St Kilda’s new midfield bull has settled in well to life in Melbourne. He took some time out with Aflplayers.com.au to discuss leaving the Giants, his new opportunity with the Saints, the media landscape in Melbourne and more.
The fact you grew up in Canberra and the Giants play games there, it must have been a tough decision to basically leave your home base and head to Melbourne?
Yeah. It was enjoyable to play games there and that made it hard for me to leave because basically I was the closest to home and Canberra was my town. I felt like a local boy while playing for the Giants. You have to make sacrifices though and that’s what I did.
It’s a pretty brave decision when you consider that you were only 20 when you made the call to move away and explore the Melbourne life and the football microscope that is associated with it. How long were you deliberating before making the choice to leave?
From mid-way through last year it was on my mind, deciding what I was going to do, and where I was going to go. To be honest, I was close to staying but I spoke to those close to me and they pointed me in the right direction. They said that it would be the best thing for me and for my footy so I felt like I had to go at the end of the day.
How did the St Kilda opportunity come up? Did your manager suggest them as a destination and team that were developing? Were there other clubs that you considered?
My manager told me that there were a few clubs who were interested, and that included the Giants who I could have remained at if I wanted to. He just basically gave me his opinion and asked me what I would like to do, and St Kilda was easily the best place, but not in terms of opportunity. I probably could have gone somewhere else and got more game time, but I think St Kilda were the best club in terms of success, apart from the Giants of course. I feel that they’re there right now, but the Saints have a ready-built list and we just need to play a few more games together and we’ll be just as good as the Giants in a few more years. It was easily the best move for me.
What was it like playing against the Giants in Round 7?
It was very strange. The week leading up to the game I was feeling alright, I wouldn’t say I was nervous or really thinking about it, but as soon as I got to the ground and the saw the boys warming up at the other end it scared me a bit. It probably put me off my game and I don’t think I had the best individual performance, but we were able to win and I was happy with that.
Were there any funny moments where you picked up the ball from a stoppage and heard a call from a former teammate? Is that something that happens out there?
It was pretty easy to know. In a game of footy it’s rare to listen to the voice, you sort of just need to be able to have a quick look and scan and see colours. That’s what I think, anyway. You become accustomed to giving to the colours rather than the voice. I’m used to the St Kilda colours already, although there were a few little moments at a midfield stoppage where I sort of knew where they were running and was able to get the ball or tackle them because I knew what was going on. It was a bit different but I’m glad the first one is out of the way.
Who did you support growing up?
I was a Collingwood fan! Dad supported them and I followed, but as soon as I was drafted he became a Giant and now he’s a Saint.
Did you know anyone at the Saints previously? I understand you’re living with Hugh Goddard at the moment…
I knew him before I arrived at the club, and I knew a few other boys from the draft camp. Plus, Josh Bruce is from Canberra as well and was at the Giants, so I knew a few. Other than that, they were all fresh faces for me.
What’s living with Hugh Goddard like? I assume he was well into his rehab when you moved in?
As soon as I moved in with him he just started running, so he was at the good end of rehab if you can say that. The first few months would have been tough, but as soon as he could start running he was pretty happy. He’s come a long way and he’s back playing footy now which is a great. He just needs a bit more confidence back in his game and he’ll be as good as gold.
You spoke about the Saints being a good, developing team, what have the first seven or eight months been like in terms of fitting in with the playing group and building relationships?
I’d say it’s been easy, just because quite a few of us are around the same age group. I think I counted the other day that there’s five or six guys that were born in 1995 just like me. It was similar at the Giants — they were all around the same age so it was easy to fit in. I’m loving it, they’re my best mates. I’m rapt to have played every game this year. It’s the longest I’ve held my spot for so I couldn’t be happier.
Saints fans have been talking a lot about the number of Jacks you have and that you became the sixth, does that get a bit confusing at times when a Jack is mentioned?
It happens a bit actually and I suppose on the field. When someone calls ‘Jack’ and two or three of us look over it’s pretty funny because then you’ll hear, ‘We only need one of you!’ It’s a bit funny but a lot of the boys have nicknames which helps. One is ‘Jill’ because of ‘Jack and Jill’ and one is ‘John,’ and there’s a few more. I’m just ‘Steeley’ at this stage.
When you got to the Saints, you were categorised as more of an inside player and your tackle numbers have been through the roof, and your ability to win the contested ball has been also, but in the games I’ve seen I’ve started to notice you developing your outside game a little bit more. Is that something that Alan Richardson is trying to get out of you as well?
Yeah, most definitely. I have been working on that, and felt that early on I was just getting all contested ball, and I worked out that if I can be getting the outside ball as well then my numbers would be improving. I have been working hard to improve and get on the outside more. Richo sees me as a good user so he wants me getting the outside ball and using my skills.
You’re fairly composed in tight when you extract the footy from a clearance… you’re always feigning the handball and looking inside and using the right option, is that something that has always been a feature of your game?
I’ve heard people say that my composure is a strength, but it’s not something I work on, it just comes naturally to me. I played basketball as a kid and a lot of people think that it comes from there.
