St Kilda Mid Season Review

There has been much discussion over the appointment of Scott Watters as head coach after the shock departure of Ross Lyon. It’s been well documented his experience ranges from coaching in WA, to working with troubled teens, to working closely with Mick Malthouse in a premiership team.

His wide and varied skills would be put to the test when working with a team that for many years had been at the top of their game and almost achieved ultimate glory. Many stars of the team were considered too old, too injured or too jaded to go around again and be competitive. Could Watters bring all that he had learnt with a fresh approach and revitalise a tired and in what the media liked to call a “spiritless” Club?

Watters introduced a new coaching panel which included a couple of favourite sons. In the roles of specialist coaches, Max Hudgton, Aaron Hammil and Troy Schwarze, who all had great playing careers in their own right, bring a wealth of knowledge from not only their playing days but coaching at a variety of levels.

Their main function was to work one on one with players in their respective areas. Their impact has been immediate and positive. The development of players such as Simpkin, Saad, Milera, Newnes & Siposs has been fast tracked with all playing invaluable senior games.

Tom Simpkin is in the same mould as Hudghton, not only in height and weight but in endeavour and courage. The youngster, who up until this year had only played 2 senior matches, has taken on some of the leagues’ biggest and best full forwards. The specialist mentoring he is receiving is evident as he continues to master one of the hardest positions on the field.

One of Watters main focuses was to create a team that was balanced with both older more experienced players with an injection of youth. Along with the specialist coaching, the senior players have also taken on a mentoring role both on and off the field.

The issue of real depth, not just names on paper, has been at the forefront for the Saints recruiting and coaching staff. Most of the media and wider football community has believed St Kilda had no depth and no quality youngsters coming through. After 12 rounds, the Saints have blown that theory out of the window.

While Jack Steven, Jarryn Geary & David Armitage have been on the seniors list for a number of years, they had limited game time under the previous coach, however this year, consistency in playing and injury sees them all playing solid senior footy and have taken their games to the next level.

The two new excitement machines in Milera and Saad have added speed, agility and abit of an unknown factor to the forward line. They know where the goals are but are also working on the defensive pressure side of their games. This was on display against Carlton when Saad amassed a massive 11 tackles.

Until his injury, Rhys Stanley was working hard in becoming a good and solid backup ruckman and mobile forward to assist Riewoldt and Kosi.

Both Cripps and Newnes look composed and settled running off the half back line. While they are still learning these positions, the signs are there that they havve what it takes to be very good footballers.

All of these guys have made life tough for Dean Polo, Farren Ray, Brett Peake and Raph Clarke to break into the senior team. Throw in Tom Ledger and Beau Wilkes who are also performing extremely well in VFL, it means you have 30-32 players fighting for spot in the side.

Last year’s top draft pick, Sebastian Ross, has also been a very consistent performer in the VFL and coach Scott Watters has hinted he will likely play a few games later in season to get a taste so he can build on it for 2013 preseason. Rookies Sam Dunnel, Tom Curren and Jackson Ferguson have been standouts and have put their hand up to be promoted under the AFL’ nominated rookie rules.

This season has seen St Kilda be transformed from the most defensive sides in the competition to one of the most attacking. To date, St Kilda has averaged 106 points a game, that’s a whopping 20 points more than in 2010 & 2011 and sees them ranked 3rd in AFL. To get a more realistic look you need to go back to the Grant Thomas era of 2004 & 2005 to find a Saints side that averaged over 100 points, in those years we were averaging 108 & 106 respectively.

Scoring more has come at a price however as teams are now scoring more freely against us. After 12 rounds, the Saints opposition has averaged 87 points against, which is 16 points more than their average over the previous 3 years. On three occasions in St Kilda has lost a game scoring over 90 points, two of those times scoring over 100. In the previous 3 years this only happened on one occasion, Round 19 2009 against Essendon.

The Saints are 6-6 heading into the bye after a few close losses which could have easily turned into wins. Losses against Port (4 points), Fremantle (13 points), Richmond (8 points) and Adelaide (4 points) might come back to haunt us at the business end of the season. Inaccurate kicking has been factor in most of the losses with Kosi, Milne & Riewoldt all missing very easy goals on multiple occasions. Since Round 3 we haven’t been able to string consecutive wins together, with 10 game win/loss streak.

In recent weeks St Kilda has received boost with key players Ben McEvoy (knee), Sam Fisher (hamstring) and Adam Schneider (hamstring) returning from fairly long stints on sidelines.

Heading into the bye the Saints are relatively injury free with Rhys Stanley the only key player still a few weeks away from a return. Nick Riewoldt is having scans on his calf which officials say he strained within opening minutes of their Round 12 clash against Adelaide and there is some concern he might miss the Round 14 clash against North Melbourne.

This healthy list sets St Kilda up for an assault on second half of the year, where history shows they come home strong. From 2007 to 2011 St Kilda has win/loss record of 32 wins, 1 draw and 22 losses in first half of season. In second half season they have record of 39 wins, 2 draws & 14 losses.

