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Saints find opportunity in crisis

Date

Robert Walls

Leading the charge: St Kilda coach Scott Watters.

Leading the charge: St Kilda coach Scott Watters. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

THE football world was shocked at the end of last season, when Ross Lyon and the Fremantle Football Club announced that they would be joining forces. The scene I will never forget was St Kilda chief executive Michael Nettlefold on the night of the announcement. Alone in his office, pacing the floor with mobile phone stuck to his ear, you could tell he was anxious, agitated and about to switch into damage control.

All of a sudden the Saints were in crisis. Their coach of five seasons, who had taken them to three grand finals and enjoyed a success rate of 63 per cent along the way, had suddenly walked out the door.

Now nine months on, the Saints are looking good. Nettlefold realised that Lyon's departure gave the club an opportunity to breathe fresh life into a team that had given its all, but had come up tantalisingly short in achieving the much-cherished flag.

St Kilda - average points

St Kilda - average points

Emotionally, their players were largely spent, with on-field disappointment and too much off-field controversy. Maybe a new coach, a new voice, a new direction was needed.

The Geelong experience 12 months earlier had to give St Kilda confidence that good could come from perceived bad. At Geelong, not only did a dual premiership coach walk out, but so too did its supposed best player, Gary Ablett. The Cats got to work to find themselves a terrific young coach and a satisfying third flag in five years came their way.

So the Saints followed suit. They did extensive research followed by thorough interviewing and came up with Scott Watters. It seems they have chosen well.

Watters' first task was to give his new players a dose of ''TLC''. Confidence was instilled into fragile and confused players. Getting the experienced Dean Laidley on board to support Watters was also a good move.

But, as with Geelong, the resolve of the senior players shouldn't be underestimated. Matthew Scarlett, Cameron Ling, Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman and co are proud men. They would have been desperate to prove last year that football is all about team, and not two individuals - no matter how outstanding their credentials. I sense that Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes, Justin Koschitzke, Sam Fisher and Leigh Montagna feel the same. As much as they respected Ross Lyon, they are determined to prove they are not a one-man band, and that it's the collective whole that really counts.

So the Saints sit 6-5 as they take on the Crows in Adelaide tonight. They are due to lose if their pattern over the past 10 weeks of win one, lose one continues.

But for narrow losses to Port Adelaide and Richmond, this team could be sitting 8-3 and eyeing off a top-four finish. The Saints, believe it or not, at the end of round 11 are the second-highest scoring team this season. Only Hawthorn has kicked more goals, and that's only by two.

Last year, St Kilda was ranked 12th for scoring, averaging 84 points a game. Now it is averaging 106. St Kilda supporters will be delighted that the team is scoring more, and this increase in attacking is not adversely affecting their defence. A strength of the Saints under Lyon was that they were hard to score against. Last year's average score against was 76 points. This year it's 85.

A problem for the Saints last year was that they lacked a spread of goalkickers. Only three players (Stephen Milne, Riewoldt and Adam Schneider) kicked more than 20 goals for the season. Compare that to Geelong and Collingwood (nine), Essendon (eight) and West Coast (seven). There's no doubt the new coach has encouraged his players to move the ball quickly and kick long into the forward line.

Watters witnessed at Collingwood the structure of always having at least two and often three talls (Travis Cloke, Chris Dawes and Leigh Brown) playing in and around the forward 50 arc. This season Riewoldt and Koschitzke are playing much closer to goal. Both are now in the top seven for contested marks and between them have slotted 50 goals.

By kicking long to the talls there will be a lot of crumbs. Speedsters in Terry Milera and Ahmed Saad have been drafted in to help Milne take advantage of this situation. The two new boys are on track for 20+ goal seasons, while the veteran is looking for another 50-goal haul. On top of that, goals are also coming from midfielders, something the Saints have missed for too long. Nick Dal Santo, David Armitage and Jack Steven are averaging almost a goal per game.

For too long there was an unhealthy reliance on Riewoldt and Milne to kick the bulk of the goals. Now more goals are being kicked by more players, and the return of Schneider in the second half of the season will make the forward line even more potent.

And what emphasis do you place on Hayes' return to the team? Last year, he played just two games. Now he is back better than ever. It's no surprise he leads with disposals, clearances, tackles, hard ball gets and contested possessions. He is a unique player who lifts the spirits of all who play alongside him and inspires fans.

In Hayes' time at the club, 20 CEOs, presidents, captains and coaches have come and gone. You get the feeling he will be remembered and revered above them all.

13 comments

  • hey robert, how about waiting until everyone has played the gold coast and GWS. The tigers haven't played either yet! i think you'll find the saints have already played GC twice. very silly article!

    Commenter
    scotty
    Location
    brasil
    Date and time
    June 15, 2012, 3:06AM
    • Agreed Scotty, silly article. "But for narrow losses ..." is just a plain silly; the fact being they were losses because they were not good enough. St Kilda are no more likely to make that finals than GWS.

