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Mid-season report card

Take a closer look at what has worked and what hasn’t for the Saints at the half-way mark of the season. - St Kilda Saints
Take a closer look at what has worked and what hasn’t for the Saints at the half-way mark of the season.

The Saints start the second half of the season with a five and six record, knowing the building blocks are there for strong finish to 2019.

As we pause to take a breath over the mid-season bye, Saints.com.au dissects what has worked and what hasn’t so far this season.

What’s worked

New faces

The Saints went hunting for ready-made recruits in the off-season to complement the selection of long-term prospects Max King and Jack Bytel.

In addition to trades for dynamic Demon Dean Kent and premiership midfielder Dan Hannebery, the Saints turned to state-league stars Matty Parker, Nick Hind, Callum Wilkie and Robbie Young.

While Hannebery has endured a frustrating run with injuries, and only conversion has stood in the way of Kent grabbing games by the neck, it’s the form of two others that have helped create a new-look St Kilda side.

Parker immediately made his mark at AFL level, and while the East Fremantle product is still searching for consistency, he appears destined for a long career in red, white and black.

Averaging one goal and three tackles per game, the 190cm forward has already developed an impressive highlights reel and has the weapons to help the Saints climb the ladder in the back half of 2019.

Wilkie has arguably been the pick of the new faces, stepping up in the absence of gun defender Dylan Roberton.

The North Adelaide premiership star has grown in confidence to become one of the Saints’ most reliable members of the back six, with his intercept marking and elite kicking coming to the fore.

Robbie Young has shown glimpses of his prodigious speed and talent in three games to date, while we look for Nick Hind to make his debut in the coming weeks after continually banging down the door at VFL level.

New roles

Young stars Jade Gresham and Jack Billings have moved into the midfield with devastating effect but it’s the change of roles for Josh Battle that may have had the biggest impact.

Battle emerged last season as a talented lead-up forward but has shone in 2019 as a key defender.

The aerobic animal has quickly found the balance between shutting out his opponent and using his skills to help ignite the Saints off half back.

Averaging six marks and 15 disposals a game, the 20-year-old boasts a disposal efficiency that hovers at 86 per cent and looks a lock for the long term.

Billings was one of the major reasons behind the Saints’ brilliant start to the season and has made the wing-role his own this year.

Averaging 25 disposals, the 23-year-old has become a leader, and a more complete player with added defensive pressure.

Gresham’s x-factor has never been questioned but a big pre-season has allowed the indigenous star to take his talents into the engine room.

Averaging 22 disposals and almost one goal a game, there is plenty of upside in the fan favourite.

Despite still working on his tank, the 22-year-old showed in wins over Essendon and Carlton, his ability to dominate games from the middle.

 

New game-plan

A last-up loss to Port Adelaide may have left a sour taste in the mouths of supporters, but apart from the Shanghai defeat, the Saints’ system has stacked up.

A more controlled build-up with the football in hand and a come-forward defence has allowed Alan Richardson’s side to overcome the loss of key personnel and play consistent football.

The Saints can’t hide from losses in five of the past six-games against some of the competition’s best but a lack of conversion and lapses in concentration have been to blame.

The introduction of Brett Ratten and Brendon Lade has helped Richardson and existing lieutenant Henry Playfair create a system that can compete with anyone when executed right.

The Saints know that they have to respond emphatically from a meek effort against the Power and ensure the group takes a step forward in the back-half of the season.

What hasn’t worked

The injuries

The Saints have been hit with a string of unlucky injuries that have curtailed the season of so many important players.

Jake Carlisle’s back injury and a re-occurrence of Dylan Roberton’s heart issues has left the Saints’ without two of their biggest weapons.

The pair’s ability to haul in intercept marks and turn defence into attack has been sorely missed, while rebounding defender Jimmy Webster has also missed several weeks with a hand injury.

Paddy McCartin’s latest concussion has been well-documented with the key forward still battling on-going symptoms. McMartin’s absence has meant the Saints have been without a third key forward as draftee Max King slowly makes his way back from a knee-injury.

Captain Jarryn Geary has also missed a large chunk of the season after suffering compartment syndrome in the aftermath of the club’s win over Melbourne.

A broken leg in his return game looks likely to keep the skipper out for at least another eight weeks, meaning Ben Paton and Nick Coffield will get their opportunity to impress.

Jack Lonie may not boast the reputation of some of the names above but ask the coaching team at RSEA Park and his absence has hit the team just as hard. Lonie was not only finding plenty of football in the front half but was helping organise an inexperienced forward line when he suffered a significant knee injury against the Crows in Round 6.

While the backline has been the hardest hit, the midfield has also been forced to live without Jack Steven, who is battling mental health issues, and experienced recruit Dan Hannebery who appears to be over niggling soft-tissue injuries.

Wins on the road

The Saints’ record on the road has long been a weakness and its yet to improve in 2019.

The Saints fell agonisingly short against the Dockers in Round 3 and started poorly against the Giants in Round 7.

Those losses were compounded by a thrashing at the hands of the Power in Shanghai.

While much was made of the Saints’ battle with illness, the nine unanswered goals kicked by the Power during the second and third terms showed that the Saints’ inexperienced line-up wasn’t able to reverse momentum quickly enough away from Marvel Stadium.

Trips to Townsville to face the Suns, Hobart to face North Melbourne, Adelaide to take on the Crows and the Swans at the SCG will be telling if the Saints hope to break a long-awaited finals drought.

Conversion

Despite improved set-shot kicking, the Saints are still battling poor conversion in front of goal.

St Kilda has posted 115 goals in 11 games, while kicking 122 behinds. Poor conversion has stifled the Saints’ hopes of upset wins over Adelaide the West Coast Eagles. The inability to pile on scoreboard pressure in the first half has impacted the important momentum needed to overcome the best teams.

In other games, it’s been the inability to convert inside 50s into scoring opportunities with the loss to Collingwood at the MCG as the best example.

The Saints dominated the second term but left the Magpies off the hook with poor entries and long-range shots that sailed wide.

Making the most of their opportunities is all that stands between the Saints and becoming a genuine finals contender.