A summer spent training with the engine room helped propel Jack Billings towards a career-best season in 2017, says St Kilda Senior Assistant Coach Adam Kingsley.
Billings not only finished among the top-five in the Trevor Barker Award for the first time in his career, he also claimed the Best Emerging Player Award following his breakout year.
The 2013 No. 3 pick played all 22 games - for the first time in his career - averaging career-high numbers for disposals (23.1 per game), score involvements (8.3), contested possessions (7.5), marks (5.5), inside 50s (4.0) and goals (23).
“Jack spent all summer training as a wingman and really improved his midfield play, which helped take his outside game – which is already a real strength of his game – to another level,” Kingsley told saints.com.au.
“By spending more time in the midfield, he definitely improved his contest work and his ability to handle opposition pressure when he had the ball.
“He’s got some really good attributes that allowed him to win so much of the ball as a high half-forward. But for that sort of player to get the numbers that he was able to consistently get is quite unique.”
Kingsley, who oversees the midfield department at Linen House Centre, believes the 22-year-old has the tools to take his game to another level in 2018 and indicated that Billings is set for more midfield minutes next season.
“Jack has significant growth left in his game. We feel like he can improve pretty quickly,” Kingsley said.
“He will train with the midfield again over the pre-season and spend more time there next year.
“His ability to win the ball in contest and his ability to use the ball can still improve a little bit; he was inaccurate in front of goal this year based on what we think his capability is.
"He will get to work over summer on his running and take that to another level next season.
“There’s a lot of growth areas in his game; we think he will turn into a really good player for us."
St Kilda young gun Jack Billings is desperate to experience finals football after missing out on playing in September during his first four seasons in the AFL.
The 2013 No. 3 pick demonstrated why the club paid such a high price for his services, producing the best season of burgeoning career in 2017.
Billings, 21, averaged 23.1 disposals – including 10 hauls of 25 touches or more – 8.3 score involvements, 4.0 inside 50s and kicked 23.36 across 22 appearances to take the next step this year.
And now he wants to part of a group that takes the next step.
“I’m so hungry to play finals, enough is enough, I just really want to play finals next year and hopefully go deep,” Billings told Channel Nine and St Kilda’s first to fourth-year camp at Larnoo Pastoral in country Victoria.
“I think the supporters and everyone is going to see just how good our list is.
“I really have strong belief that we can make finals next year if we all work hard and play to our strengths.”
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Billings and St Kilda’s other first to fourth-year players started their pre-season campaign last Wednesday, before the remainder of the list returns next Monday.
Two names that won’t be on the track for the first time in nearly two decades are recently retired champions Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna.
While the Saints will miss their experience, Billings believes their absence will force others to step up.
“Losing a couple of superstars can be a good thing sometimes because it forces the young guys to step up straight away,” he said.
While he set the football world alight at times in 2017, Billings doesn’t appear to be resting on his laurels.
The classy left-footer was one of 13 Saints to run a personal best time in the opening three-kilometre time-trial of the summer last week. Another step in the right direction for Billings.
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Alright, time to get the ball rolling for my boy this year in Jack Billings! He had a brilliant 2017 but there's room for improvement, mainly in front of goal (23.36). If he straightens up and continues this upward trajectory, anything is possible.
Disappointing result last night but a solid hit-out for Jack in his first game of 2018. He finished with 24 disposals @ 87% efficiency, 1 goal, 6 score involvements, 3 clearances, 3 tackles and 4 inside 50s.