St Kilda’s 2020 was a masterclass in not only how to rebuild, but also how to effectively rebuild outside of the traditional draft avenues. I’ve talked about a few clubs who have butchered bringing in outside talent rather than drafting; Hawthorn is paying for it now, Fremantle was guilty of it for decades and North recently spent a few extra years in the wilderness trying to take short cuts. Where St Kilda has succeeded is by doing it on top of a solid foundation of home-grown talent, not instead of it.
Dan Butler, Bradley Hill, Dougal Howard, Zak Jones and Patty Ryder were the established players that the Saints recruited last season, and all of them were Best 22 acquisitions (with Butler even slotting into the 40-man All-Australian squad). But crucially, they were added to a promising core of young players taken in previous drafts, with Hunter Clark, Nick Coffield, Max King, Rowan Marshall, Josh Battle and Jade Gresham all coming through the door within the past 5 years. I haven’t even included new co-captain Jack Steele there, who might as well have been a draftee in 2016 after GWS failed to offer him the games he deserved.
These acquisitions, on top of a workmanlike senior core of onballers, resulted in St Kilda boasting one of the more free-flowing playstyles in the league. They ranked 4th for marks, 3rd for running bounces, notched the 4th-highest kick-to-handball ratio and finally had the skills to pull off the gameplan by ranking 3rd-last for turnovers.
Mashing it all together boosted the Saints up from the 13th-ranked fantasy team to the 5th, in the space of a single season. Impressive.
Rattan’s job over the off-season was to figure out how they take the next step, and reading between the lines of player and coach interviews this pre-season, he’s come up with versatility. 10-11 midfielders don’t fit into 7-8 spots, so it logically follows that each of those guys needs to add a second string to their bows. Veteran midfielder Ross has been floating across the half-back this pre-season along with Hill and Hunter Clark, while Steele has focused on adding quality time resting forward to complement hybrid midfielders in Gresham, Higgins and Billings. We haven’t seen Zak Jones (hamstring) or Hannebery (calf) yet, but presumably we see similar flexibility in their roles in 2021 when they do return.
From the outside looking in, the contested part of St Kilda’s game could use some work. They ranked 14th for Contested Possessions in 2020 and sat mid-pack in Clearance Win %, failing to make the most of the silver service from ruck duo Marshall and Ryder. I have no doubt that Brad Crouch’s recruitment was partly to address that vulnerability by giving Steele some much-needed assistance at the coalface, as the skipper was the only Saints midfielder to sit inside the top 40 contested possession winners last year.
Hind [trades, free agency]
N Brown, Roberton [retired]
Savage, E Phillips, Abbott, Austin, Bell, Mayo, Langlands, Marsh, Parker [delisted]
B Crouch (ADE), Higgins (RICH), Frawley (HAW), Wood (NTH), Hunter (ADE) McKernan (ESS).
The Saints have reached the next phase of their rebuild, investing in just the 2 draftees and instead pivoting to topping up with known quantities. They snaffled up delisted FA’s in James Frawley for key-position depth/mentoring and McKernan for ruck/key forward depth prior to the draft, then added both Mason Wood and Paul Hunter through the SSP as further insurance for their big man stocks.
I mentioned earlier that Brad Crouch would help with the contested footy – at least from Round 3 onwards as he serves an AFL suspension – with the new Higgins & Butler pairing looming as a fearsome small forward combination. Half of the Best 22 I’ve named up below are imported players, so St Kilda’s list management team needs a big pat on the back for even getting them to this position where they can make a genuine tilt at the top 4.
#26 Matthew Allison – F – 37 avg from 10 games in 2019 NAB League
Yet another tall endurance beast available in this year’s draft, McLoed-Allison is St Kilda’s eye to the future. While the aerobic talents that led to his top-10 finish in the amalgamated 2km Time Trial and beating the 3-second mark in the 20m Sprint Test allowed him to impact as a wingman in his bottom-age draft year, St Kilda see him more as a marking forward in their next wave. Coach Brett Ratten that Allison was “one that might be a fair bit off” in terms of playing, explaining that “he’s a long-term project for us, he’s still got to put some size on”. Unlikely to affect us in DFS circles this season.
