2017 AFL preview series: St Kilda Saints – 8th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    St Kilda, arguably the most spectacularly unsuccessful club in the history of the VFL/AFL, are on the march again.

    Their fan-base became accustomed to September action through the 2000s, playing finals in seven of eight years from 2004, with three grand finals including the draw against Collingwood. After five years on the outside looking in, the supporters feel they’ve done their penance.

    Emboldened by some electric play that delivered eight wins in their last 11 games in 2016, including big scalps like Geelong and the Western Bulldogs, Saints fans enter 2017 bold, brash and boisterous.

    Despite the perception of a young side on the rise, the average age of the top four in their best and fairest was 30. Sean Dempster (32) and David Armitage (28) also finished in the top ten. The changing of the guard is on the way, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet.

    B Dylan Roberton Nathan Brown Sean Dempster
    HB Leigh Montagna Jake Carlisle Shane Savage
    C Nick Riewoldt Jack Steven Jack Newnes
    HF Jade Gresham Josh Bruce Blake Acres
    F Maverick Weller Paddy McCartin Tim Membrey
    Foll Tom Hickey David Armitage Seb Ross
    Int Jack Billings Koby Stevens Jack Steele Jarryn Geary

    Emergencies: Billy Longer, Jack Lonie, Luke Dunstan

    The St Kilda of old would rely on stars to get the job done and scrounge together the rest of the side around them. Think Tony Lockett, Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke, Stewart Loewe and Nicky Winmar through the 90s.

    Alan Richardson does not want this over-reliance on the top end. The Saints would love some stars, and they think they’ve got plenty coming through, but for now everyone very much plays their role.

    Clearly Jack Steven and Nick Riewoldt are the elite talents that hold it all together, but the appointment of Jarryn Geary as captain sends a strong message about team-first requirements. It also sends the message that foot skills and leadership are not mutually exclusive.

    As mentioned above, the older brigade still carries their share of the load, but the balance in fostering through the youth seems right.

    St Kilda lost no-one of significance over the off-season, but will add Jake Carlisle in a key defensive post and have cherry-picked Jack Steele, Koby Stevens and Nathan Brown from other clubs through trade and free agency.

    Nick Riewoldt St Kilda Saints AFL 2016

    In fact, the standout feature of the Saints’ best 22 above is the number of players they have in there from other clubs – 11. This list has been carefully crafted together, syphoning off existing talent throughout the league on a needs and depth basis, while still having eight top 25 picks in the four drafts since Alan Richardson arrived.

    The addition of Steele and Stevens, who will both be expected to play, makes for tight competition for spots among the younger brigade of midfielders, as evidenced by the likes of ably performed Lonie and Dunstan listed as emergencies in the team above. St Kilda now have a deeper list than they have for some years.

    We know what we’re going to get from Jack Steven and David Armitage, but the excitement lies in the wings and flanks through Seb Ross, Jade Gresham, Blake Acres, Jack Newnes and a hopefully rejuvenated Jack Billings. They can all win their own ball when required too.

    Gresham, in particularly, appears to possess special elements. His lack of size may have counted against him on draft night, but he took enormous steps from Round 1 to Round 23 last year, visibly improving and gaining more confidence with each outing.

    Saints fans would like to think there’s a nucleus for a flag tilt in this group, particularly with premier midfielder Steven only 27. They have built their games on pressure, pace, confident and quick ball movement, and trust in teammates, giving the first option every time.

    In the ruck division, Tom Hickey was in the shadows of Billy Longer in 2015, but left him eating dust in 2016 as he cemented his spot and started to fully realise his talent that we had only seen sporadically. He’s one of the better contested mark ruckmen in the game too, which is always a handy asset to have.

    Both the forward and back lines have a complementary mix to them.

    Nick Riewoldt will be roaming the wings again, running his opponents ragged before pushing forward to kick goals. Paddy McCartin is the goal-square monster, Josh Bruce the athletic full-forward, while Tim Membrey is a great in-betweener. Mav Weller came into his own last year as the pressure forward.

