Not surprisingly, the 2013 season is all but over for St Kilda despite the outcome of the next five rounds. Coming off a round 18 thrashing by Geelong, it may seem hard to believe the three-win side just missed out on a finals berth last year under their then-new coach Scott Watters. Six of their losing games have been decided by less than 20 points, showing the Saints have displayed plenty of fight, especially in their round 17 comeback against Port Adelaide, despite sitting in 16th position on the ladder. Captain Nick Riewoldt doesn’t believe his team’s position is truly reflective of the side’s ability and potential, yet with a few players approaching the other side of 30, the team’s future moving forward is looking cloudy and uncertain. It seems there are a few key decisions that need to be made by the end of the season to get this side back on track for 2014.
List Management – The Young And The Old
Having a substantial list of veteran’s isn’t necessarily a bad thing for any club, providing they have the necessary players to fill their shoes. The club’s list profile is expected to become younger after another round of experienced players leave at season’s end.The Saint’s currently have 11 players over the age of 29 – twice the AFL average. With big names such as Clint Jones, Stephen Milne and Justin Koschitzke all coming out of contract and facing an uncertain future past this year, decisions will need to be made surrounding Grand Final heroes from 2009/10 by the end of this season.
Captain Nick Riewoldt, who will be 31 by the start of next season, has himself recognised the need for the club’s older players to seriously consider their retirement at the end of 2013 to make way for a younger generation and to allow the club to continue the reshaping and rebuilding of its list under coach Scott Watters. Lenny Hayes (33) has been backed by the Saints to stay on, however even he is still waiting out the season before making a decision at the end of the year. Persistent knee problems may also force Riewoldt into retirement earlier than he would like. There is no doubt the club will face some difficult list management decisions at the end of the season, but their focus must stay on the smooth transition of younger players, such as promising youngsters Tom Curren and Josh Saunders, to create a fresh face at St Kilda. However, Watters needs to ensure he keeps a few older and experienced faces around to continue the strong mentoring system the club has established.
Building A Backline And Other Draft Pick Musts
If one thing is certain, the Saints need to move heaven and earth to ensure they secure key draft picks at the end of this season. Sitting in third to last position, St Kilda is in line to bank its first top-three draft pick since prized number one selection Brendon Goddard in 2002. In their current position the club supposedly also has pick 21, and there are a few potential trade deals which the Saints could strike up to ensure maximum trade benefit. Perhaps accepting Essendon’s second-round pick, with a swap of their picks (17 and 21), to secure their second top-20 selection? Or maybe look to nab GWS’s potential first draft pick of strong and promising forward Tom Boyd? One this is obvious, however, and that is the side’s lack of strong, tall defenders. Not only that, but there also seems to be a crucial age bracket in the backline. Aside from Armitage and Steven, the Saint’s defence is missing the crucial age bracket between 22 and 27. To make matters worse, the Saints have just lost a key trade target in defender Mitch Brown, 24, who decided to stay on with West Coast.
Decisions surrounding trade picks cannot be taken lightly in terms of locking in tall and strong defensive players. At 194 centimetres, Dylan Roberton stands as the Saints’ tallest defender, but at 22 years of age the holes for older, more experienced defenders are still to be filled. Watters has mourned a shortage of key backmen and top-end draft picks after a series of draft misses under Lyon between 2006-2010, yet the good news is that St Kilda seem to have plenty of salary cap room to consider other key targets other than Brown to strengthen their backline.
Should prove an interesting and crucial time for the club if they can secure their highest preferences at the end of this year.
Watters Must Stay On
While fans and club members are often quick to blame and shame coaches for a team’s poor performance, there has been talk the Saints are keen to offer Watters an early contract extension which could see him to the end of 2015. While contracted for next year, Watters is expected to clarify his future during key talks with club chiefs at the end of this year.
During a time of extensive list reshuffling and many promising young guns showing their talent in recent weeks, it would be important for the club to keep Watters for the next couple of years to ensure a smooth transition from an older to younger senior list. If the club continued to struggle next year, a contract extension would certainly reduce pressure on Watters and eliminate the stress of re-jigging their coaching group during such a crucial time for the club.
Since Watters took over from Ross Lyon at the end of 2011, the club has turned over almost half its list and welcomed 18 new senior-listed players. Come the end of the year, Watters needs to ensure he is firmly positioned to see the Saint’s through 2015, not only so he can continue to gain familiarity with his redeveloped list, but also to hopefully give him the time to rediscover that spark that almost saw the Saints to the finals last year.
Key Stats To Address
Strictly end-of-season decisions aside, there are a few key stats that St Kilda must address going into next year, if not the next few rounds. The club currently comes in at 4th to last in tackles and 3rd to last in contested possessions. While the club has no doubt shown resilience and a don’t-give-up attitude in many of its losses, these figures perhaps come down to the clubs bad record of fourth quarter wins (only three this year) and their inability to commit to four quarters of footy. Going down nine goals to none in the second half against Geelong on Saturday adds to this worrying statistic. After round 17, the Saints were ranked second for clangers- another area to look at which could be one of the reasons the Saints, while merely witches hats against Geelong, have been so close yet so far on a few occasions this season.