Slower than we expected, but the Saints will get there

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor


22 Have your say

    St Kilda’s often lacklustre form was one of the bigger disappointments of the 2017 AFL season, and many are calling it a wasted year. But is it a major setback for their playing list, or just a bump in the road to finals and premiership contention?

    AFL list management series
    18 – Brisbane Lions
    17 – Gold Coast Suns
    16 – Carlton Blues
    15 – North Melbourne Kangaroos
    14 – Fremantle Dockers
    13 – Collingwood Magpies
    12 – Hawthorn Hawks
    10 – Western Bulldogs
    9 – Melbourne Demons
    8 – Essendon Bombers
    7 – Port Adelaide Power
    6 – West Coast Eagles
    5 – Sydney Swans
    4 – GWS Giants
    3 – Geelong Cats

    2017 in short

    St Kilda came into the season as one of the most popular tips amongst pundits to leap into finals, but when push came to shove they ultimately fell well short of that goal.

    There were some good wins – a Friday-night victory over GWS was memorable, and their utter domination of Richmond was truly something to behold.

    But as much as they impressed at times, they disappointed more at others. It’s clear that on the path they started walking at the end of 2013, they still have some ways to go before they reach their destination.

    For a more comprehensive review of St Kilda’s 2017 season, check out this piece by Stirling Coates.

    Jack Newnes St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)


    Alan Richardson joined St Kilda after Scott Watters was messily dismissed at the end of 2013, and while his four years in the job hasn’t so far resulted in a finals campaign, he has established himself as a respected operator.

    Out of contract at the end of next year, it hasn’t been confirmed yet but word is that he will likely sign a two-year extension securing him until the end of 2020 sometime during the off-season.

    This is a wise move – while the Saints didn’t have the season they hoped for, it doesn’t seem likely much of the blame for this should be put at Richardson’s feet. Showing patience and giving him security will likely pay dividends in the long run.

    Under Richardson the Saints have largely been known for their manic pressure. That’s a good trait to have, but they haven’t yet developed either the confidence or skills to play quality, classy attacking football just yet.

    As Maddy Friend wrote last week, the Saints need something other than just defensive pressure to define who they are as a team. One of Richardson’s key goals over the next few years must be to work out what that is going to be.


    With Nick Riewoldt clearly preparing for retirement, he gave up the captaincy at the start of the year and it was taken up by 29-year-old Jarryn Geary.

    At that age, Geary is clearly a short-term option as club captain while they wait for a future leader to emerge – it’s hard to say who that is at this stage.

    Perhaps Luke Dunstan, if he can cement himself next year playing the kind of football he did late in 2017, could be the future St Kilda skipper.

    However, it may well be the case that their next captain is not even on the list yet.

    Jarryn Geary St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    List management

    As the last year of Ross Lyon turned into the short-lived reign of Scott Watters which turned into the beginnings of the Alan Richardson era, St Kilda realised they were in quite a bad list position.

    Their recruiting under Lyon and Watters had been remarkably wasteful, and it had left them with a list that had a few ageing stars from the near-premiership era and not much else.

    For example, see how the Saints had two first-round picks in 2012 thanks to Brendon Goddard’s departure and spent them on trading in Tom Hickey, who is now their back-up ruckman, and Tom Lee, a mature WAFL key forward who played only 17 games for the club. Madness.

    They embarked upon a two-pronged strategy – bringing in additional high draft picks where possible to start a new generation of talented youth, and aggressively recruiting mature players to build from scratch some middle tier talent.

    At the end of 2017, we are seeing just about the last of that older generation finally depart, with Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster all hanging up the boots. Sam Gilbert, David Armitage and Jarryn Geary are the only players remaining from that era of the club.

    Looking at St Kilda’s middle-tier talent you can see clearly the strategy they have gone through of bringing in players from other clubs to try to fill what was a gaping hole on their list.

    Their middle tier is players like Jack Steven (27), Shane Savage, Tom Hickey, Koby Stevens, Dylan Roberton (all 26), Jake Carlisle, Maverick Weller, Josh Bruce (all 25), Jack Newnes, Sebastian Ross and Billy Longer (all 24).

    Of that group of 11 players, only three of them have been at the Saints for their entire career.

    Jake Carlisle St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

    The issue with this is that most of these players were not highly-rated recruits but instead the off-cuts of the opposition – some of them were canny pickups by the Saints, but is it strong enough to be the core of a premiership team?

