On Saturday night (July 23) St Kilda defender Shane Savage played his 50th game for the club against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. During 2015 and 2016 Savage has played 36 of a possible 39 games for the Saints and has provided considerable drive off the half-back line with his running ability, penetrating kicking and efficient ball-use. Savage celebrated his milestone in style, having 22 disposals with a disposal efficiency of 81.8% and a game-high five rebound 50s in the Saints upset 15 point victory over the Bulldogs who were in third position on the ladder. With the win the Saints extended their winning streak at Etihad Stadium to seven games and the club has now won seven of its last nine games to move up to ninth position on the ladder, two games and percentage behind their Round 19 opponent, North Melbourne who are the last team to have tasted victory against the Saints at Etihad Stadium, winning a thriller in Round 7 by seven points.
Whilst 25 year-old Savage has now well and truly cemented himself in St Kilda’s best 22 and became the ninth player on St Kilda’s 2016 list to play 100 AFL games – reaching this milestone earlier this season in the 34 point Round 10 victory against Fremantle at Etihad Stadium it was a long journey to establish himself in an AFL club’s best 22, just as it had been for four current members of St Kilda’s leadership group who Savage joined in the 100 game club- Jack Steven, David Armitage, Jarryn Geary & Leigh Montagna.
At 18 years of age in Round 20, 2009 against Adelaide at the MCG Savage made his AFL debut for Hawthorn. Playing predominantly as a half-forward and wingman Savage played a total of 56 AFL games for Hawthorn up until the end of 2013, however in five seasons at the Hawks he was unable to establish himself in the club’s best 22, although in his last three seasons at Hawthorn he played at least 15 games in each season. Savage played all three of Hawthorn’s finals in 2012 including the Grand Final loss to Sydney but didn’t play any AFL finals in 2011 or 2013.
During the 2013 trade period Savage was traded from Hawthorn to St Kilda along with pick 18 (used to select Luke Duntstan) in the 2013 National Draft in exchange for ruckman Ben McEvoy. St Kilda had five wins during the 2013 home and away season to finish 16th of 18 clubs in the AFL. Given that Savage had been a fringe player at a dominant club in Hawthorn for three years it was widely expected that he would quickly establish himself in the Saints best 22. In a role as a half-forward and wingman Savage played six of St Kilda’s first seven games of 2014 but only had more than 15 disposals in two of these games and was dropped to the VFL for an extended period to work on aspects of his game. St Kilda head coach Alan Richardson decided to shift Savage to the half-back line. Savage was recalled to the AFL by the Saints in Round 14, 2014 and he adapted well to his new role at half-back, having at least 20 disposals seven times from eight games before missing the final two games of the season due to fracturing his right arm in two places at training. On the eve of Savage’s 100th AFL game Saints Chief Operating Officer Ameet Bains commented on the rationale behind the positional move for Savage “It was a coaching move that was born out of wanting to get more value out of him given how he was travelling playing up forward and on the wing. But also to improve our disposal coming out of the backline. During his time here he’s obviously developed into a running half-back and he’s been important for the team in terms of setting up our ball use and our rebound off half-back.”1
After being moved to half-back Savage hasn’t looked back and has improved in all three seasons at St Kilda. Savage is having the best year of his seven season AFL career, having played 16 of a possible 17 AFL games in 2016, he is averaging a career best 21.4 disposals per game, has been superb with his ball use – having a disposal efficiency of 84.8% and ranks third at the club for metres gained behind fellow defender Leigh Montagna and midfielder Jack Steven.
Shane Savage was born in Auckland, New Zealand on 5 January, 1991, when he was two years old his family moved to Australia. Savage played three games for the Dandenong Stingrays under 18s in the TAC Cup as a 16 year-old in 2007, averaging 3.3 kicks, 3.3 handballs and 1.3 marks per game.
His profile in AFL Prospectus 2009 said “Savage played 20 of a possible 22 games for Dandenong in the TAC Cup last season, performing well as both an inside and outside midfielder. Savage averaged the seventh-most inside 50s in the competition and also had the fifth-best retention rate of the competitions top 20 inside 50 players.”2 Playing as a midfielder for the Dandenong Stingrays in 2008 Savage averaged 11.4 kicks, 6.8 handballs and 2.8 marks per game. In 2008 Savage averaged 91.0 supercoach points per game, ranked second for Dandenong and 23rd in the TAC Cup.
