The Way-Too-Early 2013 Preview: St Kilda

St Kilda

The Saints started the new millennium horribly, with a 16th, 15th, and another 15th placed finish. They climbed to 11th in 2003, and from then on enjoyed a fairly nice run throughout the rest of the decade, finding themselves in the top four more often than not. Unfortunately, they also found themselves falling agonisingly short of holding the Cup on numerous occasions.

Following the drawn Grand Final and subsequent replay loss in 2010, the Saints have dropped from their previously lofty heights.

St Kilda H & A Finishing Positions
2004 3rd
2005 4th
2006 6th
2007 9th
2008 4th
2009 1st
2010 3rd
2011 6th
2012 9th


Are the past two seasons evidence of a deep slump that is only just beginning, or yet another short stay outside the top four like the one over the 06/07 seasons? The Saints finished with 48 premiership points in 2012, which would be enough to secure eighth place most seasons. Many of the players behind that era of dominance are still around, but several of them are the wrong side of thirty, or dangerously close to it.

There have also been some major off-season departures of late. In 2011 coach Ross Lyon left rather abruptly to join Fremantle, while last year they became the first side to lose a star through free agency. While there are still familiar faces around, the Saints are beginning to look like a very different side from the one we saw facing off in Grand Finals a short time ago.

So, will there be another dash at the flag in the Riewoldt era? Or is this a case of things having to come down before they can go back up?

2012 Key Statistics

St Kilda 2012 Offensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Disposals 357.7 8th
Contested Possessions 137 14th
Clearances 37.3 11th
Inside 50s 53.8 tied 7th
Marks Inside 50 13.2 5th
Hitouts 33.8 17th
Goals 15.7 2nd


St Kilda 2012 Defensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Points Against 86.5 8th
Inside 50s Conceded 48.6 7th
Marks Inside 50 Conceded 10.9 10th
Tackles 67.4 6th


St Kilda 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials
Total Competition Rank
Inside 50s Opponent Differential(Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded) 114 6th
Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential (Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded) 51 7th


What are they great at?

St Kilda was great at one thing in 2012, kicking goals. Admittedly, if you could only pick one thing to be great at, it would probably be kicking goals. It is kinda the point of the whole game.

St Kilda prowess in front of goal was mainly down to two players, Stephen Milne and Nick Riewoldt. Milne is particular has been remarkably consistent, kicking 56, 56 and 57 in the past three years. In 2012 Milne took that consistency to a new level, scoring at least one goal in every single game, and was most deserving of his All-Australian spot.

Riewoldt had a goal kicking resurgence of sorts, kicking 47, his highest tally since 2009 despite missing a handful of games.

What are they good at?

Taking marks inside 50, again thanks largely to the efforts of Riewoldt and Milne.

On the whole the Saints also maintained a slightly above average defence despite the departure of Ross Lyon. The club finished 6th in tackles, 7th for inside 50s conceded, and 8th for points against. They did however rank a disappointing 10th for marks inside 50 conceded.

What do they need to improve?

There is plenty of room for improvement at St Kilda, particularly in the middle of the park.

The Saints were below average in several significant midfield categories, notably contested possessions and clearances.  This is perhaps somewhat unexpected given most of the midfield is the same as the ones seen over the past few years, with quality footballers like Hayes, Dal Santo and Montagna. Do their struggles relate to the problems in the ruck, initial teething problems with the new game plan, or is it the beginning of a general decline in the long time midfield figureheads?

What are they bad at?

The Saints were one of the worst sides when it came to hit-outs. The club’s lead ruckman, Ben McEvoy, missed a big chunk of footy in the early part of the season. In his absence, the ruck duties were rotated between Jason Blake, Rhys Stanley and Justin Koschitzke. None faired particularly well.

Points of Interest in 2013

Where are they headed?

As touched upon in the statistics section above, most of St Kilda’s production comes at the hands of senior players.

St Kilda Players Ages 28 and Above
Age Games Played Games Played in 2012
Lenny Hayes 33 263 22
Stephen Milne 32.10 258 22
Jason Blake 31.10 212 13
Sam Fisher 30.6 182 15
Justin Koschitzke 30.4 195 19
Nick Riewoldt 30.3 238 19
Leigh Montagna 29.2 191 22
Sean Dempster 29 141 22
Clinton Jones 28.11 114 17
Nick Dal Santo 28.11 238 22
Adam Schneider 28.8 195 8


After this there is a significant drop-off in both the quality and experience of the younger players.

