I have been watching the progress of the St Kilda Saints this year and in particular how little they trouble the media summary given their excellent start through the first third of the season.
In only his fourth year at the club Alan Richardson has guided them from the bottom of the ladder into a healthy sixth spot.
While Jack Steven gets the attention that his strong ability demands, there is much more going on with this side’s depth of players this year.
Dylan Roberton has come to the fore with his rebounding out of defense and ability to kick strongly off either foot with accuracy.
When a defender can generate this kind of run out of the back half and convert it to goals off his own boot or delivery to a score involvement for other players in as little as one or two kicks is an outstanding skill to have for a running backman.
He is generating elite level data for a defender, including ball turnover possession and intercepts.
The addition this year of Nathan Brown and Jake Carlisle providing hugely capable and strong intercept and tackling defense, working off captain Jarryn Geary in the backline with an improved Jimmy Webster seems to have released a monster at running defender work in the now elite Roberton’s game.
Seb Ross is also knocking on the door of elite status this year. If he can continue his excellent form so far, he will land in that bunch.
His work outside the contest as well as his hardness inside when the demand is there, coupled with genuine ability to crumb goals from outside 40 meters as well as inside 30, provides real power at turnover inside the 50 arc as well as forward of the ball when the run comes out of defense.
Jack Billings is having a breakout year with his stellar best-on-ground performance in his 50th game, albeit after some where we waited to see if this would happen.
Jade Gresham seems a little quiet but is still adding class and some of his unusual silk to ball movement and crumbing opportunity in the front half, while Jack Newnes is following the best St Kilda has in midfield work on the outside, and isn’t afraid to apply tackle pressure inside at the contest. As his running improves he’s starting to pop up all over the ground.
Many of the “lesser lights” in the St. Kilda list while not appearing every week due to the team’s depth and the selectors’ ability to make selection on form and anticipated match-up rather than the hope of pure form doing the job are providing such an even spread of work that the Saints are able to generate multiple avenues into the front half, continually testing the defense of even the best sides above them.
So far this year, St Kilda lead the ladder in scoring from the 15 to 30 meter arc. In scoring opportunities taken from 40 meters and under they rank third in the league, and if it were not for six shots that missed that still remain almost inexpiable, they would be ranked first in this category as well.
A lot of this comes from how evenly spread the side’s depth is, with its second rung of players all contributing relatively high possession counts, tackle numbers, disposals and score.
It isn’t unusual for St Kilda to have more goal scorers than their opposition on any given day, often by a significant amount.
Perhaps because St Kilda haven’t been seen as contenders in any shape or form since the end of the first decade this century, and historically have only one premiership flag and a lot of bottom dweller status in that history, they don’t attract a lot of commentator coverage or kudos.
Often when they have a victory like the win over flag favourites GWS Giants, it is seen as a failure of the side above them than it is a victory of the Saints themselves.
Perhaps this is because while the Saints actually lead the competition in scoring shots from forward 50 entries, their percentage remains low because of a poor goal to behinds ratio.
If the side as a whole improve this percentage-killing aspect of their game – and they appear to be doing so, albeit slowly – they may start to firm as more of what they really represent in the eyes of the games onlookers, which is a much more dangerous side than many have indicated they consider in the season to date.
In only his fourth year as coach, Alan Richardson might have a top four team waiting in the wings for September.