To many, Jack Sinclair might be the player that fans know the least about in the 40-man 22Under22 squad.
Slightly built and hardly an outgoing character, only those who watch St Kilda weekly will claim to distinguish the 22-year-old’s strengths and his value to the team.
But that’s not a criticism of fans, or a negative view of the supremely skilled running machine who plies his trade on the wing, because not many recruiters knew a lot about him when he was overlooked at the 2013 national draft.
“He would have loved to have been drafted in 2013,” childhood friend, and teammate at St Kilda, Jack Billings, told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“But I think in Year 12 he focused on having fun and enjoying his footy at school. Clubs probably didn’t know enough about him.”
Using that disappointment as motivation, the then 19-year-old played as an under-19 at the Oakleigh Chargers, where he helped them to a premiership in 2014, alongside the likes of Toby McLean, Darcy Moore and Jordan De Goey.
He also continued his development at Port Melbourne in the VFL, where the classy ball magnet played three games for the Borough under the competition’s 23rd man rule.
And while Sinclair worked hard to create a pathway to get on an AFL list during the 2014 season, Billings was keeping St Kilda’s list management team updated on how his close mate was progressing.
“Because we were such good mates and grew up together, Tony Elshaug would often ask me a few questions about ‘Sincs’ and I tried to be as honest as I could,” Billings added. “I may have tried to pump him up a little bit as well.
“Trout asked me certain questions about Jack as a person off the field. In terms of performance, he did all the work.
“I knew that he [Elshaug] was quite interested in ‘Sincs’ so I wasn’t really surprised when we drafted him. It was all pretty special the way it worked out.”
The word special can be used to describe a few things.
Firstly, because it aptly depicts the reward Sinclair received after putting in the hard work at Oakleigh, and secondly, because it caps off the remarkable story of a couple of inseparable youngsters.
Billings and Sinclair met aged five at Auskick, and would later team up at the Kew Comets from under 9s to under 15s where the duo won three premierships in a row.
Their journey continued at Scotch College, where they would meet again in Year 7.
Similar to how things have worked out at the Saints, Billings was selected to Scotch’s firsts in Year 10, and Sinclair found his way onto the team a year later.
“He has always been a bit of a later developer,” Billings said. “He was quite small throughout senior school. It wasn’t until he grew in the last few years that he started to catch up with everyone.”
Catch up he did, making up for lost time in his first year at St Kilda in 2015.
After being picked up with the first pick in the rookie draft, exactly a year after Billings was selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2013 national draft, Sinclair surprised many when he debuted in Round 1, before the club’s first three picks that year, Paddy McCartin, Hugh Goddard and Daniel McKenzie.
Coming on as a sub in the third quarter against the Giants, the rookie impressed, collecting eight disposals in their narrow loss.
He kept his spot the following week against the Gold Coast, and played a pivotal role up forward, kicking the first two goals of his AFL career and gathering 19 possessions.
The rookie’s first season would prove to be a success, playing in 18 games.
His second season, however, was a difficult one, featuring just nine times as the Saints took a giant leap, winning 12 games as competition for spots increased.
“With any young player, you take some time to get used to everything,” Billings said.
“Every year you develop and improve and the more pre-seasons you do, the fitter and stronger you get. He did well in his first year and then expectations went up the next year, and I don’t know, maybe that was a factor [in him playing nine games in 2016].”
After a big pre-season before the commencement of his third season, Sinclair was brimming with confidence and keen to make amends in 2017, but was forced to wait to make an impact.
Sinclair failed to be selected in the senior team over the course of the first five games of this season, something that would have frustrated, but not deterred him, according to Billings.
“He would have been frustrated, but he’s generally a quiet guy. He’s pretty realistic about everything he does, and he would have thought that he just needs to keep knocking the door down.”
Some consistent performances for Sandringham meant that he gained a reprieve against Hawthorn in Round 6 in Launceston, and hasn’t looked back.
Since then, the boy who grew up barracking for the Saints has averaged more than 20 disposals and has proven to be one of their most reliable with ball in hand, culminating in selection into the AFLPA’s 22Under22 40-man squad, alongside Billings.
Which has come as no surprise to his oldest friend.
“I’ve known him since I was five so I’m not surprised at how he’s played. I’ve always known that he’s a really good player and what he’s capable of.
“When he came into the side this year he played a lot more on the wing and through the midfield which suits him. He’s backed himself in and played to his strengths.”
But when asked if Sinclair had better skills, Billings wasn’t as quick to pump him up this time.
“I don’t know about that!”