It’s funny you say that because junior basketballers generally transfer well to footy and always appear to have a bit more time…
Yeah, I think it’s related to having time and space and in basketball, you know you’re not going to be tackled so you take longer to dispose of the ball. Whereas in footy, somebody could be lining you up from two metres away. There’s differences and similarities there.
What has it been like playing for Alan Richardson? A lot of the players at the Saints talk about his communication and that he’s good at unifying the playing group and also giving everyone a firm understanding of where they’re at, no matter which team they’re playing in… has that been the case for you?
Spot on. He’s a really honest coach which is exactly what you need, especially with a young group that is maturing. There’s plenty of us that haven’t played a lot of games and need to be pointed in the right direction so I’d say he’s perfect for that. Early on, I was in rehab and I didn’t come back in the best nick and he told me that I needed to shape up and lose some weight. It was hard in the off-season because I had a broken foot and couldn’t really do anything, but I basically needed to turn my attention to the diet because that was the only way I could prove myself to my teammates because I wasn’t out on the track training. I had to eat well and do everything else right to earn the respect. He told me that from day one.
How long did it take for you to alter your diet and turn your body shape around?
I cut everything out of my diet that had carbs or fat or anything like that. It was just salad and meat and living with Hughy Goddard helped because he is great with the diet and eating side. As soon as I started running I lost it all a lot quicker which was very handy.
Will you be living with Hugh for a while or are you looking around Melbourne now that you’re settled?
My girlfriend lives in Canberra so she might move down soon but I haven’t really thought about it too much at this stage. Nothing against Hugh if I do move, though!
You spoke about the team and some of the lofty goals… the last three weeks before the Sydney game were quite positive, but then at the weekend you were disappointing in terms of the margin. Is that something that can be expected from a young team, or were you really disappointed and angry and keen to make sure it doesn’t happen again this year?
It is expected as a young team, but it’s still not acceptable. We’ve reviewed the game and we will move forward from it. Our last quarter against Geelong was shocking and we ended up getting flogged, but we responded with three wins after that. I think our midfield especially will respond from the last game and hopefully we can win the next three again. You never know what can happen and we have the Bulldogs and Adelaide coming up, and they’re tough games. I know that everyone will do their best to respond.
Do you think the media are a little too dramatic with their commentary? After the loss to Geelong it was mentioned that the midfield group weren’t good enough, and then you win three games on the bounce and everyone talks about how good the midfield depth is. It’s a week-to-week proposition when it comes to the attention, isn’t it?
You’re right. I have noticed it since being at the Saints because we didn’t get any of that in Sydney. It seems to be everywhere and when we’re not playing well, we certainly know about it. It’s hot and cold but we just need to worry about ourselves and keep winning.
With Richo being the face of the club, he probably sees it more and needs to deal with it in press conferences and on TV appearances, but you guys can probably avoid it a bit more. Is that how you see it or do you like to read the paper and keep up to date with what’s online?
I’m sort of in between. Sometimes I am interested in it, and sometimes I don’t want a bar of it. I don’t watch any of the Fox Footy stuff or other footy shows, but if the newspaper is there when I’m having breakfast I’ll read it, but usually it’s a bunch of bull-dust, to be honest. It’s just someone’s opinion that doesn’t really matter.
At the end of the day, they need to sell a newspaper, or get clicks online, or get people viewing a TV show. It’s almost like they’re paid to make a comment that is controversial, even if they don’t necessarily believe it…
Yeah, that’s exactly right.
What are your goals moving forward? Do you have individual targets for the second half of the season?
Going into every game you have your targets on how many disposals you want to have, how many tackles you want to have and all of that, but I don’t think it’s really relevant. Something that I want to work on is running defensively because I know it helps the rest of the team. It helps our backline which helps our offence. It’s little things like that that I think about. Of course, we’d all love to have 30, lay 10 tackles and kick a goal every week but sometimes that’s not what the team needs. I’m always looking to improve on things that perhaps I didn’t do very well the week before.
For Saints fans and the wider football public, what are you like away from the game? What are you into and how do you escape the game?
If I want to get away from everything and everyone, I like to get a coffee by myself at the local café and take my time to sit there and think to myself and relax. I like to do a bunch of stuff — I like playing golf, playing guitar, playing PlayStation with my mates and all of that stuff. It’s good switching off and having a lot of things to help me in doing that. If I get sick of one of them, then I find it hard to escape so it’s good to have multiple things on the go.
Are you undertaking any studies or have potential business ventures that you’d like to get into?
I’m not too sure at this stage. I want to let that come to me naturally. I’m not sure what I’m keen to do after footy, I just want to continue playing and see what comes to me. Every Wednesday, I’m working with Alex Rance because he has an academy so I have been helping with that and will be for the next 10 weeks. The kids learn about stuff in the community and what’s required in a high performance environment, and then they get to go to the gym, or do a touch session and implement it. It’s been cool to meet kids and help them out and I enjoy it. It keeps me busy on a day off.
How’d did you get involved?
Rancey spoke to our development manager, Tony Brown, and asked if anyone was keen to help out. Browny thought I was the perfect one for it and I was happy to jump at it!
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Jack. Good luck for the rest of the year.
Perfect. Thank you.