Of the many surprises to come from St Kilda's 2020, the rapid success of remodelled forward line was arguably on top of the pile.
No one anticipated the frenetic energy and near All-Australian season of recruit Dan Butler, while Max King delivered above and beyond in his maiden campaign as the club's new No. 1 key forward.
With regular spearhead Tim Membrey, rotating forward/ruckman Rowan Marshall and small forwards Jack Lonie and Dean Kent adding to the tireless forward pressure, St Kilda's new-look offensive steadily started to turn opposition headaches into migraines.
Compared to 2019, scoring per minute increased by 14 per cent to coincide with the Saints’ attacking style of play – which also saw them place second in the league for average goals per game (10.1) – while 10 players slotted 10 or more goals throughout the course of the year.
It was a more than promising result for the revamped line, and one that will instil the club with confidence heading into next season.
Games (2020): 19
Games (career): 64
Goals (2020): 29
Season averages: 11 disposals, four tackles, four score involvements, three inside-50s, 1.5 goals
Best game: Round 11 v Gold Coast, 13 disposals, four goals, four tackles
Key stat: First for St Kilda's goals and tackles inside-50s, second for tackles, score involvements, goal assists and pressure acts
Where to begin with Dan Butler.
A cheap-as-chips trade to secure the Premiership Tiger in last year's trade period proved to be one of the Saints' most damaging assets in 2020, with his monumental impact on games taking everyone – internally and externally – by surprise.
Lightning-quick, brilliant through his front-and-centre work and off the charts in forward pressure, the small forward packed a consistent punch to keep both opposition defences on red alert and his team on the right side of the ledger.
Butler took out club goalkicking honours in his first season at St Kilda (27 goals) with nine multiple-goal outings, finished runner-up in the Trevor Barker Award and was incredibly stiff to miss out on a place in the All-Australian side after being named in the squad as one of two small forwards.
Games (2020): 18
Games (career): 110
Goals (2020): 20
Season averages: 10 disposals, five marks, four score involvements, two inside-50s, one goal
Best game: Elimination Final v Western Bulldogs, 16 disposals, nine score involvements, nine marks, two goals
Key stat: First for St Kilda's marks on lead, second for marks inside-50 and forward-50 ground-ball gets, third for contested marks and goals
After shouldering the Saints' forward line for the past few seasons, the successful arrival of Max King in the senior line-up allowed Tim Membrey to get on his bike and pack his punch further up the field.
Skunk's safe hands were brilliant moving along the wings as a hit-up target, with his booming kicks inside-50 helping his side get the scoreboard ticking over to great effect.
The key forward continued to show his class as a leader of the offensive end, rounding out the condensed season with 20 majors to finish third in the club's goalkicking.
Starring performances against Fremantle (three goals), Richmond (three) and the elimination final against the Western Bulldogs (two) had Membrey nearing the peak of his powers, with his ability to bring teammates into the game and make an impact of his own up forward crucial assets to St Kilda's attack.
Games (2020): 18
Games (career): 18
Goals (2020): 22
Season averages: Eight disposals, three marks, two contested marks
Best game: Round 12 v Essendon, six marks, five score involvements, three contested marks, three goals
Key stat: First for St Kilda's marks inside-50, shots on goal and forward-50 ground-ball gets, equal-first for contested marks, second for goals and marks on lead
For all the expectation and pressure placed on the shoulders of Max King, the young key forward delivered in spades.
As the new focal point of the Saints' attack, the lifelong Saints fan and new No. 12 showed why he was rated so highly, despite a season-ending knee injury in his draft year.
King finished second in the club's goalkicking (22 goals) with seven multiple-goal outings behind Dan Butler, but took out top billing for marks inside-50, contested marks and surprisingly, forward-50 ground-ball gets.
The NAB Rising Star nominee's soaring for marks and contested clunks turned heads across the competition – particularly in the elimination final triumph – with many needing to be reminded of how the 20-year-old was in just his first season and was acting as the focal point of a newly restructured offensive.
What was indisputable however, was how was riveting to watch King in action. And with one full season under his belt, it's only onward and upwards from here.
Games (2020): 13
Games (career): 76
Goals (2020): 12
Season averages: 10 disposals, 13 pressure acts, three marks, one goal
Best game: Round 4 v Richmond, 16 disposals, two clearances, two goals
Key stat: Second for St Kilda’s tackles inside-50, fourth for shots on goal, top-10 for marks inside-50, marks on lead, pressure acts, goals and goal assists
Even with new recruit Dan Butler and an uninjured Dean Kent amplifying the small forward stocks, Jack Lonie continued to pack his timely blows throughout the year.
