SEB ROSS believes St Kilda's physically and mentally demanding four-day Canberra camp showed there are young Saints capable of stepping up to key leadership roles as the club's rebuild continues.
The Saints' first-to-fourth-year players, plus Shane Savage and Jack Steven, went on the camp ahead of the senior players' return to training this week.
It featured tough challenges over a 30-hour period that were magnified by a lack of sleep and food, and designed to encourage leadership and for the coaching staff to see how individuals reacted to different scenarios.
The players were led to believe they were embarking on something completely different before the start of the four-day camp.
They were given schedules before they left Melbourne that read easy enough; a trip to the War Memorial, some training, some Leading Teams work and some debriefing.
Ross said it wasn't until they got to the Australian Institute of Sport that "things turned on their head".
The bus pulled up and a player – turned out to be Weller – was taken off and instructed to brief the players on what would happen next.
It was the start of a series of physical and mental challenges that ran from late Friday afternoon until Saturday night and were "led" by a designated Saint.
"It was pretty full-on," Ross told AFL.com.au.
"It was just to put you under duress – to crack you, mentally.
"The whole thing was just a mental test to see how hard you could keep pushing yourself and leading at the same time."
The players had lunch before they left Melbourne on Friday morning, and with the exception of some Sustagen that night and a banana Saturday morning, they didn't eat again until Saturday night.
It wasn't just food deprivation they were challenged with. They were denied sleep when the challenges extended into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Six players, including Ross, took part in a VO2 Max test – where participants run a treadmill that steadily increases its incline until they reach their maximum level of exhaustion.
Ross and Nathan Wright were standout performers while others were subjected to the "yo-yo test", which is similar to the beep test but includes a brief period of active recovery between shuttles.
The last participant started his test at midnight before the group faced an hour-long cycle session.
A mental challenge, and one of the toughest of the camp followed when the group had to watch a video of an AFL match – and stay awake to write a report.
After two hours' sleep on rubber mats in a gym, the players faced a kettle bell session with Australian marathon runner Rob de Castella at 5.30am.
The "activities" continued until they reached the 30-hour mark on Saturday.
"Everyone really just worked their arses off, and led when they needed to lead," Ross said.
"It was just a really good opportunity for blokes who don't really go out of their comfort zones in terms of that sort of stuff to really practice it."
Dinner and a proper sleep came on Saturday night before the whole process was reviewed with the help of Leading Teams facilitator Justin Peckett on Sunday.
Ross believes the brutal camp helped to unearth candidates for the next crop of leaders that will slot in beneath this year's youngest leadership group members, Jarryn Geary and David Armitage.
"You've got blokes like Mav Weller and Jack Newnes who really had good years on the field, and both blokes are really hard workers and have got the attitude that relates to the way the club wants to go," Ross said.
"I wouldn't be too surprised if there were blokes like that who were either picked in the leadership group or take on more responsibility.
"I think they definitely could."
He also said Cam Shenton and Jimmy Webster, two players quiet by nature, surprised with how they spoke in front of the group.
Saints academy manager Simon McPhee said all the players showed positive attributes when challenged but it was the older ones who naturally stood out.
"Seb was very good, Mav and Jack [Newnes], Josh Bruce, Tom Hickey – these sorts who are a little bit more experienced, and Luke Dunstan as well," McPhee said.
"Given the opportunity in that environment, they really stepped up and it was really quite impressive how the guys got behind them and really started to help each other.
"It was a collective effort but there were some guys who jumped out."
McPhee also said the Saints would consider a similar style program next pre-season with different challenges, given the results they had already seen.
"What we were looking at is how people react to different situations, who's ready to step up and help, either lead or help, and who goes into their shell and survival mode," McPhee said.
"All these young men I think are really good people, I think they're tough, I think they're hard and they want to succeed, and there was a real will amongst the group to get the job done and set high standards.
"I think the character within our group is quite exceptional. I walked away from it really encouraged."