Savage was selected as a bottom-age player by Hawthorn as a bottom-age player with pick 75 at the 2008 National Draft. Of the players selected after pick 50 at the 2008 National Draft Savage is the only one to play 100 AFL games since that draft. At the time of being recruited by Hawthorn from Noble Park Football Club and the Dandenong Stingrays under 18s Savage was 185 centimetres tall and weighed 74 kilograms
The profile for Savage in the AFL Record Season Guide 2009 said “Medium-sized midfielder with a professional approach to the game. Knows how to win the ball and kicks it well. Well balanced and has impressive speed.”3
Hawthorn won the 2008 premiership two months before Savage was drafted which was going to make it difficult for him to break into the AFL side during 2009. Due to a shoulder reconstruction Savage missed the first half of the season. After playing six VFL games for the Box Hill Hawks from Round 13 onwards he was named an emergency for Hawthorn in Round 19 and made his AFL debut at 18 years of age in Round 20 against Adelaide, on debut Savage had four kicks, three handballs and two marks in the 27 point loss. Savage retained his position in Hawthorn’s team for the remaining two games of the home and away season, having 19 disposals in the 42 point Round 21 win against Richmond and 15 disposals against Essendon in Round 22. The profile for Savage in the AFL Record season Guide 2010 said “The teenage midfielder was a surprise packet after being a late, bottom-age pick in the 2008 NAB AFL Draft. Smart and quick, with good evasive skills, its little wonder the Hawks regard him as a long-term prospect.”4 During 2009 Savage played three games for Hawthorn, averaging 98 minutes per game, 5.0 kicks, 8.7 handballs and 2.7 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 73.2%.
After playing the opening two NAB Cup games for Hawthorn Savage didn’t play in the seniors again in 2010. Savage impressed in the VFL and was named an emergency for Hawthorn eight times including four consecutive games from Round 15 to Round 18. In 2010 Savage played 19 VFL games for the Box Hill Hawks and was named in the best players five times. After surprisingly missing the finals in 2009 a year after winning the AFL premiership Hawthorn rebounded in 2010 to have 12 wins, a draw and finish seventh on the ladder, increasing the competition for spots in the side in 2010 compared to 2009.
During the 2011 pre-season Savage played both of Hawthorn’s pre-season games and after impressive performances was selected in the Hawthorn team for Round 1 of the home and away season. An injury-free and in-form Savage played 15 of Hawthorn’s first 16 games of the season, only missing Round 11 as a late withdrawal due to general soreness. Savage received a Rising Star nomination for his Round 8 game against Geelong in which he had nine kicks, eight handballs, three marks, three inside 50s and kicked a goal.
Savage received the first Brownlow Medal votes of his career in the 71 point Round 13 victory against the Gold Coast at York Park, Tasmania, polling two votes for a game in which he had 20 kicks, 13 handballs, 12 marks, eight inside 50s, three clearances, laid four tackles, kicked four goals and had two goal assists. Highlighting just how impressive Savage’s performance in just his 14th game of AFL football he was the second highest disposal-getter for the game – behind Sam Mitchell with 38, he was the equal-highest goal-kicker for the game with Luke Bruest and set the game-high for inside 50s. In this game Savage set new career highs for kicks, handballs, disposals, goals and inside 50s in an AFL game.
The following week Savage impressed in the 65 point win against Essendon at the MCG, having 16 kicks, nine handballs, 12 marks, an equal game-high three goals, six inside 50s, one goal assist and an equal game-high three marks inside 50. Savage continued his stellar form with 21 disposals against Collingwood in Round 15 and 22 disposals against Brisbane in Round 16 to extend his sequence of games with more than 20 disposals to four. In his 13 AFL games before this sequence commenced he had only had more than 20 disposals in an AFL game once, with 26 disposals, 14 marks and two goals against St Kilda in Round 10 2011.