The trio kicked 24 goals and registered 61 tackles (39 inside-50) from the first seven matches of the year to chart as one of the most potent small forward fleets in the competition.
Of those, Lonie slotted five – two of which came against the Tigers in Round 4 – and levelled Butler's tackle count inside-50 (14) before being omitted ahead of Round 8.
The No. 13 spent six weeks at reserves level – broken up with a Round 12 call-up – before entrenching himself in the line-up for the club’s run into finals off the back of his constant forward pressure.
Lonie snagged two handy majors against GWS while nursing a knee injury sustained earlier in the match, before jagging another in the club’s elimination final triumph over the Bulldogs.
Games (2020): 15
Games (career): 91
Goals (2020): 10
Season averages: 10 disposals, 11 pressure acts, four score involvements, three inside-50s
Best game: Round 7 v Adelaide, 10 disposals, five tackles, four inside-50s, two goals
Key stat: Third for St Kilda’s marks on lead and tackles inside-50, top-10 for St Kilda’s marks inside-50, score involvements, pressure acts, goals and goal assists
While all eyes up forward were fixated on Dan Butler and his elite forward pressure, Dean Kent ensured it wasn’t a one-man performance.
The former Demon racked up the third-most pressure acts of St Kilda’s forwards (170) – just one behind second-placed Jack Lonie – to uphold the first-class pressure inside the arc and was particularly damaging on the scoreboard in the opening half of the upended season.
Seven of Kent’s 10 goals for the year came from Rounds 4-8, with a clutch goal against Richmond steering St Kilda to its first win over a reigning Premier since 2010.
In line with the Saints sharing the load in attack, the 26-year-old was also one of 10 players to register 10 or more goals in 2020.
Games (2020): 14
Games (career): 40
Goals (2020): 12
Season averages: 10 disposals, four marks, two rebound-50s, one goal
Best game: Round 12 v Essendon, 18 disposals, nine marks, five rebound-50s, two inside-50s, one goal
Key stat: Fifth for St Kilda's marks inside-50, top-10 for contested marks, marks on lead, intercept marks and goals
Up forward, down back or along the wings, Brett Ratten’s most deployable talent thrived after forcing his way back into the line-up.
The courageous 22-year-old staked his claim in Round 4 against Richmond, with his influential run only interrupted by a facial fracture (Round 8) and foot soreness (elimination final).
Often serving as an outlet target in-between the arcs, Battle’s safe hands and endurance had him able to seamlessly transition the ball out of defence or into attack, evidenced by his near-identical rebound-50 (21) and inside-50 (19) numbers.
Damage up forward was felt with successive two-goal outings against Sydney and Gold Coast, while a superb shutdown on role on GWS’ Nick Haynes marked one of his best performances as a Saint.
Battle inked a two-year contract extension midway through the season to tie him to the red, white and black until at least the end of 2022.
Games (2020): 10
Games (career): 21
Goals (2020): 6
Season averages: 10 disposals, three tackles, three score involvements
Best game: Round 9 v Sydney, 16 disposals, five tackles, three inside-50s, three goals
Key stat: Top-10 for St Kilda’s tackles inside-50 and shots on goal
It’s been a wild cross-country tour for Nicholas Hind, who in his two years and 21 games at the elite level has been to China, Townsville and Alice Springs, among several other venues.
2020, by that logic, would have seemed relatively normal for the mature-age recruit as the club packed up its bags and relocated to Noosa in June.
Hind proved his importance in several moments during the year, seizing his chance in the senior line-up after a month-long stint in the reserves.
While working his way into games will be a focus for the 26-year-old in 2021, the Clunes pick-up showed what he could do when firing on all cylinders.
Hind’s best came in Round 9 against Sydney with a sizzling three-goal bag – a performance which also earned him his maiden Brownlow votes – while a pivotal outing over Gold Coast helped guide the club towards a narrow victory.
Games (2020): 6
Games (career): 26
Goals (2020): 2
Season averages: Nine disposals, four score involvements, two tackles
Best game: Round 4 v Richmond, 11 disposals, five tackles, four marks, one goal
Key stat: Top-10 for St Kilda’s average tackles inside-50
A fast-tracked rise up the pecking order during the pre-season saw Jonathon Marsh land a spot in the senior line-up by Round 3.
The former Magpie hit the scoreboard against his old side and the reigning premiers, mainly being utilised as a defensive forward in his month-long role in the senior side.
It was a long time between drinks after Round 6, with Marsh plying his trade as an inside midfielder and key forward at reserves level before earning another call-up against Hawthorn and again for the semi-final with Richmond.
The 25-year-old utilised his explosive pace and strength in both contests, with a strong display of both attributes leading to a Paddy Ryder sealer over the Hawks late in the game.