02/03/2024
St Kilda Saints AFLW season preview

Can the Saints make finals for the first time in their history? Photo: @stkildafcw

It's been one disaster after another for the Saints in the off-season, which leaves plenty of question marks on the club as they look to make finals for the first time in their history.

It’s been one disaster after another for the Saints in the off-season, which leaves plenty of question marks on the club as they look to make finals for the first time in their history.

Last season:

11th (3-6)

In its second season in the AFLW, St Kilda continued on its slow and steady trajectory from its inaugural year where the club finished 2-4 and missed out on finals action.

The highlight of its season came in Round 1 with a huge win over the fancied Bulldogs in front of a packed RSEA Park.

A four-game skid in the middle of season saw the club lose its grip on finals after a 2-2 start, with a 53-point loss to the Crows and 44-point loss to the Demons in succession the lowlights of its season.

A 56-point win over the Eagles in the West gave fans some excitement heading into the off-season, with the run-and-gun approach that proved entertaining but ultimately unsuccessful beginning to show its merit.

A young nucleus of talent is building, but it hasn’t come without growing pains for the Saints which have followed them into the off-season, with injuries and COVID-related news haunting the club.

What to look forward to:

The Saints are playing games at SkyBus Stadium in Frankston for the first time, and it’s set to give them more opportunities to play under lights in primetime. The ground played a major role in the development of the women’s game, hosting games in the VFLW including St Kilda’s VFLW affiliate the Southern Saints.

RSEA Park is undergoing redevelopment and will be unavailable for matches until February, but SkyBus Stadium will give the Saints an opportunity to host up to 8000 fans for games.

There are also some big additions to the group by way of injured young stars from last year. Liv Vesely is a welcome boost to the midfield group, while Molly McDonald will slot onto a wing after her early-season absence.

Biggest unanswered question:

Inspirational midfielder Georgia Patrikios has been everything the Saints could have asked for. She’s tough, uncompromising and brilliantly skilful. But her immediate future looks to be very murky, with her compliance with the AFLW’s COVID vaccine mandates uncertain.

The Saints have made it clear by way of a formal statement that they supported the mandate, and Patrikios would not play for the club if she was not vaccinated. The captain will undoubtedly be a terrible loss for the young side, overshadowing the horrible news that Tyanna Smith will miss the entire 2022 season after rupturing her ACL.

St Kilda now faces the probability that it will be without its first and second-place winners in the 2021 Best and Fairest for the upcoming season. Patrikios has been retained in the primary list which leads the door open for her to be vaccinated and play, but Smith has been placed on the inactive list.

There will also be a big question mark on new coach Nick Dal Santo, hired after gaining coaching experience through the Saints’ men’s NGA Academy. He hasn’t managed a women’s side before, but early reports are positive from the playing group through pre-season and the Saints will look to be an attacking side in 2022.

It’s a big year for…

If Patrikios joins Smith on the sidelines this season, there are huge shoes to fill for the Saints. Throw in the departure to Claudia Whitfort to the Suns and the Saints’ engine room is skeletal.

There were already question marks surrounding the Saints’ contested ball-winning ability, and the reliance on ruck Rhiannon Watt to win her own ball is now severe. She led to the club for contested possessions in 2021 and is one of the best ground-level rucks in the competition.

Liv Vesely will be thrown straight into the fire after missing the entirety of last season due to a calf injury. Her hard edge was missed, and it’s an aspect of the Saints’ midfield that desperately needs bolstering.

Vesely offers a brilliant work rate to go with her tenacity in the clinches that sees her tackle rates amongst the highest in the competition. If she can get back to her 2020 form where-in she finished in a four-way tie for the club’s Best and Fairest then the Saints will go a long way to replacing what they’ve lost with Patrikios and Smith.

Tarni White could be another to fill the void, after her form in pre-season warranted consideration of her role off half-back. She has been a midfielder through her junior years and would add some pace and class, though it’s to be seen if her contested side can match it with the best in the country.

Finally – as sole captain, expect Hannah Priest to elevate her game and showcase her depth of leadership through various areas of the ground. She could fill White’s spot down back as the young-gun makes her move to the engine room.

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Fixture highlights:

The Saints have the opportunity to open the 2022 AFLW season on their new home deck in Frankston against the Tigers. Both clubs fell short of finals last season and are poised to rise up the ladder together – the first match of their year will be telling, and the AFLW is expecting a huge crowd at SkyBus Stadium to set the tone for their biggest season yet.

Interstate trips to Henson Park to face the Giants and Metricon to clash with the Suns will be good litmus tests for the young group. Can they carry the momentum over from a final-round resounding win over the Eagles in the West last year, or will the travel and away-from-home factor be too much?

No travel to WA or SA is a big win for the Victorian club, but the Queensland and NSW trips will test the group.

Two games at RSEA Park to round out the year against the Cats and Crows (sides at either end of the 2021 ladder) could decide their finals fate, and they will awesome occasions as the revamped ground welcomes its home side again.

R1: vs. Richmond, Jan 7 (SkyBus Stadium)

R2: vs. Collingwood, Jan 15 (Victoria Park)

R3: vs. Melbourne, Jan 22 (Casey Fields)

R4: vs. West Coast, Jan 29 (Trevor Barker Oval)

R5: vs. GWS, Feb 5 (Henson Park)

R6: vs. Brisbane, Feb 11 (TBC)

R7: vs. Carlton, Feb 19 (Ikon Park)

R8: vs. Gold Coast, Feb 27 (Metricon Stadium)

R9: vs. Geelong, Date TBC (RSEA Park)

R10: vs. Adelaide, Date TBC (RSEA Park)

Ins/outs:

Ins: Alana Woodward (Richmond), Ella Friend (GWV Rebels), Ash Richards (Dandenong Stingrays), Leah Cutting (Norwood), Paige Price (Basketball)

Outs: Poppy Kelly (Richmond), Claudia Whitfort (Gold Coast), Alison Brown, Clara Fitzpatrick, Tamara Luke, Nadia von Bertouch (delisted), Selena Karlson (retired)

Round 1 line-up:

Ladder range:

8th-12th

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the Saints this season. A new coach at the helm in Dal Santo, coupled with big guns likely to miss the season and a young core that is slowly building could be a recipe for another season on the outside looking in come finals.

However, there’s genuine excitement about this club despite the gloomy off-season. The Saints boast run and dare in abundance, have some exceptional leaders with huge experience, and a host of youngsters who are ready to make the jump to become stars of the competition.

Maybe it’s a year early to expect finals from the Saints, but they will be a must-watch team in 2022 and could surprise a host of pundits with their flair and firepower.

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