A form slump, a taxing pregnancy and an uncertain future.
It was 2017, and Shane Savage found himself out of form, out of contract and in a hole of self-doubt he thought he might never escape.
While the silky half-back was struggling on the field, his wife Sarah was facing her own set of difficulties off it.
But as Sarah overcame complication after complication while pregnant with the pair’s second child, Willow, Savage said he “learnt the meaning of resilience”.
“2017 was a tough year for me from a footy perspective, but it was also probably one of the best years because that was the year my daughter was born,” he told saints.com.au.
“Sarah had a really tough pregnancy and we were already juggling a kid, so I learnt a lot of resilience from her strength.
“It was a really difficult time for us, but I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to put things into perspective, she’s in hospital almost every day and here I am moaning about my form’.”
The 28-year-old doesn’t hesitate to credit his wife’s strength with resurrecting his career.
“She helped me turn things around, for sure,” Savage said.
“She helped me turn my game around, and when the opportunity to play again came in the second half of the year, I made that most of it and didn’t look back.”
Last Saturday, Savage became just the second New Zealand-born player of Maori descent to reach 150 AFL games.
But it’s a milestone that at many stages seemed unlikely for the boy from across the ditch.
Savage was born in Auckland to a Maori father and a Pakeha mother, before the family migrated to Australia when he was just two.
Like nearly all New Zealanders, the Savage family followed the All Blacks religiously, and initially the sport of Australian Rules football was a bizarre, foreign concept.
Naturally, Savage played junior rugby, before he was convinced by schoolmates at 10 years of age to try his hand at the Australian code.
It was a new frontier for the 10-year-old Noble Park resident, and he fell in love with our game immediately.
It was the first step in what would ultimately blossom into a 150-game AFL career.
Savage’s early years in the system were rife with injury interruptions and the associated frustrations that accompany them.
Two season-derailing shoulder injuries saw him sidelined for lengthy periods, before a trade to St Kilda at the end of Season 2013 bore better fortunes.
Fast-forward to 2019, and Savage has become the cornerstone of St Kilda’s new-look back six, currently without Jake Carlisle, Dylan Roberton and Jarryn Geary.
His family is deeply entrenched in the football club – Sarah, son Jett and Willow don’t miss a game – and Jett has become something of a good luck charm for the Saints.
Savage speaks of his family with an indelible pride that’s hard to miss.
“Family’s really important, and my wife Sarah’s been a big part of that,” he said.
“She does it tough sometimes, bringing the two kids to the game, she does all the preparation pre-game and stresses herself out, but she’s never missed a beat.
In his own words, “it hasn’t been easy to get to 150”, and a special moment with his family beckons at the banner.
“To share this moment pre-game with my kids is going to be something that I’ll remember forever,” Savage said.
“It’ll be quite emotional as well, but I’m really proud that I’m able to share it with them. It should be really special.”
Save his extraordinary Goal of the Year contender last weekend, Savage’s career has played out thus far in typically gritty, selfless, team-oriented fashion.
It’s had its fair share of ups and downs both on and off the field, but he’s emerged all the better for them.
Story – Saints.com.au