MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 23: Jarryn Geary of the Saints leads his team out for warm up during the round five AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Geelong Cats at Etihad Stadium on April 23, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Last Season 

Expected to improve and challenge for the final eight last season, St Kilda actually went backwards in terms of wins and finishing position. After sitting 2-3 after the first five games of the season with wins over Hawthorn and GWS, Saints fans were excited to begin the season, however with three 40+ point losses to Sydney, the Bulldogs and Adelaide saw them sitting at 5-6 at the half way point of the season.

With an impressive four game winning streak post the bye, which included a comprehensive defeat of eventual premiers Richmond, the Saints’ season came to a crashing halt. Never being able to replicate that form, the Saints went 2-5 to end the season. They finished with 11 wins and 11 losses to end the season in 11th position.

A recurring issue with the Saints last season was their inability to get the job done. After a thumping of the Hawks, they followed up with a comprehensive five goal loss to the Demons. The demolition of the Tigers followed a disappointing effort in a loss to the Bombers, while a last minute defeat to Port Adelaide, had many questioning the players decision making in the final minutes.

With Nick Riewoldt retiring, St Kilda need players to step up. Paddy McCartin needs to come of age, while their young midfielders need to prove that they are match winners. Their inability to kick straight in front of foals was also worrying for the Saints last season.

Off Season Grade

In: Logan Austin, Hunter Clark (Pick 7), Nick Coffield (Pick 8), Oscar Clavarino (Pick 35), Ben Paton (Pick 46)

Out: Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Sean Dempster

Off season Grade: C+ 

The Saints were very active in the free agency without snagging anyone. It was widely published with their attempt to try and lure GWS utility Adam Tomlinson and West Coast midfielder Andrew Gaff, but there attempts were unsuccessful.

They would have liked to have been more active, but top draft picks Nick Coffield and Hunter Clark look like good players.

Clark can play in the midfield, half back and half forward and has good speed whilst Coffield looks a ready made replacement to replace Leigh Montagna off half back.

Coffield, is a versatile player who has good speed and disposal. Watch out for the Saints in next year’s free agency, as they look loaded with heaps of salary cap available. Gaff is a free agent at season’s end, expect the Saints to go hard at him.

Defining Period 

The Saints have many marquee games to look forward to in 2018, which proves to be a great test for their emerging stars. The Saints will play North Melbourne on Good Friday, they will play three other Friday night games, including Maddie’s Match against Richmond in Round 20 and will host the 2018 Pride Game against Sydney in Round 12 at Etihad Stadium.

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The Saints have six, six day breaks, while playing tough double-up games against Richmond, GWS, Melbourne, Hawthorn. They also face a massive test, having to travel to Perth twice in 21 days.

The Saints open their season with games against Brisbane and North Melbourne, which are games that they are expected to win, and win comfortably. With the opportunity to start the season in winning form, the Saints go on to play a three game stretch against Geelong, Adelaide and Greater Western Sydney.

The first five weeks could tell us a lot about their 2018 prospects. If they can manage to get even one win, in this three game stretch and manage to be competitive in the other games, an improved season might be on the cards for Alan Richardson’s men.

Round 1 Brisbane Lions, Etihad Stadium (Home)

Round 2 North Melbourne, Etihad Stadium (Away)

Round 3 Adelaide Crows, Etihad Stadium (Home)

Round 4 Geelong Cats, GMHBA (Away)

Round 5 GWS Giants, Etihad Stadium (Home)

St Kilda/Tim Membrey

Champion Data Suggests… 

After last season, the Saints had 16 players in the positive relative rating, and six were aged 22 or younger, while the oldest player of the 16 was Jack Steven, who is 27. This shows signs of an up and coming side. This is an improvement from the end of the 2016 season where they had 15 players in the positive relative rating, with only four players were aged 22 or younger, and five were aged 27 or over.

Champion Data also suggests that St Kilda’s blueprint for success is built on forward fifty entries and pressure. St Kilda was the only side whose results were 100 percent determined by forward 50 entries.

Whenever they won the count, they won, and whenever they lost the count they lost. They also had the highest correlation for margin from both, time spent in in forward half and time spent in possession. So as long as the Saints held the ball and controlled territory they won the game.

Strengths and Weaknesses 

Strengths: The Saints’ midfield is a massive strength this season. Although the Saints lost more games this season, they won the counts in disposals, contested possessions, and uncontested possessions in 2017, which are general stats that correlate into victories.

They also improved their clearance differential last season, propelling their time spent in their own half from 8th best in the competition to 6th. Once entering the forward 50, the Saints ranked 3rd in the competition for their ability to score upon entering, where they were able to generate two more scoring shots with the same amount of inside 50’s when comparing season 2016 to season 2017.

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Their defensive pressure is also a vital indicator for the Saints. They were able to create 559 forward turnovers last season, the fifth most by any side, while ranking 9th in the competitions for scores off turnovers. With the likes of Jack Billings, Jade Gresham and Jack Sinclair only going to get better this season, the Saints will be looking to improve on this strength to help them make the finals this season.

Weaknesses: Goal kicking accuracy is a widely underrated statistic in the AFL. The Saints’ shot accuracy was ranked 17th, at 52%. What makes this stat more worrying for the Saints was that they had the third highest expected hit rate of any side, so they weren’t missing many hard shots.

This resulted in an eight-point drop in their average score per week last season. It is a stat that the Saints will be looking to rectify this season by employing ex-hawk spearhead Ben Dixon as their goal kicking coach.

The Saints’ consistency to play their brand of footy last season was what was lacking. The Saints conceded under 90 points 11 times last season, winning 10 times, while conceding over 90 points on 11 occasions last season – losing 10 times.

They allowed the opposition to have more than 50 or more inside 50’s on 10 occasions, losing every time, while they kept their opposition to less than 50 inside 50’s on 12 occasions, winning 11 times.

If the Saints are consistent and disciplined in the way they play, they can rapidly improve on last season. They have the list and are playing in the right way, its just the consistency that is lacking.

Their draw this season isn’t very favourable this season either, with Champion Data ranking their draw the 5th hardest in the competition.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 05: Dylan Roberton of the Saints high fives fans after winning the round seven AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Etihad Stadium on May 5, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Prediction 

11th

The Saints will need their emerging youngsters to crack through and cement their status as legitimate stars. They’ll need to prove that they have the capacity to reach the next level.

We have seen glimpses if what could be, but not enough in the past two seasons. The likes of Jack Steven, Jack Billings, Jack Steele and Dylan Roberton make you believe that the Saints have the quality, but the likes of Paddy McCartin and fellow forwards Josh Bruce and Tim Membrey need to display more consistent performances.

Can Luke Dunstan, Blake Acres, Jack Newnes and Jack Lonie step up and become genuine match winners? They have a good skipper in Jarryn Geary, with Nathan Brown and Jake Carlisle in key defence, they have the recipe to succeed.

 

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