The Saints just missed out on finals action and could feel quite unlucky to not have made it. North Melbourne’s second half of the season was incredible, despite dropping out easily in its first final. Fremantle shocked the Cats in the first week of finals and went close to doing the same to Adelaide on week later.

 

St Kilda
Win/loss record: 12-10
Ladder position: 9th
Percentage: 123.33%

The Saints had a tumultuous off-season, losing coach Ross Lyon to Fremantle in controversial circumstances, which was expected to coincide with a slide down the ladder. However, the introduction of some new talent, and the development of a more attacking game plan, saw the Saints challenge for finals this year.

New coach Scott Watters introduced a new game style which blends defence, the cornerstone of the Saints’ game plan under Ross Lyon, with more flair and attack. The Saints have been encouraged to take the game on, and have scored much more heavily than in previous years, which has been key to allowing them to remain competitive this year.

No player has exemplified this new game style more than Sean Dempster. The once dour defender took his game to new highs this season, averaging 17.7 disposals and 7 marks, and earning his first All-Australian selection.

This year also saw what Saints fans have been crying out for since the beginning of Ross Lyon’s reign – the introduction of youth. The fantastic debut seasons of Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera will ensure that the Saints have a good contingent of small forwards for the next 5-6 years, as will the continued development of Arryn Siposs. Jamie Cripps looks a likely type either as a dashing defender or half-forward, and rookie Sam Dunnell showed a bit of flair in the midfield.

Jack Newnes and Tom Simpkin, two young defenders, have also impressed this year. Newnes gave run and composure from half-back while Simpkin continually beat taller players with his fierce competitive nature and desire to spoil. Rhys Stanley looks to be a promising young forward and will be a cornerstone of the Saints’ forward line for years to come.

However, it was the Saints older, more experienced heads that ensured the team didn’t bottom out in 2012. Lenny Hayes continued to display the toughness that has characterised his career, and Nick Reiwoldt was back to some of his best form.


Looking to 2013

2013 will be an interesting year for the Saints. They have big holes in their list, and are in desperate need of a key defender and another frontline ruckman to help Ben McEvoy. If they can fill those holes, expect them to make finals next year. It will also be interesting to see what happens with the Brendon Goddard saga.

The other question mark is the ability of their good players to make their mark in big games, with Nick Dal Santo and Leigh Montagna experiencing relatively lean years.

If the Saints young talent continues to develop next year, expect them to be a finals contender again in 2013.

 

North Melbourne
Win/loss record: 14-8
Ladder position: 8th (Lost to West Coast in the First Elimination Final)
Percentage: 112.49%

North Melbourne was the surprise packet of 2012. After an inauspicious middle stretch of the season, compounded by a 123-point loss to Hawthorn in Round 10, North were written off. However, a late season resurgence saw the Kangaroos finish in the top eight with one of the best young lists in the competition.

North’s exciting young brigade has been key to their finals appearance this year. Shaun Atley’s run and carry off half-back has been a revelation, as has his disposal efficiency of 80.3% for the season. Ryan Bastinac was solid in the midfield, and youngster Ben Cunnington’s hardness around the ball gave North’s mainly inside midfield some much-needed grunt. Mature-aged recruit Sam Gibson came into the team for the final 13 games and made everyone wonder why he hadn’t been on an AFL list before – he averaged 21.6 disposals and 7 marks for the season.

Coach Brad Scott’s experimentation with different forward structures has finally reaped rewards. In previous seasons, the Roos have relied too heavily on Drew Petrie for their goals; however, the three-pronged tall structure used this season of Petrie, Robbie Tarrant and Lachie Hansen provided North with other avenues to goal, and took some of the pressure off Petrie.

Two players who have reinvented themselves this season, and have been crucial to North’s success, are the often-forgotten Sam Wright and defender Scott Thompson. Wright, used as a half-forward in previous seasons with limited success, became a successful tagger. Thompson, who has been much-maligned in previous seasons for his lack of composure, became North’s key defender this year, curtailing the effect of opposition key forwards with aplomb.


Looking forward to 2013

With some exciting young talent on its list, North seems to finally be putting it all together. The Kangaroos’ biggest problem next year is deciding what to do with Todd Goldstein and Hamish McIntosh – on the few occasions the two were played in the same team this year, it was for limited success. North must decide, and quickly, which strategy it will take into next year.

The question mark about the Kangaroos is their inconsistency, and their capacity to fade in big games. A big pre-season should help ensure that their younger players have the ability to run out games next year. Further work is also needed to improve their kicking skills, which have been poor in their losses this year.

 

Fremantle
Win/loss record: 14-8
Ladder position: 7th (Lost to Adelaide in the Second Semi-Final)
Percentage: 115.67%

Season 2012 saw a new, more defensively-minded Fremantle. New coach Ross Lyon has overseen a major revamp of the Dockers’ playing style and, after making the finals this season, the future looks bright.

The key to the Dockers’ renaissance this year was, as usual, captain Matthew Pavlich. Pavlich benefited from being played mainly in the forward half, providing a focal point for the team and kicking 69 goals for the year.

Luke McPharlin also took his game to another level this season, consistently taking the opposition’s best key forwards and restricting their goal output. Matt de Boer, a tackling machine, best espoused the new defensive mindset of the Dockers – he averaged a whopping six tackles a game, and laid 138 for the season.

The resurgence of midfield stars David Mundy and Michael Barlow was also crucial to Fremantle’s successful season. After returning from injury, both seem to be back in career-best form, averaging 22 and 24 disposals a game respectively.


Looking forward to 2013

With 14 wins this year, the Dockers have improved drastically on their 9 wins last year. The playing list has adapted well to Lyon’s game plan, and it seems to suit them.

However, with any team coached by Ross Lyon, there is always the problem of over reliance on the proven performers at the expense of youth. Players like Tom Sheridan, Alex Forster, Hayden Crozier and Jayden Pitt may find it difficult to break into the side. With a number of their stars reaching the twilight of their careers, the Dockers need to start injecting some youth into the team to ensure they remain a finals contender for years to come.

Fremantle would also be concerned about some of their young players who have failed to live up to expectations. Stephen Hill will likely be a star of the future, but is still too inconsistent to take on a starting midfield role, and players like Jesse Crichton and Dylan Roberton haven’t developed as planned. However, with Anthony Morabito to return next year and Nathan Fyfe back after a shoulder injury, the immediate future looks bright for the Dockers. Expect them to challenge for a top four spot next year.