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Drowning in a pool of finals contenders, the Saints can still save their season

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Expert
3rd July, 2019
11

If the Saints want to take part in finals action, their 2019 campaign needs to shift gears dramatically against the Roos in a do-or-die encounter this week.

After a surprising 4-1 start, the Saints have produced two wins and seven losses since then with victories against wooden spoon favourites the Blues and the Suns by less than a goal. They produced a spirited half of football against the Tigers on the weekend but succumbed to their consistency and pressure.

In what’s been a regular theme, the Saints’ intensity fell away and they could only manage three goals after the main break, losing by 33 points. At 6-8 their season isn’t lost but pressure continues to be heaped on head coach Alan Richardson to figure out how to swing momentum back and find that winning formula that made his team successful in the early stages of the season.

When St Kilda beat the Hawks by five and the Demons by 40, most thought they would feature in post-season football. Yes, it was early days, but signs were good and the numbers were telling: +13 in clearances against the Hawks; +14 in rebound 50s.

Even as recent as the Eagles 18-point loss, a game in which they kicked 4.2 to 1.8 in the last term to make it a contest, the Saints still looked like they could play finals. Even with their growing hospital ward. But now it’s far less certain.

Dan Hannebery

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

As with any season you need luck with injuries if you want to both make finals and go deep into September. This is a side which has lost a string of key players in Jimmy Webster, Paddy McCartin, Dylan Roberton, Dean Kent, Max King and Jack Steven – four of those for the season.

They’ve used 37 players this season – the most out of any AFL club along with the Tigers and Demons. These outs have compounded their on-field form, both in attack and defence and highlighted a lack of depth. It turned an opportunistic, energetic and quick-moving team into a delicate outfit that can’t finish and are barely hanging onto finals hopes.

Against the Pies in Round 9, St Kilda piled on 4.9 in the first half to 6.2, only to melt under pressure and lose the final quarter by 36. And that’s been the tale for them this season.

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Without key personnel, without depth, the Saints haven’t been able to play consistent football, leaving them open to leaking goals and unable to defend teams who use the ball more efficiently. They are ranked 14th for points for and second for points conceded.

Alan Richardson

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Richardson’s team have glaring holes at both ends of the ground, ranked 14th for inside 50s and 17th for rebound 50s. The forward line’s lack of quality smalls and more marking options are obvious, and it feels like they’re also a few defenders short.

The good news: the future is bright. Richardson is getting a good look at his list and players like Josh Battle, who’s the fourth best ball winner of the rookies, he will help lift the Saints from mediocre to contenders. On paper, they have serious talent: Seb Ross, Jack Billings, Jack Steele, Jade Gresham and Shane Savage.

This core has played pivotal roles in the Saints’ wins this year and have kept them competitive. And they’re performing in key statistical categories like disposal efficiency (ranked fourth) and tackles (ninth). Then there are the intangibles like flair, toughness and speed. They have those things too.

We all saw what the Roos did to the Pies, and that’s what confronts the Saints this week. North Melbourne head into this week as raging favourites at $1.25 for the win. They will take some beating.

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But St Kilda can get back on track to prolong their season with a win. Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce (who have kicked 44 goals between them) will need to kick a winning score. Jake Carlisle must blanket Ben Brown. And the entire side have to stand up instead of letting things fall apart just when the arm wrestle gets hard.

The next five weeks will determine whether Richardson can get his team playing finals or not. And looking ahead they have a challenging, but not terrible, run. They take on the in-form Kangaroos (who are 4-1 from their last five) and the league-leading Cats before facing the Bulldogs, Demons, and Crows in Adelaide.

They need a minimum of three wins from that group, which means beating the Cats or the Crows. It hasn’t been the perfect season and just as they are starting to look like a team that is drowning, funnily enough, a win against the Roos should ignite some momentum and keep their finals hopes alive.

If they lose, their finals window will be much smaller indeed.