Saints and sinners. Heaven and hell. Demons and do-gooders. There’s always been something of a biblical connection between the Melbourne and St Kilda football clubs, and in 2017 they find themselves in similar positions.
If you were to ask the footy fan on the street which sides from outside last year’s top eight are ready to make the leap into finals footy, it’s these two who would come up most often.
They both hung around in the mix for September until late last year, and the Saints would likely have made it had fortune been just a little bit kinder, missing out on percentage behind North Melbourne, a team they lost to twice (the first time in controversial circumstances – that free kick was there though, and Mason Wood is a tactical genius).
They both boast a lot of high draft picks in recent years, as well as some clever recruiting on the cheap from outside the club, and the promise of a style of play that can consistently win games.
Looking at the Saints, their selling point for mine is what looks like it could be the best forward line in the league in five years’ time.
Paddy McCartin is the emerging centrepiece, a player who once he gets a good run of luck will be a force to be reckoned with.
Add in Josh Bruce with 88 goals in the last two years as his second banana, and Tim Membrey – the competition’s most improved player last year – and they’ve got no shortage of goal-kicking power.
All that is needed is for some of the smalls to develop a little further – Jack Lonie has shown a bit but needs to add more dimensions to his game. Maverick Weller, Jade Gresham and especially Jack Billings can all be regular scorers on the half-forward line.
When it comes to the Dees, their selling point is their skull-cracking midfield of the future.
First you’ve got Max Gawn, who if born in Viking times would’ve conquered half of Europe by now.
Then you add in contested beasts Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw, and Clayton Oliver, all only just beginning to establish themselves.
Of course, one also can’t forget Nathan Jones and new recruit Jordan Lewis. The Demons have no shortage of guys who can make their physical presence known.
They are going to leave opposition midfields black and blue.
Both sides have similar situations in defence. A unit built around one elite tall – Tom McDonald for the Demons, Jake Carlisle for the Saints – and a quality ball-carrier brought in from another club – Michael Hibberd, Shane Savage.
The Saints have a little more veteran experience here, but the Dees arguably have greater upside in terms of their half-back options, with Jayden Hunt and Christian Salem showing real class.
Both arguably lack a little class through the middle of the ground, but have the players on the list to provide this in the future.
The Saints have Billings, Gresham, Blake Acres, Nathan Freeman, Daniel McKenzie and Ben Long. The Demons have Salem, Christian Petracca, Dom Tyson and Billy Stretch.
Both have new captains – Jack Viney moving into a co-captain role with Nathan Jones, and Jarryn Geary taking over from Nick Riewoldt as the new St Kilda skipper.
Both have new recruits ready to come in and boost the team – Jake Carlisle and Jack Steele for the Saints, and I guess Koby Stevens too, Jordan Lewis and Michael Hibberd for the Demons, and yeah, I suppose Jake Melksham as well.
Both, also, have a potentially fatal flaw.
The Saints rely a fair bit on veteran players Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster at the moment, and were lucky enough to have a good run with injury last year.
A turn of bad luck on the injury front, particularly if it involves their ageing stars, could rule them out of the finals race pretty quickly.
The Dees more than anything just have too many questions about their psychological profile to be entirely sure they can make good on their talent.
They had some great wins last year, but no one can match their ability to turn in an absolute shocker of a performance – like their loss to Essendon last year, or the game they somehow won despite putting in every effort to not do so against Gold Coast.
So which of these two sides is most ready to make a finals appearance? In my view, there is unlikely to be enough room in the top eight for both of them.
At present moment I have two of last year’s top eight dropping out (yes, my beloved North is one of them), but I have another team aside from these two locked in to replace one of them – apologies for being so mysterious, don’t worry, we’ll get to all that.
For that last spot I have left, it’s the Saints for me. They have a similar feel to the Demons at the moment, but are just a year or maybe two ahead of them in their development.
They’re the seventh oldest list in the competition, while Melbourne are still the third youngest. A St Kilda player has, on average, played five more games and kicked nine more goals than a Melbourne player.
Simply put, they are just a little more mature, and those key young talents who need to improve to lift them into finals – Billings and McCartin the chief ones for mine – are more ready to pop.
My tip is that St Kilda will make finals this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them survive beyond the first week, either. Melbourne may have to wait another year, but they won’t be waiting much longer than that.