Young guns the key to keeping Saints on the march

Kiwi Saint: new signing Joe Baker-Thomas (right) with Nick Dal Santo in Wellington on Friday. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoHowever you dress it up, Nick Dal Santo believes St Kilda’s injection of new faces is the only way forward for a team that showed improvement in Thursday’s honourable loss to Sydney, and must bring the same commitment every week throughout a challenging season.
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Coach Scott Watters had been proud of the effort, from his leaders through to first-gamers Brodie Murdoch and Josh Saunders, and Dal Santo echoed his vision as the Saints farewelled New Zealand with a well-attended kids clinic at Basin Reserve.

”Whether it’s called rebuild or whether it’s called fresh blood, it’s needed, there’s no doubt about that,” Dal Santo said, having joked that ”rebuild” was a dangerous word. ”In the past, we’ve had a pretty solid, set team for quite a while, and things have changed a little bit. That’s just the way footy goes. At some stage, you do need new guys to come through and take some responsibility, and that’s happening a little bit.

”We always strive for a premiership, so it doesn’t really change my day-to-day actions or my thoughts on where we’re at. On our day, we’re capable, and I think even last night, even though we didn’t get the win, we were a lot better.”

Saunders and Murdoch took to four the number of debutants played by the Saints this year, with Nathan Wright and Tom Lee also in the team that went down to the Swans by 16 points.

Dal Santo said the showing by the new faces was a big positive of the club’s first game across the Tasman. ”Brodie and Joshy last night, playing their first game, they found their feet and knew what was going on,” he said.

The Saints face a testing stretch of games, against Collingwood, Carlton and away to Adelaide, and Dal Santo said the focus would be simple – keep improving. ”We’ve just gotta get better. Even years ago, when things were going pretty well, we never looked outside what we could do that next day.”

Nick Riewoldt won plenty of new fans at Basin Reserve, as he had the night before in a gut-busting game that Dal Santo said was simply typical Riewoldt. Asked if the captain, who even took a kick-out during the last quarter on Thursday night, could be trying to do too much, Dal Santo said it would be pointless trying to rein him in. ”The issue with that is, good luck trying to tell him not to. That’s just how he plays footy. He does what he thinks he needs to do at a particular time – he’s been doing it for 12 or 13 years and does a really good job at it.”

Dal Santo confirmed he had a clause in his contract that would lead to him playing on in 2014 ”if I’m able to keep walking. I’m feeling OK.”

The Saints made their first inroads into the local talent pool on Friday by unveiling their first international scholarship holder, 16-year-old Wellingtonian Joe Baker-Thomas, who described the game as ”mean”.

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Vardy to boost Cats’ ruck ranks

Geelong’s ruck stocks are finally beginning to look healthier with the athletic Nathan Vardy set to return from a groin injury in Sunday’s VFL clash at Frankston.
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The reigning premier was forced to pluck a ruckman from outside of its core list – Port Fairy’s Sandy Robinson – last week after Andrew Banjanin was suspended for one match, adding to the injury woes of key personnel Vardy, Hamish McIntosh, Dawson Simpson and Josh Walker, all of whom are expected to return to VFL ranks over the next month.

Robinson battled hard and has been named on an extended interchange this week with Vardy and Banjanin returning.

“We introduced Sandy to a couple of our players [last week]. He’s done a bit of training with our VFL list,” Cats VFL coach Matthew Knights said on Friday. ”It requires drastic measures that we bring someone from outside our list onto our list.”

Vardy has been named at centre half-forward but could pinch-hit in the ruck alongside Banjanin against Frankston’s Russell Gabriel. He is likely to play about 70 per cent of game time.

Vardy is expected to play several matches in the VFL before being considered for a return to AFL ranks.

”He could have played the last couple of weeks, but we decided to be ultra-conservative with him and we’ll continue that through the next few weeks with his VFL program,” Cats coach Chris Scott said.

Vardy played just two matches last season – including the elimination final loss – after struggling with a hip complaint.

McIntosh and Simpson are expected to return in the VFL over the next fortnight.

VFL Round 4 (with tips in capitals)

Saturday:

WERRIBEE TIGERS v Sandringham, Avalon Airport Oval, 1.10pm.

BOX HILL HAWKS v Coburg Tigers, Box Hill City Oval, 2pm.

NORTH BALLARAT v Essendon, Eureka Stadium, 2pm.

CASEY SCORPIONS v Williamstown, Casey Fields, 6pm.

Sunday:

NORTHERN BLUES v Port Melbourne, Preston City Oval, 2pm.

Frankston v GEELONG, Frankston Oval, 2pm.

