As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, St Kilda.
Many pundits wouldn’t have predicted the Saints to be anywhere near the top four at the start of the season. At the bye, St Kilda now sits outside the top four by percentage alongside formidable teams like Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle, and Geelong. It will be up to Brett Ratten to make sure this form continues.
After a shock Round 1 loss to Collingwood, everything has now seemed to click for St Kilda. Max King has led the forward line kicking 32 goals and has been accompanied by Tim Membrey (18 goals) and Jack Higgins (16 goals).
At the other end of the field, their underrated defence is led by vice-captains Callum Wilkie and Dougal Howard. Their defence also includes key defender Josh Battle who has helped thwart opposing forward 50 entries.
The best part of the Saints game so far this season has been their midfield which has been led by Jack Steele and Brad Crouch. Accompanying them are Jade Gresham and Seb Ross.
Steele and Ross have helped get disposals in every section of the field. While Crouch and Gresham have been valuable in clearing the ball and ability to cleanly tackle the opposition.
Currently, the Saints rank fourth in most disposals per game and first in marks per game. This shows how much control they have had in the midfield and how they have been able to control the tempo, this has helped stop the opponent’s momentum when they kick consecutive goals.
St Kilda currently ranks as one of the best defensive teams in the competition, conceding 70 points per game. The Saints’ backline has been underrated this season and probably hasn’t got the credit they deserve. The Saints have kept the Demons to 93 points, the Cats to 80 points and the Dockers to 55 points.
Their ability to win away from home will give the Saints confidence heading to Brisbane and Sydney within the next three rounds.
With only three losses so far this season, not much has gone wrong for the Saints. One of the things that haven’t worked for them was their game at Cazalys Stadium in Cairns against the Power.
The decision to sell the game to be played in Far North Queensland proved to be costly for the men from Moorabbin as they could only manage four goals. The Saints were troubled by the conditions, kicking 18 behinds.
Fans were not happy about the decision to play in Cairns as if the match was played at Marvel Stadium, St Kilda would have probably walked away with the win and could be sitting in the top three.
The Saints’ goal kicking accuracy has been another problem this season. Max King (59.3 per cent), Tim Membrey (58.1 per cent), Jack Higgins (53.3 per cent), and Jade Gresham (50 per cent) are some of the biggest culprits in terms of poor goal accuracy, kicking 22, 13, 14, and 11 behinds respectively.
The Saints have relied heavily on having more chances on goal. In their close clashes, its inability to convert when in front of goal has cost them, both illustrated in their clashes against the Power and Pies when they kicked 18 and 13 behinds.
St Kilda will be hoping to improve this area of its game in the back end of the season as finals can be decided by just one point.
After talks of being traded at the end of last year, Seb Ross has been a fundamental piece in St Kilda’s line-up. The midfielder is back to his best, averaging 24.6 disposals, 4.2 marks, and 2.9 tackles.
The 29-year-old has kicked two goals and appeared in every game so far this season. In the last two seasons, he only averaged 17.9 and 21 disposals. His form dropped off in the COVID affected season and rumours swirled that he wanted to leave the club.
The tenacity he brings to the midfield has helped the Saints gain ascendancy in the middle. Ross has been a main part of the Saints midfield alongside Jade Gresham, Brad Crouch, and Jack Steele. With finals approaching Ross will be hoping to continue his stellar form.
Who needs to lift
Even though he had a delayed start to the season due to injury, Jack Billings has failed to have an impact in the two games he’s played so far this season, he was dropped from the clash with North Melbourne in Round 11.
Billings has been a main staple in the Saints side since being drafted, but with the inclusion of some younger talent and his injuries, he has failed to cement his spot.
The midfielder is currently averaging below his career averages in all of the essential statistics, Billings has had a season to forget.
In two games, Billings is averaging 17 disposals, 1.5 tackles, and five marks. All of which are well below his career average.
The main thing Billings needs to lift is his goal kicking. With only one goal so far this season, he has been unable to support the rest of the forward line.
He showed glimpses in his first game of the season against Geelong in Round 9, gathering 22 disposals, eight marks, a tackle, a goal, and two clearances. The 26-year-old will be hoping to flourish next time he is given an opportunity.
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Best and Fairest contenders
Jack Steele would be the front runner for the Saints’ best and fairest after his superb start to season 2022. However, with Steele out with a shoulder injury for more than two months, it will be difficult for him to walk away with the honours as he did last year.
This presents a new opportunity for players such as Brad Crouch, Max King, Jade Gresham, Jack Sinclair or Callum Wilkie to win the Trevor Barker Award.
Currently sitting six goals behind Jeremy Cameron for the Coleman Medal, Max King has dominated in the forward 50. The young forward is averaging 2.9 goals, 5.5 marks (2.6 contested) and 5.5 shots on goal (career-high) per game.
Coming into the back half of the season King will hope to improve his goal accuracy as it sits at 59.5 per cent. If the 21-year-old can improve his accuracy to 75-80 per cent, he could easily be the front runner for the Trevor Barker Award.
Another contender is Brad Crouch who is in the top 20 players for total disposals and ranks fourth for tackles in the competition. The 28-year-old is averaging 27.8 disposals (12 contested) and 6.1 clearances per game.
The midfielder’s defensive awareness and presence have helped him control his opponent, limiting their impact on the game. Clearances have also been a big part of his game as he can be quick in transition from defence to offence.
With Steele out for two months, Crouch can lift with several big games coming up against the Lions and Dockers. Dominant performances here could cement himself as a contender for the best and fairest award.
Expectations for the second half of the year
The Saints are currently sitting percentage out of the top four, in fifth and are going into the bye with eight wins and three losses. St Kilda only sits behind Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle, and Geelong.
The Saints will get elite midfielder Jack Steele and forward Jack Higgins back from injury in the second half of the season. Dan Hannebery is unlikely to appear for them this season but would be a good inclusion if he can recover from his calf injury. These three inclusions will go a long way to help cement a top-four placing.
After its bye, St Kilda has a tough schedule ahead facing Brisbane, Sydney, Carlton and Fremantle in the next five rounds. If the Saints can win at least two of those games, it could place them in a very good position to finish in the top four.
On the other hand, if the Saints are unable to win any of these tough clashes, they risk falling into the bottom half of the eight.
With their brilliant start to the year, the Saints will want to finish the season strongly, utilising their key players. Ranking among one of the best defensive teams, it will be up to their forward line to improve their goal-kicking accuracy.
If Max King, Jack Higgins, and Tim Membrey can improve their goal accuracy, with support from the midfield, it will go a long way in helping the Saints secure a top-four spot.
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