18 Teams in 18 Days: St. Kilda Saints

2017: 11th (11 wins – 11 losses)

Key Acquisition:

Hunter Clark (AFL Draft – Pick #7), Nick Coffieid (AFL Draft – Pick #8)

Key Losses:

Nick Riewoldt (retirement), Leigh Montagna (retirement), Sean Dempster (retirement)

Million Dollar Question

Will the Saints please or tease in 2018? The Saints were one of the better teams to watch in 2017, but at times had long-suffering Saints fans tearing their hair out. One week they may be beating the soon to be Premiers by 67 points, the next week being handed a lesson of their own by Essendon to the tune of 61 points. There may not have been any team in the land last season who had a bigger chasm between their best and worst performances. Saints fans are eagerly and perhaps impatiently waiting for their team to emerge again, and it will be very interesting to see how coach Alan Richardson and captain Jarryn Geary take the Saints into the future without two of its best players from the modern era (Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna).

Case For

Although most of the stats from last year would tell the tale of a rather average season for the Saints in 2017 (highlighted by their eventual record of 11-11), the Saints played some quite scintillating football at times during the campaign. Most notable were the huge wins over Richmond and also a big win against the premiership favourite GWS on Friday night footy in round 7. Allan Richardson will be hoping to get better consistency out of a developing group (the Saints have the 4th youngest list in the league heading into season 2018 with an average age of 23 years and 201 days). One of the other big knocks on the Saints recently has been that they don’t have enough class, that they simply don’t have the match winners at their disposal to stand up and win games for them like Nick Riewoldt, Brendan Goddard or Lenny Hayes once did. That notion could be forgotten quickly if they can just get some health and continuity from younger stars in Jack Billings, dashing but horrendously injury-prone midfielder Nathan Freeman and hulking full forward Paddy McCartin. The Saints will also be welcoming in two young guns from the under 18 Championships last season in tall halfback Nick Coffield and tough inside mid, Hunter Clark. If both can have an impact this season, and the return of the forgotten David Armitage can add another element to a growing midfield group, the Saints will become more than just a no mans land kind of team, they’ll be a genuine finals contender.

Case Against 

While there’s no doubt the likes of McCartin and Freeman could add so much to an emerging side like the Saints, fans have to be wondering and asking themselves whether or not these players will be able to get over their injury histories and get out and produce quality football on the field. This will be Freeman’s 5th year in the league after being drafted to Collingwood with pick 10 in the 2013 AFL draft, and he’s yet to play a game due to a wretched run with injuries. McCartin, meanwhile, has only averaged 7 games a season since being drafted number 1 overall in 2014, for a total of just 22 games and 22 goals. Only the Bulldogs, Blues, Suns and Dockers kicked fewer goals than the Saints did last season (271), so getting McCartin up and running is critical to the long-term success. St. Kilda will not climb into finals calculations until they get some production from players like these guys. They’ve been impressed with the development of guys like Seb Ross and Blake Acres, but they need more. If they don’t, expect St. Kilda to go after free agents again in the coming offseason.

One to Watch

Hunter Clark could be deployed all over the field for the Saints in 2018, having gained experience in the Under 18 setup both as a crafty halfback flanker and as an in and under midfielder. Regardless of where he plays, expect Clark to earn the respect of both St. Kilda players and fans alike with his thirst for the footy and contest. With a mix of both toughness and class by hand and foot, Clark will become a household name in no time.

Bold Prediction

While there are some really nice pieces starting to come together at St. Kilda, this still feels like a team that is perhaps a year or two off finals. Don’t underrate the impact losing voices like Riewoldt and Montagna will have around the locker room on a day to day basis, as veterans like that simply can not be easily replaced. The Saints will again be a thorn in the side of many teams in 2018, but they’re still too inconsistent to have them pegged as a finals certainty. But they’re building, and it won’t be too long before they’re challenging again.

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