Zero Hanger wraps up Part One of our mid-season reviews by taking a look at Alan Richardson’s Saints.
Pre-Season Prediction: 13th
Current Position: 12th
Forecast: A finish between 9-11
If it wasn’t for a few close losses earlier in the season, the Saints could be sitting at 8-5 instead of 6-7. 32 points would of had them in contention of sneaking in to the top eight, but that’s just a dream at this point of the season.
Despite those close losses (3 points to Hawthorn and 7 points to North Melbourne) St Kilda have been a very competitive side and have taken care of those teams below them on the table whilst picking up four points against the premiership favourites in Geelong most recently.
The Saints have only lost to one current bottom ten team and that was Port Adelaide in round one, so they have a pretty good case to claim they are the best side in the bottom half of the ladder. Etihad has been a happy hunting ground for the Saints, winning their last four games there, but its their interstate form that is worrying. Huge losses to West Coast and Adelaide will have them concerned internally and possibly a bit worried heading up to the Gold Coast this Saturday to face the Suns.
However, all in all its been a good year for Alan Richardson’s team and their on track to play finals in the next year or two. Lets take a look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked so far in 2016.
What’s Gone Right
Pressure, pressure, pressure! They dish it out in abundance and following on from 2015, St Kilda remain a very strong pressure side, basing their game around high intensity effort 100 per cent of the time. They are ranked fourth in the league in this category with a differential of +5.3 per outing and have lost the pressure battle just twice this year, both times in Adelaide.
It was the catalyst for their surprise win over the Cats this past Saturday night which was one of Geelong’s worst games this year in terms of disposal and its a credit to a young Saints side that identified Geelong’s weakness.
Disposal efficiency is also up for the Saints, going at 75 per cent, the second best in the league. The use the ball well and have a surprisingly composed group of young players who don’t just kick and hope for the best. In conjunction with this, their lethal in front of goal, going at 53 per cent efficiency with the ball inside their 50. Their last two wins, have seen them kick 17.8 against Carlton and then 14.9 against the Cats.
What’s Gone Wrong
Their defence is very suspect and most games will see them going in very undersized which has seen them lost 35.8 per cent of its defensive one-on-one contests, ranked last in the competition. They desperately need Jake Carlisle back.
This stat could also be due to a lack of midfield pressure. The Saints will be hard-pressed to improve in this area too, with Sean Dempster, Sam Fisher and Hugh Goddard all injured. They’re the third worst contested possession side in the league, averaging just 132 per game.
Their stoppage work could also use some improvement, ranked fourth last with just 22 per game.
Their record against top eight sides is also quite poor despite the win against the Cats last week. That win is their only win against a top eight team and they’ve been well beaten by the best sides in the league – the Western Bulldogs, GWS, West Coast and Adelaide as well as that thumping 103-point loss to West Coast which is a major concern if they want to push for the top eight next season. These are the scalps you need to play finals.
Skipper Nick Riewoldt is playing some of the best football of his career in 2016. The six-time best-and-fairest winner is averaging 20 disposals and is equal second in the club’s goalkicking tally with 21 goals from 13 games. His leadership is still as strong as ever and he has found himself playing on the wing more this season compared to previous years. He could be a lock in the All-Australian team this year, but the question is where would he fit?
Reigning best-and-fairest winner Jack Steven has been brilliant this season, averaging 28.5 disposals to be the 16th in the official AFL Player Rankings – the highest ranked St Kilda player. Leigh Montagna has also been terrific off half-back and could be a smokey for All-Australian selection.
Pick 18 in last year’s draft, Jade Gresham has made a positive start to his AFL career kicking seven goals from ten games, none better than his clutch snap in the last quarter against Geelong on the weekend.
Nathan Freeman remains St Kilda’s biggest worry, with the ex-Collingwood speedster highly unlikely to make his AFL debut this year due to persistent hamstring injuries. Let’s not forget that St Kilda have up its 2016 second round selection to get Freeman to the club.
Second Half Expectations
Their next three games are must wins, with Gold Coast away and Essendon and Melbourne at Etihad before two tough games against the Bulldogs and North Melbourne.
They only face three more top eight sides for the rest of the year and you’d think they go in as underdogs in all three. Other than those games, they play teams either below them all or in the case of Carlton, a side they’ve already beaten this year.
I’ll give then six more wins with five being the bare minimum. That will take their ledger to 12-10 which should see the Saints finish either ninth or tenth but a still a fair way off that final top eight spot.