Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.
St Kilda’s season can only be described as topsy-turvy.
A strong start – 8-3 and in the top four at their bye – didn’t quite rid a lingering feeling they were due to come back to earth.
The crash came in the second half of the year, 8-3 flipping to 3-8; seven of those eight losses against finalists and the three wins against Carlton (somewhat fortunately), West Coast and Hawthorn.
A first half above expectations and a second half under expectations resulted in a 11-11 finish. In a roundabout way, St Kilda are right where they deserve to be. Not a poor team, not a great team, just … there.
Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.
$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. The schedule for non-finalists (not including North Melbourne):
|Port Adelaide||Read||St Kilda||Today||Carlton||Sep 13|
If it wasn’t already obvious by the graphic, St Kilda’s list is set up in ‘win now’ mode.
This year St Kilda had the equal second fewest players on their list aged 22 or under; their 13 only ‘bettered’ by Carlton’s 11.
While Wanganeen-Milera and Windhager had promising debut seasons, with Owens showing glimpses late on, St Kilda’s heavy lifting comes from players in their prime years.
No team handed more minutes to players in the 26-28 age group. For a team to be doing that, they expect far more than an 11-win season.
Of the top six teams in minutes played by those 26 and over, St Kilda were the only non-finalist. Rounding out that list: Melbourne, Geelong, Richmond, Brisbane, Collingwood.
Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:
Thursday 8th: Look Back/Ahead: Port Adelaide (11th, 10-12, 110.3%)
Wednesday 7th: Look Back/Ahead: Gold Coast (12th, 10-12, 102.8%)
Tuesday 6th: Look Back/Ahead: Hawthorn (13th, 8-14, 89.8%)
Sunday 4th: Elimination Final Analysis: Fremantle v Western Bulldogs
Sunday 4th: Qualifying Final Analysis: Geelong v Collingwood
Barring trade period shenanigans – which is always a possibility – it’s hard to find as many avenues for St Kilda to improve as other teams.
The untouchables are locked away the longest (Steele, Marshall, King), while the three years left on each of Billings, Crouch and Hill’s deals make it hard to get anything of immediate value in any hypothetical moves.
The opportunity there is more for salary cap room rather than impactful players or high draft picks.
Aside from those players, it’s business as usual for the Saints when it comes to contracts.
As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player:
How can St Kilda improve in 2023?
Regular readers will know my dislike of an entirely negative post, so let’s take a positive lens to finish this off.
To start with, it feels fair to assume those in the 26-29 bracket this year aren’t going to magically reach another level as a collective – what you see is what you’ll get in 2023.
As it stands, St Kilda have their own pick in each of the first three rounds of the National Draft. They need to nail those picks, building off the back of what appears to be a good 2021 haul so far.
While that will be vital help for the medium term, building a young core to blossom in the latter half of the decade, next year’s key is the 22-25 group. There may be fewer options compared to other non-finalists, but there is an avenue to improvement.
Naturally it’s all centred around Max King. He’s already in the upper echelon of key forwards and can be the very best if/when he fixes his set shot inconsistencies.
King, when on, can make second and third talls better players simply by his presence, opposing defenders forced to commit multiple bodies to King and neglecting the lesser priorities.
Nick Coffield and Hunter Clark are almost the forgotten men; the former missing all of 2022 with an ACL injury and the latter seemingly cursed to have a part of his body caved in every couple of months.
If the duo, St Kilda’s top 10 picks from the 2017 draft, can come back and play a full season, it should give them a point of difference sorely lacking.
Speaking of points of difference, Jade Gresham is just that. In a largely one-paced, accumulator-heavy midfield, Gresham gives it a different look.
It’s no surprise that most of St Kilda’s wins coincided with a good Gresham performance: in the 10 victories he played in, six of them had 25+ disposals, and another had 20 disposals + four goals. The 18 games in a row signified Gresham’s longest block of continuity since 2019, and ideally he can build off that and improve again in 2023.
There doesn’t appear to be any immediate help coming from outside to freshen up the midfield, which is what makes Gresham so important.
If Josh Battle can go to another level with his intercepting game as the third tall defender alongside Dougal Howard and Callum Wilkie, and Ben Paton can build off his first season back from an injury-ruined 2021, there’s an easy way to see St Kilda’s defence being better than it was this year.
Alongside those half-dozen individuals, the final key to improvement in 2023 is ball movement. Over the course of 2022 it grew slower and slower; comparing the offence of Round 3 v Richmond to Round 22 v Brisbane is almost like watching two different teams.
It’s a narrower path to improvement than other non-finalists, and there are a lot of ifs, but it can be done.