ST KILDA started and finished the season on a high, but found the going tough throughout the nine-week season.
The Saints unearthed some serious talent in the hard-tackling Tyanna Smith, but struggled to hit the scoreboard at times as injuries took their toll.
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams in reverse ladder order.
Coach: Peta Searle
Leadership group: Cat Phillips, Hannah Priest, Kate Shierlaw, Rhi Watt (all co-captains), Tilly Lucas-Rodd, Kate McCarthy
2021 finishing position: 11th, three wins and six losses, 69.6%
Best team performance: West Coast 3.2 (20) lost to St Kilda 11.10 (76) in round nine.
The Saints finished with a flourish against a banged-up Eagles side, comfortably kicking their highest ever score (previously 51 in rounds one and four). Small forward Jess Matin booted three – one of eight players to hit the scoreboard – while midfield tyros Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith combined beautifully.
Best individual performance: Georgia Patrikios is hot favourite for St Kilda's best and fairest for a second year running, and for good reason. She put in an incredible effort against a powerful Collingwood midfield in round eight, recording 29 disposals and nine clearances, with 529m gained through her boot.
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Tarni White, Tyanna Smith
Debutants: Alice Burke, Jess Matin, Tahlia Meyer, Rebecca Ott, Renee Saulitis, Tyanna Smith, Jacqui Vogt (AFLW debuts); Bianca Jakobsson, Jayde Van Dyk (club debuts)
Retirees: Selena Karlson
Delistings: Ali Brown, Tamara Luke, Nadia von Bertouch
WHO'S HANGING UP THE BOOTS? Your club's retiring players
Most improved: Newly promoted co-captain Hannah Priest was outstanding in defence in 2021, her second season at the top level. After performing primarily as a lock-down defender in 2020, she was one of the Saints' main interceptors in an under-the-pump backline. Priest averaged 13.4 disposals, 6.0 intercepts and 3.7 marks in 2021.
Star recruit: St Kilda brought in two defenders over the off-season, and while Bianca Jakobsson had a few injury concerns, former Blue Jayde Van Dyk took to her new colours with aplomb. The strong one-on-one defender averaged 10.2 disposals, 5.4 intercepts and 2.1 marks in a fine club debut season.
Unsung hero: Tough midfielder Rosie Dillon simply puts her head down and gets the job done. A strong contested ball-winner despite being one of the smallest in the competition at 153cm, she provides a good foil to Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith, averaging 12.3 touches and 6.0 tackles this year.
- The Saints' effort this year could not be questioned, averaging the second-most tackles per game behind the fearsome Fremantle. Smith, Dillon and Cat Phillips all featured in the top individual tacklers in the competition. They were also able to record three scores over 50.
What needs improvement:
- In a short season, there were a few games this year where St Kilda were well and truly trapped in their back half when attempting to rebound the footy. They struggled to generate run out of defence and got tangled in opposition zones, with players on the last line forced to run ragged when the ball was inevitably overturned outside 50.
- Somewhat understandably for a developing side, consistency in attack was very much lacking throughout the season. Against the weaker teams, the Saints feasted, recording 51, 51 and 72 in their three wins. But in their six losses, the Saints averaged just 15.6 points, with last year's leading goalkicker Caitlin Grieser down on her 2020 output. With a greater defensive focus on the bustling key forward, she kicked nine goals from nine games, compared to 10 from six last year.
BEST AND FAIREST WRAP Who was your club champion?
- Losing two of their best ball-users in Olivia Vesely (calf) and Nicola Xenos (ACL) for the entire season hardly helped matters, but the midfield struggled outside of the starting trio of Patrikios, Smith and Dillon. The Saints averaged the fewest hard-ball gets in the AFLW (24.8), well below the leaders in Melbourne (43.3).
Early call for 2022: The Saints recruited smartly last year, plugging holes with Jakobsson and Van Dyk, and will have to do so again to close the gap between the expansion and established teams. Reducing the vast difference between their best and worst footy will also help in rising up the ladder.
Season rating: 4/10