    Tim Membrey of the Saints

    Membrey is the fascinating one. He kicked 44 goals last year, including four bags of five. But closer inspection reveals that he averaged 3.6 goals per game against non-finalists, but only 1.1 against top eight sides.

    Is he just a flat-track bully, or does he have the game to manoeuvre his way through the better defences? This is the year we find out.

    Down back, Nathan Brown is the negater and Jake Carlisle, Dylan Roberton and Sean Dempster are all intercept specialists. Roberton is able to provide run as well, to support Leigh Montagna and the missile launcher that is Shane Savage’s right boot.

    Already, we can see coverage for the elder statesmen Riewoldt and Dempster, through a well-executed succession plan. Hence why Riewoldt is now free to run the ground at will.

    The best sides are always the best at picking off opposition inside 50 entries, due to skilled intercept markers and midfield defensive pressure, and have multiple targets going forward. The Saints looked well stocked in all areas.

    If there is a little hole in the list, it might be in regards to where Daniel McKenzie, Jimmy Webster, Nathan Wright, Jack Sinclair, Darren Minchington and Jack Lonie are at in their careers. All are aged between 21-24, and might find themselves treading water at St Kilda this season.

    Will they seek opportunities at clubs like North, Carlton, Essendon, Brisbane and Fremantle in 2018? And if so, will this hurt St Kilda’s depth when they are genuinely ready to contend?

    Jack Steven St Kilda Saints AFL 2016

    If the young midfield brigade is perfectly planted and beautifully ripening fruit, then Sam Gilbert is the half-eaten apple that’s gone rotten at the bottom of a school bag over Christmas holidays. A faithful servant and once-damaging player, he needs to be spending most of the year at VFL level for this team to truly be progressing.

    The Saints also need to mature. It’s one thing to relish your home deck at Etihad, where their style is clearly suited, but they produced abominable results interstate last season. In fact, they’ve been extremely poor under Richardson whenever they set foot on a plane.

    There’s no reason to expect the St Kilda veterans can’t maintain their level this year, and there’s every reason to expect a good portion of the younger brigade will improve. Thus, the Saints should be knocking on the door of finals again, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t march in. There might only be a couple of games separating half a dozen sides in that part of the ladder.

    The path is clear. The track is good. Patience and time are the next two ingredients.

    Predicted ladder spread: 7th-12th

    Predicted finish
    : Eighth

    Best and fairest: Jack Steven

    Leading goalkicker: Tim Membrey

    All-Australian potential: Tim Membrey, Jack Steven, Nick Riewoldt

    Rising Star candidates: Slim pickings

    Cam Rose’s AFL preview series ladder

    8th – St Kilda
    9th – Hawthorn
    10th – Richmond
    11th – Collingwood
    12th – Gold Coast
    13th – Port Adelaide
    14th – Fremantle
    15th – Essendon
    16th – North Melbourne
    17th – Carlton
    18th – Brisbane

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2017 @ 9:48am
      Rick Disnick said | March 13th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      I’ll jump in now we’re at the business end of proceedings.

      Statistically, at least two teams drop out of the eight. Will the Saints be one of the teams to replace the Hawks and North? Not too sure about that, but they’re a better pick than the teams I thought would make the eight last year — what a balls that was!

      Saints are tracking well. You’ve made a compelling argument for them finishing eighth; one I can’t really argue with apart from saying: I believe you’re wrong.

      I’m sticking with the Power in 8th spot from 10th last year. They have the ability to beat top eight teams regularly — I’m not convinced you could say the same about this Saints outfit.

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2017 @ 9:57am
        Cameron Rose said | March 13th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        I thought the Saints served it up to the Swans really well last night. I was watching that thinking “these are two teams that should be playing finals”.

        By the same token, I was watching Hawthorn and Port yesterday, thinking these are two teams that won’t be playing finals.

