After playing finals for the first time since 2011 in 2020, the Saints were predicted by many to continue their ascent up the ladder and be in a position to contend come the end of the season. However, after a disappointing year, the Saints have been left with more questions than answers heading into 2022.
It was a tough year for the Saints where not much went their way. Four losses by 50 points or more in the first ten rounds were the biggest indicator that they couldn’t replicate the same standard from last season.
However, when they finally started to turn their season around their bounce off half-back is what made them look like the team that shot up the ladder last season.
Finding their dash off the half-back line through players such as Jack Sinclair and Brad Hill who once again made the Saints forward line look dangerous when the pair managed to break lines and bring the ball into the forward line with pace.
The Saints season was derailed by injuries. Some of the players that incited the teams rise up the ladder the year previous missed large portions of the season.
The ruck duo of Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall proved to be St Kilda’s biggest weapon in 2020, but this year the pair could only get out on the park together eight times.
Prime moving midfielders such as Jade Gresham, Zak Jones and Dan Hannebery missed large chunks of the season, while fourth-year pair Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield were primed for career-best seasons before also suffering injury setbacks.
Another thing that didn’t work for the Saints were the early season blowouts, putting them technically a game behind the rest of the competition later in the season due to their poor percentage.
Their worst losses were against Essendon (75 points), Richmond (86 points), Port Adelaide (54 points) and the Western Bulldogs (111 points) all in the first ten rounds of the year.
The Saints ultimately failed to overcome these bad losses missing the eight by a game and 17.6 per cent.
Jack Sinclair was the most improved Saint in 2021, with his drive from the half-back line a major reason behind the Saints mid-season revitalisation. He averaged 21.1 disposals up from 14.25 in 2020. He also averaged six intercept possessions and 336 metres gained.
Meanwhile, skipper Jack Steele put together another impressive season averaging 29.2 disposals, 13.9 contested possessions, 8.4 tackles and 6.3 clearances a game. He was rewarded with his second All-Australian blazer and is the favourite to take out his second Trevor Barker Award.
With an extended run at it some of the Saints youngsters also impressed this season. Second-year duo Ryan Byrnes and Leo Connolly played 16 and seven matches respectively and showed that they could become key players for the Saints in the future.
While mid-season draftee Cooper Sharman also showed some promising signs, kicking four goals in the Saints Round 23 win over Fremantle.
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After a disappointing six-point loss to the Crows before the bye, the Saints came out firing after the bye defeating Richmond and Collingwood but it was their third straight win against Brisbane at the Gabba that breathed new life into their season.
It was the Saints first big scalp for the year and their hallmark manic pressure was a feature of the game.
Steele starred with 32 disposals and two goals and was helped by midfield bulls Luke Dunstan (29 disposals) and Zak Jones (26 disposals), while Max King booted three goals and Tim Membrey slotted two.
While the Saints couldn’t afford another slip up for the rest of the season, it gave many in the footballing community the belief that they could still do some damage.
The Round Three loss to Essendon was damaging to the Saints for more reasons than the big scoreline.
Under the roof at Marvel Stadium, many tipped the Saints to get their season on the right track with a big win against a developing Essendon outfit.
However, a 75-point loss and a season-ending injury to Jade Gresham really put the Saints on the back foot early in the season.
Despite some impressive form, Luke Dunstan has already been told that he will not be offered a contract for 2022. Jack Lonie is another Saint that is out of contract and has failed to play since Round 13 which means he could also be looking for a new home.
Two-time Trevor Barker Award winner Seb Ross is also out of contract and could explore his options as a restricted free agent. Ross missed the Saints pivotal Round 13 clash against the Adelaide Crows after leaving the hub in Sydney to be with his young family.
A couple of weeks later his departure from the club became big news with reports suggesting that the club wasn’t happy about him leaving the hub and Ross’ relationship has now waned with the club. Despite this, if Ross decides to stay with the club he will be welcomed back.
Number one off-season priority
Despite such an underwhelming season, the Saints major problems are solvable.
The biggest issue they need to deal with is their ruck depth. Ryder is possibly entering his last season in 2022 and the Saints will need to unearth Marshall’s long-term ruck partner.
Another area of concern the Saints need to address is finding another key backman. At times this year, there was too much responsibility on the likes of Dougal Howard, Callum Wilkie and Nick Coffield which meant they couldn’t use their strengths to intercept the ball.
If the Saints can acquire a dower fullback that could free up those players and further enhance the rebound game out of the backline.
With injuries to key players comes opportunities to youngsters, and while the Saints have traded away a lot of picks to secure established talent, the likes of Byrnes, Connolly and Sharman provided a spark in the back half of the year.
If the Saints can find a way to obtain some first or second-round selections and pick some exciting young talent it could provide further spark for the Saints in 2022.
While this season should be considered a failure, there are still plenty of learnings for the Saints to take out of this season. This offseason will prove to be crucial in the quest for their second premiership if they can acquire the right players and stay injury-free, expect them to march up the ladder yet again in 2022.
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