The St Kilda Saints AFLW season was a rollercoaster like no other, with injuries and big losses matched by moments of brilliance. Unfortunately for the Saints, their third AFLW season was a low point for the club.
Finishing position: 13th (2 wins, 8 losses)
The Tilly Show
The full-time conversion of Tilly Lucas-Rodd into the midfield in the absence of star Georgia Patrikios proved a masterstroke from the Saints, as she transformed her game and had a career best year.
She proved more than capable as a midfielder and could form a formidable partnership with Patrikios when she chooses to return.
Towards the later stages of the year, the Saints backline stood up massively in the face of trouble.
The defence was stoic against the Cats for their second win of the year, holding onto a lead while being peppered in the second half.
With the absence of Lucas-Rodd from the backline while she picked up midfield duties, the backline stood tall and can be proud of their year.
Dry Avenues to Goal
After Caitlin Greiser’s fantastic first two seasons in the AFLW, coach Nick Dal Santo understandably wanted the ball in her hands on most forward entries.
This proved to be tough, as defenders locked up Greiser and restricted her to only four goals for the season, while the coaches continued to target her.
This in turn affected the Saints scoring and restricted them greatly, seemingly with a change in targets a necessity as the season slipped away.
The Saints seemed to lack a plan in getting the ball forward, which greatly restricted their scoring against higher quality defenders.
As identified, Tilly Lucas-Rodd was easily one of the Saints best this year and is the likely favourite to take home the best and fairest.
She averaged career highs in disposals, tackles and clearances and took her game to the next level.
Tarni White was similarly hard-working in the engine room for the Saints.
Extremely consistent, Tarni also averaged career high’s across the board as she along with Lucas-Rodd looked to steer the Saints out of trouble time and time again.
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The Highs and Lows
The Saints had a tough first half of the season, so easily their best moment of the year came when they finally broke through to beat the Suns by three points for their first win of the season.
The scenes on the final siren as relief swept through the players was a brilliant sight, along with getting Dal Santo his first win as coach and breaking the duck.
The second of the Saints positives of the year came the next week, as for the first time in their history they won back-to-back games.
While the wins came too late in the season to mount a charge into the finals, the ability to turn their fortunes around left the Saints with their heads high as the season came to a close.
The worst moments of the season for the Saints seemed to come before a ball had even been kicked, as young gun Tyanna Smith was harshly sidelined for the season in November after suffering a torn ACL.
The runner up in the Saints best and fairest in her debut year, the loss of Smith proved disastrous for the Saints, as their midfield was repeatedly shaken up.
This midfield issue was only compounded by the absence of star Georgia Patrikios, who due to issues with the COVID-19 mandate sat out the season and put another dent in the Saints squad.
The loss of Patrikios was evidently tough for Dal Santo’s squad, who lost their first seven games of the season.
The worst of their on field performances came in Round 7, as they posted the lowest ever AFLW score of 0.2 in a 46-point loss to the Carlton Blues.
This was only made worse in Round 8 when the Saints lost to the first ever goal after the siren in AFLW history against the Giants, when a distraught Kate Shierlaw gave away a 50m penalty just seconds before the end of play.
This outlined a tough two weeks for the squad who had fought so hard to get on the board.
Who’s on the move?
While it doesn’t seem as though many players are looking elsewhere, the return of Patrikios is an interesting situation ahead of the next season.
Should Patrikios continue to sit out, she may retire from the AFLW and no longer be available for the Saints, which would be a huge blow to both the team and the league.
The Saints are a relatively young side and aren’t likely to see any retirements from their squad, meaning those that have improved this year will likely remain at Linton St.
Isabella Shannon was left out of the AFLW squad at a time this season and shone at VFLW level, scoring best on ground honours against the Western Bulldogs VFLW side.
If her game time is likely to be restricted coming into next year, she may find herself looking elsewhere for opportunities at AFLW level.
The Saints know they must improve next year in what will be Dal Santo’s second.
Their forward line entries require a lot of work. The continuous targeting of Greiser must be revisited and provide a varied attack that makes it hard on the defenders.
St Kilda seem to have no rhythm behind its forward entries and just attack at all costs, leaving an unstructured field behind the ball that puts the pressure on the backline.
A more balanced game style will help them ease that pressure and maintain the football, creating better opportunities on both sides of the ball.
The Saints must do all they can to retain Patrikios, although the final decision likely won’t be up to them.
Patrikios will be the most important player for the Saints if she is to return and as such the Saints will build on her availability.
As long as the Saints continue to work on Dal Santo’s game plan, they will improve into next year and look to make their maiden finals berth.
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