        It must be said, potentially in both cases I was biased toward my thinking already.

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2017 @ 10:05am
          Rick Disnick said | March 13th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          The Swans are notorious for testing their set plays & set plays only in the preseason comp. I can’t even remember a time when they looked half decent during this time of the year. Come about round 5 though, they’re a different beast for some strange reason.

          “potentially in both cases I was biased toward my thinking already”

          I’m always biased, it happens to the best of us.

          • Columnist

            March 13th 2017 @ 10:16am
            Cameron Rose said | March 13th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

            I think it’s a bit of a myth about the Swans being slow starters. They won their first two games by 13 goals and 10 goals last year. They looked pretty good yesterday, as did the Saints. We’ll find out!

            • March 13th 2017 @ 3:10pm
              GoSwans said | March 13th 2017 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

              Losing pre-season games is pretty much expected by Swans fans to the point where winning them is seen as a bad omen by some.

        • March 16th 2017 @ 11:42am
          col in paradise said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

          agree Cameron..the intensity of both sides for a pre season game was high…and they both played extremely well and the pace the whole game was frantic…as you say both teams looked top 8…..it was the best of the pre season game so far gby a mile…

    • March 13th 2017 @ 10:19am
      me too said | March 13th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      Both teams had a genuine crack last night, which was unusual for the Swans in preseason. Perfect tuneup for round one. Both look like finals teams from that preview.
      You team listed has Dunstan as an emergency – he’s a definite starter every week, Wright also forced his way into the round one team – it’s his spot to lose now, And the much maligned Gilbert, if he finds consisency this year, is too good to be playing vfl. Hickey won his spot last year, and kept it last night. The bigger problem is how to fit all of montagna, dempster, webster, brown, savage, and gilbert into just three spots – carlisle, geary, and roberton are starters. The other is deciding between acres and stevens. And of course young Ben Long loooks like he deserves game time to develop. Through the course of a season injuries and form normally take care of such questions, and it’s a great problem to have. A very deep list, just missing a cherry on top.

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2017 @ 11:59am
        Cameron Rose said | March 13th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        Dunstan’s kicking skills let him down, I’m not sure we want both he and Geary in the same midfield. That said, yes, he was the stiffest to miss out in my line-up.

        Based on my 22, I’m happy to hear who you are dropping for Dunstan and Gilbert to come in. You’ve thrown up a lot of names on who should be in, but not offered any that should be out.

        • March 13th 2017 @ 2:39pm
          me too said | March 13th 2017 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

          Geary’s a backman. Dunstan’s kicking was slightly off yesterday, but generally decent. a
          Any hard inside midfielders’ de is generally misleading in that a lot of their disposals are instant delivery amid a mass of bodies and locked inside a tackle.
          On who should be out – injuries will dictate that. I haven,t suggested who should be playing, only how many are capable. It’s a very even list. But from your list Dunstan is definitely in ahead of Stevens and Wright is in. From last night Lonie possibly to miss next week for Acres. Which means it’ll be. atoss up between Dempster, Savage, and Gilbert, if Joey is still missing.

          • Columnist

            March 13th 2017 @ 7:11pm
            Cameron Rose said | March 13th 2017 @ 7:11pm | ! Report

            Thanks for the education about inside midfielders and their kicking, Me Too. Never would have considered that.

            I wouldn’t have a clue what Dunstan’s disposal efficiency is. I’ve seen him shank plenty in open space.

            Wouldn’t have thought Savage was in any danger of being dropped. One of the best kicks in the side, and someone needs to make up for Geary. Surely a choice between Dempster and Gilbert is no choice at all.

            • March 13th 2017 @ 9:14pm
              me too said | March 13th 2017 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

              Dunstans DE last season was 73.8. Our best mid Steven was 70.2
              I like Savage too, his drive and long accurate kicking out of the backline is a big asset. As for Dempster v Gilbert, I’m a Dempster fan, but Gilbert has an extra dimension in the ability to break tackles and swing forward as he did so well in 2010. Still prefer Dempster though. Rock solid. Think Brown may be a horses for courses, if the opposition don’t have two giants up forward he’ll play vfl that week. In the end spots are there for those that earn them, but round one seems pretty set. Last weeks team with Dempster a possibility and Lonie a maybe.