St Kilda Players Ages 23 to 27
Age Games Played Games Played in 2012
Beau Maister 26.10 33 10
Farren Ray 26.10 157 11
James Gwilt 26.5 96 14
Sam Gilbert 26.5 131 21
Terry Milera 25 15 15
David Armitage 24.7 71 21
Jarryn Geary 24.7 72 20
Trent Dennis-Lane 24.4 19 8 (With Sydney)
Ben McEvoy 23.6 69 16
Ahmed Saad 23.3 16 16


St Kilda Players Ages 23 and Below
Age Games Played Games Played in 2012
Sam Dunnell (RL) 22.11 5 5
Jack Steven 22.9 51 21
Tom Simpkin 22.5 21 19
Cameron Shenton (RL) 22.3 0 0
Rhys Stanley 22.1 21 12
Thomas Lee 22 0 not on list
Tom Hickey 21.10 12 10 (With Gold Coast)
Nicholas Winmar 21.8 2 0
Dylan Roberton 21.7 37 10 (With Fremantle)
Tom Ledger 20.10 6 4
Thomas Curren (RL) 20.5 0 0
Jackson Ferguson (RL) 20.3 0 0
Arryn Siposs 20.1 16 11
Nathan Wright (RD 2 2012) 19.11 0 not on list
Jack Newnes (RD 2 2011) 19.11 7 7
Daniel Markworth (RD 2 2011) 19.9 0 0
Sebastian Ross (RD 1 2011) 19.8 1 1
Jay Lever 19.7 0 0
Jimmy Webster (RD 2 2011) 19.6 0 0
Jordan Staley (RL) 19.6 0 0
Darren Minchington (RL) 19.1 0 0
Brodie Murdoch (RD 2 2012) 19 0 not on list
Josh Saunders (RD 2 2012) 18.4 0 not on list
Spencer White (RD 2 2012) 18.4 0 not on list

RL = Rookie Listed. 1st and 2nd round draft picks from the past two years are highlighted. In 2012 St Kilda sent pick 12 to the Giants for Thomas Lee, and picks 13, 37 and 57 to the Suns for Tom Hickey, pick 26 and pick 47.

Such a disparity points to what St Kilda now is, a team recently removed from the “genuine premiership threat” tier of sides. For close to a decade now the Saints have been a legitimate premiership contender, and they are in danger of paying for it now. In the early part of that extended run, which started in 2004, the players listed in the 28 and above category were both young and in many instances already key players in a successful side. The Saints essentially rode that group, by and large neglecting to continually add young players in favour of adding already established players, who could help the team in a more immediate sense. Essentially, the Saints gambled on the 28 and above group being able to lead them to a flag. A reasonable gamble, given the quality of the group, but one that came up agonisingly short, and one that now puts them in a precarious position moving forward.

To cut to the chase, the Saints have to decide where they are.

For the most part, that 28 and above group still has a year or two of quality football in it. The question the Saints need to ask themselves is are they, and the 23 to 27 group, good enough to win a flag? I don’t think they are, at least not without significant improvement from the 27 and below group of players, and, if their decision to not match Essendon’s offer for Brendon Goddard is any indication, neither do they.

This places St Kilda in an awkward transitional phase. Not re-signing Goddard is effectively a concession that they can’t win the flag in the immediate term. However, the quality of the 28 and above group is such that they are unlikely to plunge down the depths of the ladder. This puts St Kilda at a philosophical football crossroad with the following paths

  1. Continue on as usual with the 23 and up groups forming the majority of your “best” match day 22, fitting the occasional youngster in as need or form demands.
  2. Make a concerted effort to give opportunities to the 23 and below group to see what you have moving forward. Best case scenario you unearth some real gems that, when combined with the 28 and above group, pushes the side toward one last shot at the flag while simultaneously identifying some crucial cogs for the side moving forward. Worst case scenario you discover you don’t have much to build upon in place and start an aggressive rebuild of the side.
  3. Immediately begin an aggressive rebuild in which you effectively self-sacrifice your present chances in favour of trying to set up success down the line (think finishing 13th while playing as many youngsters as possible rather than the 7th placed finish you could probably achieve if you played your more mature players). The logic here being you’re going to go down before you go up, so why not speed the whole process along rather than tread water for a couple of years before slowly sinking anyway. This is fairly risky though, and often leads to extended periods at the bottom.