A shoulder injury forced Savage to miss Rounds 19 and 20, after being named an emergency in Round 21 and playing in the VFL with the Box Hill Hawks in Round 22 he was recalled to the Hawthorn side for Round 23. Savage had 15 disposals against the Western Bulldogs in Round 23 and 16 disposals against Gold Coast in Round 24. Hawthorn finished third on the ladder with 18 wins and four losses, two wins behind the minor premiers – Collingwood and one game behind Geelong in second place. Savage’s shoulder injury proved to be costly as although he missed only two games it disrupted the momentum he had built and with his form dropping away in his two games back after the injury and competition for spots in the Hawthorn line-up being intense Savage was dropped for the qualifying final against Geelong. Savage was named an emergency for the semi-final and qualifying final. After leading Collingwood by 17 points at three quarter time of the preliminary final Hawthorn were outscored five goals to two in the final term and were defeated by three points.
The profile for Savage in the AFL Record Season Guide 2012 said “Averaged 18 touches, two clearances and a goal a game and his pace and hunger for the contest was immense all season. Earned a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination and looks set for a long and successful career.”5 During 2011 Savage played 17 games for Hawthorn, averaging 95 minutes per game, 10.8 kicks, 6.5 handballs and 5.4 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 79.7%. Savage started one game as the substitute, Round 9 against Port Adelaide and was substituted off and handed the red vest once – Round 18 vs Melbourne when he sustained his shoulder injury. Savage’s profile in the 2012 AFL Prospectus said “Savage became a regular as an attacking midfielder last year, playing every match from Round 1-18 and ranking second at the club for effective long kicks, and equal second for goals. He excelled in front of goal, recording an elite scoring accuracy including 7.0 from set shots.”6 Savage kicked 16 goals, five behinds in 2011 to be ranked equal eighth at Hawthorn with Jarryd Roughead & Shaun Burgoyne, with Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin leading the Hawks with 82 goals.
Savage was one of only seven Hawthorn players to play all four NAB Cup games for the club during the 2012 pre-season. Savage played Hawthorn’s first 14 games of the 2012 home and away season but was omitted from the Round 16 side. Before his omission Savage had more than 15 disposals four times from his 14 games with a season-best of 22 disposals in Round 12 against Brisbane comprised of 13 kicks and nine handballs, he also had four tackles, five inside 50s, a season-high 10 contested possessions, and an equal game-high three goal assists – tied with Cyril Rioli.
Shane was named as a Hawthorn emergency for Round 16 and was recalled to the Hawks AFL side the following week, however in three consecutive games he was substituted off the ground and handed the red vest. Savage was omitted from the Hawthorn side for Round 20, being named an emergency but was again recalled after only one week. In the 64 point Round 21 victory against Gold Coast Savage had seven kicks, 10 handballs, five tackles, four inside 50s and kicked two goals to be named in Hawthorn’s best players in the official AFL records. It was only the second time that Savage had kicked multiple goals in a game during 2012 and it was fourth highest disposals tally for the season yet Savage was surprisingly omitted for the club’s Round 22 game, being named an emergency for the Hawks final two games of the home and away season.
Hawthorn finished the 23 round 2012 home and away season on top of the ladder with 17 wins and five losses, percentage ahead of Adelaide and one game ahead of Sydney and Geelong. Savage was named an emergency for Hawthorn’s qualifying final against Geelong but was a late inclusion for Jordan Lewis who was ruled out with hamstring tightness. Savage started the game as the substitute in the green vest but was activated early in the first quarter due to Brendan Whitecross injuring his knee and requiring a knee reconstruction. Savage had nine kicks, five handballs, three marks, five inside 50s and kicked two goals – ranked equal second for the Hawks behind Franklin with four goals. Hawthorn defeated Collingwood by 38 points to earn the week off and progress to the preliminary final.
Jordan Lewis returned from his hamstring injury for the preliminary final and Savage retained his position in the side. Savage was again used as the substitute for the preliminary final against Adelaide, from 24% game-time he had three kicks and one mark. Hawthorn won a thrilling contest by five points after Adelaide led by a point at the 20 minute mark of the last quarter. Hawthorn made one change for the Grand Final with captain Luke Hodge returning from illness to replace Tom Murphy. At 21 years of age Savage played in his first AFL Grand Final and was utilised as the substitute for the third final in a row. From 35% game-time Savage had four kicks and one mark in the 10 point loss to Sydney in the Grand Final.
