goal assist and kicked a goal in the 29 point victory to poll three Brownlow Medal votes.

Steele concluded the 2021 home and away season with a best afield performance against Fremantle in Round 23 at Bellerive Oval, having a game-high 36 disposals comprised of an equal game-high 17 kicks and a team-high 19 handballs, seven marks, six tackles, an equal game-high six rebound 50’s, six inside 50’s, an equal game-high six clearances, a game-high 17 contested possessions and 19 uncontested possessions in the 58 point victory.

St Kilda had 10 wins and 12 losses in 2021 to finish 10th on the ladder, four premiership points and percentage behind eighth placed Essendon. During 2021 Steele played all 22 games for St Kilda, averaging 14.1 kicks, 15.1 handballs, 4.7 marks, 8.4 tackles, 13.9 contested possessions, 0.6 goals and 85.0% game-time per game. Steele led St Kilda for disposals, kicks, handballs, contested possessions, tackles, clearances and inside 50’s, ranked second for uncontested possessions, third for goal assists, fourth for marks, sixth for goals and one percenters and seventh for rebound 50’s. Steele set new career-highs for kicks, handballs, disposals, tackles, rebound 50’s, inside 50’s, clearances, contested possessions and uncontested possessions per game. In 2021 Steele kicked a career-high 13 goals for the season and set a new career-high for most goals in a game with three goals against Melbourne at Marvel Stadium in Round 2.

Highlighting how dominant Steele was at St Kilda in 2021, his lead over the second ranked Saints player for totals in the following five categories was over 20% –  tackles (69.7%), inside 50’s (59.1%), clearances (40.8%), contested possessions (36.2%) and disposals (21.8%). Steele was one of only four Saints to play all 22 games along with Callum Wilkie, Dan Butler and Brad Hill. During the 2021 home and away season Steele ranked second in the AFL for tackles per game, third for pressure points, fifth for contested possessions, 12th for handballs, 14th for clearances, 18th for inside 50’s, 16th for disposals, and ranked second for supercoach points with 126.0 per game, behind Western Bulldogs midfielder Jack Macrae (128.6).

In Steele’s first 108 AFL games until Round 11 2021 he had at least 30 disposals in a game five times. This figure is understated due to quarters in 2020 being reduced from 20 minutes plus time on to 16 minutes time on. Working on a disposals per minute basis 24 disposals in 2020 is equivalent to 30 disposals from 2015 to 2019 and in 2021. Steele had at least 24 disposals in game six times in 2020, if these games are added to his tally he had 11 games with at least 30 disposals (or equivalent) in the first 108 games of his career at a strike rate of 10.19%. In his last 11 games of 2021 from Round 12 onwards Steele had at least 30 disposals in a game nine times at a phenomenal strike rate of 81.82%.

At the 2021 AFL Players’ Association Awards on 2 September Steele featured prominently, finishing in the top five of three awards. In his first season as St Kilda co-captain Steele polled 83 votes in the best captain award to finish third behind the two Grand Final captains, Western Bulldogs midfielder Marcus Bontempelli (224 votes) and Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn (87). Steele finished fifth in the AFLPA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award with 261 votes behind Bontempelli (1,176), Sam Walsh (426), Touk Miller (411) and Christian Petracca (338). Steele is one of only two players along with Petracca that finished in the top five of the AFLPA MVP award in both 2020 and 2021. Steele won the AFLPA’s Robert Rose most courageous award with 186 votes, ahead of Adelaide defender Tom Doedee (118) and Richmond defender Liam Baker (61). Steele became the first St Kilda player to win the Robert Rose most courageous award which was introduced in 1991.

To celebrate Steele winning the AFLPA Robert Rose Most courageous player award an article was published on aflplayers.com.au where Steele’s former St Kilda teammate Logan Austin and current Saints Assistant coach Brendon Lade wrote about Steele. Austin wrote “Anyone that knows Jack knows he’s such a friendly, humble guy, but it’s just his competitiveness. He’s not even thinking about the consequences of putting himself in a bad situation. It’s more like, ‘For me to win this ball, this is what I have to do right now’. There’s not even a thought of how dangerous the situation is; he’s doing whatever he can to win that ball and do well for his team.”12

Lade wrote about Steele “We used him as a tagger for around three years, where he learnt what to do and what not to do off the best players in the league. Even then, he was super tough and brave. He wins the ball well and pressures as well as anyone, and not many midfielders do both. He keeps turning up to the contest, keeps putting his head over ball, keeps going back with the flight, keeps challenging his teammates. It’s an all-round game that he’s got. We like everything about him at our footy club. He’s only going to grow, because he’s still just 25.”13

Steele was selected on the interchange of the 2021 All-Australian team to be one of just seven players selected in the 22 player team in both 2020 and 2021 along with ruckmen Max Gawn and Nic Naitanui, fellow midfielders Marcus Bontempelli, Christian Petracca, and Jack Macrae and key forward Tom Hawkins.

