Sport AFL AFL season preview: St Kilda

AFL season preview: St Kilda

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A quick glance at the sports betting markets or even a trip to the pub or greengrocer would suggest no one outside the club expects St Kilda to fire a shot this season.

But in new coach Alan Richardson, the Saints have lured a man who played a key role in reinventing Port Adelaide from basket-case to feelgood story as recently as last year.

The 48-year-old journeyman has finally been given a well-deserved stint as head coach.

Leigh Montagna. Photo: Getty

After a long apprenticeship at several AFL clubs – most recently as Port’s director of coaching under Ken Hinkley – Richardson is fully aware of the task confronting him.

The circumstances of Richardson’s arrival, following the Saints’ messy sacking of coach Scott Watters, adds a further layer of drama for the no-nonsense former Collingwood hard man to cut through.

Ageing All-Australians Nick Riewoldt, 31, Lenny Hayes, 34 and Leigh Montagna, 30, remain among the team’s elite – a status that can also be bestowed on 2013 club champion Jack Steven, although he will miss the start of the campaign with a foot problem.

High draft picks Jack Billings and Luke Dunstan have already set tongues wagging with impressive pre-season form.

“It’s clear with the decisions that were made prior to my appointment that there was a direction, that is we need to go back to the draft and get some top-end talent,” Richardson told AAP.

“Given my experience at Collingwood, I started when Scott Pendlebury, Ben Reid, Chris Dawes, Dale Thomas, Alan Toovey were coming through and ended up ultimately winning a premiership in 2010.

“History would suggest it takes closer to five years from when you drafted them to when you’re going to have success.

“One thing I do know, and I certainly experienced it last year with Port Adelaide, is you just can’t put a ceiling on these guys.

“You can’t put limitations on playing groups if they really grasp what it is to be an elite team with everyone playing their role and they really buy in to whatever the plan is, whether it’s defence or attack or stoppage structure.

“And then anything can happen.”

Richardson said he had been impressed with 18-year-old Billings’ talents.

Jack Steven. Photo: Getty

“I’d be surprised if Jack doesn’t play significant footy,” Richardson said.

“We need him to play. We need to fast-track him.

“He’s a top talent. There’s no doubt about that.”

Ex-Giant Josh Bruce is a possible boost to the Saints’ defence, while Luke Delaney is keen to nail down the centre-half back role after playing 26 games in three seasons at North Melbourne.

Delaney came to the club in a trade for triple All-Australian midfielder Nick Dal Santo who has joined the Kangaroos.

St Kilda also lost No.1 ruckman Ben McEvoy to Hawthorn, with midfielder Shane Savage moving the other way as part of the trade.

McEvoy’s departure was a shock to the player as much as it was to the Saints’ faithful, with the No.1 ruck spot now up for grabs.

“Tom Hickey and Billy Longer are probably the two putting their hand up to be first ruck,” Richardson said.

“Rhys Stanley also has real potential to be a good ruckman but also a really powerful forward. He’s a fantastic athlete.”

But there is no getting around the fact that the Saints won only five games in 2013 and just three of their first 20.

That record – and significant concerns over his man-management skills – led the board to sack Watters and throw in their lot with Richardson.


Coach: Alan Richardson

Captain: Nick Riewoldt

Last five years: 2-2-7-9-16

Premierships: 1 (1966)

Key Five: Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Jack Steven, Sam Fisher, Lenny Hayes

One to watch: Jack Billings. Coach Alan Richardson has seen plenty to like in the No.3 draft pick, who is likely to quickly slot into a spot in the Saints’ midfield or forward line.

Ins: Blake Acres (West Perth WAFL), Jack Billings (Oakleigh U18), Josh Bruce (Greater Western Sydney), Luke Delaney (North Melbourne), Luke Dunstan (West Torrens SANFL), Billy Longer (Brisbane Lions), Shane Savage (Hawthorn).

Outs: Jason Blake (retired), Nick Dal Santo (North Melbourne), Justin Koschitzke (retired), Tom Ledger (delisted), Jay Lever (delisted), Ben McEvoy (Hawthorn), Stephen Milne (retired), Ahmed Saad (delisted).

Best 22: B: Luke Delaney, Josh Bruce, Jarryn Geary
HB: Jason Gwilt, Sam Fisher, David Armitage
C: Leigh Montagna, Lenny Hayes, Shane Savage
HF: Tom Curren, Nick Riewoldt, Farren Ray
F: Adam Schneider, Rhys Stanley, Jack Billings
R: Billy Longer, Clinton Jones, Jack Steven
I: Sam Gilbert, Luke Dunstan, Sean Dempster, Dylan Roberton

Predicted finish: 18th

Betting (Sportingbet)

To win the flag: $251

To make the top eight: $15