Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a look at St Kilda Saints, a team with much to prove in 2022.
The Saints made the finals in 2020, their rebuild looking on track, before disappointingly failing to to the same in 2021. Was 2021 the aberration? Are the Saints finals worthy? Or was 2020 the outlier and the rebuild is not as far along as the Saints faithful had hoped?
For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.
10th position: 10 wins, 12 losses, 91.5%.
This was not the season that the Saints faithful nor coach Brett Ratten would have hoped for after breaking through in 2020.
A strong opening round win over the Giants had many believing the Saints were for real in 2021. Although thumping losses to Essendon, Richmond and Port Adelaide in the next month raised eyebrows for the wrong reasons.
Languishing in lower-mid table, the Saints needed to go on a run after their mid season bye. Instead they dropped three straight including a 111 humiliation at the hands of the Bulldogs and a loss to the lowly Crows.
St Kilda found it’s form sporadically, taking down Brisbane in Brisbane and beating the Swans, but those flashes were few and far between in 2021.
Jade Gresham’s achillies tear aside, the Saints were not overtly impacted by injuries or suspensions in 2021, rather they just didn’t perform to the same levels as the year before. That makes 2022 a genuinely fascinating year for the boys from Moorabbin.
If the Saints fail to make the finals again this year, do we see a rebuild of the rebuild?
Key ins: Tom Campbell (North Melbourne), Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Michito Owens, Marcus Windhager, Oscar Adams, Jack Peris, Josiah Kyle (all draft)
Key outs: Luke Dunstan (Melbourne), Shaun McKernan, James Frawley, Jake Carlisle, Dylan Roberton (all retired), Sam Alabakis, Jack Lonie, Oscar Clavarino, Paul Hunter (all released)
All over the park, the Saints are full of mature, talented footballers. They probably lead the league in ‘That guy!’ types, the sort of player you don’t think about until they hang four goals or 25 excellent possessions on your team. Josh Battle, Jack Higgins, Dan Butler, Mason Wood, Dean Kent, Zak Jones, Ben Long, Rowan Marshall, Callum Wilkie; none of these players enter the consciousness of an opposition fan until match day, when one or two of them inevitably pop up to hurt you.
There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, the Saints simply don’t catch the media – and therefore – public – gaze in the same way that fellow middling teams like the Blues or Bombers do. The bigger clubs, with fans in the media, get the attention. It’s not right, but it’s the way it goes. Secondly it’s the inconsistency of those players. You start to focus on them and the disappear for a few games. Finally, they get overshadowed from within.
The Saints have a serious level of star power and big name recognition in their ranks. Jack Steele is a genuine star of the competition and last season was often the only man standing between the Saints and humiliation. He takes on the captaincy this season and it will be interesting to see if/how that weighs on him.
Paddy Ryder is ageing but still an elite ruckman; Brad Hill is electric out on his wing; Dan Hannebury a bull at the stoppages. All are, at their best, stars. The issue for each of them is injury. Ryder turns 34 tomorrow (happy birthday, big fella!) and has put his body through hell over his 269 game career – a few injuries should be expected. Hill always seems to have a little niggle restricting him. To his credit he doesn’t miss a lot of games and, when unrestricted he’s a delight to watch. If he can get a genuinely healthy season under his belt it will help the Saints to no end.
Hannebury might be the most snake nit player in the AFL. Now aged 31, he’s made just 15 appearances in three seasons since coming over from Sydney. Worryingly his issues are muscular: calves, hamstrings, groins. These are not the injures an ageing elite athlete wants. He is reportedly fit and firing, so fingers crossed the Saints finally see the best of Hannebury. Of course, there’s a chance he strained a calf just by reading this sentence.
A healthy Saints midfield is one of the better groups in the AFL. They feed a talented forward line led by the shockingly underrated Tim Membrey and young gun Max King. Exciting goal sneak Jade Gresham is another hoping to play a full year after his achillies tear. He and Membrey had wonderful chemistry prior to his injury. Keep an eye on Cooper Sharman. The mid-season acquisition kicked 10 goals in just five games last year. With a full preseason to acclimatise to this level he could be in for a surprising campaign.
The Saints are a side full of veteran and prime aged players who should, on paper at least, be competing in finals competition. The bottom half of the final eight should be the Saints realistic goal.
That said there is more than a lingering concern that the Saints 2021 form is closer to what they are. There isn’t a lot of young, transformation talent (with the exception of King) coming through the ranks. This list is in it’s prime and, frankly, disappoints more than it surprises.
To this writer, the Saints are what they are: a solid, veteran group who are not gong to threaten any of the big boys on a consistent basis, but should take care of business against the lesser sides in the competition.
Is that enough to earn a finals berth? No.