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All signs point to Ross Lyon's Saints going 5-0

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15th April, 2023

Heading into the season, there were uncertainties around both Collingwood and St Kilda regarding how they would perform.

There were early questions raised around Ross Lyon and whether he would be capable of replicating his impressive coaching mastery from his first stint at the club.

Now, after four wins and an undefeated start to 2023, a lot more people are clearer about their opinions about them, as the ‘dark horse’ tag continues to simmer in conversation and with very good reason. 

The Pies well and truly exceeded expectations last season thanks vastly to the incredible work of Craig McRae and his ability to instil an identity and blueprint consisting of a fast and attacking brand of footy with pressure applied all over the field.

Doubts crept in about whether they could carry that form into the new season with higher standards set, and they proved to be up to the task in the first few rounds where they played some scintillating footy, so well in fact, that it suddenly moved them up to premiership favourites.

Bobby Hill of the Magpies celebrates a goal.

Bobby Hill of the Magpies celebrates a goal. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

How a week can turn the opinions and perceptions of a team, though. The 33-point loss suffered against the Lions at the Gabba last round somewhat burst Collingwood’s perfect bubble of invincibility. Chris Fagan’s men were able to exploit some weaknesses in the Pies’ structure by picking out pockets of space as a result of gaining more territory and dominating the midfield and stoppages.

Those stoppage wins were ultimately down to Collingwood’s current crisis they find themselves in as they are forced to make do without their ruckmen Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox for a number of weeks due to injury, allowing Lions ruckman Oscar McInerney the freedom to dominate, getting to 70 contests and winning 43 hit-outs.


One loss and one bad performance will not be the defining moment for them. They will bounce back throughout the rest of the campaign. As I expressed my view before Round 1, Collingwood will prove that they are not a one-hit-wonder.

However, that inevitable bounce back will have to wait at least another week.

Under Lyon, the Saints’ impressive discovery of their defensive identity so early in the season is a credit to both the coaching staff and the playing group.

After the opening four rounds, they’ve conceded an average of 56.75 points per game and achieved long streaks of shutting out opponents such as not conceding in 99 minutes of actual game time combining the first two rounds and conceding their first major against the Bombers with under five minutes remaining in the first quarter. The likes of Douglas Howard and Josh Battle commanding the defensive 50 and denying opposition to play fast footy has been key.

For some time now we have been accustomed to this new modern era of football where most teams are trying to play with high intensity and quick ball movement, which is why the Pies are such a threat to the competition. 

Could it be, though, that they haven’t come up against a team so well defensively drilled than the Saints so far under McRae’s reign?


St Kilda has averaged 46 more disposals and 28 more marks than their upcoming opponents, pointing towards having more control over the game and being aware of taking the sting out of things when required. On the contrary, the Pies have faced tougher opposition so far and their fast transitional game style involves more handballs.

In saying that, the Saints are far from boring and rely heavily on their defence to create turnovers and counter quick transitional plays from half-back going forward which has helped them rack up some big scores this season. No doubt they have the pieces to make it a real contest on Sunday, as the average tackling numbers also provide an interesting dynamic, with the Pies only averaging 1.5 more tackles than the Saints, pointing at the likelihood of St Kilda being able to put up a physical battle spearheaded by the likes of Brad Crouch and Sebastian Ross.

Brad Crouch of the Saints runs with the ball

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

What’s also worth highlighting is the impressive work rate that understandably goes unnoticed during play. The top two ranked players in the AFL for distance covered in 2023 are two Saints players, Ryan Byrnes and Jack Sinclair which is no surprise considering how well the team hunts in packs and applies incredible amounts of pressure.

Going back to the ruck crisis at Collingwood, McRae admitted that it’s an unfortunate situation that his side must learn to deal with moving forward.

“We’ve got what we’ve got and we just have to work through it… I don’t think there’s a magic solution to it. We’re going to have to work through it and get better at what we do,” he said.

Will there be enough time this week to rectify their obvious flaw by the time Sunday rolls around?


Add in the neutral ground scenario due to Gather Round at Adelaide Oval, and a real chance beckons for Ross Lyon and the Saints. 

Can they improve their record to 5-0? Don’t be surprised if they do.