During 2012 Savage played 21 games for Hawthorn, averaging 79 minutes per game, 6.9 kicks, 4.4 handballs and 3.1 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 75.9%. Savage wore the green vest an equal AFL-high eight times in 2012, this resulted in his minutes per game falling by 17%, however his disposals per game dropped by just over twice this rate – 35%. During 2012 Savage signed a contract with Hawthorn until the end of the 2015 season.
During the 2013 pre-season Savage played all four of Hawthorn’s NAB Cup games. In Round 1 of the home and away season against Geelong Savage had 13 disposals and kicked two goals. Savage was Hawthorn’s substitute for Round 2, was omitted from the AFL side and named an emergency for Round 3 and was then recalled and named Hawthorn’s emergency for Rounds 4 and 5. During his three game as the Hawks substitute Savage averaged 5.3 disposals from 42% game-time. Savage was omitted from Hawthorn’s AFL side for Round 6 and forced to find form in the VFL with the Box Hill Hawks.
Savage was recalled by Hawthorn in Round 13 and in three of his next four games kicked multiple goals and had more than 15 disposals. In the 58 point victory against Brisbane in Round 14 Savage had 12 kicks, nine handballs, five marks, 12 contested possessions – ranked second for Hawthorn behind Brad Sewell with 13, one goal assist and kicked three goals. Savage retained his position in the Hawks team and spent more time in the midfield from Round 17 to Round 20, having more than 20 disposals in the last three games of this sequence. Against St Kilda in Round 20 Savage played the best game of his career to that stage in Hawthorn’s 46 point win at Etihad Stadium. Savage was sublime, having a game-high 22 kicks, eight handballs, nine marks, five inside 50s and a goal assist, earning the 3 Brownlow Medal votes for the first time in his career. After struggling to cement a position in the Hawthorn team Savage had relished the continuity of playing eight consecutive AFL games from Round 13 to Round 20 and not wearing either the green or red vest in any game during this sequence he averaged 19.3 disposals per game and was damaging with his ball use.
The week after playing the best game of his AFL career to that stage Savage was handed the green vest for the Hawks Round 21 game against Collingwood and had six disposals and four tackles from 29% game-time. During Round 22 against North Melbourne Savage had 12 kicks, three handballs, six marks, five marks and four tackles. In the last round of the home and away season, Round 23 against Sydney Savage was quiet, and was substituted from the ground and handed the red vest after having five disposals and two goal assists from 63% game-time.
Hawthorn won the 2013 minor premiership with 19 wins and three losses, one win ahead of Geelong and two wins ahead of Fremantle. Savage was omitted from Hawthorn’s qualifying final side to play Sydney and he didn’t play in any of Hawthorn’s three finals, being named an emergency for the qualifying final and Grand Final. In the week in between these two finals Savage played in the Box Hill Hawks 21 point win in the VFL Grand Final. The Hawks made it two premierships in two different leagues the following week with Hawthorn defeating Fremantle by 15 points in the 2013 AFL Grand Final.
Playing as a substitute in five of his 15 games in 2013 Savage averaged 86 minutes, 9.9 kicks 4.0 handballs and 4.0 marks per game with a superb disposal efficiency of 78.9%, comprised of 73.8% for kicking and 91.7% for handball. In supercoach a total of 3,300 points are allocated between the 44 players involved in a game meaning that the average points per player in a game is 75. In Savage’s eight games from Round 13 to Round 20 he averaged 88.3 points per game – 17.7% more than the ‘average player’ and had seven scores above 80. Whilst Savage only averaged a touch under 14 disposals per game in 2013 he was very damaging with his ball use which translated to his club making an impact on the scoreboard. In AFL Prospectus 2014 the comment in Savage’s profile said “Hawthorn retained possession from 62% of Savage’s kicks going into the forward 50 – the sixth highest percentage of the top 200 players to kick the ball into the attacking arc. The Hawks scored 40% of the time he was involved in a chain – the second-highest percentage of any midfielder at the club.”7
Savage joined St Kilda from Hawthorn in October 2013 after ruckman Ben McEvoy was traded from the Saints to the Hawks in exchange for Savage and pick 18 in the 2013 National Draft. After joining St Kilda Savage said “I’m very grateful to the Saints for giving me this opportunity and I look forward to being a part of the club’s push back up the ladder. I’m happy to be joining a club with such a proud tradition and can’t wait to start the 2014 pre-season in the red, white and black.”8 St Kilda received considerable criticism at the time of this trade, especially given that McEvoy had been touted as a possible future captain of the St Kilda Football Club. Given the rebuilding stage that the Saints were in the club was quite prepared to make the difficult decisions no matter how unpopular they were but acknowledged that in order for their strategy to work it was critical that they got their draft selections and player recruitment choices right. The trade has been beneficial for both clubs with Hawthorn securing a ruckman in McEvoy who has played in premierships in his first two seasons with the Hawks, whilst St Kilda secured two players in Savage and Dunstan who have cemented themselves in the club’s best 22, have both reached 50 games for St Kilda in the past fortnight and will perform important roles for the club as it continues its climb up the ladder.