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New blood? Bite your tongue

Successful venture: but not by the looks on these faces. Coach Scott Watters and Saints players show their disappointment after the loss to Sydney in Wellington on Thursday. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoRebuilding can be a dirty word at football clubs. The same miserable Melbourne weekend that Mark Neeld declared his Demons were implementing ”a rebuild of a rebuild”, Scott Watters took many at his club by surprise when he commented that St Kilda was in rebuild mode.
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While you could argue the incremental merits of the comments by the dispirited Saints coach – his team had just opened its season with disappointing losses to Gold Coast and Richmond – it seems beyond doubt that few at the Linen House Centre had seen them coming. Not the board, not the executive and certainly not the senior players.

Sam Fisher, speaking in Canberra the following week, made it clear that rebuilding was not a popular term among older players, who saw it as a suggestion their careers were rolling to a close. Captain Nick Riewoldt, another passionate card-carrying member of the 2003 Saints players pact, was mildly more enthusiastic and spoke of the responsibility of all senior players at all clubs to help develop younger players. There is no doubt that the senior players had, at the very least, not bought in to the concept that the club, which narrowly missed finals last year, was in some form starting again.

Since the Richmond loss, the club has worked to rewrite its public philosophy. Football boss Chris Pelchen publicly hosed down the rebuild talk earlier this month in what seemed a strategic interview. Watters, like many St Kilda coaches before him, is being encouraged not to let the burdens of a relatively under-resourced club weigh too heavily upon him.

The obvious symbol of St Kilda’s position is Brendon Goddard. The Saints chose not to keep him last year and he chose not to stay.

Goddard, too, was part of the agreement during the Grant Thomas era that the group of young stars would stay together until they achieved the ultimate success – but the lure of success, an extra year of football, and an extra estimated $750,000 made him choose Essendon.

That, and the most compelling fact that he felt his old club had not worked as hard as possible to keep him. Only he knows why the pent-up emotion leading up to the Essendon-Saints clash caused him to shed tears after the game, but it seemed significant that he looked a little lost and alone after the siren sounded and was not exactly mobbed by former teammates.

Symbolically again, the club redesigned the Saints’ adornments in the Linen House gymnasium at the end of last year. Gone was the large poster of the players – including Goddard – walking onto the ground before one of their three grand finals over 2009 and 2010.

While some senior players raised their eyebrows, the philosophy behind the large new photographs placed around the walls spoke not of removing Goddard but of a new beginning and a refusal to dwell on the past. The sad fact for Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes, Fisher, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Stephen Milne is that a Saints flag will not come for them.

St Kilda’s executive was emphatic that it was right not to match the Essendon offer, but the fact remains that some older players remain equally firm that the team was good enough to keep challenging. If the club had to work to regenerate Watters with a dose of optimism, then surely Watters’ tough task is to bring his senior group on board.

Dal Santo appeared on Friday to have cautiously signed on, after joking that the word rebuilding was a dangerous one. ”Whether it’s called rebuild or whether it’s called fresh blood, it’s needed, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. ”In the past we’ve had a pretty solid, set team for quite a while, and things have changed a little bit. That’s just the way footy goes. At some stage you do need new guys to come through and take some responsibility, and that’s happening a little bit.”

Certainly the state of St Kilda’s list, while uneven and ageing in terms of its stars, is not in a terminal state. Rhys Stanley, Nathan Wright and Brodie Murdoch stand out as future stars, while Ben McEvoy, the hot favourite to take over the captaincy from Riewoldt, and David Armitage have become obvious leaders. And if Riewoldt is nearing the end of his career, it is proving a more than impressive twilight. He starred again on Thursday night in New Zealand.

The Saints’ history-making foray into New Zealand was a success mitigated only by the result. In fact, the staging of a game in Wellington seemed such a perfect fit that you had to question why it hadn’t been achieved earlier, given the number of times practice games have been staged there in the past 15 years.

St Kilda was not the first club to suggest New Zealand, but it was the first club to pull it off and, as Andrew Demetriou said before the game, the Saints were a club that ”needed to be bold”.

The club will reap about $500,000 from the game and clearly the cautious long-term plan is to make Wellington a part-time home of four games a season. Two games a year seems likely from 2014, and with Anzac Day falling on a Friday next season, that fixture looms as a good fit embraced by AFL travelling fans and locals alike.

Having secured a healthy new major sponsor and having quietly but firmly transformed its board over the summer, St Kilda looks increasingly healthy off-field. The one rider on that is the vexed question of Seaford. This remains an inherited reality – a home with a frighteningly long lease that the players remain less than fond of. Just how the new board and AFL-endorsed executive can remedy the situation should they choose remains intriguing.

And then, of course, there’s the football team – a work in progress but not, according to everyone in it, a wreck in need of rebuilding.

