THE first time Jack Steele crossed paths with Jarryn Geary, it swiftly raised the eyebrows on St Kilda wise heads.
Geary still talks up that favourite anecdote where a so-called cocky upstart, full of flowing long hair prised under a thin headband, not only upstaged but embarrassed the veteran of the AFL club, who debuted back in 2008 and two years later was an emergency for the drawn grand final and its replay.
The small, yet grizzly defender recalls clenching a fist for an obligatory spoil of a marking contest in the 2015 encounter with Steele at the GWS Giants.
Thinking he got a good slice of the ball, Geary was stunned to second look the very green Canberran float across the pack and hold a clean mark.
That one act quickly earned his current co-captain a first ounce of respect.
“It means quite a lot,” Steele, 25, reflects on the clash.
“I do remember it because it was my third game, but my first-ever win.
“I remember marking it in front of goals and kicking the goal.
“At the time, I knew it was him I took it from, too.
“But I never thought, at that time, I’d be playing for the Saints and he would sort of be my captain, now co-captain.
“It’s quite amazing how it’s all turned out.”
Geary’s esteem for Steele only grew further in 2017 after St Kilda acquired the onballer’s services.
Amid an AFL captains’ gathering, Giants leader Callan Ward told his Saints adversary that losing Steele after 17 games would hurt the Sydney club.
The club inner sanctum would hear all about it.
“For him to say that just means quite a lot to me because I respected him the moment I walked in the doors of the club,” Steele says.
Household names such as Scully, Shaw, Davis and also Ward were in his way, let alone a young Coniglio, a Greene, a Shiel and a Kelly to earn a berth.
“They understood that I found a better opportunity somewhere else and took it. While they almost wanted me to stay, they were almost pushing me out the door, saying that you need to go,” Steele says.
The trade has produced the internal results among St Kilda best and fairest awards: third in 2018, third in 2019 and winner in 2020.
The equal third place in last year’s Brownlow Medal was enough for Steele to skipper the team in the absence of an injured Geary.
“I definitely feel like there is a lot more pressure on me now, but it’s really a good challenge and a good learning opportunity,” he says.
Steele could be excused for stretching tight muscles on the training track and wonder how he features so prominently in AFL heartland.
Jack’s dad, Stuart, was a bit of a bush rugby league hero.
After crashing through tackles and standing up to big hits, the gladiatorial sport was not worth the effort for his son.
“It wasn’t dad trying to protect me, just because I wasn’t big as a kid – I was pretty small,” Steele says.
“He just didn’t like the sport any more and thought it was pretty grubby.”
The Raiders and Brumbies fan to this day did try out league and union, but neither were the right fit for a 10-year-old switching codes.
Every visit since to an AFL Canberra oval, on the contrary, usually included pointing to photos of a young James Hird inside Ainslie’s clubrooms or an engraving of Brett Allison’s name on a trophy at Belconnen.
The latter of the clubs had been where Stuart directed his boy from Nicholls to play and, in time, carve out an impressive teenage CV for recruiters.
“Dad will always tell you that he wanted to play it himself, so he made sure I got the best chance to play the game,” Steele says.
While Allison had a decorated 219-game career at North Melbourne, it’s another Belconnen recruit that made the best impression on Steele.
Jason Tutt battled his way to 26 appearances at the Western Bulldogs and another 14 at Carlton, but his last two seasons wearing the navy blue had coincided with Steele’s GWS start that ignited the rookie’s confidence.
“Although he didn’t have an unbelievable career and I don’t know exactly how many games he ended up playing, he showed me it was possible,” Steele says.
Steele was often forced to drop-punt a Sherrin back and forth to himself.
Only classmate Logan Austin would call out for a pass.
The Burgmann Anglican School pair were drafted to different AFL clubs, but somehow for three seasons would end up teammates at Moorabbin.
“Not everyone played AFL (at school),” Steele says.
“The school I went to there was three blokes that sort of played Aussie Rules. In a way it was almost a good thing that I could play footy on the weekend, then come back and not really have to care.”
Who can be trusted?
In a world of spin and confusion, there’s never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.
If you trust our work online and want to enforce the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.
Every dollar of support is invested back into our journalism to help keep citynews.com.au strong and free.
Ian Meikle, editor