If Saints fans had been told at the start of the year that they’d be 5-6 at the bye, they might well have considered it a start exceeding expectations. With all six losses coming against teams in the Top Eight, there is reason to suggest that it should be greeted with the same enthusiasm. Unfortunately, given that they have found themselves in this position after starting the season 4-1, it is not being heralded as positively as it once might have been.
WHAT HAS GONE RIGHT?
Last start against Port Adelaide not withstanding, the Saints have been considerably more competitive in 2019 than 12 months earlier. If not for a some costly lapses in games, the win-loss ledger could have been much healthier.
Mature aged recruits Callum Wilkie and Matthew Parker have impressed in their introduction to the big time. Parker has produced some kind of highlight reel in the first half of the season, while in defence, Wilkie has looked like a player with 11 years rather than 11 games experience.
The development of Josh Battle and Rowan Marshall has also been a genuine cause of excitement for Saints fans. Having taken on the role of first ruck for the Saints in the wake of Tom Hickey’s trade to West Coast, Marshall has quickly become one of the best round the ground big men in the competition. Battle has also blossomed with new responsibilities this season, his form since moving to defence must have him line for a Rising Star nomination in the second half of the season.
The Saints comeback victory over Hawthorn in Round Four is also worthy of recognition. Trailing by 26 points in the third-quarter, they showed a level of grit absent in 2018, kicking five of the last six goals of the game to run out five point victors.
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WHAT HAS GONE WRONG?
Where do we start?
Injuries have been a consistent scourge, with key players missing large sections of the season. Big name recruit Dan Hannebery is yet to take the field in 2019, nor has Jake Carlisle, Dylan Roberton, or Paddy McCartin in the season proper. So many players have spent time on the sidelines, it has been the exception rather than the rule when less than 10 of the Saints best 22 have been unavailable.
Forward entries and kicking for goal have also hurt the team badly throughout 2019 to date. A painful example of this is the Round Seven clash with GWS, which the Saints lost by 42 points despite having 20 more Inside 50’s. As for kicking for goal, not only do they have the worst conversion rate in the competition, they also have the worst difference between expected and actual conversion. No wonder St Kilda fans can’t bring themselves to watch their team attempt even the most simple of shots for goal.
There have been a few players whose performances have warranted consideration as the standout player for season 2019. Jack Billings had an electric start to the season before being a little quieter in comparison. Jade Gresham is perhaps the most electric player on the list but has perhaps not consistently found his best.
Callum Wilkie and Matthew Parker have both walked straight into the AFL and made an immediate impact. Josh Battle is all but certain to earn a Rising Star nomination if his form continues, but the standout player in our mind it Rowan Marshall. One of the most exciting young ruck prospects in the AFL, his season has been a beacon of light for Saints fans.
THE RUN HOME
With just four games against current top eight opposition on the run home there is a chance for the Saints to build some serious momentum. It would not be unreasonable to expect them to finish with between 10 and 12 wins for the season.
Given the long injury list and the strength of the teams to have beaten them, there is reason to judge the season positively despite some genuine areas for improvement. At the end of the day, it all comes down to which St Kilda is the real one. Is it the team that lost so comprehensively to Port Adelaide in their last start, or is it the team that started the year 4-1? As someone with a tendency to see the glass half full rather than half empty, we’ll plump for the latter rather than the former.