ST KILDA coach Brett Ratten has leapt to Max King's defence, condemning "unfair" criticism of the emerging star and the AFL playing fraternity as a whole.
King has been in the spotlight since his wayward goalkicking proved costly in the Saints' 21-point defeat to Geelong in round nine.
The key forward finished with 1.5 and endured an embarrassing moment when he tripped while trying to gather a loose ball near an open goal.
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Ratten still saw enough in King's performance to give him one vote in the AFL Coaches Association player of the year award, and would have given the 20-year-old a maximum five votes had he kicked straight.
"He took four contested marks, 10 marks ... (goalkicking) he didn't get right but his influence on the game and what we did ... he's had six shots on goal," Ratten said.
"The criticism on Max - yeah, we want him to kick goals - but I think it's pretty unfair.
"His influence on the game for a very young player... he was the best forward on the ground, I thought."
Ratten believes factors such as the reduced interchange cap, a return to longer games and league-enforced football department staff cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic have made AFL football a more difficult pursuit than ever for players.
"Whether it's been COVID or whatever with not coming to the footy each week, some of the criticism of not just our (St Kilda) players but players in general is pretty harsh, I think," Ratten said.
"People are expecting all these things and just flick a switch, but the game's not easy.
"It's more challenging this year than it's been ever in the history of the game.
"(Opinion) is one of the great things about our game but I think we're pretty quick to criticise at times."
King shapes as a key piece of the puzzle in the Saints' attempts to upset the red-hot Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.
The 26-game forward, who has booted 13.18 for the season, has addressed his goal-kicking with St Kilda assistant coach Jarryd Roughead and head of football David Rath.
"It's more just going through his normal routine and footy clubs are great places to support people and help people," Ratten said.
"Sometimes everybody feels like they've got to help, but it's really just sticking to the process.
"He only needs to go through and talk to Roughy and David Rath, and that's about it.
"Everyone needs a little bit of a tweak at times but I don't think they've changed too much this week."