At St Kilda’s 2021 best and fairest Steele polled 234 votes to finish 79 votes ahead of runner-up, half-back Jack Sinclair and 98 votes ahead of key forward Tim Membrey in third place. It was the first top three finish in the Saints beest and fairest for both Sinclair and Membrey. Callum Wilkie finished fourth on 124 votes, followed by Brad Crouch and Brad Hill in equal fifth place on 120 votes. Two-time Trevor Barker Award winner, Seb Ross (2017 and 2019) was seventh on 117 votes and defender Dougal Howard eight on 112 votes. In both 2020 and 2021 the Trevor Barker Award runner-ups vote tally has been less than two thirds of Steele’s votes.

At St Kilda’s 2021 best and fairest Steele won a total of three awards, also receiving the Dare Sainter of the Year Award as voted by Saints fans and the Lenny Hayes Crest Player Award presented by Challenge. Jack Sinclair won the Robert Harvey Best Clubman Award and Max King received the Best Emerging Player Award.   

In his acceptance speech after winning the 2021 Trevor Barker Award Steele said “It is something that I would never be able to achieve on my own so there is a few people I would like to thank. Firstly to the club sponsors, Deliveroo, Pepper Money, Dare Iced Coffee, CMC Markets and RSEA Safety, thank you for the support that you show the club, we are all extremely grateful. To mum, dad, Sophie, I haven’t seen a whole lot of you this year but I miss you really much, sorry I miss you a lot and I am really looking forward to catching up with you soon but just want to say thank you for the on-going support and to Jaz thank you for the support and patience throughout this really strange year. I would like to thank Brett Ratten, Simon Leathlean, David Rath and the entire Football Department, in particular Brendon Lade and Ben McGlynn my two midfield coaches, thank you for all your help. To Ben Robbins, Tony Brown, Jarryd Roughead, thank you for always pushing me to be my best. To Jarryn, the leaders and the rest of my teammates, thank you so much for the support throughout the year, both on the field and off, it wasn’t the year we wanted but I couldn’t have picked better blokes to run out with each week so a big thank you for that.”

“To our members, this year was bitter-sweet, we started to get things going in the second half of the year and played some pretty good footy but it was a little too late and I alongside all the other boys are really disappointed in that. We had to learn some lessons the hard way this year. We entered this season with a lot of positivity off the back of 2020 but in some ways we weren’t prepared for the expectations. The competition was tighter than ever and at times it felt like we weren’t working in the same direction. To fix that we had to have a lot of open and honest conversations. That being said I wholeheartedly believe that we will look back on this year and be thankful, thankful for the lessons we learnt, thankful for the standards we were forced to raise both on-field and off and thankful for when we were down we stood tall, identified our gaps and opportunities and got to work. We know that success is earnt and not given. We know that our loyal members have been starved of such success, all we want is to make you proud and we know for us to do that and to bring the ultimate prize to this club it is going to take a full group effort.”

“When I took on the co-captaincy role with Gears I got a lot of questions about how I thought the role would change me and how I would go about things. For the most part it has pretty much stayed the same, I still love training during the week and running out with my mates on game day but when it comes to the main goal and why we are working so hard to achieve it, taking on the co-captaincy did change my perspective. Like any young player, back then I rocked up on the weekend with the goal of playing my best footy. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything my coaches expected of me and that I could walk off the ground knowing that I played my role. While that is still important, this year has made me raise my eyes and think bigger. I want to play in the next premiership for this club, not just for me, or the team but for everyone in our Saints family. 2022 will be the 149th year of the St Kilda Football Club and in all that time we have only won one flag. It’s undeniable but it is something within our power to change. I know premierships are hard to win and ultimately 17 clubs go home every year empty handed but I want that to change for us. I think what we have is special, we have a great core of players who are willing to buy into something bigger than themselves, we want to keep building and we want to keep earning respect. So lastly to my teammates, our future and the future of this football club is in our hands. The sacrifice required for us to achieve greatness will be worth it, I promise, our opportunities to run out in the red, white and black are limited, so let’s make them count, thank you.”

