The weight of expectation proved too much for St Kilda in 2018 after many tipped the young team to make the jump into the top eight.
Following round one’s home victory over the Lions, the Saints went eleven games without a win, next triumphing in a last-gasp two-point result against the Suns in round 13.
The club limped to the end of the year with six straight losses in 16th position, just two points clear of Gold Coast.
The loss of Dylan Roberton after round four with a heart irregularity and the retirement of Koby Stevens due to persistent concussion symptoms were devastating blows for a team lacking experience and leadership.
The continued development of defender Jimmy Webster was a bright spot for the Saints, with the 25-year-old setting career high averages in disposals (22) and marks (4.9).
Former No.3 draft pick Jack Billings had a disappointing first half to the season and came under increased scrutiny for his lacklustre performance and forward pressure.
However, the mercurial half-forward responded to being axed from the Saints team in round 12 with some scintillating footy in the back half of the year, averaging 24.6 disposals and drastically improving his tackling numbers.
Seb Ross established himself as an elite midfielder in the competition, averaging 30 disposals and four tackles per game, but there were too many passengers for the Saints.
No coach came under more pressure than Alan Richardson, who could be considered lucky to still have a job this season, with the club ultimately backing their man in.
In: Dan Hannebery (Sydney), Dean Kent (Melbourne), Max King (Pick 4, Sandringham Dragons), Jack Bytel (Pick 41, Calder Cannons), Matthew Parker (Pick 47, South Fremantle), Nick Hind (Pick 54, Essendon VFL), Robert Young (Pick 67, North Adelaide), Callum Wilkie (Rookie, North Adelaide)
Out: Ray Connellan, Nathan Freeman, Sam Gilbert, Hugh Goddard, Darren Minchington, Maverick Weller, Nathan Wright, Koby Stevens
Offseason grade: C
The Saints shed a lot of extra baggage via the delistings of failed long-term project Nathan Freeman, Sam Gilbert, Darren Minchington, Nathan Wright and Hugh Goddard.
The club made no attempt to hide the fact that they were keen to acquire a high-profile player over the summer, but failed to do so with all except Dan Hannebery.
After signing the Swans midfielder to a five-year contract, the Saints’ off-season is beginning to look like a disaster after Hannebery’s hamstring issues have flared up again with no time-frame for his return.
Dean Kent had an impressive season for Melbourne and will help with depth and experience. It’s possible that St Kilda’s best off-season recruit was actually off the field, acquiring the highly touted ex-Blues coach Brett Ratten from Hawthorn.
However, Kent and an injured-prone Hannebery are lean returns for a club in need of starpower and leadership.
The Saints will be desperate for a couple of wins from their first four games, as they face Gold Coast (home), Essendon (away), Fremantle (away), Hawthorn (home).
Two wins from the first four should be the pass mark for the Saints if they want to prove that 2018’s dismal performance was an anomaly.
Those wins could be crucial, with Melbourne, Adelaide, GWS, West Coast and Collingwood their opponents in the next five.
FB: Jarryn Geary, Logan Austin, Nick Coffield
HB: Dylan Roberton, Jake Carlisle, Jimmy Webster
C: Jack Steele, Jack Steven, Jack Sinclair
HF: Jack Billings, Tim Membrey, Blake Acres
FF: Jade Gresham, Paddy McCartin, Dean Kent
R: Billy Longer, Seb Ross, Dan Hannebery
I/C: Shane Savage, Hunter Clark, Jack Newnes, Josh Bruce
Strengths and Weaknesses
The Saints have an exciting young core that needs to step up.
Billings, Acres, and Bruce need to finally produce consistent quality football to support the team’s regular stars in Ross, Steven and Roberton.
Coffield, Clark and Phillips present themselves as exciting youngsters and hopefully can continue their development in 2019.
However, questions remain over how many of these young St Kilda players are willing and ready to support Ross and Steven in doing the dirty work required to grind out wins at AFL level.
The ability of these 21 to 23-year-old Saints to step up will define the club’s success in 2019.
St Kilda’s off-season failed to bring many upgrades to a team that managed just four wins in 2018, and the Saints have the feel of a club in denial, refusing to accept a rebuild.
The senior list has some exciting young talent but is clogged with a host of mid-to-late aged players who have shown little signs of development.
It’s now or never for the likes of Josh Bruce (26 years old), Billy Longer (25), Luke Dunstan (24) and Paddy McCartin (22) to prove that they belong in Alan Richardson’s long-term plans.
This team lacks the grunt needed to progress in 2019 and if results are similar to 2018, expect a full-blown rebuild and new coach.