Making Sense of St Kilda's Season From Hell
After an impressive 2020 campaign in which the club snapped an 9-year finals drought, St Kilda’s 2021 season has been anything but, boasting a disappointing 5-8 record and slumping to 13th on the ladder.
Off the back of a year where the Saints played one of the league’s most attractive brands of football, the off-season additions of Brad Crouch and Jack Higgins, coupled with the potential further development of Max King, had the club glowing with optimism.
Instead, an array of issues at Moorabbin has resulted in the league's most disappointing campaign, with their chances of returning to September slumping to just 7% according to the Stats Insider futures model.
The big question is, where’s it all gone so spectacularly wrong?
An extensive injury list to key players such as Hunter Clark, Jade Gresham, Ben Patton and to ruckmen Rohan Marshall and Paddy Ryder has meant St Kilda have been unable to play with any sort of synergy.
Their high-mark, fast-paced 2020 trademark has lapsed, while this season their prime ball movers have been unable to make an impact, making it hard to unleash their style of footy.
Bradley Hill’s output has been restricted in 2021, as opposition teams recognise his importance to St Kilda’s game.
Although Hill averages 18 touches a match, his inability to shake tags has nullified his influence and ultimately prevented the Saints from unleashing its free-flowing game.
However, Hill isn’t the only Saint disappointing fans, with their defensive drive also greatly reduced this season, stifling so much of the intense counter-attacking that fuelled their 2020 rise.
Young gun Nick Coffield and experienced defender Jimmy Webster are averaging less than 230 meters gained per patch, with Coffield, the club’s #8 pick from the 2017 draft, suffering through a career-low 14.2 disposals per game.
St Kilda’s woes don’t end there. Last year their incredible kicking for goal, propelled by deep inside-50 entries, stunned the league. They’ve however struggled mightily this time round, with their overall 42.6% accuracy good enough for 17th, with young gun Max King submitting just a 36% figure so far this season.
Speaking of the forward line, Dan Butler has gone from a near All-Australian selection to a seemingly exhausted, timid presence, and while his patented tackling inside-50 numbers remain highly respectable, his goals per game have slipped to less than one for just the second time in his career, while his 0.4 goal assists per game represents a career low.
Yet St Kilda’s lack of dynamism up forward, slumping form 4th to 15th from a points per game perspective also has plenty to do with a midfield that’s supplying no where near the amount of opportunities. The Saints 51.8 inside-50’s per game rank 12th, while the chub’s overall disposal efficiency figure of 71.2% is the league’s 3rd-worst.
So where to now?
In what seems like a disengaged and uninterested St Kilda line-up, coach Brett Ratten must find a way to tap into the players’ instincts and ability, the likes of which got them to a semi final last year.
The Saints must focus on their defensive output while working on re-implementing a team brand instead of an individual-based game that relies too heavily on key players.
Despite their long injury list and poor form, history suggests that these can be turned into positives. It’s worth remembering that at the halfway point of last season, the Demons sat 15th on the ladder, yet used the second half of their campaign to sew the seeds of this year’s premiership worthy campaign.
While 2021 seems like a lost cause at the moment, St Kilda’s remaining rounds can be used as a springboard into a new and exciting future, the likes of which the club's long-suffering fanbase got a brief glimpse of last year.
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