Paid little mind and predicted to finish bottom six by most, even bottom four by a few, St Kilda had few fans entering the 2023 season. How surprising it was then when they spent the entire season in the top eight.

With 'Ross the Boss' back at the helm, they featured in finals for just the second time since 2011, though they bowed out in week one after coming up against a far superior GWS outfit.

That being said, not much went right for the Saints leading into 2023. It's easy to forget they started the season without any key forwards available. Max King, Tim Membrey and Jack Hayes all suffering significant injuries in the pre-season.

It was their emerging young talent and makeshift forward line that captured the hearts of the Saints' faithful, winning plenty of admirers for their desire, dare and competitiveness.

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While they had plenty of heart, they lacked polish, star power and the ability to score heavily and as a result, were found out in finals.

Knowing what they need going forward, the Saints targeted the draft heavily, taking five players, before taking ex-Port Adelaide defender Riley Bonner in the rookie draft.

The players they picked were largely running machines with leg speed, signalling Ross Lyon's intent to ensure the Saints are one of the hardest gut-running teams in the AFL.

Going into 2024, they also need a clean bill of health for Max King, and Jack Steele to get back to his best after a tough two years with injury. In fact, they'd just love to have most of their players available for Round 1, something they haven't had for two years.

They'd also love to see continued development and improvement from Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Mitch Owens, Marcus Windhager, Mattaes Phillipou and Anthony Caminiti, with all of them crucial to the Saints' future.

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Darcy Wilson forcing his way into the side nice and early to provide extra run on the outside and aid the likes of Jack Sinclair, Mason Wood and Bradley Hill out on the wings, would be a big bonus.

The Saints are in an interesting position, they're a candidate to slide back down the ladder so can't afford to rest on their laurels, not that Ross Lyon is likely to let them.

Here's how we think the Saints line up in 2024...



1. Defenders

The Saints backline in 2023 was one of the stingiest in the AFL, well-organised, hard to break down and capable of turning defence into attack quickly at times. Much of this is down to the intercept work of Callum Wilkie and Josh Battle.

While neither are overly tall, Battle is athletic and courageous, while Wilkie has an exception football IQ and is able to read the play incredibly well. Both are crucial to the Saints' structure.

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While it may seem harsh not to have Dougal Howard as the number one key defender right now, it's hard to argue with Zaine Cordy's late season form in the backline as they marched towards finals.

Likewise Marcus Windhager, who carved out a nice role for himself down back late in the year and began to show why the Saints rate him so highly.

They will be hoping that he continues his progress in 2024. Should he not, Liam Stocker, Riley Bonner and Jimmy Webster are all waiting in the wings and ready to pounce.

Complementing this backline is the class of Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera and speed and rebound of Jack Sinclair. Both are deadly by foot and heavily involved in the way the Saints move the ball out of defence, they pick themselves every week.