They have a favourable draw in the run home with winnable games against North Melbourne, Brisbane, Bulldogs, Melbourne and GWS. That won’t be enough to play finals though, so St Kilda will need to win 2 or 3 against Essendon, Sydney, Collingwood, Geelong or Carlton.

There’s no reason why they can’t win most of those, after all they demolished Sydney & Carlton earlier in season and Geelong aren’t the team they used to be.

Whilst top 4 is out of the question, it is such an even competition that this could be year a club comes from bottom half of eight to win the flag, if everything falls into place.

One thing is for certain, the Saints aren’t the big “sliders” that all the experts claimed at start of the year and you would be brave person to say they won’t feature in September.

PLAYERS IN FOCUS

DAVID ARMITAGE

2012: 12 games, 20.1 disposals, 4 marks, 5.2 tackles, 0.8 goals
2011: 22 games, 15.3 disposals, 2.9 marks, 4.5 tackles, 0.6 goals

Many people wondered where David Armitage was in his career leading into this season. Under Ross Lyon he appeared to be “on the outer” and used as a forward tagger which really didn’t suit him. In 2012 he has been used in midfield and it has seen him have a “breakout” year. He has increased his stats in all areas (as shown above) and has become one of the clubs most consistent performers. He has polled votes in True Sainters Player Of Year on 6 occasions and currently sits in 3rd spot only 4 votes behind the leader.

LENNY HAYES

Ave: 12 games, 25 disposals, 3.1 marks, 6.2 tackles

After stepping away from an “official” leadership role, many believed the road back from a serious knee injury would be too much for the heart and soul of the Club. Boy, were they wrong! Lenny has proven once again why he is one of the most respected players in the league. His work ethic, hardness at the contest, ferocious tackling and don’t forget that beautiful sidestep have the veteran playing with a renewed vigor. He is arguably in career best form and polled an incredible 6 times in opening 8 rounds in True Sainters Player Of The Year award, including 3 best on grounds in row from Rounds 3-5. It’s no surprise St Kilda’s clearance stats have skyrocketed this season with inclusion of Lenny back into midfield.

NICK RIEWOLDT

Ave: 15.2 disposals, 6.8 marks, 2.6 tackles, 2.8 goals

Champions are champions for a reason. After admitting 2011 was a year to forget for various reasons, a weight seems to have been lifted. Successful surgery on the troublesome and much talked about knee and the releasing of demons past has the captain playing like the centre half forward that has made him the most decorated player in St Kilda history. With a restructure of the forward line and introduction of new players, the focus has moved from the “kick it to Roo” game plan. This has released him somewhat and given him more freedom to roam higher up the ground. His work off the ball and his gut running is still there and his confidence is his marking and goal kicking is returning.
Roo might not be the player of previous years but he is having a much bigger impact than people realize. Not only is he ranked 3rd on the goal kicking ladder but he ranks 3rd in marks, 4th goal assists and 2nd goals contributed.

JASON BLAKE

Ave: 14.2 disposals, 4.7 marks, 3.3 tackles, 7.7 hitouts

A Club and fan favourite, the record holder for playing the most games without a Brownlow vote seemed destined to play another season as a bit player. With the untimely injuries to Ben McEvoy and Rhys Stanley, Blake has had to take the mantle as number 1 ruckman. Given his size many laughed at the idea that he could match it with those towering big men. He has stepped up and taken on the role with aplomb and his past month would see him as one of the best and most valuable players in the team.

SEAN DEMPSTER

Ave: 17.1 disposals, 6.7 marks, 2.1 tackles

Sean Dempster is arguably having his best season of his career, which is a big call considering he came 3rd in Saints Best & Fairest in 2011 and made name for himself as best stopper in the game. He has improved across every statistical category. He ranks 5th in AFL for total marks and at Saints he ranks 2nd for marks, 3rd for one percenters, 3rd for rebound 50’s, 8th in disposals. He is also ranked 8th in disposal efficiency, which has been area of concern in past.

JACK STEVEN

Ave: 20.8 disposals, 4.5 marks, 4.5 tackles, 0.9 goals

In his first 14 AFL matches Jack Steven averaged 11.8 possessions a game and only had more than 14 possessions twice. Since then Steven has played a further 28 matches averaging 21.4 possessions a game and had less than 15 disposals three times. The foundations were set last year, when his mentor Lenny Hayes went down with a season ending injury. Jack had to quickly fill a hole and learn a hard attacking midfield position on the run. The experience, game time and behind the scenes tutoring have worked wonders with him taking his game to the next level this year. He has now become an invaluable and mainstay of the very important midfield team. Jack’s work rate, fitness, tackling and running have all markedly improved.

ARRYN SIPOSS

Ave: 11.2 disposals, 4.3 marks, 2.7 tackles, 0.7 goals

Playing and living the dream would be hard for any young kid but in his second year, Arryn seems to be finding his feet and learning the craft of the game. His role seems to have changed somewhat and while that has taken some getting used to, good form in the VFL has led to him playing a number of consecutive senior games. The past 2 games have seen Arryn play his best footy and if he can string a few more games together might find himself receiving Rising Star nomination.

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