St Kilda is hoping for back-to-back finals appearances after refining its already-exciting list with more mature-age recruits. However, with so many of the Saints key players out for the start of the season, will Brett Ratten’s men be able to catch up?
Semi-final loss to Richmond
6th – 10 wins, 7 losses, 116.2%
Beginning its 2020 season with a narrow two-point loss to North Melbourne after kicking one goal in the entire second half, St Kilda’s fortunes turned thereafter. The Saints only lost twice more in the next nine games, including a four-game win streak between Round 7 and Round 10.
Four of St Kilda’s seven losses last season came by a goal or less, the team unable to put sides away or convert on the scoreboard in the moments that mattered.
Nonetheless, the Saints record ensured they would make finals for the first time since 2011.
St Kilda took a 52-point win – its second-largest winning margin of the season – against Greater Western Sydney in Round 18 into the finals, before beating the Western Bulldogs in an elimination final.
St Kilda’s one-goal fourth quarter almost outdid the 24-point three-quarter time lead.
The Saints couldn’t keep up with Richmond in the semi-final however, unlike their Round 4 victory over the eventual premier
Dan Hannebury claimed the top spot in the club’s time trial at the beginning in January while Brad Hill has been training hard in the skills sessions, looking to make up for a 2020 season where he drew criticism surrounding his output on the footy field.
The Saints’ second draft pick Tom Highmore is in line for a Round 1 debut after standing out playing across half-back for the ‘A’ side in an intraclub simulation last month. Newcomers Jack Higgins and Mason Wood each had handy games in the practice match between North Melbourne, kicking two and four goals respectively.
What to look forward to:
The Saints run and carry will be a key highlight of their game this year, picking up some important players that will help with their end-to-end transition, especially in the crucial middle third of the ground.
With a multitude of midfielders in the side now with the additions of Brad Crouch, Jack Higgins and Mason Wood, the Saints have the ability to spread and switch and know how skilful their midfield unit can be.
Nick Coffield and Hunter Clark can rebound, Jack Steele and Jack Sinclair, among the aforementioned will be handy in the middle as the delivery inside 50 perfectly sets up the likes of Max King and Tim Membrey overhead.
It’s a big year for:
Probably the Saints most high-profile recruit of the 2019 off-season, Hill made his way to Moorabbin ahead of the 2020 season after a trade with Fremantle – but he was a shadow of his former self.
While St Kilda is the midfielder’s third club in nine years, the speedster is no stranger to success, part of Hawthorn’s three-peat, however, he couldn’t get to the heights of years gone by.
Hill had his lowest tallies for disposals (15.42), tackles (1.42) and inside 50s (2.53) since his debut year in 2012.
But what’s more important to distinguish is Hill’s contested ball use.
After contested possession tallies of 19.41, 17.30 and 19.05 in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively, the Saint averaged 12.21 a game in 2020.
While this could be put down to the shortened 16-minute quarters, it’s still a damning fact. During the season, it appeared that Hill was waiting on the outside too much, expecting the ball.
Hill didn’t seem to run and attack the contests as he normally would either, not providing a follow-up effort after lacklustre efforts to begin with.
Already it appears the longer, more free-flowing football is working well for Hill and his pace if the practice matches and pre-season games are anything to go by which hopefully will be maintained throughout the season proper.
Biggest unanswered question:
Now they’ve made finals for the first time in nine years, can they stay there?
St Kilda has been dealt three of 2020’s top-four sides – premiers Richmond, runners-up Geelong and preliminary finalists Port Adelaide – as well as elimination finalists West Coast as double-ups in 2021. The challenging draw will give the Saints a chance to show the rest of the competition how serious they are about contending for a flag.
St Kilda begin its campaign against the Giants in Sydney before four games at home ground Marvel Stadium, returning to Docklands in Round 7 before another string of four games at Marvel Stadium from Round 9.
St Kilda first attends the home of the grand final, the MCG, in Round 15 against Richmond, backing it up against Collingwood the following week.
Playing on the road didn’t faze the Saints last year, travelling to Brisbane, Perth and Sydney within five weeks in the backend of the year.
Brett Ratten seems to have gotten a lot out of the squad, with recent additions during the past two seasons setting the club up for success.
No stranger to finals appearances, Ratten had a 1-3 record with Carlton between 2009 and 2011, but each of those losses were under a goal so he certainly knows how to ensure his sides are in the contest and give it their all, which is what he’s already achieved with the Saints and what he’ll get out of the side going forward also.
Picking up former Hawthorn premiership star James Frawley is a good coup in not only a on-field role but an off-field role to the younger crop of defenders.
Former Adelaide midfielder Brad Crouch will provide some depth in the middle but some shifting from Ratten will need to be undertaken in an already packed midfield unit.
Jack Higgins joins former Richmond teammate Dan Butler in the forward line, with that established cohesion working well in the past.
Coach pressure index:
Brett Ratten is about to face his second full year at the club and last year was a great achievement for the Saints, making finals for the first time since 2011. Ratten signed a three-year deal to take him to the end of 2022 but with another finals series under his belt this year, it could very well be extended beyond that.
Matt Allison (Draft – Calder Cannons), Tom Highmore (Draft – South Adelaide), Brad Crouch (Adelaide – free agent) James Frawley (Hawthorn – delisted free agent), Jack Higgins (Richmond, trade), Shaun McKernan (Essendon – delisted free agent), Mason Wood (North Melbourne – supplementary selection period), Paul Hunter (South Adelaide – supplementary selection period).
Ryan Abbott (delisted), Logan Austin (delisted), Jake Bell (delisted), Doulton Langlands (delisted), Jonathon Marsh (delisted), Jack Mayo (delisted), Shane Savage (delisted), Matthew Parker (delisted), Ed Phillips (delisted), Nathan Brown (retired), Nick Hind (Essendon – trade)
Predicted Rd 1 lineup:
FB: Nick Coffield – Dougal Howard – Cal Wilkie
HB: Tom Highmore – Jimmy Webster – Hunter Clark
C: Brad Hill – Zak Jones – Jack Sinclair
HF: Jade Gresham – Tim Membrey – Jack Lonie
FF: Dan Butler – Max King – Jack Higgins
FOLL: Shaun McKernan – Jack Steele – Jack Billings
INT: Josh Battle – Ben Long – Seb Ross – Paul Hunter
The number of players unavailable to the Saints may impact the club in the early stages of the season and prevent them from performing at their best, although they should scrape through and make the top eight in 2021.