WHAT WENT RIGHT?
Despite it being a season of misery and despair for the Saints, there were a few bright spots among the prevailing doom and gloom. Brightest of them all was the performances of Jade Gresham. One of the few reliable forward options in a year to forget, he proved himself an equally damaging prospect onball as he was utilised there more often as the season progressed.
Jack Steele provided another positive after being given the task of running with Gold Coast’s David Swallow. What began as a run-with role, seeing Steele earn the nickname ‘Backpack’ as he shut down a number of the competitions midfield guns, became something more as he became a ball-winner in his own right.
The Saints also got a glimpse late in the year at the potential of big men Lewis Pierce and Rowan Marshall. Both of them had to wait until late in the season for their opportunities and grabbed the chance with both hands.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Pretty much close to everything!
After a less than impressive first round victory over the Lions, the Saints were diabolical on Good Friday. Their performance so bad that it appears they will not get a second chance to make the day a blockbuster date for the club.
They would not taste victory again until Round 13, along the way losing Koby Stevens to career ending concussion related injury, and Dylan Roberton to a shocking season ending heart complaint that saw him collapse during the Saints loss to Geelong. Injury would be a consistent curse throughout the season with most of the club’s key talls spending time on the sideline at some point or another.
A game plan that relied on heavy ball use was consistently let down by abominable disposal and even worse kicking for goal. All of which not helped by the club once again being dealt one of the hardest fixtures in the competition, upon release and again upon end of season review, despite once again missing the finals in 2017 like they had every year since 2011.
Jack Steven was rewarded with his fourth Trevor Barker Medal as St Kilda’s Best & Fairest. It means the 28-year-old from the Bellarine Peninsula joins a rare club, equal with Bill Cubbins and Robert Harvey, behind only Nick Riewoldt for total wins.
Despite the Saints painful season, Steven still managed to earn three Brownlow Votes on four occasions in 2018. His outstanding performances against Melbourne, Brisbane, Carlton and North Melbourne, impossible for the men in white to ignore and seeing Steven finishing equal eighth in Brownlow voting.
With just four wins to show for their efforts in 2018, it isn’t exactly a big field to choose from but the Saints Round 15 victory over Melbourne was a top shelf performance against a quality opponent. On the back of strong efforts from the likes of Jack Billings, Jake Carlisle, Jack Steele and four goals from Jade Gresham the Saints gave an all too brief glimpse of what was possible from this group in a long season for both the club and its supporters.
Playing on at all costs, they built a deserved 22-point lead by the last change before a late Melbourne flurry made the final moments a little too close for comfort. Standing tall in the face of the Demons surge, the Saints held on for a two-point victory to record one of the upsets of the season.
WHAT THEY NEED TO IMPROVE ON?
The retirements of Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna at the end of the 2017 season left a much larger than anticipated leadership vacuum at the club. Whether from within the group or through player acquisition, the Saints need to resolve this problem desperately.
A better results from their ruck stocks would also be high on the wish list for Alan Richardson and his coaching staff. The Saints rucks were too often exposed by quality opposition in 2018. Lewis Pierce showed positive signs late in the season but will require support which explains the Saints interest in West Coast’s Scott Lycett.
Heavily stocked on serviceable, one-paced players, they require an injection of pace and polish. Too often in 2018 they were let down by an inability to retain possession or to deliver the ball inside 50 to take full toll of their opportunities. It is possible with the right additions, and continued improvement from the likes of Jade Gresham, that the Saints could experience a sharp improvement in 2019.