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Shark Bites

THE IMPROVER
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Caulfield Race 7 No. 13

RIFLEMAN

David Hayes has in the last six months had remarkable success with horses deep into their preparations as the benefits of his Euroa training base kick in. Smart sprinter Rifleman could be the latest to benefit as he steps out for the sixth time this campaign in a very winnable race. The key to an improved showing is the return to 1000 metres. He has a fantastic record at the distance but has struggled out to 1200 in recent runs. The addition of leading rider Stephen Baster and a three-kilo weight drop are also important.

SUGGESTED BET Back Rifleman each-way.

THE ROUGHIE

Morphettville Race 6 No. 8

TRANSONIC

Patinack Farm may be on the market but it still has some quality horses racing at the highest level, and Transonic is one of them. Transonic is a proven filly at group level over staying distances and she looks really well placed in the Australasian Oaks on the strength of her last start. She sat behind a very fast tempo and still took the lead and kicked into the straight before tiring late.

FAR AND WIDE

Randwick Race 4 No. 2

RELIABLE MAN

Derby winner It’s A Dundeel will start a short-priced favourite but he is far from over the line thanks to the presence of French galloper Reliable Man, now in the care of Chris Waller. This is a seriously good racehorse, regarded as one of the best middle-distance performers in Europe. In his Australian debut he was a good fourth in the George Ryder behind Pierro.

SUGGESTED BET Back Reliable man to win, take the exacta 9/2 x $20 as insurance

FEELING EXOTIC

Morphettville Daily Double

3, 6, 7, 8 / 1, 3, 8, 9 = $16

CAULFIELD QUADDIE $50 returns approx 46% of the dividend.

LEG 1: 6, 7, 10

LEG 2: 4, 11, 13, 14

LEG 3: 5, 7, 13

LEG 4: 4, 10, 13.

For all your Sydney Carnival form needs visit www.theshark南京夜网.au

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RV keen to revisit steroid rules

Racing Victoria will push for a re-examination of the Australian rules allowing horses to be treated with anabolic steroids while ”out of competition” after the shock revelations in England that one of the world’s biggest racing stables, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, had been using steroids to boost their gallopers’ wellbeing and performance.
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Mahmood Al Zarooni, one of two Newmarket-based trainers working for the Emirati racing giant, was banned for eight years at a disciplinary hearing held overnight Friday Australian time, effectively destroying his career.

Tests by the British Racehorse Authority revealed that 11 of his horses had been injected with either ethylestrenol or stanozolol. Zarooni subsequently admitted that another four had been treated, bringing the total to 15. The horses – including 1000 Guineas pre-post favourite Certify – have been banned from racing for six months.

British racing has a zero tolerance policy to all drugs, but in Australia trainers are allowed to use steroids to help horses recover more quickly from their exertions or to enhance their wellbeing if they are spelling and not in training. They are not allowed to race with steroids in their system.

But, according to British reports, some steroids could be used close to race days, as ethylestrenol disappears from a horse’s system within days.

Bernard Saundry, the chief executive of Racing Victoria, said on Friday that the alarming disclosures from Britain were a wake-up call for racing jurisdictions around the world.

As a result, RV would seek to reignite debate on whether allowing the use of steroids at any time was the right thing for the sport.

”We will be asking the Australian Racing Board to re-open discussion on the therapeutic use of anabolic steroids in Australia and whether it is in the best interests of the industry to continue with the present policy,” he said.

”At present they are allowed to be treated with anabolics but are not allowed to compete with any traces in their system. There has not been a raceday positive test since the mid 1990s. I understand the concerns and that it’s a fine line. We do around 14,000 tests a year and we need to make sure the integrity of the sport is paramount.”

Al Zarooni has been employed as a principal trainer by Godolphin only since 2010, but he has had a number of big wins with horses regarded as outsiders, including last year’s shock St Leger winner Encke, whose victory prevented Coolmore’s Camelot from becoming the first horse in 42 years to win the English Triple Crown.

Evidence at the inquiry revealed that Zarooni had lied to a veterinary assistant at his stables, having ordered the assistant to inject the horses without saying what the syringes contained.

Australian Paul Bittar, a former senior RV official and now head of the BHA, said after the hearing that inquiries were continuing.

”I’m certainly not saying it’s the end of it – I would term it the end of the beginning in a way. It deals with the issues at hand and the 11 positive tests we had and where the liability sits, and it sits with the trainer. It’s not fair to say end of it, far from it,” Bittar said.

Godolphin also employs Newmarket-based Saeed bin Suroor, a frequent visitor to Victoria with Melbourne Cup raiders. In Australia, the sheikh’s horses run under the Darley banner, with Peter Snowden as head trainer. Many of the successful Australian gallopers are then transferred to Europe.

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