Out of contract at the end of 2017 and in the midst of a breakout season, there is no doubt a number of clubs have outside midfielder/forward Jack Billings in their sights.
The 21 year old was a stand out for the Oakleigh Chargers and Vic Metro sides in his junior years, twice being named in the Under 18 All-Australian side prior to being drafted.
St. Kilda selected the classy left-footer with the Number 3 pick in the 2013 National Draft, with Josh Kelly taken by GWS a pick beforehand and the Western Bulldogs snapping up the enigmatic Marcus Bontempelli at pick 4.
Inevitable media debate on whether the Saints made the right choice followed as Bontempelli began starring for the Dogs in only his second season, while a huge premiership season in 2016 only fuelled the comparison discussions even more.
Saints’ coach Alan Richardson addressed the comparison during the 2017 pre-season, and backed Billings in to be the player the Saints knew he could be, and in his fourth season Billings has shown why he was so highly regarded in his draft year.
Playing as a half forward rotating into the midfield, Billings is averaging career highs in kicks (11.4), handballs (11), and marks (5.4), while 7.5 of his 22.4 disposals per game are contested. He also has a knack for finding the space to take shots on goal, having kicked 16.24 from his 16 games, and when he sharpens up his accuracy will become even more damaging across half forward.
Billing’s classy 22 disposal and two goal effort in the Round 7 upset win over GWS particularly showcased his confidence and willingness to back himself. He followed that performance up with five goals from 30 disposals in a close win over Carlton, and capped off a stellar purple patch with a 32 disposal game against the Swans in Round 9. As of Round 17 Billings has found the ball 20 or more times in 10 of his 16 games this season to date.
Such form will only fuel the comparison talk, but Billings is rapidly becoming a star in his own right, and now looks to have the self-belief needed to step up on a regular basis. After injury-affected seasons in 2015 and 2016, Billings is fit and firing and developing his game to move towards more midfield time, and as a result will be highly sought after by opposition clubs.
WHY HE STAYS
Billings is a Victorian boy with family nearby, so there’s no homesickness issues here.
He’s entered into preliminary contract talks with the Saints, who are big improvers this season, and has spoken about his love for the club. He has even cheekily tried to pitch St.Kilda as an attractive destination to former Vic Metro team mate and free agent Josh Kelly.
The 21 year old has the strong support of his coach and a core group of friends as team mates, and with the Collective Bargaining Agreement done and dusted, Billings is likely to sign a contract in the near future to remain a Saint for at least two years.
WHY HE GOES
The Saints are sitting in ninth position on the ladder with a tough run ahead, and if they again fail to make the finals, the prospect of moving to a club more likely to play regular finals football may appeal to the young Saint, as well as the lucrative contract that would come with a shift in teams.
While St.Kilda traded well in the off-season to bring in Koby Stevens and Jack Steele, the form and hardness of these players, as well others, may result in lower midfield time for Billings. If he possesses the desire to make the move towards becoming part of a regular on-ball brigade, this could see him consider his options elsewhere.