St Kilda 2012 Season Preview

INS: Jay Lever (national draft), Daniel Markworth (national draft), Terry Milera (GWS), Jack Newnes (national draft), Sebastian Ross (national draft), Ahmed Saad (GWS), Jimmy Webster (national draft), Beau Wilkes (West Coast).

OUTS: Steven Baker (delisted), Paul Cahill (delisted), Zac Dawson (Fremantle), Ryan Gamble (delisted), Michael Gardiner (retired), Nick Heyne (delisted), Will Johnson (delisted), Tom Lynch (Adelaide), Andrew McQualter (delisted), Alistair Smith (delisted), Tommy Walsh (Sydney).

YEAR IN REVIEW: The off-season from hell gave way to an equally forgettable start to the 2011 season. The Saints dropped seven of their first eight games, lost spiritual leader Lenny Hayes to a long-term knee injury, and were discredited by countless footy scribes and commentators during the first two months of the season. Somehow, though, they turned it around, winning 11 of their last 14 home-and-away games before bowing out of the finals at the hands of Sydney Swans. Nick Dal Santo finished second in the Brownlow, Stephen Milne was All Australian and ruckman Ben McEvoy began to deliver on his promise. Skipper Nick Riewoldt’s struggle with injury and form was a lowlight, as was the abrupt defection of coach Ross Lyon to Fremantle at season’s end.

GAME BREAKER: After his brilliant performance in the drawn grand final in 2010, Brendon Goddard looked set to take his game to another level last year. Some knowledgeable footy people even tipped him to become the most dominant player in the game. Instead, ‘B.J.’ became the poster boy for a confused and frustrated Saints outfit in the first half of 2011. He began to work his way back to his damaging best in the latter part of the season and, with his unrivalled versatility and penetrating kick, remains the most dangerous player on the list. Comes out of contract at the end of the year, so will be desperate to perform.

RISING STAR: Classy half-forward Arryn Siposs played five games in his debut season at St Kilda. That’s no mean feat, given that the Saints have been reluctant to blood their recent draftees. The Pakenham teenager has a great pair of hands, a booming kick and a quiet confidence about him that suggests he could become a regular contributor in 2012.

KEY ARRIVAL: Football boss Chris Pelchen’s brief for trade week was pretty clear. Speed was the priority and the Saints eventually delivered in the form of mature-age recruits Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera. Saad, who was named the VFL’s most promising young talent last year after booting 49 goals for Northern Bullants, has impressed already and should prove to be a nice running mate for Stephen Milne.

COACH FACTOR: St Kilda’s 2012 list is the oldest in the competition, stacked with top-end quality but lacking depth and elite young talent. Success, in the form of three grand finals in 2010 and 2011, has come at a price. So, in many ways, Scott Watters’s task of taking the baton from Ross Lyon is an unenviable one. Watters has spoken of rebuilding and contending, but whether it’s possible to do both remains to be seen. As does the Watters’ game plan. Most assumed he’d employ a more free-flowing style than Lyon. Don’t bet on it. The former Eagle and Swan was Collingwood’s defensive coach during the Pies’ 2012 premiership campaign, so clearly knows a thing or two about putting the brakes on.

STATS THAT MATTER: St Kilda’s recruiting staff may as well have worn Sandringham polo shirts to the ’09 and ’10 national drafts, because the Saints rank last in the competition for total games played by those draft classes. It’s been a steady diet of VFL action for the new boys, who, combined, have cracked it for just 14 AFL appearances. Compare that to Richmond, who have piled 166 games into their 2009-10 draftees to lead the competition in that category. Even Geelong, whose premiership window has been wide open, have got 83 games out of their youngsters during that period.

THE VERDICT: 12th. An era is over and the Saints need to take a few steps back and make another assault in two or three years. The Saints’ top players have been up for a long time but improvement must come from their 50-100 game players below them. They just haven’t recruited and played enough kids in the past few years, which has set them back. They recruited well at the end of last year but lost Tom Walsh and Tom Lynch, both of whom should’ve been given more opportunities under Ross Lyon. Still expect a formidable year but finals won’t happen in 2012.

BEST 22

B: Dempster Blake Gilbert

HB: Gwilt Fisher Clarke

C: Montagna Hayes Goddard

HF: Schneider Riewoldt Armitage

F: Milne Koschitzke Saad

Foll: McEvoy Jones Dal Santo

I/C: Steven, Siposs, Cripps

SUB: Geary

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