There’s promising signs at Seaford. The expectations placed upon the Saints and the fact that they will miss finals means little in the overall scheme of things.
Unlike sides in previous years that failed to draft quality before the fell away to the bottom of the ladder (Western Bulldogs, Port Adelaide, Essendon, Carlton, Melbourne) after their last premiership windows, the Saints will look to buck that trend.
The assumption was that the Saints, with an aging brigade of good to exceptional footballers, would see them fall into a hole of oblivion in a short matter of time. Judging some of the performances of these young talents and signs of quality acquisitions, the Saints could be back up to where they were in less than a decade.
The Western Bulldogs fell into a hole and were in the same premiership window as the Saints. The Dogs have played pretty dismal football for most of the season, whereas the Sains were in finals contention up until last week
From what has been displayed, the Saints have grinded out games against superior opposition with kids and playing major roles.
Starting from defence, this is St Kilda’s weakest point. Tom Simpkin has been a late bloomer (rookie drafted in 2009 and promoted in 2010). He’s able to play on much bigger opponents for his 191cm frame, and is agile enough to play on players of small stature. One of his trademarks has been his aggression and spoiling ability at contests. As the Saints need to bolster defence, he should be seen as a keeper.
Jarryn Geary has been marred by injury and form issues, but is a defensive small with plenty of upside. His ability one on one is still questionable at times, but is better known for his rebounds. His skill level is brilliant and also possesses the speed to break lines out of defence.
Although clogged with current A-graders, the Saints have prepared for the inevitable departures of Lenny Hayes, Nick Dal Santo and Leigh Montagna from the midfield.
Jack Steven isn’t on anyone’s radars, but if you watch him closely you’ll see why he should be. He averages 20 disposals, 4 tackles and 4 clearances, which isn’t bad for someone who’s just turned 22 and is only just starting to reach near full fitness. He possesses classy finishing skills by foot and his gut running is allowing him to get to more contests than ever.
David Armitage is a little older than Steven (24). As an in-and-under player, criticisms were that he failed to find space and damage teams offensively, as his defensive running was lauded by previous coach Ross Lyon. As he also is beginning to average over 20 disposals and more than 5 tackles a game in 2012, he’s next to go to another level in a midfield role.
Another who is yet to consolidate a senior spot is Tom Ledger. He was quite solid in his TAC Cup competition year, and slid to pick number 59 in the 2010 draft. His skills are exceptional under pressure and evasive skills mixed with speed make him an exciting prospect.
Up forward, Ahmed Saad’s promotion from the VFL has been a success for the Saints. His 14 games for a return of 26 goals and an average of over 3 tackles have added another dimension to the forward line, which already houses the lethal yet aging Stephen Milne.
Terry Milera (13 goals, 13 games) has shown glimpses, but has fallen away late in the season with form issues. These two mature-age recruits should consolidate themselves in the team and make the adjustments required to remain at senior level for seasons to come.
Rhys Stanley rounds out with a killer combo of height and speed. Standing at 200cms and being quick enough to win a Grand Final sprint, he’s provided a mixed bag so far on field due to injury. His unlucky run with hamstring and rib injuries, knee issues, and concussion have only allowed him to play 7 games in 2010, 2 games in 2011 and 10 games in 2012.
Although his confidence has been clearly affected by injury, he has the necessary tools at his disposal to be both a resting forward and rotational ruck option in the future.
The Saints aren’t cooked and aren’t going to drop away into the dark depths of the bottom four anytime soon. A new wave of promising footballers is on the cusp of emerging. Sure, it will take time and a fair bit of list management to go back to the lofty heights of 2009 & 2010, but their starting point is quite a good one.