Star St Kilda midfielder Jack Steele has won the Robert Rose Award as the AFLPA’s Most Courageous player, presented by Our Watch. Close friend and former teammate Logan Austin gave aflplayers.com.au a rare view into Steele’s character and bravery, and Saints midfield coach Brendon Lade provided an insight into the 25-year-old’s “unconditional toughness”.
Words from Logan Austin
Jack and I met when we were 12, when we both represented the Australian Capital Territory in a state football carnival.
At first, he was a pretty quiet sort of guy. He still is now, but probably more so with people that he isn’t familiar with.
Jack moved to my local team, Belconnen, not long after the state carnival. We were playing on the same team in the same age group, so we developed the same friendship group and we lived about five minutes around the corner from each other. We were always hanging out.
We played a lot of Call of Duty, but footy was the constant thing with us. There are so many different sports being played in Canberra, particularly rugby, but all of our mates played footy.
He was always a good player. He was a bit chubby when he was younger, but he’d play out of full forward and take big, strong marks.
It wasn’t until later on that he started to thin down a bit more and play more in the midfield. We then realised Jack was actually an elite onballer.
In Canberra, it’s not uncommon to play up an age group due to the lack of numbers and talent. You’ve got that opportunity to push yourself.
But one year, we decided to just stack our under 14s team — we had some gun players in this team, and Jack was obviously the best. We won our Grand Final by about 140 points. We didn’t have one win that year under 100 points! There was one that was close, and it felt like a loss.
Never in a million years did we think we were going to get drafted.
We were in the NSW/ACT team, but Jack dislocated his kneecap at a training session, so he couldn’t play in the under 18s carnival.
We were like, ‘Oh well, we’re not going to get drafted, but if we can play for the state team or in the SANFL or whatever, that’d be a good result’.
It wasn’t until Jack’s 19th year that he absolutely dominated, but then it was like, ‘He’s going to be picked in the first round’.
Suddenly, it was no longer a question of whether he was going to get drafted. He was one of the best players in the age group.
He’s that typical guy that’s quiet off the field, really friendly to everyone, but when it comes to footy, there’s not a more competitive person I’ve ever met in my life.
Even when it comes to Call of Duty or Fortnite, or any game, he is so competitive it’s ridiculous. He gets fired up. It’s just who he is.
He’s always in and under packs, but even some of his stuff in the air, I think only in the last year or two he’s started to showcase that he’s a really good mark. That was probably his number one thing in junior footy.
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.
For him to be recognised with this honour is pretty crazy. We didn’t even think we were going to get drafted. It brings a smile to everyone’s faces.
“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.” – Logan austin on jack steele.
Words from Brendon Lade
Jack’s had an interesting journey.
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.
Now, he’ll win the ball when he needs to, he’ll pressure when he needs to, and he’ll give the ball to his teammates when he needs to.
The thing I love about him the most is when he’s not going well, you can actually tell him and give him a simple focus. Then, he’ll go out and execute.
If it’s half-time and I see that his pressure is low, we’ll tell him, and all of a sudden, it’ll be through the roof in the third quarter. He wins the ball well and pressures as well as anyone, and not many midfielders do both. We’re always very pleased that he’s playing for us.
He’s a quiet person off the field. He doesn’t like beating around the bush; he’ll want you to tell him straight up, one way or the other, if it was good, or if it was bad. He’ll either improve it, or keep doing what he’s doing if it is good. That’s a great trait to have as a footballer.
He just keeps rocking up. 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.
We’ve got a couple of young midfielders, Jack Bytel and Ryan Byrnes. He’ll bring them in to review their games, and they’ll go through all the positives and the negatives together.
It’s good that he’s dragging along a couple of young guys with him.
He’s going to be at the club for however long he’s going to be there, but these kids could be there longer, and Jack’s legacy of unconditional toughness will continue.