‘Big jump in our performance’: Mid-season pow-wow a reason behind St Kilda’s stunning season start

Surging St Kilda are pinpointing their eye-catching season start to a mid-season player-led meeting last year as the catalyst behind their resurgence this year.

Caretaker coach Brendon Lade referenced the meeting in Sydney – which came after the Saints slumped to 5-7 after an SCG loss to Sydney Swans – as helping them to their current position, on level terms with Brisbane Lions and the Swans after a 4-1 start to the season.

While the Saints lost their next match after the Sydney chat session, a round 13 encounter with Adelaide in Cairns, they won three matches straight thereafter to steady and eventually finish 2021 with a credible 10 victories.

“We had that meeting in Sydney in the middle of the year last year, and we’ll refer back to it because we definitely had it,” said Lade.

“We got some things out of that which were really important for our footy club and we have just focussed on them. And we saw a big jump in our performance in the second half of last year and it’s just continued through the pre-season into this year.

“Our challenge now is to keep doing it, showing up every week and bringing it.”

Last year’s mid-season review while the club was shut down in Sydney during another COVID-disrupted winter was a reality check for everyone as they re-evaluated why they might have been caught hopping early in 2021.

On Saturday caretaker Lade guided St Kilda to their fourth win in a row but he was quick to pass the credit on to absent No.1 Ratten and the other assistants.

Lade’s 100 per cent record as a caretaker coach continues a remarkable run for fill-in AFL senior coaches in 2022 – five wins from five attempts. Other winners have included Jaymie Graham (twice for Fremantle), Ash Hansen (filling in for Michael Voss at Carlton) and Blake Caracella (who delivered Essendon’s first win of the season while replacing Ben Rutten.

Ratten was forced to miss the assignment against Gold Coast because he contracted COVID-19, but, said Lade, he was an invaluable presence on the phone, as the Saints initially struggled to shake off the determined Suns before easing to a straightforward win which lifts them into the AFL’s top four.

“I really enjoyed it, I had some really good help in the box and had Ratts dialling in from home adding his two bobs too,” said Lade.

“To have him behind the goals vision at home and put his two bobs in was pretty impressive.“

The Saints have only slipped up once this season against Collingwood in the opening round, and although they have yet to play the competition’s benchmarks, such as the Lions and Melbourne, Lade believes that their consistency and growing confidence are all good auguries.

“We put some things into practice over the pre-season to get more consistent as a footy club and our first five weeks have probably shown it.

“I know everyone thought it was doom and gloom after round one and it turns out Collingwood are a pretty good team. We have put some good work together in the last four weeks and been really consistent in what we are going after.”

Small forward Jack Higgins starred with a career-best five goals, while 100-gamer Jade Gresham was also influential.

“Gresh was pretty good again, he flips his time between midfield and forward and has an impact in both.

“He got the ball rolling our way through stoppages early in the game and he got two goals. We watched his 100th tape and there were a lot of highlights in it which were pretty exciting to watch – he even had two or three tackles today.”

Higgins had been concussed earlier in the season but he was as clear-sighted as possible in front of goal against Gold Coast and Lade said: “He was in great form before he got concussed … he is in a good space at the moment.”

While Max King is emerging as a potential superstar up front, the team is still one where the sum of its parts is greater than its individual components.

“People look at our side, and commented all year (asking) where are your superstars, but we play pretty well as a team. We have got some real clarity in our roles and what we need to do in each role,” said Lade.

Suns boss Stuart Dew could only lament the fact that his team started brightly but fell away.

“We kept nagging, nagging without getting our game going. We hung in without arresting momentum. We were battling away,” Dew said.

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