The Saints began their season red-hot and looked to claim their first finals appearance in the women’s competition. Unfortunately, their inability to compete against the premier sides come season’s end saw them fall out of contention once again.
Finishing position: 13th (three wins, seven losses)
The Saints’ struggles last season came in part due to the lack of attacking options provided to their midfielders, and their inability to put goals on the board, forcing a change up in season seven from coach Nick Dal Santo.
Their new attacking setup paid dividends in the new season, especially early on, with Kate Shierlaw leading the way and establishing herself as a premier centre half forward of the competition.
Shierlaw kicked 13 goals for the year and was a presence all around the forward half, taking 3.8 marks per game and averaging 1.3 inside 50s herself.
The 33-year-old’s rise has meant the pressure has been lifted from players like Caitlin Greiser, who was taking the majority of the defensive attention in previous seasons.
Greiser was able to kick eight goals herself as the Saints averaged 4.3 goals per game, an increase from last season in which they were at the bottom of the competition with 2.8.
The Saints’ young midfield seemed set to explode in season seven, with the return of star Georgia Patrikios into the midfield consisting of Rosie Dillon, Olivia Vesely and Tarni White, among others.
Unfortunately for the Saints, Patrikios’ addition couldn’t reap the benefits that they had hoped, with the midfielder getting outmuscled on many occasions throughout the season.
Patrikios was understandably lacking match fitness and struggled to reach the same levels as her previous seasons, with the rest of the midfield left to fill the hole of Tilly Lucas-Rodd at the end of last season.
The loss of the midfield battle in most of their games this season meant the Saints were unable to get that significant drive out of the engine room that they had hoped and were left to struggle once more.
This was the major factor behind the Saints finishing the home and away season at 15th in the league in disposals per game.
The previously highlighted Kate Shierlaw became the star forward for the Saints in season seven, with her ability to break the game open and get on the scoreboard a key pillar in their early season success.
Shierlaw will feature prominently in the best and fairest count comes season’s end, as she averaged over a goal a game over the season and was their most consistent performer.
In the midfield, former Southern Saint turned AFLW Saint Hannah Stuart proved exactly why she was drafted off her stellar VFLW form, averaging 12.8 disposals, 2.2 clearances and 2.4 score involvements a game.Embed from Getty Images
Out of the backline, Bianca Jakobsson continued her strong form from last season, averaging 14.5 disposals and leading the side in intercept possessions, with 5.6.
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The Saints had an incredible beginning to the year, after a favourable draw against two expansion sides saw them undefeated after two games with a significant goal scoring presence.
The opening round against Sydney away from home saw Shierlaw kick four goals and dominate the contest, as St Kilda ran away 29-point winners.
Round 2 was even greater for the Saints, as they went to Box Hill and demolished the Hawks.
The eventual margin was 53 points, as the Saints tore apart another of the newest sides in the competition. Greiser, Shierlaw and Jessica Matin combined for seven of the club’s nine goals.
The opening two wins provided plenty of hope for Saints fans and their finals aspirations, before a streak of six losses snuffed out the bright start and sent them off without finals success.
At the end of Round 4, the Saints sat 2-2 and still held on to hope that they could compete with the big guns in the competition after remaining in the game against both the Demons and the Suns.
They were then completely humbled by a stellar Cats outfit at GMHBA Stadium, in which they lost by 50 points in a completely one-sided affair.
The Cats’ star-studded midfield, lead by Amy McDonald and Georgie Prespakis, tore through the Saints and peppered the ball inside 50 throughout the entire contest, leaving the Saints defenders with plenty on their plate.
Not only did the loss put a significant damper on the Saints’ lingering finals hopes, but a concussion to ruck Erin McKinnon meant they were feeling the hurt in all aspects with the future holding a daunting game against the Pies the week after.
Where to next?
The Saints now have the difficult task of keeping their side together and continuing to rebuild after another unsuccessful season may see players heading away from the club.
They will take some positives out of the beginning of the season and the form of the likes of Shierlaw, Stuart and Patrikios’ return, but the Saints will look to make significant changes in the offseason that could lead to a more successful period.
While they’ll look to retain the majority of their list, changes could be made to the coaching and performance staff that may push the Saints up the ladder, with the likes of Dal Santo potentially being shown the door in their bid to improve.
The Saints will now aim to capitalise on their young list and veteran leadership by focusing all of their attention on making finals next season, with a hopefully healthy list.
The likely return of Tyanna Smith from injury, along with young guns in Patrikios, Molly McDonald and Tarni White mean the Saints will likely have significant improvements in the coming season and put themselves in contention for their first finals series appearance.
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