Why St Kilda And Jack Higgins Are A Match Made In Heaven
Another off-season, another breathtakingly ruthless job by the Saints.
No club has achieved a more comprehensive re-invention these past few years than St Kilda, who’ve continually used the trade period to apply cream to an already exceptionally well-made cake.
For years, their well-regarded recruiting arm has chipped away meticulously, while the inspired Brett Ratten appointmentchanged the entire tenor of the club, morphing it into one of the league’s most aggressive and attractive outfits.
The trade period meanwhile has been used expertly to round-out a rapidly-improving squad, continually landing their targets and moulding a team that’s now on the brink of serious contention.
Over the last few years the Saints have zeroed in on particular players to fill specific needs and have more often than not come away happy shoppers.
In 2015 it was Jake Carlise. A year later Jack Steele joined from the Giants and has since become an All-Australian and club Best and Fairest winner. In 2018 it landed Dan Hannebery, while last year it completely highjacked the trade period hauling in a quintet of established talent with all of Dan Butler, Dougal Howard, Zak Jones and Paddy Ryder finishing top-ten on Best and Fairest nigh while Brad Hill has potentially the biggest upside of the group.
This trade period has continued their winning ways, first landing 2019 Adelaide Best and Fairest winner Brad Crouch for absolutely nothing, while also nabbing Jack Higgins, who while not yet as decorated as St Kilda’s recent acquisitions, perhaps has the potential to be its most destructive.
The Jack Higgins fit at Moorabbin is ideal and should theoretically be a perfect home for the former Tiger’s predatory and improvisational skill-set.
The Saints under Ratten are a club that’s been intent on moving the ball fast and furiously. Last year they ranked 7th from a kick-to-handball perspective and 5th for total inside-50s, however it was the depth and penetration of those entries which made the Saints so potent, and which figures to fit in perfectly to Higgins’ wheelhouse.
Last season the Saints produced a league-leading 107 shots from 0-24 metre range. In fact, 1in every every 7.32 St Kilda inside-50s resulted in a shot from with that distance confirming that not every inside-50 entry is created equally, and that’s St Kilda’s were packing some serious venom.
In a frightening sign for the rest of the league, former #4 pick Max King looked brilliant in his debut season, leading the club in both marks inside-50 (30) and scoring shots (42). While King emerges as one of the league’s potentially most devastating key forward prospects, so too will the role of playing Robin to his Batman, and it’s a gig which Higgins will be delighted to assume.
In his three seasons at Punt Road, 17 of Higgins’ 60 total shots came from within that 0-24 metre range, while he converted those very opportunities at a staggering 88% accuracy. As a club, the Saints were hitting at 74% from that range in 2020, while Higgins looms as a significant upgrade over Jack Lonie who converted at just 44% last season.
Higgins’ lethal, attacking instincts are a prime reason why Richmond drafted him with their first round selection in 2017 fresh off a premiership, and why he could work wonders for the Saints.
Speaking of his former employers, it's perfectly understandable to question why the Tigers, the league’s unrivalled Goliath, ultimately felt he was surplus to requirements.
While Higgins did manage 43 games with the champs, his more instinctual talents didn’t always mesh with Richmond’s highly nuanced system. The defensive side of his game was also a concern, with Higgins averaging just 2.4 tackles per game, while he laid just 7 tackles inside-50 this season from his 10 games.
At St Kilda, Higgins need only look to former Richmond teammate Dan Butler to see what’s required from a defensive standpoint.
Butler was an absolute revelation this year earning a place on the initial 40-man All Australian squad, leading the league with 37 tackles inside-50. Higgins will also note that Butler’s defensive intensity didn’t impact his attacking output, with the former Ballarat junior leading the Saints with 29 goals this season.
Indeed if the penny does drop with Higgins, and he can add a pronounced defensive side to his game, the potential for the Saints forward line to become one of the league’s most fearsome is only enhanced.
This time last year, St Kilda were putting the finishing touches on an astonishing trade period which they hoped would help end their eight-year Finals drought. They achieved that swimmingly, occupying a top-8 spot for 16 of the league’s 18 rounds and even winning a Final in the process.
This year’s trade period has been about adding even more layers of class to a squad that the club will be hoping can help graduate to top-4 status.
St Kilda, like its style of play, is going somewhere ridiculously fast. The Higgins capture, while not as sexy as other player movement this off-season, has the chance to help take the Saints to the kind of heights the club has rarely scaled over the last 147 years.
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