2011 Season Preview

Going into 2010, both the club and its fans felt that anything less than a flag was a failure. The Saints were only beaten by a straight kick at the siren of the 2009 Grand Final, after breaking all sorts of records that year. There were very high expectations for the team to go one better the next season. They almost made it in 2010, but were 1 point short of victory in the Grand Final. The Saints failed to recover, after exhausting themselves the week before, and were easily beaten in the Replayed Grand Final. Where did it go wrong? Had The Bubble burst with all the scandals of 2010, was it Nick Riewoldt’s injury, or was it something else?

Already in 2011, big questions are hovering over the Saints. Is the ‘premiership window’ still open? Can they make it 1 win from 3 attempts? Can they stay injury free? First and most importantly, the premiership window is still open. The same team from 2009 and 2010, minus Luke Ball and Steven King will play in 2011. All star players are contracted for at least 2 more years, with the exception of veterans Steven Baker and Lenny Hayes. The Saints lost injured ruckmen Steven King to retirement, but this only allows Ben McEvoy, who is younger and more flexible, to slide straight in to the number 1 or 2 ruck spot. Otherwise, the Saints didn’t lose any of the regular starting 22 at the end of 2010. No one was traded and no one walked out of the club. The axe was wielded on a couple of players, only 2 of which had played any senior games for the club, and 1 one which, Robert Eddy, was re-drafted as a rookie.

The coaching staff has undergone a massive re-shuffle. All assistant coaches either resigned for personal reasons or moved on to other clubs. While the media flagged this as trouble, assistant coaches change clubs every year; at the end of 2007, 2 assistants left the club, but the Saints played finals football the very next year. The departure of the assistants opens the door for club legend and games record holder Robert Harvey to return to the club, who spent two years impressing Carlton as a midfield coach. This is a significant gain for the Saints, and should outweigh any loss. It is not simply because Harvey is a club hero, but is a proven midfield coach who started making waves with the Carlton engine room and helped orchestrate Carlton’s rise from the bottom of the ladder in 2009 and 2010.

The Saints maintain a talented powerhouse

The star factor also cannot be ignored. The Saints boast an incredible list of elite and up-and-coming players; there’s Nick Riewoldt, Brendon Goddard, Lenny Hayes, Sam Fisher, Leigh Montagna, Steven Milne and Nick Dal Santo. Then there are those on the cusp of greatness: Justin Koschitzke, Adam Schneider, Clinton Jones, Steven Baker, Jason Blake, Farren Ray and Jason Gram who are reliable and have the proven ability to turn games.  And if that wasn’t reason enough to be excited, there is plenty of up-and-coming talent like David Armitage, Rhys Stanley, Alistair Smith, Jack Steven, Ben McEvoy, Tommy Walsh, James Gwilt and Jarryn Geary who are pushing for regular selection and coming of age. And they will all be playing in 2011. So any questions over talent should be dismissed in 2011, the question will be purely if they can play as a team, avoid injury and maintain form.

Rhys Stanley tells us the future is still bright

There are still players who need to step up in order to make a challenge in 2011. Brett Peake has shown us plenty of promise, with dashing pace and a superb kick. However, his form wanders, and he needs to find consistency. He can have a ripper game one week, and be MIA the next. Peake will need to work on his ability to win the football, and maintain consistent form. David Armitage has spent several years at the Saints now, but has struggled to push for senior selection. He  has displayed flashes of brilliance, but form and injury kept him out of the side for much of 2010. This is a make or break year for Armitage. Farren Ray had an amazing 2009 season, confounding his critics. Statistically, he dropped off a little bit in 2010, despite a couple of 30+ disposal games. While some times Ross Lyon demands a defensive role for him, he is deadly when he breaks games open. Sadly, he only did this a couple of times in 2010. While he had a good year, he needs to return to his 2009 form for the Saints to play finals footy in 2011. Jarryn  Geary also needs to take the next step. He had some great games in 2010 and was flashy in the NAB Cup, but wasn’t able to keep his form, and found himself in and out of the side in 2010. Needs to take it to the next level in 2011. Given Max Hudghton’s famous number 8 guernsey, Raphael Clarke probably has a make-or-break year ahead of him. Played fantastically against West Coast, but then injured himself and was unable to contribute again in 2010. The injury-prone defender needs to string form and games together. Despite his critics, he has shown us what he is capable of, but needs to follow it up week-in-week-out. With Sam Gilbert touted to move forward, Clarke must fight Tom Simpkin and Tommy Walsh for Gilbert’s vacated position down back. Justin Koschitzke appeared to have as many critics as fans in 2010, and some questioned if Kozi would ever reach the elite level of a number 2 draft pick. Statistically, Kozi had an average 2010; he averaged 10.09 disposals, 1.4 goals and 4.7 marks a game, about 40% down on all areas from 2009. post-season, it was revealed that Kozi was carrying an injury for much of the year, and coupled with injury and a 3-game suspension, you might consider Kozi to be unlucky. Ross Lyon believes the team functions better with the big guy in the side, but some in the media have been skeptical about his performances. An injury-free and in-form Koschitzke is however a dangerous prospect to any opposition, and if the big guy gets going, he could well be the deciding factor in a premiership.

