St Kilda have long been a lightning rod for heartache and pain as far as their supporters are concerned when it comes to finals football and attempting to win premiership.
There is no sadder club in the history of VFL/AFL football, and that was laid bare earlier this year when the Saints “celebrated” 150 years and one flag since they joined the competition.
They have spent the entire season in the top eight, and in fact have only dropped below sixth after one round. Winning five of their first six games has given them a buffer to ride some down spots throughout the year, but the question still remains about whether they will make finals, and any damage they could do.
With two rounds to go St Kilda sit a game and percentage clear inside the top eight. Surely even they can’t blow it from here, but their next two games could well be elimination finals. They take on Geelong at Marvel this week, a team they have only beaten once in the last 12 years, followed by a trip to the Gabba to face Brisbane. It’s likely they end on their current 12 wins.
If that happens, Sydney, currently in seventh, can pass them with just one win against either Adelaide away or Melbourne at home. The Bulldogs in eighth will surely beat West Coast this week and overtake the Saints.
Four teams are outside the eight and can catch the Saints – Essendon would need to beat both GWS and Collingwood, which seems a tall order; GWS would need to beat both Essendon and Carlton, which is also hard to see happening; Geelong can do it beating both St Kilda and the Dogs, and Adelaide can overtake them beating both Sydney and West Coast.
You would think enough of these circumstances are likely, that if St Kilda can’t win one of their two games, they will miss the finals. But if they are truly worthy, then they will get there.
Almost every team has gone through a lull at some stage this season, and the Saints had theirs between Rd 14-18 – they lost four out of five games, with the only win an ugly one against West Coast, when the Eagles actually led at all three changes.
Since then, St Kilda has settled and won three out of four. First was North Melbourne, albeit in another ugly affair. Second was a comfortable win over Hawthorn including a nine goal quarter, form that looks better as each week passes given the Hawks have sneakily become one of the form sides of the comp. There was a loss to Carlton where they led for three quarters, then last week they dismantled an inept Richmond.
Rowan Marshall is becoming more important by the week, genuinely in his prime as a 27 year old ruckman and playing like it. His marking has been a feature in recent weeks, and has been complementing his aerial work by kicking goals in each of the last five weeks.
Max King and Tim Membrey have played 14 games between them, but against Richmond was the first time they have graced the field together all year. They should now be a handful for any defence and can help them kick the higher scores they’ve been missing.
The defence is still holding up, as is the expectation for any Ross Lyon team, ranked #2 in the league. Callum Wilkie, Josh Battle and Jack Sinclair have all had fine seasons and should be in All-Australian contention.
The best part about this season has actually been what it could look like in the future, given how much heavy lifting has been done by the likes of Mitch Owens (19 years old and 27 games), Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera (20yo, 38g), Anthony Caminiti (19yo, 17g), Mattaes Phillipou (18yo, 21g) and Marcus Windhager (20yo, 34g).
St Kilda would back that group of five youngsters against any bunch of under 20’s in the competition.
Ryan Byrnes is in his fourth year, and looks to have finally found his feet on the verge of 50 games, while it has taken Mason Wood a decade to finally fulfil his potential.
The midfield is still a bit patchy and that is where the Saints will be exposed in September, if they get there. This is perhaps where they will need to bolster again through trade or free agency in the offseason.
A finals win in 2020 was a bit of a false dawn for St Kilda, and certainly didn’t spare Brett Ratten a brutal sacking at the end of last year. If the Saints can earn their way into a finals spot again, and even take a notch, it should really be the start of something and not just another one-off.