Saints doing the hard yards in AFL

St Kilda started the decade by losing their way and they may well finish it with a return to AFL power.

In between, team and club are doing the hard yards.

While rags-to-riches highlights such as last year’s Western Bulldogs give hope for a breakout season, the Saints are more like a slow burn.

Alan Richardson was left with a gaping hole through the middle of the list when he took over as coach from Scott Watters two years ago.

If there is a moment of achieving critical mass, it looks at least a season away.

Likewise, they have rectified the disastrous falling out with the Kingston Council that took them down the Nepean Highway to Seaford.

But the return to a redeveloped Moorabbin is also still a year away.

And they are slowly regaining the members who deserted them in droves when Ross Lyon dramatically went west and they plummeted out of the top eight.

The Saints faithful are seeing signs of life.

Crucially, the remaining senior group of players who went so close to a premiership in 2009-10 are in Richardson’s corner.

He compares his Saints to Melbourne, who finished one place (13th) and half a game (seven wins) above them on last year’s ladder.

Perhaps it is also instructive that the Demons beat them by four goals in the NAB Challenge – not disastrous, but still a better side.

If the Saints can do better than last year’s six wins and a draw, that will be a solid result.

Having assembled the raw materials, led by Paddy McCartin, Jack Billings and Hugh Goddard, the Saints must develop a gameplan that works.

Richardson has identified three key areas where the team must improve.

“We don’t defend oppositions’ fast rebound well enough – we don’t hide from that,” he said.

“There are some structural adjustments we’ve needed to make, but there’s more a real focus on making sure we get into a defensive position really quickly straight after we’ve turned the footy over.

“We need to go a bit quicker from the back ourselves, we’ve been a little bit too pedestrian and so therefore made it easier for the opposition to defend our rebound.

“Our contest work also hasn’t been good enough – our stoppage work.”

After relying too much on David Armitage and Jack Steven, the Saints aim to beef up their midfield with Billings, Seb Ross, Blake Acres, Jack Newnes and Maverick Weller.

Captain Nick Riewoldt hopes to play through the midfield more, partly to let Josh Bruce and McCartin develop as a key forward combination.

The Saints’ defensive stocks look solid enough.

Losing Jake Carlisle to a doping suspension hurts, but he was not this season’s silver bullet.

Richardson needs time and as long as the Saints continue to move in the right direction, he should have it.

ST KILDA

Coach: Alan Richardson

Captain: Nick Riewoldt

Last five years: 7-9-16-18-14

Premierships: 1 (1966)

Key Five: Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Jack Steven, David Armitage, Josh Bruce.

One to watch: Jack Billings. There’s justifiably a lot of excitement at St Kilda about this first-round draft pick. The midfielder did not play after round 10 last season because of shin injury. If fit, he definitely improves the Saints.

Ins: Jake Carlisle (Essendon – suspended), Nick Coughlan (Murray U18), Nathan Freeman (Collingwood), Jade Gresham Northern U18), Nick O’Kearney (Calder U18), Bailey Rice (Dandenong U18), Brandon White (Dandenong U18).

Outs: Daniel Markworth (delisted), Farren Ray (North Melbourne), Ahmed Saad (delisted), Adam Schneider (retired), Tom Simpkin (delisted), Arryn Siposs (delisted), Spencer White (delisted).

Best line-up:

B: Dylan Roberton, Hugh Goddard, Jarryn Geary

HB: Jimmy Webster, Sam Fisher, Sean Dempster

C: Luke Dunstan, Jack Steven, Leigh Montagna

HF: Maverick Weller, Josh Bruce, Jack Billings

F: Paddy McCartin, Nick Riewoldt, Jack Sinclair

R: Billy Longer, David Armitage, Jack Newnes

I: Seb Ross, Shane Savage, Jack Lonie, Sam Gilbert

Predicted finish: 15th

Betting (William Hill)

To win the flag: $201

To make the top eight: $7

* All Offers and Promotions posted in this article excludes NSW residents.
Stay up to date with the latest sports news
Follow our social accounts to get exclusive content and all the latest sporting news!