2011 could be a make-or-break season for David Armitage

Another reason for the Saints to be excited is the move to Frankston, near Seaford, to the new Elite Training Facility. Both coach and president cannot be excited enough about the move down the highway to the brand new facility. As one of, if not the only club with such ageing facilities, the club could boost onfield performance, and even if that was only by say 3 or 4%, that could be the difference between a flag and another defeat. Club CEO Michael Nettlefold himself said this year that “We move into the facilities on January 10, our management team is, in part, down there already, but the whole team will be in on January 10. It can’t come quick enough because we need to have the whole group under one roof. It’s critically important to continue to build on our football club and build on everything we do to help take the club where it needs to go. There’s no doubt that the facilities will have a major positive impact on the playing group. The amenities are first class. We’ve spent $12 million. It’s outstanding. The administration areas are great, it all works. So we’re really upbeat about 2011, it sets the club up really well for the year.” 1

The draw is also a promising factor in 2011. While it sees the Saints on the road several times, the AFL have provided some blockbuster fixtures for the Saints, including a total of 6 games at the MCG, with the football community for years saying that experience on the MCG determines premierships. Despite the added income, the experience at the ground will be of most benefit, and the club will be able to train easily at their new MCG-sized oval at Frankston. The Saints will play 41.6% of their games at the MCG for the first 12 rounds of 2011, compared to just 33.33% at Etihad. The Saints also have 9 home games at their traditional hunting ground of Etihad Stadium, where they have been close to invincible at the ground for the last 2 years. The Saints also spend the last two rounds of the season in Melbourne, at the Docklands fortress in round 23 and a probable finals warm-up game against Carlton at the MCG in round 24.

The Saints’ injury list also remains fairly light. While close to 13 players had post-season surgery, the only question mark remains over ruckman Michael Gardiner who was close to retirement at the end of 2010. Otherwise, the Saints have a clean bill of health so far and a strong pre-season will give virtually the entire squad fantastic preparation for the season proper.

The draft saw the Saints pick up two ready-made players in Ryan Gamble and Dean Polo, but time will tell if these fringe players can make a significant contribution.  Both players were out of favour at their clubs and are proven on the field, but have been unable to string together form and games. Ross Lyon has a proven track record with recyled players, with Farren Ray, Adam Schneider, Michael Gardiner, Brett Peake, Steven King all proving to be regular senior players when fit. The Saints deliberatly went into the draft looking for speedy midfielders, and picked up Jamie Cripps, Sam Crocker and Tom Ledger. The Saints also drafted Arryn Siposs as a strong forward. While Lyon has suggested that Cripps could play senior football in 2011, it goes without saying that most players will spend 2011 in the VFL, and that these draftees, with the exception of Gamble and Polo, will spend the majority of 2011 in the VFL preparing for senior football. So while the Saints have picked up some much-needed speed in the midfield, this is more a long-term than short term solution. That said, the Saints’ speed will once again rely on Brett Peake, Jason Gram and Leigh Montagna.

There should be little doubt that the Saints will be 2011 title contenders. Their list has barely changed, with only an injury-prone veteran ruckman any real loss to the main playing group, retiring at the end of 2010. Otherwise the Saints have boosted their list with plenty of youth and two recycled players desperate to prove they should be given a second chance. Otherwise, all the stars of 2009 and 2010, minus Luke Ball and Steven King will play in 2011, proving that in terms of talent, the Saints are still a force. The flag issue comes down to keeping their stars injury free and in form. A shake-up of the game plan and the injection of some pace and youth, with players like Stanley, Armitage, Clarke, Simpkin, Walsh, Smith and Steven all pushing for senior selection, sees the Saints have plenty to choose from and the heat kept on regular players to play well to keep their spot. 2011 will come down to team work, motivation and the ability to improve. 2010 saw some heavy losses when the Saints did not play as a team, or failed to back themselves. With new training facilities promising a 3-4% boost for onfield performance, 2011 won’t be decided on talent, but the ability of the team and their coach to get themselves over the line with a lot of hard work. If the Saints remain injury-free, then anything less than a top 4 finish would be seen as a wasted chance. If Reiwoldt remains on the field, the Saints could well surpass their 2009 success. But there is a long, hard road ahead of the Saints, and it will not be easy. This is something I am sure the playing group realised in 2010, when the rest of the competition challenged the best team of 2009, and succeeded.

Appendice

Ladder Postion at End of 2011: Top 4

Brownlow/Best and Fairest Chance: Nick Riewoldt, Brendon Goddard, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, Nick Dal Santo

Milestones in 2011: Lenny Hayes (250th game), Nick Riewoldt (200th), Steven Baker (200th), Nick Dal Santo (200th), Jason Blake (200th), Michael Gardiner (200th), Leigh Montagna (150th), Sam Fisher (150th), Brett Peake (100th), Sean Dempster (100th), Sam Gilbert (100th)

Where Will The Goals Come From: Nick Riewoldt, Steven Milne, Adam Schneider, Justin Koschitzke, Brendon Goddard

Need to Step Up: Brett Peake, Farren Ray, Justin Koschitzke, David Armitage, Jarryn Geary, Raphael Clarke, Robert Eddy

Young Ones to Watch: Rhys Stanley, Jack Steven, Jamie Cripps, Alistair Smith, Ben McEvoy, Tommy Walsh, Tom Simpkin

NAB Cup Trials: Tommy Walsh, Alistair Smith, Nicholas Winmar, Jamie Cripps, Tom Simpkin, Paul Cahill, Tom Lynch

The Switch: Sam Gilbert to be trailed up forward

X-Factors: Justin Koschitzke, Steven Milne, Jason Gram – can win games, but lack consitency

Possible Final Season: Lenny Hayes, Steven Baker, Michael Gardiner, Steven Milne

References

1 http://www.heraldsun.com.au/ipad/saints-ready-for-life-at-seaford-training-base/story-fn6bn647-1225980630649

Advertisements

One Comment on “2011 Season Preview”

  1. Dan 08/01/2011 at 6:18 am #

    Great write up Hallam

    I think you summed it up perfectly

    Hopefully we get the prize were looking for in 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: