AFL 3 years ago

Pick 1: St Kilda?

  • Pick 1: St Kilda?
  • Pick 1: St Kilda?

With the trade and draft period now upon us, the Saints find themselves with one of the AFL’s most coveted assets: the number one pick in this year’s National Draft.

The Saints last had the top choice in 2002 after Carlton was expelled from the draft for salary cap breaches. St Kilda swooped on passionate Blues fan Brendon Goddard, who after a slow start to his career blossomed into one of the team’s most important players in his 10 years at Moorabbin/Seaford.

To date, the club has been open in admitting it could trade the selection should it receive an appropriate bounty, with Head of Football Chris Pelchen seemingly pleading for proposals from rival clubs.

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A trade, while not unprecedented, would be unusual, given that the selection has changed hands just once in the last 15 years, when Fremantle coughed up the selection in exchange for Hawthorn’s Trent Croad and Luke McPharlin. The Hawks used the pick to draft Luke Hodge, and the rest is history.

So the Saints may trade the pick, but SHOULD they? The Wobbly Point investigates.

A Retrospective...

Here is a list of the number one overall draft picks since 2000, as well their respective best and fairest wins:

Year

Player

B&F Wins

2000

Nick Riewoldt

6

2001

Luke Hodge

2

2002

Brendon Goddard

1

2003

Adam Cooney

0 (1 Brownlow)

2004

Brett Deledio

2

2005

Marc Murphy

1

2006

Bryce Gibbs

1

2007

Matthew Kreuzer

0

2008

Jack Watts

0

2009

Tom Scully

0

2010

David Swallow

0

2011

Jonathon Patton

0

2012

Lachie Whitfield

0

2013

Tom Boyd

0

The first half of the noughties yielded six champions or champions-to-be of the AFL. While Hodge is the only premiership player on the list, Riewoldt and Goddard are well on their way to the Hall of Fame, while Cooney, the lone Brownlow medallist, could have been the best midfielder of the group if not for his debilitating knee injuries. Deledio has been amazingly durable and one of Richmond’s best players since his debut in 2005, while Murphy and Gibbs are undoubtedly Carlton’s two most damaging players.

Since then, however, the list takes on a more chequered look. With hindsight, it’s fair to say that the Blues would have opted for pick two Trent Cotchin over Matthew Kreuzer, while Dees fans probably would have plumped for the untapped potential of Nic Naitanui over Jack Watts, who at the time was seen as the safer, can’t-miss prospect and heir apparent to the retiring David Neitz. The drafting of Tom Scully also ultimately came back to bite the Demons, although his performances at GWS have hardly matched his status as one of the game’s best-paid players.

It is too early to make calls on the four most recent top selections, all of whom were selected by the expansion clubs. Swallow enjoyed his best year in 2014 and could captain the Suns post-Ablett, while the GWS trio are, by-and-large, still finding their way at senior level.

What can we glean from the list? The simple answer is that while a team’s odds of netting a future superstar are undoubtedly improved with the top overall pick, there are no guarantees. Sure, clubs carry out an ever-increasing amount of due diligence on prospects, which theoretically should minimise the chances of selecting an ultimate bust. But not all draftees develop as expected/hoped, even the ones at the pointy end.

The options

Hold

The obvious play for the Saints would be to stand pat and draft who it deems to be the best under-18 player in the country. That appears to be Christian Petracca, the forward/midfielder who appears to be favoured as the top selection among most experts and draft watchers. Others in the mix include tall forward Paddy McCartin, forward/ruckman Peter Wright and midfielder Angus Brayshaw.

Holding the pick is less likely to cause unrest among supporters, and would be seen as the safe and sensible course of action.

Trade

Here’s where things get a little murkier.

Before I delve into the trade options, I should make a confession. To my mind, draft picks are inordinately overrated the world over by clubs and fans alike. Each selection obviously carries a certain element of risk, with busts at the top of the draft proving extremely costly both in the short- and long-term (Melbourne, anyone?). All 18-year-olds, whether they’re drafted at pick 1 or 100, are unknown quantities at the elite level. With that in mind, let’s proceed.

