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Can St Kilda finally be more than just a finals contender?

Jarryd Barca Roar Rookie

By Jarryd Barca, Jarryd Barca is a Roar Rookie

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    Extinguishing the outside noise regarding St Kilda’s lacklustre 2017 campaign and mystery surrounding its 2018 potential will be St Kilda’s biggest mountain to climb this year.

    As if just missing September action by a whisker two years in a row was hard enough; Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster have all pulled the plug on their decorated careers.

    Over to you, youth and hope.

    It’s possible that the Saints overperformed in 2016 – missing the finals by percentage alone – which gave many people false hope about their 2017 prospects.

    But they were still good enough, once sitting seventh with a 9-6 record (equal with the Tigers), especially looking back at the Round 16 blitzing of eventual premiers Richmond.

    The Tigers’ solitary goal in the first half was a far cry from St Kilda’s 14, with the Saints dominating and leading by 82 points at that stage.

    It was scintillating, their best football of the season, but their September pursuit slowly tumbled from that moment.

    St Kilda registered just two more wins for the remainder of the season, finishing with a percentage of 83 across the final seven home-and-away matches.

    With the difference between their best and worst evidently stark, it leaves the Saints as one of the most intriguing sides coming into 2018.

    Statistically they could have performed better – the Saints ranked 17th in the competition for goal kicking accuracy, while in scores per inside 50 they were third.

    Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. The fact is we can make a case like this for most teams in the competition.

    In hindsight, it’s clear what the Saints lacked.

    For many pundits, a team’s season and premiership hopes could depend on the amount of A-graders they have on their lists.

    And it is this informal categorisation that could be at the forefront of St Kilda’s problems.

    In fact, according to the 2018 AFL Prospectus, Jack Sinclair is the only ‘elite’ player on the St Kilda list, ranked as the number one wingman in the competition according to Champion Data’s formula.

    Outside of Jack Steven, the Saints clearly lack pace and drive through the middle of the park.

    It’s fair to say that Seb Ross had a career-best season after averaging nearly 30 disposals per game and ranking sixth in the competition in that category.

    But he doesn’t impact games as much as he could, given his elite ball-winning ability.

    Lacking explosiveness, Ross had the sixth-worst clearance differential of the top-50 midfielders in the AFL for centre bounce attendance, while he rates below the competition average for overall pressure according to Champion Data.

    Saints coach Alan Richardson quashed suggestions his side lacks A-grade talent and, according to AFL.com.au, is adamant that a host of his players will take the next step in their careers this season.

    “There’s been a fair bit of talk about the no A-graders about our list … all I would say to that is ‘yet’,” Richardson told the AFL website.

    “We wouldn’t have spoken about Ross or (Dylan) Roberton the year before as blokes who could have a real influence on the game and they were in the All Australian conversation.

    “We’ve got the talent there and that’s our job as coaches, to get them to maximise their potential.”

    A lot of St Kilda’s aspirations could potentially depend on whether luckless midfielder Nathan Freeman can finally make his AFL debut. From all reports, Freeman is putting together a strong pre-season campaign and impressed during the club’s intra-club match.

    2017 first-round draft pick duo Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield also have the very attributes the Saints could utilise and unleashing them into the middle of the ground could be a hidden ace up Richardson’s sleeve. But they do come in with zero experience.

    Jarryn Geary St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

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

    “When that happens will be up to them really (playing in the midfield) … our want is to give them a run and expose them to some footy in the JLT games,” Richardson said.

    “Our fans are going to like watching them play. They’ve been exciting through pre-season so far.”

    With Riewoldt gone, the onus is on Josh Bruce and Tim Membrey to have a big aerial impact in the forward half, while Paddy McCartin will clearly have a lot of pressure after failing to break out thus far in his short career.

    But it’s no worries, with Richardson confident all three players have the attributes to take the next step and form a formidable forward line trio.

    “We all know he (McCartin) needs a little bit of luck now, but we think he’s got himself in really good shape and he’s doing everything right,” he said

    “We have two big forwards in Bruce and Paddy and Membrey is a bit of both.

    “That gives us some real flexibility and we’re getting some real depth with our small forwards.

    “I like the way that’s come together and it has the potential to be a real powerful part of our set-up.”

    It’s clear the Saints are confident with their chances of featuring in September. With natural improvement to come from players such as Jack Newnes, Luke Dunstan, Jack Billings, Jack Steele, Blake Acres, Luke Dunstan and Jade Gresham, it’s obvious there is enough talent to cause plenty of sides headaches throughout the season.

