Is St Kilda's Season Already On Life Support?
After starting the season off in fine fashion with a gritty win against the Giants, St Kilda have slumped to 1-2 after a loss to Melbourne, before being completely dismantled by an under-manned Bomber outfit last Saturday.
Breaking a nine-year Finals drought last season and advancing to a Semi Final, many pegged the Saints to take a further step this season despite being saddled with the league’s most hellacious fixture.
Unfortunately for the Saints, and while the season is still young, their season is already on life support, particularly considering what’s coming up from a schedule perspective.
Let’s take a look at what’s worked for the Saints, how it’s all unravelled, and whether there’s any hope for redemption.
St Kilda managed to come away with the biscuits in Round One against the Giants courtesy of as sea-sawing affair.
The Saints amassed 71 total tackles, with the likes of skipper Jack Steele leading the way with 8, while Jack Bytel produced 10 of his own in just his 4th game at AFL level.
The Saints also managed to win the clearance count, leading the Giants 49-40 with Steele and Hunter Clarke combining for 14.
The St Kilda forward line looked dangerous too, and even without budding star Max King, managed to produce 8 individual goal-kickers with reliable-veteran Tim Member stepping up with 3.
While it wasn’t the prettiest of wins, the Saints banked the four points off the back of a tenacious and committed afternoon of footy.
Coming up against a new-look Melbourne side, the Saints had their work cut out for them from the get-go.
Despite Brett Ratten’s men taking a brief second-quarter lead, the Demons were much more switched-on, and ultimately prevailed in every meaningful statistic, winning both the contested possession (132-118) and tackles (57-56), and ultimately departing the Docklands with an 18-point win.
While the Demons 3-goal win suggested a closer affair, Melbourne had 31 scoring shots to St Kilda’s 18, with the Demons helping themselves to a sky-high 72% scoring-shot efficiency once inside-50, compared with St Kilda’s lacklustre 40%.
Unfortunately for Saints, the following week saw an even worse turnout, prompting some serious soul-searching.
The Bombers went into Saturday’s showdown against the Saints with the leagues’ youngest and least experienced team of the round, yet blew the Saints to pieces, leading for the entirety of the match and running out 75-point winners.
Essendon exploited St Kilda’s lack of heart and motivation smashing them by 117 in the disposal count, while most alarmingly even surrendering an extra 22 tackles.
In fact, the Saint's humiliating 32 total tackles represented the worst return by any club this season, with 16 St Kilda players registering either one or zero total tackles. If not for Jack Steele’s typically excellent 35 possession, 6 clearance and 4 tackle outing, there’s no telling how monstrous the damage could have been.
The above numbers unquestionably point to a lack of desire and determination, the likes of which St Kilda proudly exhibited in Round One, yet which seems to have vanished over the subsequent fortnight.
Which is why alarm bells are blaring right now around Moorabbin.
According to Stats Insider’s futures projections, the Saints finals chances have plunged to just 30% following their Bomber beat-down, with Brett Ratten and his coaching team now scrambling to find a way to revitalise their season.
A Saintly Salvation?
Firstly, St Kilda are going to have to overcome a growing injury problem with a deep menu of absentees including Rowan Marshall, Dan Hannebery and Ben Paton, while Jade Gresham has been ruled out for the season with an achilles injury.
While collapsing to 16th spot on the ladder is difficulty enough to digest, the Saint's task will be made even harder considering how harrowing their up-coming fixture list is.
Their horror run begins this Saturday against the red-hot Eagles at the Docklands, followed by a Thursday night encounter against Richmond prior to a Round 6 assignment against the Power at Adelaide Oval.
If the Saints were to sink to a 1-5 record, their season would almost certainly be over, with history suggesting it’s near impossible to make September.
Over the last decade, only the Swans of 2017 have been able to overcome such a start, overturning a demoralising 0-6 record to not only make finals, but advance to the Semi’s where they were ultimately dispatched by Geelong.
For the Saints to rectify the course of their season, they’ll of course need plenty more effort and inspiration, yet Ratten will also have to reconfigure an attack that’s ranked just 14th for points scored, down sharply from the 4th place finish it mustered last year.
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