ST KILDA big man Tom Hickey has credited his first injury-free pre-season in several years for a monster performance against Port Adelaide that has set him up for a breakout 2016.
The ruckman was a dominant aerial presence at stoppages in the Saints' 33-point loss to the Power at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, finishing with 56 hitouts.
But he also racked up midfield-like statistics around the ground, finishing with 20 disposals and playing his best game for the club in the opinion of Saints coach Alan Richardson.
Hickey cut his 2014 season short and flew to the UK for surgery on a chronic patella tendon problem in his knee.
He spent much of last season playing as a back-up ruckman to Billy Longer and managed 11 games.
The 25-year-old says he is now fully healthy and mature enough for the rigours of AFL football.
"It's the first time I've felt injury free for a while, and I've come off a pretty strong pre-season,'' he said.
"I've done a mountain of work and I think it's finally starting to pay off a bit ... I was happy with the way I played today."
The big man expects continued healthy competition for the Saints' No.1 ruck role and said it was crucial he continued to contribute around the ground, as well as at stoppages.
Hickey shaded Port opponent Matthew Lobbe in the air and gave the impetus to his midfield for much of the day, as the Saints kicked 21 points clear in the third term before fading out late.
"I was really fortunate to be given the first crack (at rucking),'' Hickey said.
"I know the other guys are really breathing down my neck ...
"My game tends to be a running sort of game, I'm not the biggest framed ruckman and I was lucky enough today to get a bit of the ball.
"I think the boys are starting to trust me a bit more with giving me the handball and stuff like that. I didn't get as many marks as I would have liked but I was pretty pleased with my follow-up work."
Hickey said the club was disappointed with its fade-out against Port but would learn from it.
Port kicked nine of the last 10 goals of the contest.
"We're pretty disappointed,'' he said.
"We expected to win that coming into the game and especially at three-quarter time we thought we had them."