Story of 2015

St Kilda showed some good signs during the 2015 season, with the club’s younger players giving fans a huge look at the future. The ladder says they finished 14th with only six wins and a draw, but the Saints should be happy with the squad development that took place.

Their incredible wins against the Bulldogs and Melbourne were two highlights in a better season for the club. Performances built on a high pressure game meant even when they were beaten soundly, they could still take positives from games. The win against the Bulldogs in particular highlighted the upward trajectory the club is on.

Coach Alan Richardson and his coaching staff turned the Saints around from a team with no clear future to one that has put in the stepping stones to once again become a regular finals contender in years to come and the 2015 season was when it all started.

What went right

There were plenty of positive to come out of the 2015 season for the Saints. After just 10 games and four goals in 2014, Josh Bruce emerged as a damaging key forward, kicking 50 goals and playing every game. Bruce was a constant threat inside attacking 50 and his marking ability, which is elite, meant he was very hard to beat one-on-one.

St Kilda’s five Jacks took the competition by storm. Jack Steven became an elite midfielder, averaging 27 disposals and six tackles a game. Jack Newnes was smart in the midfield and across half-back, developing into a strong leader on-field and a good decision-maker. Lonie and Sinclair played 17 and 18 games respectively in their first seasons and have become part of the best 22 immediately and Jack Billings, who only played nine games, is one of the brightest prospects in the competition across half-forward and through the midfield.

The aforementioned extreme pressure put on by the Saints, the “Saints Swarm” according to Champion Data, was perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the season. A clearly defined style of play in which the Saints would hunt in packs. They ranked fourth in the competition for pressure differential, which puts them on the right track. The likes of Dunstan, Weller and Steven can lead the club forward in that area.

What went wrong

Moving the ball into attack was an issue for the Saints. Nick Riewoldt was the only player other than Bruce to kick more than 20 goals (he kicked 29), with Jack Sinclair’s 18 goals coming in third. St Kilda’s slow ball movement when attacking, predominately through its tendency to prefer moving the ball down the wing rather than through the corridor, really limits its ability to open teams up and put big scores on the board. The positioning of set shots were harder as a result, which kept them out of games at times.

The Longer/Hickey combination just didn’t work. Billy Longer is the number one ruckman, and rightly so, given he was a first round draft pick from Brisbane. Tom Hickey, however, isn’t a natural forward and is wasted in the position. Given the new interchange rules, St Kilda will need to find a more effective partner for Longer in order to maximise the value of every position on the ground. Supporters will be hoping that Hickey has improved considerably playing as a forward because he’ll have to play most games in 2016 and the partnership just didn’t work last season.

2016 preview 

The lack of key defensive depth was solved with Jake Carlisle’s signing and then became a problem once again with his suspension due to the Essendon saga. It leaves St Kilda in the same position as 2015 in that regard, which isn’t particularly inspiring. There will be a heavy reliance on Sam Fisher to once again cover the big forwards and Sean Dempster to continue his ‘third man up’ work. The other key defensive post will need to be filled by Hugh Goddard, Tom Lee or Luke Delaney, who are all fringe 22 players at this stage.

2016 will again be filled with inconsistencies and the group has to be able to stay positive throughout the run of losses it will inevitably have. They could conceivably be 1-7 after round eight due to fixturing and have played well in every match, such is the nature of the competition. If they can maintain their elite pressure and even improve on it, they can get through this tough patch and pounce on a softer fixture post-round eight.

The potential scenario of Nick Riewoldt playing on the wing for most of the season should excite Saints fans. It means that Paddy McCartin will play most games this season (barring injury) and his partnership with Bruce will begin to develop. It also means that we could see a 2008 Matthew Richardson-like season from the captain, who has an unbelievable fitness base and will be able to run around the field knowing there are very few players who can match his endurance levels.

The experienced players at St Kilda aren’t on their last legs, which is enormous for 2016. Leigh Montagna re-signed recently, Riewoldt might play more on the wing, Dempster continues to perform strongly and Fisher seems re-invigorated in a more important role. They’ll continue to help develop leaders in each line and their experience will be more beneficial to these 21-50 game players, who understand the pace of the game, more so than the 0-10 game players.

The midfield/half-forward depth the Saints now have will almost guarantee an improved season. The culture at the club encourages new players to back themselves, so prolific new draftees won’t be overwhelmed at senior level. Templeton, Acres, Freeman, Gresham, McKenzie and Minchington will all play at AFL level throughout the season and all have different qualities that will add to the St Kilda line-up. Minchington’s x-factor in particular could play an important role.

It’s an exciting time for St Kilda supporters. If this squad can stay fit, they’ll be ultra-competitive throughout the season. The loss of Carlisle hurts and will cost them a couple of wins. St Kilda will start to be a potential finals contender upon his return. For now, it’s all about improvement and the Saints can improve considerably on 6.5 wins.

Ladder positioning may end up the same as last year but they can manage 9-10 wins in 2016.

Best 22

B: Jarryn Geary, Sam Fisher, Sean Dempster
HB: Shane Savage, Hugh Goddard, Dylan Roberton
C: Jack Newnes, Luke Dunstan, Nick Riewoldt
HF: Jack Billings, Paddy McCartin, Mav Weller
F: Jack Lonie, Josh Bruce, Tom Hickey
Foll: Billy Longer, Jack Steven, David Armitage
Int: Seb Ross, Leigh Montagna, Sam Gilbert, Jack Sinclair

Ladder prediction