He’s lined up alongside the likes of Beau Waters, Daniel Cross, Dale Morris and skipper Jarryn Geary, but Koby Stevens believes a young Saint is right up there as the hardest he’s seen.
Ben Long, the Round 5 Rising Sitar nominee, might seem slight but he packs a punch, according to his St Kilda mentor.
Despite his wiry, 74kg frame, Long showed a genuine love for the contest against the Giants, registering eight tackles to go with 15 disposals at 93 per cent efficiency and a goal.
“He’s as hard as any player I’ve ever come across,” Stevens told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“The way he uses his body and attack on the footy makes him standout at his size. Longy isn’t a big bloke but the way he hits, it’s as hard as anyone — he’s got me a couple of times at training.
“You don’t expect it because he’s not such a big rig but you definitely know about it when he gets you.”
It was his immense talent, speed and silky skills that initially got the Saints’ recruiters’ tongues wagging but Long’s ability to crack in has won the admiration of his teammates and St Kilda fans, particularly in the drawn game last weekend.
But that’s not to say his ability to do the brilliant has diminished. Late in the contest, with the Saints trailing by 12 points, Long took a mark from a difficult angle.
Knowing he would have to kick the ball 50 metres, the 20-year-old audaciously took on the man on the mark and bent the ball through the big sticks with ease — a moment that encapsulates the Northern Territory product’s rising confidence.
“I hadn’t seen him do that a lot,” Stevens added.
“I knew he could do it but I hadn’t seen him do that sort of thing before, especially in an AFL game, so clearly he’s growing in confidence which is a scary thought.”
Stevens and Long’s relationship goes back further than their time at the Saints.
The duo played alongside each other at Footscray in the VFL, where Stevens spent some time in his last year at the Western Bulldogs. Footscray coach Ashley Hansen introduced Long to VFL footy midway through the year and asked if Stevens could look after the young protégé.
The result proved valuable when the Dogs demolished Collingwood in the Preliminary Final and Long kicked six goals to put his name firmly on the lips of AFL recruiters.
Stevens and Long eventually played in the VFL premiership before joining the Saints together for the 2017 season — Stevens through trade and Long via the draft at pick 25.
While Long is growing in confidence on the field, he’s also showing more of his personality around teammates.
“He’s a pretty shy kid. He’s come from a fair distance away but he’s getting around the boys a lot more now — he’s actually really witty and quite funny — and that’s what I love about him most,” Stevens said.
“It didn’t take him long to show me that side, we had a special connection straight away and I’ve spent a lot of time with him so it only took him a couple of weeks.
“He’s such a caring young man. He’s very respectful and been brought up by a great family. He just wants to learn and get better and is willing to work hard to get there as well.”
With x-factor aplenty coupled with workmanlike toughness, Long might just become the player desperately needed at Moorabbin.
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2018
Round 1 — RILEY BONNER
Round 2 — TOM DOEDEE
Round 3 — SAM MURRAY
Round 4 — JAIDYN STEPHENSON
Round 5 — BEN LONG