Heady task awaits Saint Nick and his merry men
Nick Riewoldt of St Kilda and Nick Maxwell of Collingwood hold the cup aloft during the 2010 Toyota Grand Final Parade, Melbourne. Slattery Images
It’s just as well that St Kilda’s new leadership group is the size of a small army. Newly re-appointed captain Nick Riewoldt is going to need all the help he can get this year as the Saints look to put a tumultuous 2011 behind them.
In the latest most ridiculous development in the wonderful world of AFL leadership groups, the 29-year-old is going to have six deputies.
Well, seven, technically.
Brendon Goddard, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna, Adam Schneider, Sam Fisher, James Gwilt and Ben McEvoy were all announced on Wednesday as part of the Saints’ pack of leaders.
Veteran Lenny Hayes, currently on his way back from major knee surgery last year, wasn’t named as a member – he has a separate role, as a ‘leadership mentor’. Whatever that means.
It’s madness. Next thing you know, they’ll be renaming their Best & Fairest award the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.
Nevermind Hayes’ job title – there are now eight officially recognized leaders at St Kilda.
Assuming they are all going to be fit for Round 1, then St Kilda’s leadership group will account for more than one third of their 22-man squad.
But the farcical intersection of bureaucracy and leadership in the AFL is a story for another week.
The St Kilda leadership troupe has an enormous task ahead of them in 2012, and much of the responsibility falls on the broad shoulders of their skipper.
Nick Riewoldt is the face of the Saints. After a 2011 they’d rather forget, his performance as captain will go a long way towards determining whether or not they’ll turn their fortunes around.
He needs to prove the value of his leadership by doing his bit this year, or else St Kilda are at the risk of further sliding down the ladder.
The burly superstar was plagued by injury last season, and while he was on the sidelines the Saints were badly missing his influence – both in the forward line and above the shoulders.
Less than two years ago, St Kilda were within inches of ending their 46-year premiership drought with their second-ever flag. But they tied the first Grand Final in 2010, and Collingwood put them away in the sequel.
From premiership contenders that season, they slumped to a seventh-placed finish in 2011. With 12 wins, nine losses and a draw, they were bundled out in the first week of September by Sydney.
With the Pies, Geelong, West Coast, Hawthorn, Carlton and the ever-consistent Swans all tipped to have a major say this year, their window of opportunity remains ajar – but only just.
A pack of clubs with young, developing lists – North Melbourne, Richmond, Fremantle and Melbourne – are expected to be on the improve, and they could well find the Saints in their rear-vision mirror.
Not only was last year a struggle on the park for St Kilda, it was a disaster off-field.
The Saints’ season from hell began with the Kim Duthie saga, and the troubled ‘schoolgirl’ – who is now apparently back on the straight and narrow – gave them headlines for all the wrong reasons.
We all know what happened and we don’t need to revisit it, but it was a terrible way to begin the year for the club. It is also important to note that Riewoldt was implicated in the scandal and it may have affected him whenever his troublesome knee problem allowed him to play.
The year ended with the shocking defection of Ross Lyon to Fremantle. One minute, he was busy planning for the Saints’ 2012 campaign. The next, the self-proclaimed ‘career coach’ blindsided the club’s boardroom by replacing Mark Harvey at the helm of the Dockers.
Speaking of the boardroom, things were just as bad there. The club posted a loss of $1.5 million in their financial report, and their president said they need to quickly find new ways to increase revenue.
There is also the prospect of Greater Western Sydney’s courtship of star on-baller Brendan Goddard becoming an unwanted distraction this year.
Just like we saw with Gary Ablett in 2010 and Tom Scully last year, as they were lured into joining the AFL expansion project by big bucks, every move Goddard makes will be scrutinised to a near-invasive extent by the media. Will he, won’t he? Those are two questions that will be repeated ad nauseam.
It would be unfortunate if St Kilda’s era of dominance in recent years went by without a flag. It would leave a massive hole on the CV of Riewoldt, an elite player who deserves to hold up the cup.
It’s up to him, his seven (or six) deputies and new coach Scott Watters to keep their premiership window open. Leadership was lacking in 2011 – it needs to improve right away.
Riewoldt said last week that he will be looking to offload the captaincy next year to a younger player, but that’s 12 months away – right now, he’s skipper, and his job is not over.
He knows that. His 2012 is going to be intriguing to watch.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.