#45 Tom Highmore – D – 72 avg from 11 games in SANFL
The same can’t be said for mature-age bolter Highmore; especially with Frawley injuring his hamstring, Carlisle out of favour and Battle holding down a key forward post. The 21 year-old made the NEAFL Team of the Year in 2019 and decided to head to the SANFL to continue to build his draft resume, which has obviously come up Milhouse. Highmore excelled as an interceptor for South Adelaide, averaging 6.5 marks per game, which is one of the few roles that is highly replicable in the AFL as a mature-ager who’s done it against fully grown men for years. He’s right on the cusp of Round 1 selection, especially after Thursday night’s unofficial audition where he scored 37 AF from just 57% game-time.
It’s almost a cardinal rule in AFL DFS – avoid dual rucks like bat soup, both for and against. While Ryder and Marshall cramping each other’s style was frustrating enough, tag-teaming whoever they came up against was an added middle finger to DFS punters. Conceding the 2nd-least hitouts and ranking as the 2nd-toughest ruck contingent in DvP over the 2nd-half of the year – once they learned to mesh – left little wiggle room for opposition ruckmen to manoeuvre.
The Saints also, somewhat surprisingly, ranked as the 3rd-toughest team for MID’s in 2020. While some of this was due to Steele’s unparalleled two-way game, games involving the Saints simply had the 4th-fewest stoppages and hence opponents didn’t really muck around with it in the midfield. Teams take the path of least resistance, and that was on the spread as the Saints conceded the 3rd-lowest CP%.
That’s a lot of messy stats and jargon, so simply put: inside midfielders struggled, while the outside types still had upside. Sidebottom (158 adjusted), Gaff (138), Menegola (139), Miller (131), Ellis (120), and Langdon (121) were just a handful of the massive scores amassed against the Saints last year.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Jack Steele
Potentially the most well-rounded midfielder in the game, it’s insane that Steele doesn’t attract more fanfare or respect from fans and critics alike. Ranking in the top 10 for tackles, contested possessions and AFL Fantasy output per game in 2020 is the cornerstone of a huge season in itself, but then you throw in his defensive stoppage work and he sits comfortably amongst the league’s elite. Which, by the way, Champion Data agreed with on their much-maligned yearly list.
In DFS, Steele is always owned less than he probably should be. One reason is definitely his lack of “sex appeal”, but another is that due to elite consistency, Steele’s rolling average is always so high that his name sits atop the price list each week. He’s not only consistent in the traditional basement sense – only 1 score under 88 AF all season – but he’s also consistent across his splits. The former Giant was always ready to get to work, operating within 3 points of his average whether they won or lost, at home or away. Cash games, tick.
Yet he also pumped out 6 scores of an adjusted 128 AF or better last year, which means you can’t overlook him in tournaments either. GPP games, tick.
As I said, Steele’s the best all-rounder in the game.
2. Seb Ross
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall with all the young talent infiltrating St Kilda’s midfield, or perhaps he’s just the club directive by adding a second position to his resume, but Ross has been spotted across half-back a heap this pre-season. Watching the AAMI hitout against the Blues confirmed those reports from track watchers, with he and Hunter Clark essentially running a rough 70/30 split in Ross’ favour. 92 points was his reward and he looked very much at home as a sweeper when cast in that role (and his kicking is dramatically improved when not under heavy pressure or running full tilt).
Who knows how dramtically that split slants when Hannebery and Jones are fit and Brad Crouch isn’t suspended, but I think it’s safe to say it won’t increase. I’m very interested in Ross once he picks up DEF status on Draftstars and Draftkings, especially if future Teamsheets suggests he picks up a bit of extra midfield time based on the available personnel around him.
3. Jack Sinclair
While Ross was a part-timer, Sinclair was the real deal as a genuine full-time defender on Thursday night after training in that role all pre-season. Wearing both distributor and line-breaker hats was massive for Sinclair’s output, backing up a scratch BOG with a game-high 112 AF from 28 touches and 6 marks against the Blues.
It’s going to be hard to say no to Sinclair if they’re going to continue to price him under $10k, but this high-profile explosion means he’s going to be on everyone’s radar. We’ll have some tough decisions to make in terms of Sinclair’s exposures this year, especially as we negotiate how the field views him over time.