    That is certainly what St Kilda intends as they have publicly stated that they are planning to bring in their next premiership by 2020 – a timeline that places Jack Steven at 30 and will have what is now the middle tier pushing towards being the veteran core.

    Time will tell whether or not they can achieve that but it would certainly look better with just one really elite player added in. We don’t know living outside the four walls how much of a play the Saints really made for Nat Fyfe or Dustin Martin this year, but they would have been absolutely perfect for this purpose.

    After this, St Kilda have youth coming through that is the combination of their heavy investment at the draft over the past few years along with a few more trade recruits.

    Tim Membrey (23), Luke Dunstan, Jack Sinclair, Nathan Freeman, Jack Billings (all 22), Blake Acres, Jack Steele, Paddy McCartin, Daniel McKenzie, Jack Lonie, Hugh Goddard (all 21), Ben Long and Jade Gresham (both 20) are the key players in this group.

    The problem for the Saints so far is that so many of them have been wildly unlucky with injury, and others just haven’t shown as much quality form as you’d like to see by now – Paddy McCartin somehow having the misfortune to be in both groups.

    As a result, Jack Billings and Tim Membrey are the only ones so far from this group to have really cemented themselves as star players. However, it would be foolish to give up too early on any of them – with a bit of patience, many of them will come good.

    Jack Billings St Kilda Saints AFL 2015

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    St Kilda players by age
    Nick Riewoldt – 34yr 10mth
    Leigh Montagna – 33yr 10mth
    Sean Dempster – 33yr 7mth
    Sam Gilbert – 31yr
    David Armitage – 29yr 2mth
    Jarryn Geary – 29yr 2mth
    Nathan Brown – 28yr 8mth
    Jason Holmes (R) – 27yr 10mth
    Jack Steven – 27yr 5mth
    Shane Savage – 26yr 7mth
    Tom Hickey – 26yr 5mth
    Koby Stevens – 26yr 2mth
    Dylan Roberton – 26yr 2mth
    Jake Carlisle – 25yr 11mth
    Maverick Weller – 25yr 6mth
    Josh Bruce – 25yr 2mth
    Jake Newnes – 24yr 6mth
    Sebastian Ross – 24yr 3mth
    Billy Longer – 24yr 3mth
    Jimmy Webster – 24yr 2mth
    Darren Minchington – 23yr 8mth
    Nathan Wright – 23yr 6mth
    Tim Membrey – 23yr 3mth
    Ray Connellan (R) – 23yr 2mth
    Lewis Pierce – 22yr 9mth
    Luke Dunstan – 22yr 7mth
    Jack Sinclair – 22yr 6mth
    Nathan Freeman – 22yr 2mth
    Jack Billings – 22yr
    Blake Acres – 21yr 10mth
    Rowan Marshall (R) – 21yr 9mth
    Jack Steele – 21yr 8mth
    Patrick McCartin – 21yr 4mth
    Daniel McKenzie – 21yr 3mth
    Jack Lonie – 21yr
    Hugh Goddard – 21yr
    Nick Coughlan (R) – 20yr 11mth
    Brandon White – 20yr 7mth
    Bailey Rice – 20yr 6mth
    Nick O’Kearney (R) – 20yr 6mth
    Darragh Joyce (R) – 20yr 4mth
    Ben Long – 20yr
    Jade Gresham – 20yr
    Ed Phillips – 19yr 5mth
    Josh Battle – 19yr

    Tim Membrey of the Saints

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    The Saints have three players out of contract at the moment who require immediate attention. These are Dylan Roberton, Shane Savage and Jack Lonie.

    Roberton has had a brilliant season, enough to be named in the All Australian squad of 40, but still finds himself without a deal for 2018.

    The Saints obviously will want to retain him, the difficulty will be in working out what is an appropriate size of deal in terms of length and remuneration given his unexpectedly elite form.

    Savage, on the other hand, had a bit of an average year, even being dropped to the VFL for a while when his form wasn’t passing muster.

    He offers some class and a penetrating kick that the Saints just don’t have enough of to let him slip, so expect something to get done here as well.

    Jack Lonie burst onto the scene early in his career but has stagnated in the time since. You wouldn’t want to give up on him this quickly and suspect he too gets a new deal.

    Looking ahead to 2018, Blake Acres will be one to lock away soon as the WA clubs will start sniffing around if he starts the season without a new deal in place.

    Paddy McCartin as well will have other clubs quickly leaving him voicemails if not locked up for the long term, so would also be a priority re-signing.

