JOSH Bruce is well placed to prove his breakthrough 2015 season was no one-off after a strong preparation this summer, St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt says.
Bruce played 24 games in his first three AFL seasons – 14 of them at Greater Western Sydney from 2013-14 – when he spent much of his time in defence.
But he emerged as one of the AFL's most improved players last year after settling permanently in attack, playing every game and leading the Saints' goalkicking (50) to finish eighth in the club's best and fairest award.
Riewoldt told reporters on Thursday that the spring-heeled Bruce would come in for more opposition attention this season but backed the 23-year-old to rise to the challenge.
"I think it's probably always a little bit more difficult the second year, you're less likely to get under the radar so to speak," Riewoldt said.
"But he's prepared really well, he's given himself every opportunity in the way he's prepared this off-season. And it's one thing to know how a player plays, to try to stop them is another.
"He just works so hard within games that he sort of makes his own luck."
Bruce, 197cm, is set to come out of contract at the end of this season, but opened talks with St Kilda on a new deal late last year.
The parties were a fair way apart in their initial talks, but AFL.com.au understands they have made encouraging progress recently.
Saints skipper Nick Riewoldt chats with reporters at the captains' day. Picture: AFL Media
Opposition clubs expect that Bruce will remain with the Saints beyond 2016, however with key forwards in such short supply across the AFL it might still be some time before a contract extension is finalised.
Riewoldt was hopeful that Bruce would recommit to St Kilda, saying he was an important member of the Saints' emerging young list.
"It's really exciting that those young guys have an opportunity to all go through together. To keep the group together is going to be really important," he said.
Riewoldt has been the backbone of the Saints' forward line for almost all of his 15 AFL seasons and, at 33, looks set to terrorise opposition defenders with his gut-busting up-and-back leads for some time to come yet.
But when the Saints skipper eventually decides to retire, he is confident that Bruce and 2014's No.1 draft pick Paddy McCartin can pick up his forward-line slack.
"We've already seen a little bit of a move away with me potentially spending more time in the midfield to allow those guys to grow," Riewoldt said.
"I'll still spend time up there and mentor those guys at various stages, but the club is in good hands."
2016 officially launched pic.twitter.com/zNr0VOESDn— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) March 16, 2016