St Kilda or Melbourne, who’s ready to play finals?

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    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.

    Tim Membrey of the Saints

    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.

    Nick Riewoldt St Kilda Saints AFL 2016

    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.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • February 23rd 2017 @ 9:07am
      Macca said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      The loss that has me querying the Dee’s mental strength the most was the loss to the blues – with finals on the line and the blues not having won in around 2 months the Dee’s not only lost but got absolutely belted around the stoppages (41 clearances to 26 with Gibbs and Cripps combining for 20 clearances by themselves) and in the tackle count (83-67).

      I am not convinced either side will make finals this year (and – Jake Carlisle, Jack Steele & Koby Stevens seem better long term options than Jordan Lewis, Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham) but St Kilda’s forward plus extra speed and excitement through the middle have me favouring them.

    • February 23rd 2017 @ 9:10am
      dylillama said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      I’m tipping Melbourne. Can’t go past that midfield – jones and Lewis enforcing, Oliver, Bradshaw, and Viney free to do their thing. Gawn dishing it out. I think they could dominate if things went right.

      But you’re absolutely right on the psychological point Josh. I was really disappointed to see Gary Lyon ripping into Watts in the media. The guy has had enough external pressure on him for three players – he’s shown he doesn’t react to it well. Don’t know why a club great is out there saying all that stuff to the media instead of pulling him to one side and having a word. Stuff like that could eat into the team as a whole psychologically – I don’t think it’s necessary.

      Saints look good to me, but I tend to agree with Ryan’s article the other day that they might take a step back this year. Damn I wish the swans hadn’t let go of Membrey…

      • February 23rd 2017 @ 9:14am
        Macca said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        “I’m tipping Melbourne. Can’t go past that midfield – jones and Lewis enforcing, Oliver, Bradshaw, and Viney free to do their thing” I think that list is actually part of the problem for the Dees – all of them play a similar role and the lack a bit of pace for mine.

        • February 23rd 2017 @ 9:19am
          dylillama said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

          Yeah good point. I guess guys like Petracca, Salem, Jetta, Bugg will have to come on and provide that pace injection

          • February 23rd 2017 @ 9:22am
            Macca said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

            Petracca never struck me as quick but I admit I haven’t seen much of him – but if they can find an “outside” mid or 2 this year it will be a big step towards making finals.

            • February 23rd 2017 @ 11:37am
              Slane said | February 23rd 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

              I don’t think Bug is very fast either. Wasn’t he playing in defense and/or tagging before he moved to the Saints?

              • February 23rd 2017 @ 11:47am
                Macca said | February 23rd 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

                They had some kid there last year who was super quick – was it Jayden Hunt – but I don’t think he played through the middle.

              • Roar Guru

                February 23rd 2017 @ 11:56am
                AdelaideDocker said | February 23rd 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

                Macca – I vaguely remember watching Jayden Hunt a couple of times last year and he struck me as fairly quick.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 23rd 2017 @ 9:11am
      Dan said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      I’m a Saints man, but must confess being very bullish about the Dees this year.
      As per Ryan’s article earlier, I expect a slight drop from the lads this year. I’m also predicting the Dees to smash their hoodoo at Etihad round 1 (happy to be wrong of course!)
      The Dees just seem a more settled, focused team. The only question mark I have is with Goodwin – but his record in the coaching circles has been stellar.
      Should be a really good ruck battle between Hickey and Gawn without the 3rd man up rule, and those midfield matchups are positively salivating.
      Predicting the Saints to finish 9-12 and the Dees 7-10

      Good writeup Josh – I hope your predicted finish is more bang on than mine!

      • February 23rd 2017 @ 11:58am
        Gregi said | February 23rd 2017 @ 11:58am | ! Report

        Your kidding right…right

    • Roar Guru

      February 23rd 2017 @ 9:14am
      Cat said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      I’ll go with neither playing finals this year. Saints are being way overrated and Melbourne has a brand new rookie coach. Sure Goodwin got to apprentice under Roos but I expect some bumps along the way as Goodwin implements his ideas and plans fully.

    • Roar Guru

      February 23rd 2017 @ 9:48am
      AdelaideDocker said | February 23rd 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Lovely article, Josh.

      I have the Saints in my eight (hey, that rhymes) but I’m not as Bullish about the Dees – I have them 10th.

      I reaaaaaallly wanna know which team (other than North) you’ve got dropping out and which team (other than the Saints) you’ve got replacing them…

      • February 23rd 2017 @ 10:14am
        Tom m said | February 23rd 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        Saints for mine seem the faster, more skilful side. I feel Melbourne is becoming 1 dimensional in their Midfield. Too many inside mids and their outside mids have huge question marks about them. Bernie Vince is a player who must get 30 touches a game as I see him as the only consistent outside threat.

    • Roar Guru

      February 23rd 2017 @ 11:27am
      mastermind5991 said | February 23rd 2017 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      Very tough to call. The Saints and Dees meet both in the opening round of the season and the third-last of it, which will make things very intriguing.

      Though I have a soft spot for the Saints, it’s hard to go past the Dees given their strong off-season in which they got Jordan Lewis and Michael Hibberd, not to mention Jake Melksham will finally get a run after twelve months out of the game. Jack Viney as co-captain will only continue to lift his game and so will Nathan Jones, who has literally carried the side on his shoulders this decade.

      Consistency remains a problem for the young side though, such as the loss to Carlton that was mentioned in the article as well as the shock loss to Essendon in round two and a pair of losses to the Saints.

      Speaking of the Saints, I’m excited to see what Jade Gresham can deliver in his second season. He was a shining light in the club’s season of improvement last year and I also can’t wait to see what Jack Steele will deliver after crossing from GWS at the end of last year.

      Exciting times ahead for both clubs but I have the Saints just ahead for now.

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