Serene Watson, Ella Friend and Jesse Wardlaw celebrate St Kilda's win over Hawthorn at RSEA Park in round six, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

SIGNIFICANT list turnover contributed to a slow start to last season for St Kilda, but the Saints are now well-placed for a serious crack at their first AFLW finals series.

The Saints fielded eight recruits from other AFLW clubs for its round one clash against North Melbourne last year (inclusive of Grace Kelly, who sat out season seven with injury), losing its first three matches before storming home and just missing the top eight.

One of those newbies was Brisbane premiership player Jesse Wardlaw, who took out the competition's goalkicking race in season seven.

The club's best win for the year came against Wardlaw's former side Brisbane, the Saints shocking the eventual premiers by 21 points in the penultimate round to both keep their finals hopes alive and throw both the top-eight and top-four race wide open.


"A lot of change last year, so it took us a little while to get used to each other, which was expected," Wardlaw told

"Pretty happy with some of the performances where we worked as a team for the whole four quarters.

"Not much change (this season), a few trades and a few draft picks, so we've got a bit more stability and consistency within our team. Hopefully we can build on what we did last season and improve from here.

"Just being at RSEA Park in front of a home game, that (Brisbane) game was so much belief from our end. We just went out there with so much hunger and drive.

"I think a lot of us are really going to remember that game, remember that feeling going into it and how can we replicate it and play with that energy every single game."

Jesse Wardlaw poses with a fan during the Auskick season launch on February 21, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

One of the triggers that kickstarted the Saints' season was Wardlaw spending more time in the ruck, her athleticism providing a point of difference and getting her involved in the game if the ball wasn't coming her way.

"I've always loved going into the ruck to get around the footy a bit more and get my hands on the footy and get my hands on the footy where I can," she said.

"Just playing my role for my team – so if that means going into the ruck for half a game, a whole game, whatever it is – I definitely enjoyed that. We'll see where 'Dal' (coach Nick Dal Santo) wants to put me this season.

"As a forward, you're constantly waiting for a footy to come down. It's great I get the opportunity to chase the footy myself or act as an extra midfielder. Just get in the game, and once you get started, you can get the groove of things, but till then, it's actually hard to get in the rhythm of it."


Finals are firmly on the agenda for the Saints, who finished ninth, having won the same number of games as Sydney but falling 4.6 per cent shy of the Swans.

"We know we can make finals, it's so achievable just to make the top eight, but we know we can do so much better than that," Wardlaw said.

"To think we were so close, and now we've got a whole off-season and pre-season to build, finals is definitely in reach for us.

"I think we've got to aim high and see what we can achieve this year to be better than last year."

Wardlaw was speaking at the launch of NAB AFL Auskick for 2024, noting the developing pathways that are keeping the current AFLW players on their toes.

"Girls can actually have role models to look up to. They're playing Auskick for a purpose, whether that's just to have fun or if they want to pursue it professionally, the option's there," she said.

"It's just so cool to see them all running around and being rough with the boys, kicking the footy – it's a great reminder from my perspective as to why we play. It's for the grassroots, it's for the youth, it's for these young girls coming up.

"The girls that are getting drafted now are a better kick than I was when I got drafted. It's scary to think those girls are coming for our spots, but it's awesome to see them playing good footy."