    Paddy McCartin St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    St Kilda players by contract status
    Josh Bruce
    Jack Steven

    David Armitage
    Josh Battle
    Jack Billings
    Jake Carlisle
    Luke Dunstan
    Jarryn Geary
    Jade Gresham
    Tom Hickey
    Ben Long
    Daniel McKenzie
    Tim Membrey
    Jack Newnes
    Bailey Rice
    Jack Sinclair
    Jimmy Webster

    Blake Acres
    Nathan Brown
    Sam Gilbert
    Hugh Goddard
    Billy Longer
    Paddy McCartin
    Darren Minchington
    Ed Phillips
    Lewis Pierce
    Sebastian Ross
    Maverick Weller
    Nathan Wright

    Out of contract
    Nick Coughlan (R)
    Ray Connellan (R)
    Sean Dempster
    Jason Holmes (R)
    Darragh Joyce (R)
    Jack Lonie
    Rowan Marshall (R)
    Leigh Montagna
    Nick O’Kearney (R)
    Nick Riewoldt
    Dylan Roberton
    Shane Savage

    Nathan Freeman
    Jack Steele
    Koby Stevens

    Jack Steven St Kilda Saints AFL 2016 2

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Delistings and retirements

    Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster have already confirmed their retirements.

    That, theoretically, gives the Saints the three open list spots they need for the draft without the need for delistings, assuming they don’t want to bring in any other players.

    If they do, then they face a hard decision on how to make room for them, as aside from their rookie-listers there’s not much in the way of out-of-contract players they’d be happy to part with.

    They might even need to look at trading away a contracted player who they feel they can do without just to create list space.

    Free agency

    The Saints don’t have any free agents this year, with all those players who were eligible either signing new deals with the club or retiring.

    They were seen as potential players in the market at the start of the year with rumours of heavy interest in both Nat Fyfe and Dustin Martin as possible additions, but both have re-signed with their respective clubs.

    Tom Rockliff, Jackson Trengove and Steven Motlop are the three reasonably-sized fish left in the free agency pool at this point, and should perhaps all be of some interest to the Saints.

    However Rockliff is probably too similar to their current wealth of inside midfielders, and Trengove and Motlop not in good enough form to justify really splashing the cash.

    They may be best off saving their funds to go after a really big piece in 2018 or later, rather than simply taking the best available now just because it is there.

    Trade period

    More than anyone else, St Kilda’s big target this year will be out-of-contract Giant Josh Kelly.

    Josh Kelly GWS Giants AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    Kelly would be the perfect addition to the Saints – a superstar midfielder who offers the class that they badly need, and at only 22 years of age he could be the centrepiece of their youth generation.

    Obviously they are just one of several clubs in the mix to get him, but if he does give them the nod as his preferred destination it will be a major coup.

    The only problem then is the cost of trading him in – the Giants would likely ask for both of their top ten picks this year, and it’s not unreasonable to do so.

    The ideal scenario for the Saints would be to find a way to crack a deal with the Giants where they don’t pay quite this much, or if they do, they get back something nice the other way as well – perhaps Matthew Kennedy.

    There’s also been a bit of talk about them going after Lachie Whitfield, but he is contracted for next year and this seems to have gone a bit cold – though he’d be a fine addition.


    First three rounds: 7, 8, 44.

    Thanks to their canny trade with the Hawks last year, Saints fans know that they will either land a big fish at the trade table or make another significant investment into the draft this year.

    If they do then their clear biggest need is midfield class. They’ve got a lot of grunters and grinders, and they need to balance this out.

    The two players I’d be looking at here are Jaidyn Stephenson and Jack Higgins. These two make an interesting pair – Stephenson is 189cm, Higgins 178cm – and they’re both known for their ability to drift forward and kick goals.

    The only potential concern would be with Higgins as an undersized midfielder, that he might be too similar to existing players Jack Billings and Jade Gresham. These players can still fit into modern footy, but not often too many of them in one midfield.

    It also wouldn’t surprise to see the Saints place a bid on Richmond father-son Patrick Naish, a light-bodied winger would suit St Kilda, but the Tigers will surely match if they do.


    Why did the Saints disappoint this year? Personally, I believe it’s because they still relied significantly on getting consistent performances from the likes of Riewoldt and Montagna. They were unable to deliver it, and the next gen weren’t quite ready to stand up.

    Nick Riewoldt St Kilda Saints AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    There should definitely be concerns about the quality of the middle tier. The Saints have done a fine job at the trade table for the most part but there’s only so much you can do trying to fill such a big gap on your list on the run.