Savage made his club debut for St Kilda in Round 1, 2014 against Melbourne, he had eight kicks, two handballs and five contested possessions in the 17 point victory. Savage was one of five players who played their first game for the Saints in that game, along with North Melbourne recruit Luke Delaney, and three debutants – Luke Dunstan, Jack Billings and Eli Templeton. Due to the 2013 retirements of Stephen Milne, Justin Koschitzke and Jason Blake, the departure of Nick Dal Santo and Ben McEvoy to North Melbourne and Hawthorn respectively, together with the absence of Jack Steven, Adam Schneider and Sam Fisher due to injury and Lenny Hayes and Leigh Montagna due to suspension St Kilda fielded a vastly different team to the one that represented the club during the 2013 season. Four other St Kilda players in the Round 1 2014 team played between their 8th and 12th AFL games being Tom Curren (game number 8), Nathan Wright (9), Josh Saunders (11) and Jimmy Webster (12), whilst Tom Hickey in his second season at St Kilda was playing his 13th game for the club and 25th game of his AFL career. All up ten players in the 17 point Round 1 victory against Melbourne had not played their 15th game for the St Kilda Football Club whilst six of them played in their first victory for the club, with the sixth player being Josh Saunders who’s 10 AFL matches before that had all been losses.
Savage was the Saints starting substitute in Rounds 2 and 3 and was activated early in the first quarter of Round 3 against West Coast as a result of defender Sam Gilbert suffering a foot injury. From 68% game-time against West Coast Savage had 13 kicks, five handballs, three marks and three inside 50s, ranked equal third for St Kilda. After having 13 disposals and kicking a goal against Adelaide in Round 4 Savage was dropped for Round 5, being named an emergency.
After getting 27 disposals in the VFL during Round 5 Savage was recalled to the St Kilda team for Round 6 against Brisbane at Wellington Stadium on Anzac Day and was named St Kilda’s starting substitute for the third time of the season. During the 2014 pre-season Savage commented on the opportunity to play for St Kilda in Wellington on Anzac Day “Not only to expand the game of AFL but to get back to my country and I guess give back to the community as well. To be playing on Anzac Day, in my country of birth, is just going to be a great honour and I’m going to wear it [the guernsey] with great pride on that day.”9
During the Anzac Day game against Brisbane in Wellington Savage started as the substitute and for the second time in a row in this role he was activated in the first quarter – this time due to Eli Templeton breaking his arm. Savage had eight kicks, nine handballs, a goal assist and laid seven tackles – ranked second for St Kilda behind Lenny Hayes with eight. After trailing by 25 points at half-time St Kilda fought back to level the scores 11 minutes into the last quarter. Brisbane led by six points at the 22 minute mark of the last quarter, and although the Saints had the final three scoring shots of the game, with the first of these to Savage they were all behinds, resulting in St Kilda losing by three points.
The following week Savage played against his old-side Hawthorn and had a quiet game, with one kick, seven handballs and three tackles. Savage was dropped to the VFL for the second time of the season, this time for a lengthy stay as St Kilda wanted him to work on parts of his game.
At VFL level Savage played at half-back for Sandringham, it took him a little while to adapt to his new position, however he excelled in Round 13 with a best afield 29 disposal performance to earn a recall to the St Kilda side. Savage performed well at half-back for the Saints, having six consecutive games with more than 21 disposals from Round 14 to Round 19. After playing consecutive games for St Kilda Savage missed the final two games of the season due to fracturing his right arm in two places at training.
