St Kilda are back in action this weekend. Can you believe it? First up for the Saints is a Sunday night encounter with the Western Bulldogs. Both teams have had plenty of time to stew over their Round One defeats but what do we have to watch out for from the Tri-Colours from the Whitten Oval? To answer this question here is out SWOT Analysis on Luke Beveridge’s men.
If we are to be a little facetious, after their capitulation to Collingwood in Round One, its difficult to answer this one. If we are to be serious though, you only need to look back at their charge to the 2019 finals to understand the dangers they pose. With their season on a knife’s edge at the bye, they booked a berth in September on the back of seven wins from nine games built upon an elite midfield led by Marcus Bontempelli. It would be positively rude of us not to mention that it was the Saints who inflicted one of the two defeats that temporarily derailed their surge to September.
The fact that Bontempelli is their best player is unquestionable but labouring the point is a disservice to those who run through the midfield with him. Too much focus on him leaves the likes of Lachie Hunter, Jackson Macrae or the much-improved Josh Dunkley to cause and inflict untold damage. While it wasn’t on show in their Elimination Final or Round One, their forward structure is deadly too. Their potency evident in the fact they kicked totals in excess of 100 points in four of their last five games heading into September. Into this mix they add Josh Bruce, a man very familiar to Saints fans, and can expect organic improvement from Aaron Naughton who already looms as one of the best contested marks in the competition.
We are all friends here so we don’t have to sugarcoat this – the Bulldogs have a soft underbelly. That is not to say that they are soft but when exposed to elite pressure, like they were in the Elimination Final and in Round One, they struggle to play their natural game. Under pressure, they over possess and are forced into error. In their last two games, they have recorded in excess of 300 possessions up on their 2019 average of 280 and a clanger every seven. This is considerably higher than the competition average of 10 and well above their own average of one every 13 possessions in 2019. This disparity is evident in their last two losses to the Saints too where they averaged over 350 possessions and a clanger every eight.
While the Bulldogs recent form has been questionable, and we use the term recent loosely, they would back their record against the Saints over the same period. As bad as they looked in losing to GWS and Collingwood, the quality of their opposition was considerably better than which embarrassed St Kilda in their last two starts. Losing to Sydney and North Melbourne suggests Brett Ratten’s men have some way to go before they can be considered a threat to the Bulldogs no matter how patchy their recent form. Then there is the small matter of the Saints ability to run out games. St Kilda has averaged a miserable 3.2 (20) in the second half of the five games they have played since defeating the Dogs in Round 18 last year.
Regardless of whether the Saints persist with their two ruckman option of Round One, or opt for Rowan Marshall alone, this is one area of the contest that is a concern for the Bulldogs. In Tim English they have a player with undoubted potential but one on a steep learning curve. Only once last year did he win the hit-outs while five times he conceded 50 to his opposite number. In contrast, Rowan Marshall soared in 2019 and he finished the season knocking on the door of elite ruckman status. Expect the Saints, through Marshall, to try and continue English’s tough initiation to the big time.