    The youth are also giving the fans headaches at the moment – but don’t make any rash decisions, and just give them time. Not all of them will come good, but most of them will.

    If the Saints still want to win their second flag by 2020 then they’re likely going to need more talent still added to that middle tier and, having not picked up either Fyfe or Martin, it’s hard to say where that might come from.

    I suspect the more likely result is that their next real premiership assault will come when it is the current youth have all hit their prime and become the core of the team. That may take a bit longer, but likely has greater odds of success.

    This would most likely see them really challenging for a flag around, say, 2022-2027, though they could easily crack into finals well before that, perhaps as soon as next year.

    If the Saints can bring in Josh Kelly this off-season, great – he will be the central figure that generation of youth builds around and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him become a future captain of the club if so.

    If Kelly says no and instead the Saints take two top ten picks to the draft and pick up a pair of classy midfielders, that result is almost equally as good, and possibly even better if the selections really break the mould – albeit with less immediate impact.

    Despite a disappointing season, if those in power at St Kilda stick to their guns and continue to make good decisions then fans will sooner or later get the taste of success they crave.

    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 (22)

    • Roar Guru

      September 4th 2017 @ 1:21pm
      TomC said | September 4th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

      I don’t particularly rate St Kilda’s current list, so they slightly exceeded my expectations this year.

      It’s promising that they are making some progress with some of those 20-24 year old players who at different times have looked like they might slip into obscurity: Ross and Billings obviously, and also Acres, Longer, Dunstan, and Membrey showed improvement.

      There were some disappointments though: Weller and McCartin head this list, but there’s also a slew of players who seem to be drifting towards maturity without fully demonstrating they belong at AFL level: Wright, Minchington, Webster, McKenzie.

      They’re trying to rebuild without a particularly strong generation of 25-30 year olds, and it’s tough. They need most things to go right, and I don’t think things are going right enough.

      • Roar Guru

        September 4th 2017 @ 1:58pm
        AdelaideDocker said | September 4th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        I’d argue that the younger Weller – Lachie – is making bigger strides at Freo than his brother is at the Saints.

        But yeah, I’ve sorta adopted the Saints as a ‘second’ team – why do I torture myself? – and I can’t disagree with much of what you’ve said.

        They’ll be intriguing to watch next year.

        • Roar Guru

          September 4th 2017 @ 2:07pm
          TomC said | September 4th 2017 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

          Maverick looked like he might have been on the verge of breaking out. He had some really exciting games late in 2016, playing a similar role to Toby Greene at the Giants.

          But more and more it looks like he’s the sort of player who has the occasional big game, but mostly you’re not even sure if he’s playing.

          I have a soft spot for the Saints too, but I can’t bring myself to get excited about them.

          And judging by the lack of comments on this article, I’m not the only one who is uninspired.

          • September 4th 2017 @ 2:24pm
            Mattyb said | September 4th 2017 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

            Tom,your comments are spot on. I think StKilda are about where I expect them to be. I remember leading into the season I was uninspired but many people were really pumping the Saints right up,but it just didn’t happen and I don’t think it will next year wither.
            On the plus side they are well placed this year to draft or trade for some talented players.

      • Editor

        September 4th 2017 @ 4:19pm
        Josh Elliott said | September 4th 2017 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

        In the Saints’ defense, what team is a match for a good old fashioned Collingwood hot take?

        Wright, Webster and Minchington I can’t say I have ever seen as promising. McKenzie I like but like many he needs to have more impact.

        I agree generally though Tom, a lot of it is on potential at the moment and you would generally like to have seen more from the kids than we have so far. I think we will in time but it’s definitely very much a work in progress.

        Amazing how quickly they have slipped from being media darlings – read just last week on the AFL site that Carlton are better placed for success according to the industry at large, on what basis I have no idea.

        • Roar Guru

          September 4th 2017 @ 4:27pm
          TomC said | September 4th 2017 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

          I saw that too about the ‘industry at large’. It sounded like an extremely stupid thing to put in what was ostensibly a news article.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 3:21pm
      Brayden Rise said | September 4th 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

      Just wondering what’s going on with Nathan Freeman? He has had two years at the Pies, then two years now at the Saints and is still yet to debut? I read during the season he was regularly getting a stack of possessions at Sandy but the Saints still not playing him? Any Saints fans I would love to know. A former top ten pick the kid deserves a break. He left the Pies for more opportunity but 4 years now in the system and still 0 AFL games.

