ST KILDA veteran Dan Hannebery was a strong performer in match simulation on Friday as the club trialled an early look at how the team could structure up in 2022.
Hannebery, who has played only 15 games for St Kilda since crossing from Sydney in 2018, was a vocal contributor in the unofficial intra-club session and appeared to be moving smoothly.
The 30-year-old midfielder was not seen at AFL level until the final two games of the 2021 season after being grounded by a persistent calf injury throughout the year. His contract is due to expire at the end of next season.
In another positive sign for the club, Zak Jones played with intensity and speed through the middle of the ground while Jack Higgins and Dan Butler provided energy and pressure deep in attack. Callum Wilkie was strong in defence, showcasing his intercept-marking prowess.
The Saints will be hoping to regain Jade Gresham, who missed most of 2021 after rupturing his Achilles tendon in round three, although he was on light duties and did not participate in the session.
Rowan Marshall had issues with his foot throughout the year and is another Saint easing into pre-season along with Jarryn Geary, Josh Battle and Dougal Howard. First-round draftee Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera participated in some running but is adopting a careful approach to early training after finishing his under-18 season with a tight calf.
The less cautious contributors included Mason Wood, who claimed the club’s 3km time trial gong on Wednesday, and endurance machine Brad Hill, who looked out to make amends for his much-maligned campaign.
The pair stood out in the running component, which included a series of 500-metre dashes and was paced by Olympian and St Kilda fan Stewart McSweyn.
McSweyn, who competed in the men’s 1500m final in Tokyo, led the group under the watch of new fitness boss Nick Walsh. The star runner was impressed with the players’ efforts.
"They were knocking some pretty quick reps," McSweyn said. "I was surprised, there wasn’t too much breathing after the reps, so I think it shows that the pre-season training has paid off. The boys are in good shape leading into next year."
McSweyn was placed on a handicap of around 150 metres for the final repetition and cruised past every player but Hill, who flexed his endurance at the end of the session.
"Towards the end, I was getting pushed pretty hard," McSweyn said. "I had Brad Hill kicking down that last rep, and I was going all out trying to catch him. It’s good fun, but I think we’ve got some good runners, so it’s exciting times for next year."
The gun athlete trains with Jack Billings’ sister, who is also a middle-distance runner. Billings, who was hindered by a foot injury throughout 2021, is fit and refreshed ahead of next season.
"I just wanted to return and be physically healthy and ready to train. I was able to do that," he said.
"Last year, looking back to the year before, didn’t go the way we planned, but we definitely believe you need to go through challenges and setbacks to then have success.
"I feel really good. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it and contributing from a personal point of view, but also helping my teammates and coaches as well."