It’s a crucial 2018 season for the St Kilda Saints, which kicks off at Ikon Park when they face the Carlton Blues. Join The Roar for live scores and coverage from 7:10pm (AEDT).
Since walking into a club in turmoil at the end of 2013, Alan Richardson has overseen a steady rebuild which has resulted in the Saints slowly climbing up the ladder.
But crunch time has come for him, and no less than a first finals berth since 2011 will satisfy fans.
The retirement of club greats Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna at the end of last year leaves an obvious dearth of big-game experience, with Sam Gilbert the last remaining link to their 2010 grand final side. With only five players (Gilbert, captain Jarryn Geary, Jack Steven, David Armitage and Jack Newnes) having reached 100 games for the club, losing a combined 623 games and 873 goals’ worth of experience will undoubtedly have an impact.
It’s also a huge year for Paddy McCartin, the 2014 No.1 draft pick having underwhelmed in his first three seasons. With no Riewoldt up forward, the opportunity is there for the 21-year-old to form a potent key forward combination with regulars Josh Bruce and Tim Membrey.
While most pundits expect the Blues to finish in the bottom six once again, Brendon Bolton’s men must also be feeling the first hints of expectation from fans after a period of consolidation in the post-Mick Malthouse era.
The Blues have shown plenty of promise in their 44 games under Bolton, notching inspiring victories over Geelong and the Giants, but with only 13 victories over that period, supporters must be hoping for a few more chances to sing the song in 2018.
Crucially though, star rebounding defender Sam Docherty will miss 2018 after rupturing his ACL in the pre-season, and with partner-in-crime Kade Simpson nearing the end of his glittering career, the onus will be on the likes of Ciaran Byrne, Tom Williamson and Lachie Plowman to make the half-back position their own.
Both sides are almost at full strength, with only Sam Rowe and Darcy Lang (Carlton) and Jack Billings and Josh Bruce (St Kilda) likely best-22 players sitting out. With that in mind, the Saints are much more advanced in their development than the Blues, and should win comfortably.
St Kilda by 36 points
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