Your coverage of the 2021 AFL season at Vendetta Sports Media begins with our team previews. For all of our previous AFL team previews, click here. Today we’re casting our eye over the resurgent St Kilda Saints.

St Kilda’s home guernsey

After an eight year hiatus, the Saints returned to finals action in 2020. With an array of maturing talent, augmented by highly credentialed veterans, will the Saints make into the final eight once more?

Season 2020

6th: 10 wins, 7 losses, 116.2%

Finals: defeated Western Bulldogs by 3 points in week 1, lost to Richmond by 31 points in week 2.

After a long and at times painful rebuild, the Saints finally made it back to finals action. It must be said, however, that the Saints ladder position could – perhaps should – have been much improved if they were able to close tight matches: in contests decided by single digits, the Saints were only 1-4. Even in the finals, the Saints led by 24 points at three quarter time, a late Bulldogs charge falling just short, with the Saints victorious by three points

Nonetheless, the fact that the side was able to comfortably secure a finals berth and claim a win once there, bodes well for the future of this group.

The Saints possess a raft of outstanding young veterans: Jack Higgins, Jack Lonie, Ben Long, Jade Gresham, Rowan Marshall, Zak Jones, Jack Billings, Dougal Howard, and Dan Butler are all between 22 and 25 years of age – each one made significant progress in 2020. No player, however, took bigger strides than Jack Steele. The 25 year old excelled on his way to a third placed finish in the Brownlow Medal count.

Key Ins: Brad Crouch (Crows), James Frawley (Hawks), Jack Higgins (Tigers), Mason Wood (Kangaroos), Shaun McKernan (Bombers), Matt Allison, Tom Highmore (both draft)

Key Out: Nick Hind (Bombers), Nathan Brown, Dylan Roberton (both retired), Logan Austin, Shane Savage, Matt Parker, Ed Phillips (all released)

After their wonderful success in 2019 recruiting veteran talent to augment their youngsters, it’s of no surprise that the Saints went back to the well.

Dan Butler was immense after coming over from Richmond and the Saints are hoping that lightning does in fact strike twice with another Tigers small forward in Higgins moving to Moorabbin Oval. Crouch will add to the Saints plethora of hard nosed midfielders – he’ll slot straight into the centre of the park.

Alongside Crouch, the slick Zak Jones and Brad Hill, hard men Seb Ross and – if he can get healthy – Dan Hannebury, classy ball users in Steele and Jack Sinclair give the Saints a formidable midfield that is only getting better.

Defensively, the Saints reliance in the injury prone Jake Carlisle has been abated by the belated emergence of Jimmy Webster, and the imperious play of Dougal Howard (another of those 2019 imports) who manned the key defensive posts with distinction. Callum Wilkie, Nick Coffield and Hunter Clark all played career best football in 2020.

Up front, youngster Max King was inconsistent but on numerous occasions demonstrated his immense promise, kicking 22 goals. Tim Membrey – a genuine match winner on his day – finally showed some long overdue consistency. The aforementioned Butler, along with Dean Kent who came over from the Demons combined with Jade Gresham to give the Saints a trio of exceedingly dangerous, hard-bodied small forwards. Butler led the team in goal scoring with 29 majors.

Rowan Marshall welcomed the inclusion of veteran Paddy Ryder to split rucking duties. The 33 year old Ryder looked reborn as a Saint, and his taking some responsibility from Marshall contributed to the younger man playing career best football. Both players drifted forward when not rucking, providing another dimension to the Saints attack.

All that said, there are some major questions for St Kilda to answer in 2021.

As you’ve no doubt picked up from reading this article, a hell of a lot of Saints players experienced career years in 2020. Given the age profile of many of those players, there’s no reason to doubt that most of them can improve on – or at least maintain – that form in 2021. Simple math tells us that it’s awfully unlikely, though. There will be some regression amongst the group.

After the success of their 2019 recruiting class, it’s fair to ask if the Saints will garner similar returns from their 2020 recruits. If the new inclusions don’t provide the same infusion of class, then the Saints may struggle to hold their ground.

Finally, St Kilda have experienced an array of issues late in this off season. Dylan Roberton retired due to ongoing heart issues; Ryder has stepped away from the game for an indefinite period to deal with personal matters; impactful midfielder-cum-forward Jaryn Geary broke his leg; King was felled by – of all things – a golf ball.

That’s a lot of potential problems.

Prediction: 6th

In coach Brett Ratten’s first year at the club, the Saints coalesced beautifully: the youngsters blossomed; middling veterans found heights previously not reached; the imports were all a success. Frankly, 2020 couldn’t have gone much better.

But those close losses leave a ‘what if’ feeling to the year. What if this was the best of circumstances, and those close losses robbed the side of a top four finish – and with it a double chance in the finals?

It’s fair to anticipate some regression from the veterans, though it’s equally as fair to expect more progression from the younger players – King in particular. If St Kilda’s new players can have even half the impact that last years new players had, and the Saints can somehow fix their issues in close games, then a top four spot beckons.

That said, there are some damn good teams for them to overcome, and nobody will take the Saints lightly in 2021.