    • March 13th 2017 @ 1:19pm
      Sausages said | March 13th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

      Depth is a great problem to have, one the Saints have not enjoyed for many years, even when at the pointy end of the ladder in 09 and 10 depth was not a strong suit. Should be playing a final this year, with the big jump to come in 18.

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2017 @ 1:41pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 13th 2017 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

        Yep, it’s great young depth too. I think other clubs will be eyeing off some of those on the fringes.

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2017 @ 1:51pm
      Cat said | March 13th 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

      I don’t see it. Pretty ordinary side last year, don’t see them improving much on it.

      • March 13th 2017 @ 4:53pm
        Sausages said | March 13th 2017 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

        A pretty ordinary side that beat your mob and will be improved again. Also beat the Dogs last we played them…but yeah rubbish.

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2017 @ 5:50pm
          Cat said | March 13th 2017 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

          Wow you beat the Cats …. hardly unique, and says more about the Cats than the Saints. Saints have a decent amount of B grade players but where are the next generation of true stars?

          • March 13th 2017 @ 8:19pm
            Sausages said | March 13th 2017 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

            I would have thought for a team that finished last a season and a half back to knock off the top side (ladder at time) says a bit about our development. Gresham, Billings, Newnes, McCartin all look like potential A Graders, Membrey, Hickey and Acres could be very good. I’m comfortable with our youth.

            • Roar Guru

              March 13th 2017 @ 11:36pm
              Cat said | March 13th 2017 @ 11:36pm | ! Report

              Cats also lost to Carlton and Collingwood … didn’t say much about those teams either. Cats had (have?) a tendency to play down to their opponents.

            • March 14th 2017 @ 9:29am
              Tom m said | March 14th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

              Don’t get too hung up with Cat, Sausages. Up there with Don Freo as the most 1 eyed supporters on Roar

        • March 14th 2017 @ 2:57am
          Praz said | March 14th 2017 @ 2:57am | ! Report

          yeah absoute truth . Cats forgot the lost lol

    • March 13th 2017 @ 8:28pm
      Craig said | March 13th 2017 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

      Saints will need a miracle to finish in the top 8. Can’t see it happening.

      They have reasonable depth, but that’s only because they don’t have any ultra quality players that will hurt them if they don’t perform or go missing. Its a balanced side, but overall an average squad.

      I’d have them finishing around 11/12.

    • March 13th 2017 @ 10:07pm
      Luke said | March 13th 2017 @ 10:07pm | ! Report

      Another fine piece Cam..

      As a saints supporter I just hope they have enough top end talent to compete in the next 2-5 years. I worry that they might be the next North Melbourne a really honest team, a good team, but never a great team.

      From a list analysis point of view they have addressed their defensive posts as you mentioned. And I reckon Carlisle would have been the difference between making finals and not last year narrowly missing by %.

      Midfield depth is a worry only genuine A grade Steven, Armitage was the year before (hopefully he can rise again)… Then you got Ross, Billings, Dunstan Acres, Newnes, Steele (very impressed with), Gresham. At least 2-3 would need to turn into A graders in order to compete with the premier teams of the competition I think we will know this year for sure how much top end talent they have
      Would need to definitely add a star like Shiel out of contract or Fyfe if possible.

      HB line is OK probably wouldn’t mind a Heath Shaw in the team as that rebounding go to defender.

      Can they make finals this year? Yes, will they, IMHO I worry about the interstate travel. 2 x WA 2x SA, 1 x Sydney and 1x Tassie their record on the road is hopeless. And if they lose all of them thats 6 games you’ve lost.. And when to make finals you probably need 13 wins which means if they drop another 4 games on top of that they’re out.

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