Only two players on St Kilda’s 2021 list have won the Trevor Barker Award as St Kilda best and fairest, with Steele and Seb Ross each winning the prestigious award twice. Ross commented to saints.com.au on Ross “I know the Saints fans love him, all his teammates love him and he’s just someone that you can trust week in, week out. He leads from the front, you can never question his effort or his courage: everything he does is for the team.”14

At the 2021 Brownlow Medal on 19 September Steele polled three votes in the first seven rounds, all for a best afield performance against the West Coast Eagles in Round 4. After Round 7 Sam Walsh led the count with 12 votes, ahead of eventual winner Ollie Wines on 11 votes. From Round 8 to Round 23 Steele was extremely consistent and polled a total of 23 votes, receiving votes in 11 of his 14 games during this period. Steele’s total of 26 votes in 2021 was comprised of six threes, two twos and four ones. Steele finished in equal fifth place with Darcy Parish, 10 votes behind the winner, Ollie Wines who polled 36 votes. Marcus Bontempelli was runner-up with 33 votes, Clayton Oliver third with 31 votes and Sam Walsh fourth with 30 votes. Steele’s six best afield performances ranked equal sixth with Tom Mitchell, behind Marcus Bontempelli (9), Ollie Wines, Clayton Oliver and Sam Walsh (all 8) and Darcy Parish (7). Only two players surpassed Steele polling votes in a dozen games, with Wines and Oliver polling in 16 and 13 games respectively.  

During the 2021 count Steele increased his career tally to 51 Brownlow Medal votes and made it back to back seasons polling at least 20 votes. The previous St Kilda player to have back to back seasons with at least 20 votes is Robert Harvey in his 1997 and 1998 Brownlow Medal winning seasons, Harvey polled 26 votes in 1997 followed by 32 votes in 1998.

Epilogue

In his 119 AFL games up until the end of the 2021 season Steele has averaged 9.9 kicks, 12.7 handballs, 3.9 marks, 7.0 tackles, 10.4 contested possessions, 0.41 goals and 0.44 Brownlow Medal votes per game. On St Kilda’s all-time list Steele ranks first for tackles per game and second for contested possessions per game amongst players that have played at least 10 games for the club, he also ranks third for handballs and fifth for disposals. Steele’s tally of 751 tackles for the Saints has him ranked seventh on the club’s all-time list, just over half-way to the club record of 1,496 tackles laid by Australian Rules Football Hall of fame member Lenny Hayes.

When Steele joined St Kilda during the 2016 trade period his aim was to play consistent AFL footy. At the Saints Steele has thrived when given a specific role, first of all as a run-with player in the second half of the 2018 and the 2019 seasons. In 2020 and 2021 Steele unleashed in a more attacking role has been able to implement what he learnt playing on the oppositions best midfielder and has been a revelation to establish himself as St Kilda’s clear-cut best player and among the best players in the AFL.

With his improved individual performance in 2020 Steele grew in confidence and took on greater leadership responsibility, which led to him being elevated to a role he never expected, that of St Kilda co-captain for the 2021 season. Despite having never been a club captain before and having to deal with adversity throughout 2021 Steele was recognised by his peers for his leadership, finishing third in the AFL Players’ Association best captain award.  

Over the 2020 and 2021 home and away seasons Steele has polled a total of 172 votes in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award to lead the AFL during this two season period ahead of Christian Petracca (162) and Marcus Bontempelli (160). Over the 2020 and 2021 home and away seasons Steele has polled 46 Brownlow Medal votes, ranked equal first in the AFL with Port Adelaide midfield duo Wines and Boak. Steele has also finished in the top five of the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Award and the AFL Players’ Association MVP in both 2020 and 2021.

During 2020 and 2021 AFL Jack Steele took his game to another stratosphere, excelling with his ability to win contested possessions, courage, leadership, tackling and defensive pressure. Being a convincing winner of the Trevor Barker Award in 2020 and 2021 as well as being selected in the All-Australian team in both seasons was much deserved recognition for Steele’s exceptional performances over the past two seasons.  

 Article and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777


References 

1 https://www.saints.com.au/news/272558/man-of-steele-steals-show

2 https://www.saints.com.au/news/861208/steele-and-geary-to-captain-the-saints-in-2021

3 https://www.gwsgiants.com.au/teams/academy

4 https://www.gwsgiants.com.au/news/28440/strong-as-steele

5 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number-cruncher for season 2015, 10th Edition, page 292

https://www.afl.com.au/news/146240/potbellied-pig-turns-into-man-of-steele

7 https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/annoyed-steele-motivated-by-shock-best-and-fairest-finish-20180215-p4z0gh.html

8 Australian Football League, AFL Record Season 2019, page 302

9 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number-cruncher for season 2020, 15th Edition, page 326

10 https://www.saints.com.au/news/806855/licence-to-hunt-steele-s-off-season-rev-up-reaps-rewards

11 https://www.afl.com.au/news/495615/the-steele-deal-saints-take-red-hot-midfielder-off-the-table

12 https://www.aflplayers.com.au/news-feed/stories/man-of-steele-the-competitions-most-courageous

13 https://www.aflplayers.com.au/news-feed/stories/man-of-steele-the-competitions-most-courageous

14 https://www.saints.com.au/news/1014673/from-humble-beginnings-to-the-superstar-saint

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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