IT didn't take long for Cooper Sharman to get a first hand account of the intensity of AFL football.
After being taken in last year's mid season draft by St Kilda, the Leeton product arrived at the club's Sydney base on the day the club began team meetings to address their rollercoaster form.
After being on the end of a handful of thrashings, interspersed with some strong wins, the Saints spent the week trying to address the reasons behind their inconsistency.
It helped spark a strong end to the year, including wins over Sydney, Brisbane and Richmond, and Sharman is confident it will hold them in good stead as they look to return to finals.
The 21-year-old made an instant impact at St Kilda, kicking ten goals in virtually three-and-a-half games, making his run-on debut as an injury sub against Carlton in round 20 after getting no game time in the same role against West Coast the week before.
He was rewarded with a two year deal, which he believes will help him focus solely on football, while a full AFL pre-season under his belt is also a plus.
Sharman said the Sydney meetings helped lay a strong platform on what the club wants to stand for as they strive for a top eight berth.
"I got there (Sydney) at lunch time and the meetings happened that afternoon," Sharman said.
"It was a good initiation to the intensity of the AFL environment. I learnt pretty quickly what direction the club wanted to be going, which helped me understand the club.
"Competitiveness, and being professional and a team first player (were some of the factors discussed). It was probably a turning point for our year, and we established some pillars we've honed in on this off season.
"We played a lot of good sides after that and either won or were in those games for most of them, which is a positive sign."
Sharman was overlooked for Friday's season opener against Collingwood, but he's confident his strong off-season will reap dividends.
An athletic, quick forward with strong overhead marking skills, Sharman has been working on adding other dimensions to his game.
Being more effective when the ball comes to ground, tackling and handballing have been major focuses.
"Something that has been pinpointed is my pressure and tackling, I want to get better in that space," he said.
"We've got a lot of talented talls, if I can have a bit more of a presence on the ground, it gives me a better shot at getting a game.
"Last year I was going with the flow but this time I've been able to prepare a lot more and find a routine that works best for me.
"The new draftees have come in and you're no longer the new guy, so that helps as well."
Sharman said the pre-season has him better equipped to handle the physical demands of the AFL.
"That Carlton pre-season game a couple of weeks ago, I felt like I was able to run out the game a lot better than I was late last year. In the last quarters I was getting pretty gassed in games," Sharman said.
I haven't put on too much weight, but I've definitely got stronger and it'll hold me in better stead against big opponents this year.
"They're backing me to keep developing my body and my game. Not having to worry about where my contract sits and just play footy really helps."
Sharman has been impressive in intra-club trials, playing mostly on gun defender Callum Wilkie.
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