The Saints announced early in the season that they would be targeting the draft and looking to build from the ground up.
They would begin stockpiling as much young talent as they could to form a new successful team capable of returning to finals football. It is a formula that worked with Geelong, and one that was the basis for the Saints successful run from 2008-2010.
With just three wins for the season to date and an ongoing reliance on players well past 30, the Saints re-build looks like delivering several lean years before they can recruit enough quality and get enough games into them to once again be competitive.
It is commonly viewed that players need at least three to four seasons in an AFL environment to mature physically. Players start to near their peak development at around 23-24 years old and with 50-100 games under their belt.
The Saints massive gap in talent in this area is one of the reasons why they are looking to start from scratch.
But in such an ultra competitive commercial environment and with a precarious financial footing to begin with, can the Saints really afford to take five years to develop a young list from scratch?
They need to be innovative, aggressive and flexible in their approach to re-building their list to fast track the process.
While the previous build from the draft model worked in the past for the Saints and the Cats, it is interesting to see the rise of other teams and the approach they have taken.
The Power developed a core group of youngsters but have also blended in a combination of recycled players, such as Jay Schulz.
This has allowed them to develop a group of players of similar age and experience to grow with the wealth of talented youngsters they have accumulated.
The Hawks have added a large number of recycled players to boost their growing crop of youngsters and Collingwood have used mature age recruits to great success to help fast track the development of their squad.
The Saints must be bold in trying to build a list that will not only return them to finals footy by 2016-17, but allow them to be a future premiership contender.
Its always an interesting comparison to consider sides in similar positions and the path they are taking. Both the Bulldogs and Saints enjoyed successful periods during 2008-2010 with both falling from grace.
The Dogs have been able to now grab some quality youth on their list, having started their re-build at least one season prior to the Saints. They have had the assistance of some handy father son recruits.
Rather than relying solely on the draft to re-build their squad, they have also targeted players in their early twenties with previous AFL experience. The team looks to be a couple of seasons ahead of the Saints in regards to their development.
Melbourne are the other interesting club to look at. In previous years they have had no shortage of draft picks to boost their talent and through a variety of reasons have failed to capitalise on these.
They tried adding a range of star recruits and recycled players such as Tom Gillies and Shannon Byrnes, but they failed to show any real progress. They were trying to get games into their youngsters in the hope of having a squad of 23-25 year olds with 80 or more games’ experience.
Enter Paul Roos and the focus changed.
They went hard for more midfielders and saw the benefit of recruiting players with some previous years in the system. In came Dom Tyson and Bernie Vince and both have been excellent additions to the club. Gone is the philosophy of getting as many games into youngsters as possible.
Instead they have to earn a spot on the list. The competitiveness and spirit has risen dramatically and suddenly Melbourne’s fortunes look a lot brighter.
If the Saints take the conservative path of building via the draft it is likely that given the lack of quality in their current list they would need quality picks in the next three drafts to adequately stock their list.
They then need those players to have played at least four seasons to develop physically and gain the experience required to match the type of side Port Adelaide have now assembled.
That sees them looking at a return to finals footy somewhere around 2019-20!
St Kilda are in a big hole and when Leigh Montagna, Lenny Hayes, Nick Riewoldt and the rest all retire in the next one to two seasons, the hole could be even wider.
They need to make some strong decisions and recruit young players who have been in the system and are already on their way to being developed players.
Kristian Jacksch – a first round draft pick – Jono O’Rouke, Brad Sheppard, Tim Membrey and Josh Walker should all be on the Saints shopping list as quality young players struggling for opportunities at other clubs who are off contract at the end of the season.
The free agent market is limited this year but a play for David Mackay or James Frawley – both 25 with at least five good years left – would still provide the Saints with players capable of playing in the next successful team.
St Kilda announced this week they would target out of contract stars in the coming seasons and this needs to happen this year. Grab three to four of the players mentioned above along with at least two first round draft picks this year, and suddenly the rebuild would start to take shape much sooner.
The cub needs a strong and ambitious plan to re-build from such a lowly position. They need to aim high and look to have a squad playing finals footy in three to four years time, not five.