4. Nick Coffield
Yet another defender of interest from this St Kilda outfit, Coffield’s big strength in fantasy is his intercept game. In fact, he averaged the 4th-most marks in the league last year, netting an unadjusted 6.5 per game behind only defensive heavyweights in Haynes, Stewart and Whitfield. Impressive company for the 21 year old.
Of course, picking him on the right days will be crucial. This is where you’re going to want to tap into the DEF DvP as Coffield stayed incredibly true to the trends; against the 8 softest sides for general DEF’s, he averaged an adjusted 98 AF last year. Take my money.
5. Bradley Hill
2021’s rule adjustments were basically written for Hill.
“Struggling to shake off your opponents with your elite aerobic capabilities? No worries mate, we’ll lengthen the quarters back to 20 mins for you”.
“Still not enough? Okay, copy that, cranking down the rotation cap from 90 to 75 as we speak”.
“You’re copping constant attention on the overlap because of your powerful kicking? Don’t stress Hilly, we’ll make it so the players on the mark can’t move and you can burn right past them, how does that sound?”.
Last year’s disappointing season makes it easy to forget that this is a guy who averaged 94 and 89 in his last two full seasons, so Hill is someone you should be paying close attention to in DFS – especially against sides that let the outside types run riot.
- Frawley’s had a wild ride this off-season. Retired as a Hawk, pulled out of it by the Saints for key position depth, shoots into Round 1 calculations and then pings an old man calf in the final hurdle before the season. The Saints have a decision to make between Highmore and Carlisle for that final defensive spot, and it’s worth noting that Highmore has his nose in front by taking part in the AAMI Community Series while Carlisle watched on.
- Ben Long has been earmarked to fill more of that lockdown small forward role following Paton’s nasty broken leg. Will still have his days in DFS when the match-up is soft and easy marks are on offer, but probably shouldn’t be in your player pool nearly as often in 2021.
- Clark’s midfield time has been up this pre-season, but we’ll see how that looks with St Kilda’s full list available in a few weeks. I’m a big fan of Hunter but his ceiling leaves a bit to be desired – he usually doesn’t get enough midfield time to score those thumpers we need in GPP’s, and he’s too damn good for other teams to let him rack up marks behind the footy as a defender. Tough DFS guy.
- Webster is right on the fringe and did his chances no harm with a polished AAMI outing. Has the ability to rack up so will be DFS relevant this year at the right price-tag.
- I barely noticed Brad Crouch in the AAMI hitout, although, to be fair, the big-name recruit did play just the 61% game-time. Slight worry in a much deeper midfield than Adelaide’s.
- Hannebery and Jones are both touch-and-go for Round 1 with soft tissue complaints and they’ll have a big impact on St Kilda’s rotations whether they’re passed fit or not – the former Swans pair effectively rotated with each other through inside/wing spots.
- Gresham had a highly modified pre-season program with that persistent back issue, but was impactful in his first competitive hitout for 2021 with 59 AF in 60% TOG. Will rotate through the forward line but that’s not necessarily a DFS death sentence as Gresham has some serious Toby Greene tendencies.
- Higgins was sensational against the Blues in a high half-forward role and although he won’t score 107 every week, he’ll have some huge scores over the course of the season playing that famously high-variance position. You’ll need exposure nibbles of him every time St Kilda play this year if he’s going to sit in the $10k-$12k bracket as a FWD.
- The same goes for St Kilda’s entire fleet of small forwards – at least one of Butler, Membrey, Lonie, and Kent seem to bob up each week and it’s mostly just luck who gets on the end of the snags.
- Wood might not be the Round 1 lock we thought he was after 4 goals in the scratch match, sitting outside of St Kilda’s starting 22 and having little influence when he finally did take to the field against the Blues.
- The Round 1 ruck mix will be interesting with Marshall missing. A 70/30 Ryder/McKernan combo makes a lot of sense as it preserves their current structures, but Paul Hunter’s impressive pre-season throws a spanner in the works.
- Geary is still on the injury come-back from a broken leg but be careful when he finally returns – he played a myriad of roles as required last season, which flows on to affect the more DFS-relevant Saints.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.