The important thing is there is no right answer, and any answer selected will likely include facets of all three paths. Adelaide found themselves in a similar situation a few years ago facing the retirements of Ricciuto, McLeod, Edwards and Goodwin all within a couple of years, and only spent two years out of the finals thanks to some superb performances on draft day. Conversely, the Swans have mocked the notion you need to tumble down the ladder before you can rise again, adding quality youngsters progressively to a successful side, maintaining quality performances on the field without hurting themselves long term. Several teams have gone the “nuke it” option when faced with the knowledge the team they possess isn’t good enough to get it done, and the results range from tremendous (Hawthorn post 2003 cleanout), to dire (Melbourne 2007 onwards). Truth be told it doesn’t matter so much which path you take, as it is all dependent either way on how well you draft and then develop young players. If you don’t get that right you won’t even be an average side, let alone a contender. Last year new coach Scott Watters began to introduce several younger players into the side, and it seems clear they wish to copy the Swans model of replenishing the side while still competing for finals spots. This is obviously the most ideal method that all clubs would prefer to take, but it is quite difficult to get your hands on the best talent without the high draft picks that come with the foot of the ladder. You’re banking on your recruiting staff doing an exceptional job.

Intriguing Forward Setup

One of the biggest reasons the Saints are unlikely to tumble down the ladder too dramatically is their forward line. Last year they finished 2nd in goals per game, kicking 15 or more in fourteen outings.

First there are the talls. Nick Riewoldt has been the mainstay of the St Kilda forward line for over a decade and remains so heading into 2013. Last year he was supported by Koschitzke, Stanley, and toward the end of the year, Maister (formerly Wilkes). So far throughout the 2013 pre-season Maister has impressed and will most likely start the season at full-forward.

The Saints also sent pick 12 to the Giants for Thomas Lee. Lee was originally drafted by the Crows late in the 2008 National Draft, but was de-listed after just a year. The young tall returned to the WAFL to play for Claremont, where he starred, kicking 60 goals. Lee was then pre-listed by the Giants, and the Saints were happy to take him off their hands.

But it is the small forward brigade that is the most exciting aspect of the St Kilda side. Stephen Milne, Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera form the best small forward trio in the land, at least in a purely attacking sense. In the off-season they added another small, sending pick 47 to the Swans for Trent Dennis-Lane. All four are likely to feature in the Saints line-up, and, Milne aside, they are all still quite young.

You put all this together and you have the most eclectic forward line in the competition. Riewoldt, who finished 6th for marks inside 50 per game, and Maister provide more than capable tall marking options for the St Kilda midfield. Even if they don’t mark it, if they just force a contest and bring the ball to ground they have a whole host of hungry goal sharks chomping at the bit.

Tom Hickey

Hickey was the other big recruit for the Saints this off-season, with the club sending pick 13 to the Suns for the young ruckman.

Hickey is an interesting investment for the Saints, as they already have a young ruckman in Ben McEvoy. The price they paid for the former Sun suggests they intend on going with a two ruck setup in the future. Both players are capable of playing elsewhere when the other is in the ruck, so it is feasible to have both in the side and not suffer for it. With two dedicated ruck duos becoming a rarity, this has the potential to be an intriguing point of difference in the coming seasons.


St Kilda still have the fire power up front to trouble any side. Most of their problems in 2012 stemmed from the middle of the park, which for so long was their greatest area of strength. There are still quality players in that part of the field though, and if they fire once again then the Saints are capable of being a real September surprise packet.

The bigger questions lie beyond 2013 though. The side we are likely to see throughout the season will be mix between the senior brigade and many newer faces, as Scott Watters continues the process he began last season of integrating new youngsters into a side that had very few newcomers in the seasons prior. Players like Steven, Siposs, Simpkin, Lee, Hickey, Stanley and Newnes will feature heavily, and how well these players take to the AFL environment will affect St Kilda’s fortunes both now and in the coming years. If they come in and excel, then St Kilda might fancy one last roll of the dice at premiership glory over the next two or three years before the Riewoldt era comes to a close, and they’ll be reasonably positioned once it does. If they struggle, then chances are the Saints are going to experience a significant drop when that senior bunch departs, and may find themselves down near the foot of the ladder for a couple of seasons.

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?

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