    There’s a lot of questions, but St Kilda’s best 22 is a very good 22.

    They also begin the season with interesting matches, facing North Melbourne in Round 2, hosting Adelaide in Round 3, travelling to Geelong in Round 4 and to Tasmania in Round 6 to tackle the Hawks.

    Jack Steele Josh Bruce St Kilda Saints AFL 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    The Saints have only won two of their past eight matches against North, with both of those wins coming during a 2017 North fans would like to forget.

    They have failed to register a win against the Crows seven outings in a row, while they have beaten Geelong just once in their past eight encounters.

    The Round 4 clash will be played at the new-look GMHBA Stadium and the Saints haven’t won in Geelong since 1999.

    Then they travel to Tasmania in Round 6 to face a Hawthorn side that has had no troubles discarding the Saints nearly 86 per cent of the time since 2011.

    It shows that, coming into his fifth season at the helm, Richardson faces an uphill battle in a year where his side’s football desperately needs to start doing the talking.

    Can the players making up the second youngest side in terms of games played in the AFL take the next step in their careers and fill a salient void left by three St Kilda greats? If so, they’re finals bound.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • February 20th 2018 @ 8:15am
      Reservoir Animal said | February 20th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      The big question- who will go further this year out of Melbourne and St Kilda?

      • February 20th 2018 @ 11:08am
        Trevor said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Melbourne could win the lot, the Saints will probably be fighting for the spoon. No contest really.

        • February 20th 2018 @ 9:25pm
          Don Freo said | February 20th 2018 @ 9:25pm | ! Report

          I’m there too, Trevor. Melbourne will be up there.

          I don’t get why so many keep The Saints hovering around contention. They have just had 2 of their stars retire and have replaced them with other club cast offs.

          They’ll be making up the numbers. Alan Richardson has had a charmed run with the critics.

    • Roar Guru

      February 20th 2018 @ 10:20am
      Cat said | February 20th 2018 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      I can’t see Saints playing finals. I think they will finish in the 10-12 range.

      • February 22nd 2018 @ 6:00pm
        prince igor said | February 22nd 2018 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

        Im with you the Saints in their usual hisotrical postiton in the bottom half of the ladder.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 10:40am
      Harsh Truth Harry said | February 20th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      The short answer is no. For once in my life I agree with Cat. 10-14 for the Saints, a bit of a nothing list now like the once great Hawks.

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 2:18pm
        JamesH said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

        How are they going to play 24 matches?!?!? Make the top 4 with just 10 wins and then go out in straight sets?

        • Roar Guru

          February 20th 2018 @ 2:27pm
          Cat said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

          If you look at his reply in reference to my earlier one, I think it becomes quite obvious Harry meant finish in the 10-14 range.

    • Roar Guru

      February 20th 2018 @ 11:07am
      TomC said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:07am | ! Report

      I find it hard to look at the Saints’ list and identify the players that are really going to drive them up the ladder in the next few years. Billings is an obvious one. Dunstan looks likely. Acres and Gresham maybe.

      There are plenty of useful players; Membrey is underrated, Ross is reasonable at what he does but no superstar, Longer is a serviceable ruckman. It’s just hard to imagine a team built around the names they currently have on their list winning a premiership.

      But honestly that was true for Richmond as recently as a year ago.

    • Roar Guru

      February 20th 2018 @ 11:52am
      Paul Dawson said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:52am | ! Report

      Short answer – no. Not enough class on the list, and McCartin’s ongoing concussion issues have really stuffed them, I’m not sure he’s ever going to be a force in AFL and when you spend pick 1 on a non-entity, well, that burns.

      Burns almost as much as blowing pick 2 on someone who is apparently dead keen to follow in his dad’s footsteps, but turns out he just wants to follow mummy around and hold onto her skirt.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 2:25pm
      mattyb said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

      Haha Paul,bit harsh on Schache but probably not to far off,I can understand why you’d be aggrieved.
      Plenty of people a the dogs not overly sure about the pick up,especially when we got rid of a player with a questionable attitude only to bring in another who does. The low quality of that draft year lowers eyebrows slightly,but still.

      Don’t be to harsh on the Lions here,plenty of high draft picks don’t make it or only become serviceable,while plenty of lower picks and even rookies become stars.

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