If the Saints were to trade the pick, the obvious trading partner is, sigh, GWS. Since their introduction to the AFL, the Giants have already selected a staggering 27 first-round picks – Dom Tyson and Taylor Adams have departed, leaving (only) 25 currently on the list – including three number one picks and 10 from the top five. So, one might ask, why should the Saints hand over a fourth number one choice?

Turns out western Sydney is apparently not a great place to live and play your best footy, and a number of Giants have expressed a desire to return to Victoria, including former number two pick Jono O’Rourke and key position first-rounder Kristian Jaksch. The Saints are in the mix to secure both O'Rourke and Jaksch, but are fighting it out with Hawthorn and Carlton for each player, respectively.

One of the more popular suggestions on Twitter and other message boards would see the Saints part with the number one pick in exchange for O’Rourke, Jaksch and the Giants’ own first-round pick, which sits at number four after the Demons received pick three for losing the awfully overrated James Frawley.

With that deal, some say, St Kilda would bolster its midfield and tall stocks with potential-laden youngsters who are yet to truly flourish at the elite level, as well as one of this year’s most promising prospects in the draft, albeit not the absolute best.

Such a trade does not sit especially well with me. To begin with, why have Jaksch and O’Rourke not been playing regular footy at GWS, a team full of youngsters? Yes, there are mitigating factors. O’Rourke, a former number two pick, has battled persistent injuries in his two years, but his exposed AFL and NEAFL form has been patchy at best. Jaksch, pick 12 in 2012, has played just seven games and not shown anything to suggest he’s destined for stardom.

As such, the trade would effectively see St Kilda part with one unknown quantity, albeit the presumptive best in this year’s class, with a player perceived by the industry to be inferior in the 2014 crop – three picks worse, in fact – as well as two guys without any solid exposed AFL form. Is that really a good bounty for such a desirable asset?

My opinion of the draft is irrelevant, but there is no doubt that the top selection carries lustre throughout the industry. As a result, the club should command more – far more – if it were to consider trading it.

[quote]A trade, while not unprecedented, would be unusual, given that the selection has changed hands just once in the last 15 years. [/quote]

Elsewhere, the Saints have denied speculation that established young AFL stars Patrick Dangerfield and Luke Parker could be targeted in exchange for pick one. That sort of deal, however pie in the sky, makes considerably more sense. Dangerfield and Parker fit several criteria:

  1. They are young – Dangerfield is 25, Luke Parker is 22 (at the start of next season)
  2. They are already among the competition’s best 20 or so players and have clear scope for improvement
  3. They are Victorian
  4. They are long-term captaincy material
  5. They would bring supporters through the gates

The odds of either Dangerfield or Parker moving to St Kilda are extremely long, even with the Adelaide star’s contract situation becoming increasingly intriguing. Still, the Saints would be negligent if, in their pursuit of a deal, they did not at least try to structure a trade around one of the league’s established young stars in exchange for the top selection.

Decisions, decisions...

The Saints are understandably, and with my and most supporters’ endorsement, going to explore every avenue in rebuilding the squad. We’ll see countless youngsters come into the club over the next few years, some of whom will hopefully forge long-term careers.

Possessing pick one provides something of a springboard into the rebuild, with the presumption that the club will draft a guy who should become a star of the future. Former top picks Nick Riewoldt and Brendon Goddard certainly lived up to the billing.

However, St Kilda’s seeming willingness to entertain offers indicates that Pelchen, recruiting manager Tony Elshaug and Co. believe that a) there is no clear standout in this year’s crop of prospects, and/or b) the crop is not especially strong in general.

Whatever is the case, the club should only accept a proven AFL rising star (if not more) in exchange for the top choice. If such an offer does not lob on Pelchen’s desk, the Saints should cross their fingers and hope that Petracca is himself a rising star.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What do you think the Saints should do?

 

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