During 2014 Savage played 14 games, averaging 95 minutes per game, 11.2 kicks, 6.8 handballs and 3.6 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 78.2%. His profile in AFL Prospectus 2015 said “Savage joined the Saints with lofty expectations, but struggled at the start of last season. He played six of the first seven games, but was dropped ahead of Round 8 after averaging just 12 disposals and 40 Champion Data ranking points per match. He returned to the side in Round 14 and was valuable for the Saints across half-back. From Rounds 14-21, he averaged 23 disposals, 16 uncontested possessions and 90 Champion Data ranking points, ranking No. 1 at the club for metres gained and eighth in the competition.”10
Savage continued playing in defense for St Kilda in 2015 and started the season strongly with at least 20 disposals, three rebound 50s and four inside 50s in each of his first three games. In Round 5 he strained his hamstring which resulted in him being substituted and handed the red vest after having 11 disposals from 72% game-time against Essendon. Early in Round 6 Savage suffered a concussion and was handed the red vest for the second week in a row, having played only 13% game-time. In each of his next two games against Adelaide in Round 7 and West Coast in Round 8 Savage had 20 disposals and kicked a goal. Savage was dropped to the VFL in Round 9, being named an emergency for St Kilda.
After one week out of St Kilda’s side Savage was recalled for the Round 10 encounter with his old side – Hawthorn. After starting the game as the substitute in the green vest Shane was activated in the third quarter and made an impact with two goals and 11 disposals. Savage spent the rest of the season in the AFL, only missing Round 20 due to a hip injury. In his nine games from Round 14 onwards Savage had at least 18 disposals eight times including back to back games of 23 disposals against GWS in Round 15 and 25 disposals against Richmond in Round 16.
In 2015 Savage played 20 games, averaging 92 minutes per game, 11.4 kicks, 6.3 handballs and 4.3 marks per game with a retention rate of 71.8%. Savage’s profile in AFL Prospectus 2016 said “Since crossing to the Saints Savage has settled in as a playmaking defender. In 2015 he found space, rating above average for uncontested possessions while gaining an elite 377 metres per game. He gained 21 metres per disposals – the eighth-most of the top-50 metres gained players.”11
In an article published on the AFL Players association website aflplayers.com.au in August 2015 it said “Savage is one of many multicultural players in the AFL; 14 per cent of current players were born overseas or have one parent who was born overseas. That group, as well as the AFL’s multicultural connections, will be celebrated across Round 19.”12 In the article Savage went on to comment about multicultural round “It is a great way to celebrate the many different cultures in our game. It’s great to see so many cultures come together to share the one passion which is the game of AFL.”13 Of the AFL players born overseas Savage has the unique distinction of having been able to play a home and away game in his country of birth – New Zealand, having represented St Kilda at Wellington Stadium on Anzac Day twice, against Brisbane in 2014 and Carlton in 2015. Although Savage has spent the majority of life in Australia he is still a proud New Zealander, commenting on the Cricket One Day International Final at the World Cup between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG, “I was definitely going for the Black Caps. It was a disappointing final, and my partner (Sarah) was going for the Aussies, so it was an awkward time in the household.”14
In December 2015 Savage signed a one-year extension with St Kilda until the end of 2017 and commented “St Kilda has been fantastic to me ever since I joined the club and there was no doubt that I wanted to further my commitment. There are some exciting times at the club on and off the field and I am thrilled to continue to be a part of it.”15
In his seventh AFL season, 2016, Savage is having the most consistent season of his career to date, having had at least 17 disposals in 14 of his 16 games, including more than 24 disposals six times. In Round 3 against Collingwood at the MCG Savage provided hard-running and skilful ball-use for his injury-hit team, having 15 kicks, 13 handballs, a disposal efficiency of 85.7%, six marks, seven inside 50s, an equal team-high four rebounds 50s and a goal assist. Saints key forwards Nick Riewoldt and Paddy McCartin were both concussed in separate instances in the second quarter and didn’t play at all in the second half and defender Dylan Roberton’s day also ended early after injuring his knee in the third quarter. On the day that St Kilda celebrated the 50th anniversary of their 1966 premiership the modern day Saints gave a courageous performance to defeat Collingwood by 29 points despite only having one fit player on the bench for much of the second half.
