CONFIDENCE is building at Moorabbin on the back of three consecutive wins, but St Kilda captain Jack Steele isn't looking beyond this Saturday's clash against the Gold Coast Suns.
The Saints have been one of the more surprising sides across the first month of 2022, responding from a round one loss against Collingwood with a maiden win at Optus Stadium, followed by two statement-making wins over Richmond and Hawthorn across the past fortnight.
Brett Ratten's side smashed the Hawks by 69 points at the MCG on Sunday, registering their highest score and largest winning margin since the closing stages of 2016 in the process.
But after failing to back up an impressive 2020, where the club went from returning to September for the first time in nine years to rarely looking like playing finals in 2021, the Saints aren’t looking too far ahead despite leaping into the top four after going 3-1 on Sunday.
"It's nice to get three on the trot after a slow start in round one against Collingwood. Definitely building a lot of belief and trust in the group. We've just got to keep the ball rolling from here," Steele told reporters at the Danny Frawley Centre on Monday.
"We've had a couple of good weeks in a row; we all can think towards the end of the year but we've already been told by 'Ratts' after the win yesterday we just need to focus on what's next and that’s getting our bodies right and preparing for Gold Coast this week at Marvel Stadium."
While Brad Crouch, Jack Sinclair and Steele have all burst out of the blocks this season – all three are ranked in the top-25 for average disposals after four rounds – and Max King is leading the Coleman Medal alongside Geelong star Tom Hawkins with 13 goals on the board, the return of Jade Gresham has been a key factor behind St Kilda's fast start to 2022.
After missing the second half of 2020 due to stress fractures in his back and almost all of 2021 due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, Gresham has emerged as one of the more damaging midfielder-forwards in the AFL across the first month, averaging 25.3 disposals, 11.5 contested possessions and 5.5 inside 50s to go with six goals – including four goals against Hawthorn.
Steele said the silver lining of Gresham's time away from the game is an improved level of professionalism, with the 24-year-old reaping the benefits of better preparation so far this season.
FANTASY LATEST Tips, strategy, draft, podcasts, more
"He's had a few injuries over the past couple of years and I reckon that’s helped him focus on his body a lot more; he's become a professional, which is great to see because he is such a talent," he said.
"To see him play the way he has the last couple of weeks is a credit to him and the way he's gone about his injuries, his preparation for games and his body. It's nice to see him be able to dominate because he's got the potential to.
"He is someone teams probably don’t think about when they think about St Kilda, so he's a bit of a sleeping giant for us. It's just that consistency we need to see from Gresh. He's been able to do it two weeks in a row, so I don’t see why he can't be an All-Australian by the end of the year. I hope he can be."
Veteran ruckman Paddy Ryder is set to come under scrutiny from match review officer Michael Christian on Monday after a head-high bump on Hawthorn defender Will Day.
Steele said the 34-year-old might be in trouble for electing to bump the young Hawk, who was substituted out of the game at half-time after being left with a concussion.
"It's your choice to bump. It's what the AFL are going with, it's fair enough, you've got to protect the head," he said.
"At the end of the day, it's the players choice whether they bump or not, you just can't hit them up high in the end. Paddy went for the bump; it was a bit unlucky."
"Not too sure what will happen with the MRO with Paddy. It's something we love with Paddy is his tap work but his follow up is so crucial and being a physical player in the contest he makes us all walk taller when he does it. We'll just have to see what the MRO comes back with."
If Ryder is suspended by the MRO, it could open the door for mature-age rookie Jack Hayes to return against the Suns, after the pre-season supplemental selection period signing was dropped for Sunday's game.