Saints Season of False Dawns So Far

By Nick Sculley

It has been a season of false dawns for St.Kilda with each of the opening four matches following a familiar script. In round one against the now undefeated Cats the Saints led all day and should never have lost. In round two, and again on Thursday night, the men from Morabbin blew their opposition away in the opening stages before subsequently letting them back into the game, and at times looking as if they were on the ropes. Even in the round three demolition against the Bombers they were competitive in the opening term before capitulating in almost every area.

St.Kilda could, and should, be sitting on three wins after four games and the constant criticism would have dulled considerably. There are of course several areas of concern; however the current game style only needs a few minor tweaks, rather than a total overhaul.

Even when the Saint’s have been playing in Grand Finals in recent years the main criticism has been that they don’t kick enough goals. When you are winning games the condemnation is often ignored, but when the results start to go the other way then alarm bells start ringing.

Ross Lyon appears to be employing a much higher forward set-up this season with Milne, Schneider and Steven among others pushing further up the field. When Riewoldt is playing out of the square there isn’t as much cause for concern, however on Thursday night with both Koschitzke and Stanley seemingly playing the same role their forward set-up was exposed.

It is unfair to be too critical of either player; Stanley having played only a handful of games and Koschitzke playing his first game back after ankle surgery. However in Thursday night’s set-up both were expected to play predominantly on the lead rather than contesting in pack situations. Now it is too early to know what sort of player Rhys Stanley is going to be, but in slippery conditions his hands were nowhere near good enough. And anyone that has watched Justin Koschitke in full-flight knows that he is at his best when he is crashing packs.

It would be a surprise to see Stanley playing anywhere other than Sandringham next weekend, but what Saint’s fans need is to see Koschitzke playing principally in the ruck and around the ground. His decision-making will always have fans holding their collective breath, but there is no doubt we will see his best footy for the remainder of his career in the ruck.

Consequently this will leave a gap at full forward, which will be adequately filled by young Will Johnson. He has started the VFL season exceptionally and after being left out of the Sandringham side last weekend it was expected Johnson would make his debut on Thursday. After Riewoldt went down last season there was a deafening chorus of supporters calling for Rhys Stanley to be elevated to the senior team, this season the man they all want is Johnson. The Saints are understandably reluctant to blood another key-position youngster with question marks surrounding his work-rate; however Johnson will provide the Saints with the forward structure they desire. With Johnson, Riewoldt, Schneider, Milne, Steven and Gilbert the Saints may have the balance they crave.

Sam Gilbert must go forward this week against the Crows. He has looked listless on several occasions this season, none more so than when he bounced the ball in frustration after being called for running too far on Thursday night, in the process giving away a 50 meter penalty. He looks like a man that needs a change, and while there may be the temptation to send him back to Sandy a move forward would be more productive. This would also open the door for former high draft pick Tom Lynch to slot into St.Kilda’s backline. Lynch was a highly touted forward in his junior career, but a move to defence in recent seasons has seen him flourish and he has been on the brink of selection for much of the season.

There will continue to be calls for the Saints to inject more pace into their line-up, but Ross Lyon has shown he will not just hand out games if a player is undeserving. But speed can be injected without making drastic changes to the playing line-up. The most important aspect of St.Kilda’s ball movement is their decision making; if their decisions are sound the ball movement will be swift, and all of a sudden the side won’t look quite so slow. Add to this a further injection of youth in the coming rounds and things aren’t quite as dour as some believe for St.Kilda.

The club’s top draft pick from last season Jamie Cripps will debut sooner rather than later on current form, whilst Brendan Goddard alluded to the enigmatic Aaron Siposs being on the brink of selection. The next two matches against Adelaide and Carlton will tell us alot about the psyche of this St.Kilda outfit, and if they are switched on expect to see a sustained climb back up the table to where they belong.

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