Alan Richardson's rebuild is almost complete
Photo Source: AAP
St Kilda finished with a winning record for the first time since 2012 and doubled their wins total from 2015 but there were hiccups along the way as all their victories came in Melbourne, and their two biggest losses came in horrible interstate showings.
What proved to be Nick Riewoldt's final season as captain was a positive one, however, as a move to the wing reignited his influence. The skipper averaged more than 20 disposals for the first time in his career and still kicked 41 goals, trailing only big improver Tim Membrey (44) on the club's leaderboard.
Jack Steven won his third Trevor Barker Award in four years, though he missed out on an All Australian berth, and a number of players joined Membrey in playing their best seasons in league footy. That the Saints were alive in the finals race until the last two rounds was a huge step forward for coach Alan Richardson, who will go into his fourth season with a side genuinely confident of reaching the finals.
Six games that shaped St Kilda's season
Round 3: St Kilda 18.11 (119) d Collingwood 14.6 (90)
Winless after losses to Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs – the latter of which was Riewoldt's 300th game – the Saints played a home game at the MCG for the first time since 2013 as the club honoured their sole premiership team, the 1966 outfit that defeated the Pies in a famous one-point victory. Unlike in the skipper's milestone game, St Kilda wouldn't let anyone down here. Riewoldt actually sat out a large portion of the match, held back even after passing a concussion test, while young forward Paddy McCartin failed a concussion test of his own. McCartin's knock came when, late in the second quarter, he copped an elbow as he flew into a pack not unlike Riewoldt has so many times over his career. Dylan Robertson was also forced off with a knee injury in the second half, forcing the Saints to play out the game with only one on the bench. Yet they won the second half by 27 points after a 6.1 to 1.2 third quarter, and Richardson didn't really hesitate to label it his best win as coach.
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Round 4: Hawthorn 13.9 (87) d St Kilda 13.6 (84)
The Hawks came into this game having opened the season against three of last year's finalists, while the Saints had both McCartin and Riewoldt at their disposal following last week's head concerns. It took until the second quarter for St Kilda to really get going, but Hawthorn's 18-point quarter-time lead was their largest all day as the Saints pegged it back and held a brief lead midway through the second term. Five consecutive goals either side of three-quarter time put St Kilda up by 11, but the Saints were soon dudded by some questionable umpiring decisions. St Kilda were called to play on twice after consecutive kicks inside their defensive 50 were deemed not 15, with the Hawks then forcing a turnover for a Jordan Lewis goal. From then on the Hawthorn win was almost academic.
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Round 11: Adelaide 19.19 (133) d St Kilda 6.9 (45)
Wins over bottom sides Essendon and Fremantle helped the Saints put a 103-point away loss to West Coast behind them, but their travel woes continued when they made their way to Adelaide Oval. The Crows scored consistent goals and led by 50 points midway through the second quarter, and for St Kilda it was all downhill from there. Young defender Hugh Goddard was being torn apart by Josh Jenkins when he ruptured his Achilles late in the second quarter. It was a bitter blow for the 19-year-old to suffer a 12-month injury in his first AFL game of the season. In the third quarter McCartin would need to go off the field on a stretcher after he suffered another concussion, having collided with teammate Jack Newnes and Adelaide's Luke Brown. Riewoldt would also battle through a knee complaint, and he would miss his only game of the season in round 12.
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Round 14: St Kilda 14.9 (93) d Geelong 13.12 (90)
Returning from the bye with Riewoldt and McCartin back in the side, the Saints hosted a Cats outfit on top of the ladder after defeating three fellow top-eight teams. St Kilda well and truly turned the form lines upside down in the first half, Darren Minchington playing out of his skin to kick three goals as the Saints never let Geelong kick consecutive goals. Predictably the Cats came out of the half-time break with a renewed focus, kicking six of the first eight goals of the third term to lead by two points at the 17-minute mark. St Kilda regained control through two Mav Weller goals to take an 11-point lead into the final break, but that would be wiped out inside 10 minutes of the last quarter. With six minutes remaining in the game Geelong would extend their lead to two kicks, yet almost immediately after that it was back to a three-point game as the 18-year-old Jade Gresham snapped one of the goals of the season from the left pocket. A few minutes later the Saints' pressure told as Steven, with Joel Selwood hanging off his back, kicked the match-winning goal off the ground out of a stoppage.
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Round 15: Gold Coast 15.18 (108) d St Kilda 8.20 (68)
If that win over the Cats was supposed to reignite the Saints' finals charge – they were one of five teams on 24 points, two wins behind West Coast in eighth – then they next had a chance to sort out their away form; the Suns hadn't won since round three. The first quarter turned out to be a disaster. Riewoldt's poor kick across goal missed its target and Gold Coast opened the scoring from the top of the goal square. The home side would kick 5.6 before St Kilda could get their first, and the Saints didn't score a single point for the last 18 minutes of the second quarter. The eventual 40-point loss was bad enough but the real sore point of the game was McCartin's third concussion of the year. Concerned for his health, St Kilda sat him out of their next three games.
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Round 19: North Melbourne 12.13 (85) d St Kilda 8.14 (62)
Despite all of the Saints' poor and untimely losses, the Kangaroos' continued struggles meant a potential finals berth was still on the table. St Kilda boosted their hopes with a come-from-behind win over Melbourne in round 17 and victory over a damaged Bulldogs side in round 18, but their percentage was 20 points below North's and a win here was absolutely necessary. Unfortunately the night was all about Brent Harvey's record-breaking 427th game, and though the Roos didn't reach any great heights in celebration the Saints were off the boil and hardly ever a genuine chance. St Kilda led the inside 50s all night but had put just 3.12 on the board through to the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter, prior to five face-saving goals. Three wins out of four in the final month would see the Saints finish ninth, level on points with North Melbourne but with a defensive record that leaves them in doubt as to where they need to improve to continue climbing up the ladder.
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