THERE'S no way to sugar coat it, 2021 was a failure.
After making a semi-final last season the Saints recruited Brad Crouch, Jack Higgins and Shaun McKernan and coaxed James Frawley out of retirement only to spiral out of finals contention with a fortnight to go. Injuries hurt in the long run, but it was ultimately a regression on the hope created in 2020.
Spearhead Max King took big strides in his development, booting 38 goals in 20 games while imposing himself on a number of matches. His six goals and eight contested marks against a West Coast defence including Jeremy McGovern in round 19 was a clear highlight. The Saints also found a few players with mid-season draftee Cooper Sharman impressing in the final month and mature-age draftee Tom Highmore showing he was a defender for the future.
Drubbings at the hands of Richmond and Essendon – teams they were competing with for a finals berth – caused major concern and prompted a club-wide mid-season review that addressed their alarming lack of effort in the opening 10 weeks. The recovery room also took a beating. They lost important pair Ben Paton (broken leg) and Jade Gresham (Achilles) to season-ending injuries, while Dan Hannebery managed just two matches and Zak Jones suffered several muscle setbacks. Plus, Hunter Clark (jaw/concussion) and Rowan Marshall (foot) missed large chunks.
New co-captain Jack Steele might win the club's Trevor Barker Award by double the number of votes collected by the runner-up. He backed up his breakout 2020 season with another super campaign, leading the Saints in disposals, contested possessions, tackles and clearances. He even pushed forward for a career-high 13 goals. His co-captain Jarryn Geary has re-signed for one more season but it appears the right time for Steele to go solo in 2022.
Jack Sinclair was left in the dark for the first seven matches of 2020 as Brett Ratten took the reins for his first proper season in charge. Now he's one of the first picked and in line for a top-five best and fairest finish after a career rejuvenation at half-back. Sinclair was also rewarded with new three-year deal in July tying him to the club until 2024.
The Saints just couldn't get Bradley Hill up and firing and were forced to play the triple premiership wingman across half-back to get him into games. Hill battled Achilles soreness on-and-off throughout the season and was unable to highlight his blistering outside run that saw the Saints cough up more than $800,000 per season on a long-term deal from Fremantle at the end of 2019.
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On the road and fighting for their season, the Saints stunned Brisbane with a tough 32-point win at Metricon Stadium in round 17. Jack Steele was immense with 32 touches and two final term goals, while Zak Jones had 10 clearances. It saw Brett Ratten's side clock their third-straight win and move to 8-8 before it all unravelled with three consecutive losses.
Spiritless and bereft of any fight, the Saints were demoralised by a whopping 111 points at the hands of the Western Bulldogs in round 10. After a promising loss to Geelong the week prior (the Saints had four more scoring shots), they kicked just five goals for the match. Coach Brett Ratten threatened wholesale changes, but he lost three players to injury at training the following week.
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How should they approach list management?
They need to go to the draft with their first pick and land a star junior before identifying a readymade key forward/ruck who can assist Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder who played a combined 25 games this year. A depth key defender should also be on the radar, but not in the mould of a one-year option such as James Frawley.
Early call for 2022
It's finals or bust next season. Jade Gresham returns, Max King will be better again, and Dan Hannebery has a full pre-season ahead of him. The 2021 mid-season honesty sessions need to take place over summer and Melbourne's surge back up the ladder should be a blueprint.
3 out of 10. The Saints wanted to embrace the hype created in 2020 going into 2021 but found themselves running away from it. Now it's time to build it up again.