With the possibility of hubs on the table for the Victorian sides of the AFL, St Kilda coach Brett Ratten is looking at the extended travel as an opportunity.
Star midfielder and co-captain Jack Steele spoke earlier in the week about bringing the group closer together in the face of adversity.
Ratten echoed Steele’s sentiments at Friday’s press conference, noting that the 2020 off-season was a challenge after being with the group for so long.
“I think the connection piece and the relationship piece, it’s ongoing,” Ratten said.
“When we got back to Melbourne, we didn’t see the players until after Christmas. We might have lost a little bit of that [connection].
“To have this opportunity to be together for whether it’s 10 days or whatever it is, it’s a great opportunity for us to gel and reconnect. I think it’s a real positive, I agree with Jack.”
The Saints flourished last season in their first full year under Ratten, winning 10 of their 17 games and an elimination final against the Western Bulldogs.
Ratten explained that it wasn’t just the lack of hubs, but the changes from the season itself, that have had an impact on his side, particularly in relation to injuries.
Outside of the four named emergencies travelling to New South Wales to take on Sydney on Saturday, the Saints only have an additional four fit players to choose from.
Ratten, however, is making no excuses for the inconsistency his side has shown.
“It’s probably the game’s changed a bit and challenged some people in that space,” he explained.
“The longer quarters, the less rotations. We probably haven’t dug as deep as we did last year as a team. We’ve been a team that’s probably conceded too much with the momentum shifts.
“That’s something we’re trying to address, not just for this year, but that’s a longer term view in terms of how we want to play and what we want to become as a football team.
“You can get scored against, but you don’t need to concede as many as we have in a row or get beaten those margins that we have.
“You just can’t help some of these injuries, and that’s footy sometimes.
“We probably try to temper our training in how risky we want to make training. We want to look after our players and not expose them to too much combative work, but we still need that as a team because that’s where we’ve failed sometimes.
“Trying to get that balance, it’s a juggling act at times.”
The new recruits staying home
Taking four selections into the Mid-Season Rookie Draft, St Kilda left the night with two new players on its list.
Max Heath from the Sandringham Dragons and Cooper Sharman from Woodville-West Torrens are the two newest Saints, but will have to wait a little while to meet their new teammates.
Sharman received clearance to remain in South Australia to keep playing with the Eagles until the COVID lockdown in Victoria allows him to settle into his new home safely.
Heath, on the other hand, is still completing his year 12 studies.
Ratten is more than willing to work around his two new players, seeing Sharman’s ability to keep playing in South Australia as a big positive.
“We’ve got Cooper staying in South Australia while football’s still being played there, so that’s an opportunity for him to get two games in,” Ratten said.
“When the bye comes in he’ll come back in and when everything opens up in Melbourne he’ll come into our program.
“It’s a great decision, because we want kids to keep playing footy. That’s how you develop your game, and we don’t want him to miss out, especially knowing what last year was for a lot of players trying to keep pursuing their AFL dream.
“For us to have Cooper to play, and play maybe one game or maybe two… he’s going to keep playing footy.
“[Max] doesn’t have to rush, he’s still doing year 12 so we want him to finish that. Footy’s a great game but your education will last you forever, so we need him to pursue that and keep making sure he gets the balance of life there.”
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Even though he hasn’t met Heath or Sharman yet, aside from a brief phone call, Ratten is already focusing on what they can bring to the side in the long term.
“Max has sort of been under our nose a little bit at the Sandringham Dragons,” he said.
“Our boys have kept an eye on him and the other ruckmen there as well. He’s an aggressive type, 204cm. He’ll really benefit from a full pre-season and to get into an AFL program.
“Cooper has been involved in GWS academy programs, he’s been around a little bit. Played for Balwyn, went to South Australia, but quite talented. Really nice mark of the footy, 193cm, kicks the ball both feet, really nice touch with his feet, bit of dexterity there. He’s a player of the future.
“They’re going to take a bit of time. That’s where we want to go, we want to make sure we’re still bringing young talent into our team and it was a good opportunity for us in the mid-season draft.”
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