Baptism of fire: How does new Saints coach fill midfield void?

NEW ST KILDA coach Nick Dal Santo is heading for a baptism of fire in his first season in charge.

The news dual best and fairest and All-Australian Georgia Patrikios is still weighing up whether to get vaccinated is alarming for a midfield which has struggled in its first two seasons in the competition.

Coupled with rising young gun Tyanna Smith having ruptured her ACL at training on Saturday, and halfway through pre-season, the Saints are suddenly staring down the barrel of a revamped midfield without its two brightest stars.

It's worth noting that St Kilda has still left the door open for Patrikios to play in 2022, having decided to keep her on the primary list, for now.

The club is yet to name a replacement for Smith, who has been moved to the inactive list.

St Kilda AFLW coach Nick Dal Santo oversees training on October 14, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

The one-two punch

The importance of the duo was demonstrated time and time again during season 2021.

Patrikios took out the club's best and fairest with 80 votes, Smith a distant second with 49.

The former averaged 23.9 disposals (equal-first overall), an incredible nine touches ahead of the Saints' next best, outside runner Cat Phillips.

Georgia Patrikios

Average per 2021 game

Tyanna Smith

23.9 (first)

Disposals

13.6 (fourth)

360.1 (first)

Metres gained

193.9 (fourth)

7.7 (second)

Contested possessions

7.0 (third)

3.8 (first)

Clearances

2.6 (third)

14.4 (first)

Kicks

7.8 (fourth)

4.9 (fourth)

Tackles

7.6 (first)

2.9 (first)

Score involvements

2.4 (fourth)

3.2 (first)

Inside 50s

2.2 (second)

Ranking in brackets is their position at St Kilda in 2021

Rosie Dillon is a steady, underrated performer in the St Kilda engine room, but desperately needs more support if indeed Patrikios does not take to the field in 2022.

Claudia Whitfort rounded out St Kilda's top (non-ruck) clearance players in 2021, but has moved to Gold Coast.

The options

One good piece of news out of St Kilda this pre-season has been the form of Tarni White, who is pushing for a midfield role in 2022.

Having played in the middle for most of her junior years, she was moved to defence in her final under-18s year and has since lined up there for the Saints.

Saints officials and players alike have been raving about her form, dedication and aggression on the track in the past few months.

Tarni White during a training session with St Kilda on October 14, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

One of the four winners of the club's 2020 best and fairest, Liv Vesely, didn't play at all in 2021 due to a horrible calf injury that required surgery after part of the muscle attached to her Achilles tendon. 

The extended pre-season may have been just what the doctor ordered for Vesely, who was still in a moonboot last month.

EVERY CLUB’S LIST Your squad for the 2022 season

Nat Exon had a difficult 2021 with injury, playing rounds 1-4 and six as she battled groin and shoulder issues, but should inject some much-needed pace into the line-up this season.

The club's two draftees, Ella Friend and Ash Richards, have had interrupted pre-seasons as they finished year 12, with Friend continuing to board at Ballarat Grammar.

Ash Richards in action during a St Kilda training session on October 14, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

The pair can push into the midfield if required, but the Saints had earmarked Friend for a defensive intercepting role before the events of the past week, and Richards is at her best inside either forward or defensive 50. 

Former Tiger Alana Woodward played on the ball at Richmond in 2020 (missing 2021 with a calf injury), but primarily as a defensive tagger.

Nicola Xenos is on the comeback trail from a torn ACL, having suffered the injury in the final pre-season session of January 2021. Most dangerous around goal, she can also move in and out of the midfield if required, but it could be a tough ask in her first few games back.

Father-daughter selection Alice Burke had a strong VFLW season off half-back following her AFLW debut and should be building towards more midfield time in 2022.

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