One toxic trait of being a tragic and unfortunate Saints supporter, is spending every off-season using every fibre of hope in my body praying to Lord Barry Breen, that the next football season will finally, surely, certainly, irrefutably and definitely be the one….where the Saints finally show some consistency, culture and hunger and scrape into the eight.
After displaying arguably one of the busiest and most entertaining off-seasons for the club in recent memory, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint how this team will travel in season 2023. Then again, it’s always a hard task trying to gauge the whereabouts of the Saints at the best of times. But, just like Chumbawamba said in ’97, the loyal and passionate fans of the Red, White and Black always get knocked down and get back up again, and line up for another six months of uncertainty, excitement and heartbreak. Stupid? Maybe. But hell, it can be fun.
This upcoming season also celebrates the 150th year of the club. Their flag ratio may be 1:150 after falling shorter than Danny DeVito in recent years, but they boast a good list of club legends, and the guernsey is just so cool.
With that being said, let’s dive into the main things I’m most excited about for this upcoming season with the Saints.
REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO….GOOD? WEIRD? AWKWARD?
There is no other place I can start other than the obvious, is there? And that is clearly Nick Riewoldt’s recent move to Texas. All the best in the States, Rooey, come back soon and take up your role of St Kilda CEO as soon as possible, please. Second on the agenda is the famous, almost public execution of Brett Ratten, and the snowball of appointments that followed.
Like most Saints fans and football fans in general, I was shocked and disappointed in my club once again. How can a professional organisation (I use the term ‘professional’ loosely) re-sign a head coach in July, then blindly kick open the trapdoor from under him just three months later? There were so many questions. But, in rare Saints fashion, I’m here to focus on the positives, which now includes the infamous second coming of Ross ‘The Boss’ Lyon.
It didn’t take long for Ross to walk in and immediately make an impression. His first press conference as Head Coach was determined and grounded with some predicted humour thrown in, and it really looks and sounds as though he has some unfinished business down at Moorabbin that he is very determined to rub in the faces of the nay-sayers. He has the experience, as well as strong endorsements from a buffet of past players in his favour.
Although I was a sucker for Ratten’s good guy energy and persona, I too agree that it’s time the club injected some tough love and direction, and Ross could prove to be the well-needed kick up the bum we’ve been crying out for ironically since he left the club in 2011. It might not have been the prettiest of events, but it was an out-of-character, ballsy move from the Saints and could be a stroke of genius if successful.
If you don’t try, you’ll never know, right?
THE HOLY TRINITY
Another thing that proved to be exciting following Ross’ appointment, was the signing of club legends Brendon Goddard (Development Coach) and Robert Harvey (Assistant Coach), joining the likes of Lenny Hayes, who too signed on back in August under an Assistant and Midfield Coaching role.
It shows by bringing in respected club icons, the Saints are hellbent on cutting the fat and building a successful culture. One that the players will respond strongly to, and one that won’t hand out a non-deserved spot in the starting 22 every week accompanied with a pat on the back and a can of Coke. Some also may argue they’re trying too hard to accelerate success (Trade Period 2019 style), but you also can’t blame them for exhausting any avenue that could bring that elusive second flag.
Either way you look at it, these three will bring the heat and I expect to see the team grow and adopt some edge and cutthroat attitude.
WIND IN HIS SAILS
Another event that has me excited and interested is the hunger and drive of Marcus Windhager. At only 19 years of age, Windy notched 17 games under his belt last year that gave us a glimpse into what kind of player we can expect him to be in coming years.
Whether it be the new coaching panel that has excited and inspired him, or personal drive alone, this off season has witnessed Windhager slowly morphing into a new beast. Finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd in all time trials respectively, and somehow managing to score a starring role in most social media posts, it’s likely he’ll become a cult figure in no time. Earning himself a namedrop in Ross’ first presser, and also being named already as the Coaches Pet, the sky is the limit for this young gun. Can you just imagine what kind of white line fever Windhager will adopt under the midfield guidance of Sir Lenny Hayes? Damn son.
Along with Windy, the young brigade of Owens, Wanganeen-Milera and Sharman all showed they’re the future and more than capable of keeping a permanent spot in the team. It’ll be interesting to see who struggles to keep their spot in the lineup with the young kids snapping at their heels. Will it be Jack Billings? Seb Ross?….Max King? Time will tell.
THE KING IS NOT DEAD, ONLY ON HOLIDAYS
An obvious jam in the cog is the unfortunate injury to Max King. When he’s on, he’s on. And when he’s cold, he might as well relocate to Antarctica. I was really looking forward to seeing how Ross and the team would utilise the tall target in the first half of their 2023 campaign, and also see if they swallow their pride and get him the help he so desperately needs and wants.
On the positive side, whenever Ratten wouldn’t utilise Max as the main target up forward, the structure opened up more which left the defending side guessing where the ball was going to land. That being said, this is a prime opportunity for Ross to play around with the magnets and give either a young kid or rising star the job of being the big boy up forward. Could it be Cooper Sharman? New recruit Mattaes Phillipou? Will Josh Battle sneak down from defence and provide a target? As much as I want King in the team for Round 1, all will not be lost without him, and I’m keen to see what plans Ross has up his sleeve.
DOWN ’HILL’ SKIER? OR MOUNTAIN CLIMBER?
Brad Hill. A gift or a curse? Since his first season at Moorabbin in 2020, Hill has left very little to be desired with peppered glimpses of brilliance. Being reunited with Ross Lyon, and Ross announcing Hill will be playing back on the wing, might just be the change Hill has been seeking to take his game to that next level.
The way Ratten used Hill was very sporadic, and some will tell you, blind. With Lyon back at the helm, who also knows how to use Hill, it’ll only strengthen the outside midfield and attack inside fifty. It also looks as though Hill is super excited his old coach is in charge, taking out the recent time trial and looking very fit and happy. The prospect of a one-two punch of having Hill and Wanganeen-Milera on the wings is a tantalising thought for any Saints diehard.
Going into next season will easily be one of the most exciting and unpredictable ones for the Saints. Trying to predict the Saints’ season is always like trying to predict the lottery numbers, but you come back every week in good faith because maybe, just maybe, it’ll be a beauty.