      Commenter
      JD
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 8:04PM
  • Good article lets hope the Saints can keep it going. In the past they'd over use Riewold and by the final quarter he'd run all over the ground and would be past kicking the important goals. It's a pity the Dees can't have a coach who uses some TLC instead of shouting abuse as players return from the field. This new coach is a good example of how to coach in the modern game.

    Commenter
    Rod
    Location
    the Coast
    Date and time
    June 15, 2012, 7:26AM
    • Most commentators had written the Saints off this season, declaring they would be going the way of the Bulldogs. Not so, Scotty Watters has done a terrific job in keeping the Saints in strong contention for the final 8 with the potential to play even better footy in the back half of the year and be instrumental in shaping the top 4. Great season this one.

      Commenter
      Tim of Altona
      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 8:04AM
      • Dear Mr Walls

        Please stop writing about St Kilda. It's either some baseless, irrelevent piffle about a "culture' that might or might not have existed and been unique to St Kilda 100 years ago; or some fawning waffle which invariably precedes a loss.

        One thing all Saints' fans are proud of is NEVER HAVING BOUGHT A PREMIERSHIP.

        Thank you.

        Commenter
        BeachBoy
        Date and time
        June 15, 2012, 12:41PM
        • Robert -- I'm a Saints supporter, and I have to say that this is a ridiculously optimistic article. For all your assertions about a bright new start, the Saints are one (expected) loss away from being 6 - 6, which is the very epitome of mediocrity, surely ?. They have lost games they should have won (eg: vs Port Adelaide, Fremantle and Richmand) and have been less than convincing ingames they should win easily (eg: vs Melbourne). The Saints will struggle to make the 8, and even if they fall in, it's hard to see them challenging the likes of Collingwood, Essendon or Adelaide - all teams they haven't played this season, by the way !

          Commenter
          Expat Saint
          Location
          Hong Kong
          Date and time
          June 15, 2012, 1:07PM
          • So it must be clear to all the Ross Lyon's biggest area of downfall was not allowing crumbers into St nick's or Kosi's space...the dated perception that moving into your power forward's space attracted opposition players into the contest has been Nick's downfall...as teams quickly realised that....moving off their man and going up and crumbing from Nick's contests(80% of saints forward flourishes) meant saints were outnumbered in the air and on the ground and would win 97% of these contests. Nick's goal point ratios meant too that on those 3% of occasions when HE won the ball....he would goal on one of three attempts....Lyon's defensive game plan had saints just about but not quite even the ledger...BUT his cunning plan surely killed player morale to the extent that...in this season with Ross at the helm....saints would have been competing for bottom four NOT top four...Ross knew it and packed up and left....calculating as he did with saints that Freo had a grand final quality list....Watters has given players the chance again to show their footy ability, win contests and kick goals....and the extra ground level support for St Nick, Kosi and others will see as with the Grant Thomas model....backs running down to kick goals rather than minding empty space....and Saints DENTING opposition morale....and fearing playing against them...
            TEAMS last season LICKED their lips at an encounter with the saints...as they were perceived by one and all as BEATABLE. SAINTS might not get up this season, BUT they ARE BACK!!!! and still they just might get up...just depends how long it will take to sink in, that they are free to play footy and win games...NOT just cause other teams to lose games. GO SAINTS!!!!

            Commenter
            hahapauli
            Location
            overseas
            Date and time
            June 15, 2012, 2:55PM
            • Saints too do have one more structural issue....THAT is a tall back man who can go with the elite of the completion,
              It's not Blakey...it's not Fisher...Gwilt or Gilbert.
              Including PRE season games Saints have been slaughtered by opposition tall fowards or rucks going forward...While there are players like Ferguson and Archer in ''school'' ...there is no one from the established team who can or will fill the place...
              BOTH St. Nick and KOSI won rising stars at CHB.
              I'D be bringing in Archer, Ferguson or even JAY LEVER to play down back...SOONER rather than later...or given St Nicks goal kicking...he could be considered as CHB
              ...though it's a better position for a young bloke to come in at and learn his trade( AS Grant Thomas well knew)....as opposed to starting in the forward line.
              IT must be noted promising talls, Barry Brooks, James Wall, Steven Gaertner, Tom Lynch, Tommy Walsh and Will Johnson came and went, without getting a decent run.
              while a couple of them might be considered duds...a guy like James Wall...was considered one of the best if not the best full back in the VFL....it's a travesty that he never played in the seniors...DON'T let Archer and Ferguson walk without giving them a decent run....they might be just what the team needs.

              Commenter
              hahapauli
              Location
              overseas
              Date and time
              June 15, 2012, 3:12PM
              • Good article and you seemed to have hit the nail on the head. Taking the opportunities out of adversity. Scotty has been a revelation and the confidence he has instilled in the team is infectious. Good to see the media starting to realise it.

                Commenter
                Saint Jack
                Date and time
                June 15, 2012, 3:18PM
                • Silly comment from scotty. The article has nothing to do with who has played GWS and Gold Coast and who has not. Its about how St Kilda are playing with heart, soul and spirit after they could have melted down.

                  Commenter
                  Heathy
                  Location
                  Melbourne
                  Date and time
                  June 15, 2012, 5:02PM

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