AFL results in 2018 have so far probably been in line with many people’s expectations. This seems relatively unusual for this early in the season, when there usually seems to be at least one team rising upwards or falling apart.
One possible exception though is the performance of St. Kilda. The Saints started the season with a relatively unconvincing win against the Brisbane Lions, and have followed that up with big losses against North Melbourne, and Adelaide at home. Over the first three rounds of 2018 no team has had a bigger downgrade in its ranking points as the Saints have.
Before the season started I would have rated the Saints as ‘about average’. But perhaps their overall ranking at the end of 2017 was a bit misleading. When you look more closely at their performances over the latter half of 2017 it emerges that they generally had more ‘below average’ performances than ‘above average’ ones. (See the chart below, which shows St.Kilda’s net margins over its past 22 matches adjusted for estimated home ground advantage and opponent strength.)
St. Kilda started 2017 off well, and a passing of the baton looked to have occurred when they demolished Hawthorn by 75 points in Round 6. But after that the good performances have actually been few and far between. What may have partly hidden this trend was the Saints’ impressive 65 point win against eventual premiers Richmond in Round 16 – a result that led to them being well-rated at the time but is harder to believe in retrospect. Without that win the Saints’ average adjusted margin would have been that of a ‘below average’ side in the back half of 2017, and might now be considered a truer reflection of where they were at.
Of course, as Hawthorn itself proved after their own downward slide in late 2016 and early 2017, clubs can pretty quickly turn things around. Consider that, when I was originally planning this week’s post, I was going to throw in the Western Bulldogs as another example of a team that had carried on its ‘below average’ performances from late-2017 … and then the Dogs went out and had a good win on the weekend. (Not that this completely invalidates the longer-term trend, but it didn’t make the narrative as neat anymore.) So Saints’ sceptics shouldn’t be overly smug yet – and St. Kilda has shown patches of good performance over the past year … just not for a while now.