This is a football club that has completely changed its identity in the space of one season. No longer pushovers, the Saints are a destination club and hungry to make it past semi-final weekend. In a year where they surpassed most expectations built off a fresh wave, the Saints could've gone further had they held on in a couple of close games. Their kids look as exciting as any in the competition and new coach Brett Ratten has the group eating out of the palm of his hand.
The youngsters and most of the recruits had breakout years. The top-seven in the best and fairest – which included arrivals Dan Butler, Dougal Howard and Zak Jones – combined for an average age of just 23.6 in a big tick to the future. Emerging key forward King proved he'll be colossal for the next decade, while Paddy Ryder showed his worth as a ruckman alongside Rowan Marshall.
The Saints gave up winning leads in four of their seven losses during the home and away season. Had they won two or three of them and they could well be playing this weekend. While he got back for finals, Dan Hannebery again failed to see out a full season with another hamstring complaint. He's now played 13 of a possible 41 games since crossing to Moorabbin.
Jack Steele went from tagger to Brownlow Medal contender inside 12 months. And now he's being spoken about as a potential captain-in-waiting, despite not being in the official 2020 leadership group. Steele had a phenomenal season as a ball-winner and took the mantle from Seb Ross as the Saints' premier midfielder, while claiming his maiden best and fairest and All-Australian blazer. His round five game opposed to Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps set-up his campaign.
Lock Nick Coffield is as a St Kilda half-back for the next 10 years. Overlooked for selection in round one, the 20-year-old played the next 18 games straight to finish fifth in the best and fairest. The former No.8 pick grew in confidence as the season progressed with his poise and decision-making in defence and will form part of a future core alongside Ben Paton and Hunter Clark.
High-priced recruit Bradley Hill failed to live up to his billing as one of the premier wingmen in the competition and finished equal 15th in the best and fairest. It was the same position as Jade Gresham who played eight less games. Hill was hurt by the reduction of quarters that hindered his endurance capabilities, but there were too many matches where he lacked impact – including the semi-final loss to Richmond. Paid more than $800,000 per season, now a big watch on his output in 2021.
The round eight win over top-placed Port Adelaide on the Power’s home deck. Ryder was sensational against his former side in tandem with Marshall, while Jones, Steele and Clark were huge through the midfield. And Tim Membrey kicked one of the goals of the year out of mid-air. It was the night St Kilda announced itself to the competition.
Take your pick between the round one loss to North Melbourne or the capitulation to Fremantle just five matches later. The Saints lost despite leading both games by 31 and 37 points respectively. Without dropping them St Kilda would have been in top-four conversations.
How should they approach list management?
Continue to focus on their young core, which they've done, with King, Clark, Coffield, Marshall (all signed through to the end of 2022) and Gresham (2023) all locked in. Then it's time to hit go on a big-name midfielder with room to move in the salary cap. Giant Jye Caldwell is a player of interest, Brad Crouch should be and how about Jordan De Goey?
Early call for 2021
There is no reason the Saints shouldn't be vying for a top-four berth. Brett Ratten called for it in his impressive 'good to great' speech following the semi-final loss. Now they need to make it happen and not just expect results to fall their way with gradual improvement from youth.
Based on expectations under a new coach, the Saints deserve an A for 2020.