      • Roar Guru

        September 4th 2017 @ 4:11pm
        Paul D said | September 4th 2017 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

        Persistent hamstring injuries. His body hasn’t been able to withstand the rigours of AFL footy as yet. They’re hoping next year for him.

      • Editor

        September 4th 2017 @ 4:20pm
        Josh Elliott said | September 4th 2017 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

        He was getting fairly close at the end of this year before an ankle injury, which is a bummer but at least it’s not the hamstring again. Every chance for Round 1 2018 if luck goes his way.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 7:23pm
      austinnn said | September 4th 2017 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

      I’d say this analysis is pretty fair. Most of us Saints fans are pinning our hopes on the youngsters all developing together in the way that the Cats squad did around 13 years ago. We have a lot of solid citizens at our club who we believe can get the best out of each other and provide a solid foundation, but we’re still looking for a little more cream.

      Personally, I think there are a few players at St Kilda who go largely unnoticed by the wider AFL community who are ready to really make the competition sit up and take notice, if they follow their current tragectory.

      Jack Sinclair was picked up as a rookie and is best known as the best mate of his more-fêted teammate and namesake Jack Billings. He has always been a classy disposer and pretty good in front of the sticks too, but until this year was unable to get sufficiently involved. He might have found his position on the wing and although a different type of player, with his unflustered attitude and eviscerating disposal he has the potential to be as instrumental to his team’s attack as the most famous name on his locker door, the great Robert Harvey. We can only hope.

      Brandon White is a player that is only 2 years into his career, but looks assured of a spot in the 2018 defence. He’s played around 4 games but fans can see that he’s a good decision maker, has a great kick and can handle the rough stuff. I’d imagine that with his size, we’ll be looking at using him more in Sam Gilbert’s previous role, but wherever he is, he’ll provide the team with bags of assurance and cause plenty of opposition turnovers.

      Finally, Blake Acres is something of a cult in Saints fan circles. Despite being drafted in the same year as Luke Dunstan, he’s been in the seniors far less, and has been identified as something of a “slow burn”. The footy world has seen glimpses of what he offers; the effortless breaking of tackles, finding good space, his ability to take the game on and drive attacks, and something our club desperately needs; consistently nailing set shots on goal. His consistency and focus has been deemed the things that are holding him back, but you’d expect them to improve with experience. A great size for a midfielder, his ceiling is high and in the best case scenario he becomes St Kilda’s wildcard.

      There are just 3 names picked from a big list, and of course any fan can make such a case for players that outsiders might not sniff at, but if you’re interested in St Kilda and wondering what they can be, then you should look for those names in coming years, alongside the more expected ones like Billings, Gresham, McCartin, etc.

    • Roar Guru

      September 4th 2017 @ 7:57pm
      gameofmarks said | September 4th 2017 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

      Just heard on SEN that STK are interested in Gaff from WCE and prepared to give up pick 7 or 8. If I was List Manager at WCE I would go for it and try and get Lonie in the deal.

      • Roar Rookie

        September 4th 2017 @ 8:33pm
        Brynn O'Connor said | September 4th 2017 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

        It’s a weak draft year @gameofmarks. I don’t think the Eagles would entertain the idea of trading someone like Gaff.

      • September 5th 2017 @ 5:11pm
        TJ said | September 5th 2017 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

        Pick 8 and Lonie for Gaff would be done in a heartbeat.

    • Roar Rookie

      September 4th 2017 @ 8:32pm
      Brynn O'Connor said | September 4th 2017 @ 8:32pm | ! Report

      Great article Josh. In my simple termed opinion, the Saints lack a quality midfield brigade. Steven had a down year, which exposed a gaping hole in the consistency and ability of their on-ballers. No matter how committed and serviceable they are, you can’t see the Saints middle tier helping the club deliver a flag. I feel the Saints need a big name recruit to spark their list and give it some A-grade quality.

    • Roar Rookie

      September 4th 2017 @ 8:32pm
      Brynn O'Connor said | September 4th 2017 @ 8:32pm | ! Report

      Great article Josh. In my simple termed opinion, the Saints lack a quality midfield brigade. Steven had a down year, which exposed a gaping hole in the consistency and ability of their on-ballers. No matter how committed and serviceable they are, you can’t see the Saints middle tier helping the club deliver a flag. I feel the Saints need a big name recruit to spark their list and give it some A-grade quality.