The St Kilda Saints finished 14th on the 2019 AFL ladder, but they did manage to amass nine wins for the season, which is a fairly respectable record.
Fallen West Australian great Ben Cousins is a polarising figure, both beloved and disregarded by many Australia-wide.
The ‘Prince of Perth’, widely renowned as one of the best players in the league at the time, was at the peak of his powers during the 2005-06 seasons.
Cousins was awarded the game’s highest individual award, the Brownlow, in 2005 and led his team, the West Coast Eagles, to premiership glory in 2006.
Ben Cousins was the 100th player to represent the Eagles. He polled Brownlow votes in every year he played, and fewer than 100 players have ever had over 6000 disposals. These fresh stats come courtesy of the legends over at Useless AFL Stats on Facebook.
But then everything began to fall apart in 2007. He was arrested for drug possession and the entire Cousins mess was ready to tragically unfold publicly.
We all know how far Cousins has fallen, and to rehash it wouldn’t only bore the socks off of you, the reader, but also off of myself. Note, I say this while writing in self-isolation, knowing full well that almost anything is better than being home stricken at the moment.
Cousins’s career was cut short when the West Coast Eagles delisted him in 2008. Realistically his playing days looked to be a shallow memory. His reputation had suffered a battering and was not too dissimilar to a medieval-style execution. Public and brutal.
But Cousins was cleared by the AFL Commission to continue playing in 2009. Looking for a new club to call home, Ben was perused by several clubs.
The history books will tell you that the Tigers won the race for his signature. However, the Saints – under Ross Lyon’s tenure – were also keen on securing Cousins and in fact were a lot closer to sealing the deal than the general public might be aware.
On Damian Barrett’s In the Game podcast, Ross Lyon divulged new information regarding the Saints and their near-acquisition of Cousins. The topical conversation starter was prompted by Barrett off the back of the ‘tell-all interview’ between Ben Cousins and Basil Zempilas broadcast on Channel Seven in late March.
“We had a number of meetings with Ben, we flew over with Fraser Gehrig to Perth… met with Ben, had dinner with Ben,” said Lyon.
It wasn’t just Ross who entertained the idea of Cousins being a good fit for the Saints. The playing list wanted it.
“The players were really keen to get Ben,” Lyon said.
Even the St Kilda board mulled over the thought of having Ben in Saints colours and what that could do for the club’s commercial potential.
“We went to a board meeting… commercially for the club it was going to be a boom, a membership spike,” Lyon explained.
Amid the unfolding situation, Lyon took it upon himself to research drug addiction and different substances. The liabilities that arrive with drug addiction became apparent to the coach and then-club president Greg Westaway.
How was Cousins going to react to a potential move to the Saints?
Top Four Next Year has been fortunate enough to chat with Ricky Nixon, who was Ben Cousins’s player agent at the time.
Nixon shed some light on Cousins’s potential move to the Saints and explains, “He went way closer [to ending up at the Saints] than people think”.
Nixon continues: “A friend who owned a restaurant there [Point Lonsdale in Victoria] closed it off for the night so that we would have a private dinner with the Saints coach, assistants and CEO.”
Essentially, the decision to sign Cousins went to a vote among the powerbrokers within the club, including both senior coach and president.
Eventually, the answer from the voting group was no.
The struggles that someone with a past like Ben Cousins faces on a daily basis and his addiction were just too much for the St Kilda to contend with, thus pulling the pin.
Off the back of the failed Cousins signing, the Saints exploded in 2009. They finished the season as minor premiers and played in only two losses for the year. Eventually they finished runner-up in both 2009 and 2010 grand finals.
Although impressing the league as a dominant team in both 2009 and 2010 is important for the club’s image, the Saints were never able to capitalise on their opportunities and end the season as premiers.
Could the Saints have gone to the next level with Cousins in that star-studded midfield? Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, Brendon Goddard, Nick Dal Santo, and Cousins. It sounds awfully good, doesn’t it?
We will never really know if Cousins would’ve been the defining factor in delivering a second premiership cup to Moorabbin. We can speculate, though, and as we know, everyone has an opinion.
For me, no, Ben Cousins would not have changed everything for the Saints.
To put it frankly, while Cousins was okay-ish for the Tigers, he wasn’t the smooth moving, Brownlow-winning superstar that he was at the Eagles. He had hamstring problems, not to mention the off-field issues mentioned earlier. He was a massive distraction.
Richmond finished second last in the two years he was at the club.
To say Cousins could’ve pre-empted and intervened in Matthew Scarlett’s toe-poking of the ball to Gary Ablett in the middle of the MCG in what is one of the greatest grand final moments of all time isn’t fair to that St Kilda team at the time.
The same goes for the drama-filled grand final draw in 2010 and the incredible storyline that had to unfold to give fans the first grand final replay since 1977.
Just a quick shout-out to Brendon Goddard’s incredible mark and Triple M’s great call here. The Saints really were quite stiff not to win this one.
That 2009-10 Saints team will likely go down as one of the unluckiest sides of the modern era, a team with uber potential narrowly missing out when it counted on the day of the big dance.
All in all, the archives show Cousins as an Eagle turned Tiger, and not a Saint. Yet it is interesting to reflect and ponder on what could have been.