THE CONVERSATIONS couldn't have been more contrasting for Josh Battle.

On the eve of St Kilda's 2020 pre-season campaign, Battle was called into coach Brett Ratten's office and tasked with a job. The side was just about to meet Collingwood in what was then known as the 'Marsh Community Series' and Battle was being asked whether he could mark Magpies captain Scott Pendlebury in a tagging role.

Standing at 193cm, blessed with great athleticism and an elite running capacity, this was just another day in the life of the Saints' most versatile player. The tagging job would follow part-time roles already filled as a key defender, a key forward, on a wing, in the ruck and through the midfield for a player still just in his fourth season at the time.

Josh Battle celebrates a goal during the semi-final between Richmond and St Kilda at Metricon Stadium in 2020. Picture: Getty Images

Late last season, a couple of years on from that meeting with Ratten and having not yet settled in any one position since, Battle was called in for another chat with his coach. This time, he was being asked where he wanted to play. The discussion flowed naturally, and easily, between the two and has resulted in what both now believe is a long-term solution to finding the 23-year-old's best position.

"I wouldn't say it's been frustrating, it was just a little bit hard to settle. It's good to have that versatility and stuff, but at the end of last year I thought I'd love to nail down one position," Battle told

"Last year, Ratts asked me where I'd want to play and I said probably either forward or back. The wing is pretty hard to play. But Ratts is really good, his two-way communication is awesome, and him and the coaching staff said they'd work out what they thought would be the best for me.

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"Then, day one of pre-season, they said they'd play me down back this year. They just thought it would suit me and suit us, so I cracked in over pre-season and I'm really enjoying it down there."

Josh Battle under pressure from Charlie Curnow during the practice match between Carlton and St Kilda at Ikon Park on February 24, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Battle's career to date has been a case study in versatility. In his first seven games, spread across his first two seasons in 2017-18, he played more than 90 per cent game time as a key forward. In 2019, his third season, he played more than 90 per cent game time as a key defender. In 2020, he played predominantly on a wing but also spent 40 per cent of his time as a key forward.

It all culminated in last year's 2021 campaign, where the talented youngster did a bit of everything. According to Champion Data, he spent 39.5 per cent of his time as a key forward, 34.2 per cent of his time on a wing, 21.2 per cent of his time as a key defender, and 5.1 percent of his time in the ruck.

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"I was pretty much forward the whole time as a junior, then I got here. In 2019, I played back. And then I went into the forward line in 2020. Last year, it was more midfield time. Now, this year, I've gone back down back," Battle said.

Josh Battle celebrates a goal for the Dandenong Stingrays during an U18 final against the Murray Bushrangers at Ikon Park in 2016. Picture: Getty Images

"I probably feel like down back is my best position. It's good to be able to see the whole game. It makes it easier to read the game. It can be pretty stressful at times, especially if the ball is coming in hot, but I love the guys who we've got down there and we're all pretty close. I enjoy working with them every day."

For Battle, having just one position to focus on throughout the summer has been a significant blessing. Insiders at St Kilda say the youngster has been like a sponge since making a permanent move down back, soaking up any and all information passed on to him about life his new full-time role.

Ex-Cats great Corey Enright has been influential in Battle's development, having crossed to the Saints as a line coach last September. Experienced defensive duo Dougal Howard and Callum Wilkie, both members of the side's leadership group, have also provided him with on-field guidance since he made the move.

Josh Battle is all smiles after St Kilda's round two win over Fremantle at Optus Stadium on March 27, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"I think it was important (for him to settle)," Enright told

"Obviously, for Josh, he identified that he would like that consistency. Because he's got some really good weapons, we'd probably used him all over the ground. But for him to be settled and have a clear focus, I think it's obviously helped him with his training and it's given him some clarity and direction on what he needs to do.

"Credit to him, he's taken that initiative and continued to drive himself on what he needs to do. He's only early days into his career as a defender, so he's obviously got some learning to do. It's important for him that he gets that consistency in his game, but the early signs have been promising."

Corey Enright speaks to St Kilda players during a Saints training session at Trevor Barker Beach Oval on February 11, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Battle gave an exciting glimpse into the potential of his new defensive role as St Kilda notched its first win of the season last Sunday evening, scraping over the line in an important 10-point road win over Fremantle.

He won 21 disposals, took 13 marks, had 13 intercepts possessions and pulled down seven intercept marks in what was comfortably a career-best performance, emerging as one of the Saints' most influential players on the day. Once again, the performance had come on the back of a critical conversation with his coach.

"It's funny, because Ratts said after round one that the team needed me to mark the footy a bit more and try to get into positions to intercept," Battle said.

"Round one, we didn't work as well as a collective down back. I think on the weekend, it was just the way that we played. I was lucky enough to get into positions to try and mark the footy and play to my strengths."

Josh Battle takes a strong mark during the round two clash between Fremantle and St Kilda at Optus Stadium on March 27, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

As well as helping Battle individually, the change of role has also helped St Kilda more holistically. His arrival has given the side an important intercept marking defender it had previously lacked, enabling Howard to continue in his lockdown role and giving Wilkie the flexibility to pick up smaller opposition forwards.

How it pans out against Richmond on Sunday – and whether Battle utilises his skills in a shutdown job, or as an interceptor – remains to be seen. The fact he can do both, though, is a newfound luxury for the Saints.

"It's important, particularly with modern footy these days, that you can defend your opponent one-on-one and also have the ability to impact in the air when it's your chance," Enright said.

"That's probably been the thing for him, trying to get that balance of when to defend and when to attack right. He had a really good game on the weekend, where he impacted. But he's going to have his challenges and his ups and downs, it's all part of learning and it's all part of the game."