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Saints' toughest challenge yet: Riewoldt

By Sam Lienert 17/03/2011 08:01:07 PM Comments (0)

St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt believes this AFL season looms as the biggest mental challenge the Saints have faced in his time.

That's saying a lot, given what the Saints have dealt with on and off the field in the past two years.

But, after last year's drawn grand final, then their big loss to a much younger Collingwood side in the replay and a turbulent off-season, Riewoldt says 2011 shapes as even tougher.

"I just think the cumulative effect of coming off two grand finals, it's just probably a bigger challenge than it was last year," the star forward said.

But Riewoldt is taking heart in the Saints' well-tested resilience as they seek to break a 45-year premiership drought.

"Mentally it's going to be a big challenge for the guys to come up again," he said.

"But we can take great confidence coming off '09 into '10 that we were able to get back there."

While the 12-point grand final loss to Geelong in 2009 had Saints players seeking psychological counselling, Riewoldt said in one way last year's defeat was easier to accept.

"Collingwood were clear favourites last year and dominated the year so it was probably a little bit different," he said.

"Obviously coming so close, a bounce of the ball deciding the drawn game in the end, makes it a little bit more difficult.

"But we're professionals, we train all pre-season, we've got no choice but to pick up and carry on."

The Saints, by necessity, have turned that into an art form.

Last year, after their 2009 near-miss against the Cats, they had to overcome the ugly exit of former skipper Luke Ball and the rape allegations and sacking of prize recruit Andy Lovett before the season started.

Then came the major hamstring injury to Riewoldt and the start of their long run-in with teenager Kim Duthie, who publicly claimed she had become pregnant to a St Kilda player.

She has since admitted that was a lie.

The Saints showed enormous resolve to reach another grand final.

But another bitter loss was followed by more drama - the nude photos scandal, suspending four players for misbehaving on a New Zealand training camp and defender Sam Fisher being king-hit in a nightclub.

Riewoldt, who was also bombarded by questions about his embattled manager Ricky Nixon at Thursday's AFL captains media event, is desperate for the focus to return to the field.

Although for the Saints players he said the focus had always been geared towards their blockbuster MCG clash with Geelong on March 25.

"We don't dwell on those incidents for much longer than a second."

The Saints will be missing big men Michael Gardiner and almost certainly Justin Koschitzke through injury, along with suspended small forward Adam Schneider.

But Riewoldt said young ruckman Ben McEvoy had shown he was ready to stand up in their absence.

He added the Saints, who had the AFL's best defensive record last season, had increased scoring as their main focus this year.

But he anticipated that would be made harder by a competition-wide increased emphasis on defence, as rivals try to mirror reigning premiers Collingwood and the Saints.

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