The year to date
St Kilda finds itself sitting 14th on the ladder following the byes, having registered four wins and eight losses, and with many tipping them to finish on the bottom of the ladder, they have plenty to be positive about.
Coming off a poor 2014, many believed St Kilda were a safe bet to win the wooden spoon: however, Alan Richardson has got the players buying into his plans and playing with purpose every week. Their round six win against the Western Bulldogs in particular highlighted their improvements from 2014 – granted, probably just the second half of the match.
The Saints were ranked a distant last in 2014 for points against, conceding close to 1000 more points than the top of the table Swans. However, it was their performance against the Bulldogs and subsequent matches against Brisbane and Melbourne which highlight their newfound sense of fight in 2015.
Like any young side, they’ve had a few blowout losses this season, but they can be satisfied with their year so far.
Veterans Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sam Gilbert have all missed games this season with injury, but it has allowed younger players to step up in their absences. Considering the position of the club, having younger players filling the roles of Riewoldt and Montagna for a few weeks aids their development in the long run.
Josh Bruce’s emergence up forward has taken the load off Riewoldt, kicking 29 goals so far this year and becoming the focal point of their forward line. With Paddy McCartin waiting in the wings, it should give St Kilda fans a lot to get excited about up forward – something that was a major concern just 12 months ago.
David Armitage has been another massive improver for St Kilda this season. Many believe he will be the next captain of the club and the improvement he has made to his fitness and work-rate have pushed him into the elite category of the competition, averaging 30 disposals and six tackles per game. Jack Steven has similarly stepped up and the two will certainly be in All-Australian contention if they keep their form up.
First year players Jack Sinclair and Jack Lonie have also been large positives for the Saints. St Kilda has had to re-invent their forward line this year, and the two have been instrumental in attempting to fill the holes left by club great Stephen Milne.
Like a lot of young sides, St Kilda has been scored against heavily from turnovers, with the side prone to flooding forward and being caught out on the rebound.
This can lead to the club finding itself in losing positions early in games: while the first Bulldogs match showed they can occasionally get out of those ruts, they need to produce more four-quarter efforts if they’re to become a top eight side. Their average losing margin of 41 points highlights their tendency to drop off at stages of games.
Additionally, St Kilda probably need to make a decision on the future of Sam Gilbert at year’s end. The soon to be 29-year-old has battled with injury for years now and seems out of place in this young St Kilda side. A mutual parting could benefit both parties.
The club still has a lot of work to do and the Saints will need to get the best out of the upcoming draft to get as much young talent into the club as possible.
Where to from here
The Saints’ focus must now turn to maintaining and improving upon the benchmarks they have set for themselves in the first half of the season. They cannot afford to drop away and undo all the good they’ve accomplished so far.
They will also need to use the remainder of 2015 to shape their 2016, which means giving games to a few players to see whether they are worth retaining on the list. Players like Tom Lee, Ahmed Saad and Tom Curren need to come under the microscope and decisions need to be made on their futures.
Lee and Saad in particular need to be analysed, given St Kilda’s forward line looks in good shape for the years ahead without him at this stage. Tom Curren has shown promise in the middle at stages but has only managed the two games this year, the last of which was in round four.
St Kilda don’t really need to do anything drastic at this stage: they seem to be heading in a steady direction. They have answered important questions from last year, including finding replacements for Riewoldt and also improved their key defensive stocks.
The club and the players have bought into Richardson’s philosophies and they know where they are at in terms of rebuilding their list. It puts them in a good place in the foreseeable future, for both the end of this year and beyond.
You can follow Nic on Twitter: @FeathertopDT