Josh Battle grew up around the Dandenong Stingrays and Shepley Oval well before he pulled on his own jumper to join the under-18 talent pathway.
His older brother, Nick, four years Battle’s senior, was playing with the Stingrays at the time.
Former Dandenong coach Craig Black can recall Josh spending time around the club, developing and understanding the program.
“We were probably pretty lucky with Josh… we got to know him for a while before he joined our program,” Black told AFLPlayers.com.au.
When Battle joined the Stingrays, his energetic and cheeky attitude drew the coaches and players towards him.
A talented sportsman, Battle had always dreamed of playing football at the highest level but a confronting conversation with a club recruiter when he was part of the then AIS-AFL Academy left him with questions about his ability.
It was a moment that Black said changed the course of Battle’s top-age year in the TAC Cup, as it was formerly known.
“Josh always had a great attitude and wont to work but it goes back to a moment he had when a recruiter challenged him about his fitness” Black said.
“He came back after that break and into the second part of our pre-season incredibly fit and ready to go… it was a really good platform to set him up for that season with the Stingrays and his school, Haileybury.”
Battle was the type of player the Stingrays would develop a game plan around.
In the 2016 semi-final, the Stingrays faced the eventual premiers, Sandringham, at Ikon Park.
The Stingrays failed to stamp themselves on the game, going down by 61 points but Black said Battle made his worth known that day.
“We needed him everywhere and he was the kind of person and player who was able to step up and help us out,” he said.
“We were trying to win the game so we threw him forward, into centre bounces and any position we felt he could help get us going.”
Despite losing, Black was full of praise for Battle’s ability to motivate his teammates and provide a damaging presence on-field.
Battle would bring his relentless work ethic to every training session and game, earning an invite to the draft combine before being drafted to St Kilda with pick No. 39 in the 2016 National Draft.
Battle was still at school at the time, completing year 12 during his first year with the Saints.
Despite the situation being unique, Black said Battle’s family helped prepare him for the unique situation he was in.
“It goes back to his family,” Black said.
“The footy club put in a tremendous amount of work to help support him but being from a good family, who are really supportive of Josh, helped him.”
Despite Battle being drafted as a forward and taking some time to settle into his new position in defence, Black isn’t surprised to see his ability on display this season.
“When given a challenge, and Josh showed that in under-18s football, he will work to get there,” Black explained.
“He wants to prove himself and has the willingness to want to be able to compete at the highest level. He had that as a teenager and he’s showing it now.”
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2019
Round 13 – Dylan Clarke (Essendon)
Round 17 – Shai Bolton (Richmond)
Round 22 – Josh Battle (St Kilda)