In a three point loss to Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium in Round 4 Savage provided drive for the Saints from half-back, having 30 disposals – ranked second at St Kilda behind David Armitage, comprised of 13 kicks and 17 handballs, he also had six marks, 11 contested possessions – his most playing for St Kilda, and a disposal efficiency of 86.7%. Savage’s rich vein of form continued in Round 5 against GWS with 17 kicks, eight handballs, seven marks and kicked two goals – ranked second for the Saints behind Riewoldt with four. Savage was phenomenal with his ball use to have a disposal efficiency of 96%.
In the week before his 100th AFL game Savage commented on being traded from Hawthorn to St Kilda “It was a really hard decision. I totally knew where they were at, they were obviously in the premiership window. I still believe that if I could have played my best footy, I could have been a part of that team. [But] I think for my development, I saw St Kilda as a team I’d flourish in, and I think have. I was really happy with my move.”16
Savage played his 100th AFL game at 25 years of age in St Kilda’s 34 point victory over Fremantle in Round 10 at Etihad Stadium, however the result was in doubt until late in the game, with St Kilda trailing by 13 points and dominating the last quarter with eight goals to nil. Savage played his role for the Saints in the victory, having 12 kicks, 10 handballs, five marks, four tackles, three rebound 50’s and being proficient with his ball use – recording a disposal efficiency of 95.5%. Speaking to Saints.com.au after the game Savage commented on his milestone game “It was awesome from start to finish, running out with my little boy. It was really good memories for myself. I sort of had a tear in my eye. It’s something I’ll never forget. And seeing my name on that banner and running out with my son (Jett) is something I’ll never forget.” Savage went on to say “I thought Freo were really strong for three quarters, but all credit goes to the boys in the last quarter, we were able to run over them in the last quarter with our drive and our boldness.”17
Savage played St Kilda’s first 15 games for the season, however due to suffering a concussion in Round 16 against Essendon he missed Round 17 against Melbourne. Savage’s first game back was his 50th game for the Saints in Round 18 game against the Western Bulldogs. During the first 18 Rounds of the 2016 season Savage has played 16 of St Kilda’s 17 games, averaging 86.8% game-time, 12.6 kicks, 8.8 handballs and 5.0 marks per game with a disposal efficiency of 84.8%. Savage ranks sixth at St Kilda for total kicks and disposals, equal eighth for handballs, third for marks, first for rebound 50s, first for disposal efficiency (of the players that have had at least 50 disposals), sixth for uncontested possessions and equal seventh for inside 50s. Savage has benefitted from playing alongside veteran Saint Leigh Montagna in defense during 2016.
Savage is averaging a career-high 85 supercoach points per game in 2016, an 11.8% improvement on his previous best of 76 points per game in 2011 for Hawthorn. Savage ranks eighth at the Saints for Supercoach points per game and is the highest ranked Saints defender. During 2016 Savage is setting new career highs for kicks per game as well as handballs, marks and rebound 50’s, his 21.4 disposals per game is an 18.9% improvement on his previous best of 18 disposals per game in 2014.
During the first 106 games of his AFL career Savage has averaged 10.2 kicks, 6.1 handballs, 4.2 marks, 0.50 goals per game. In his 50 games for St Kilda he has averaged 18.96 disposals per game, exactly five more disposals per game than his average during his 56 games for Hawthorn.
Given that Savage had been a fringe player at a dominant club in Hawthorn for three years it was widely expected that he would quickly establish himself in the Saints best 22. Savage comments on his start at St Kilda “I probably found it a lot harder than I thought to adjust to the new environment, my new teammates and the new game plan as well.”18 One of the contributing factors to Savage having a slower than expected start at St Kilda was that at Hawthorn he was encouraged to be a very attacking footballer. Given the calibre of players around him at Hawthorn Savage could be more of a risk taker and take the game on. The 2014 Saints were in a very different stage of their development than Hawthorn from 2009-2013 and the Saints were placing a significant emphasis on defensive pressure, with many young players in their side the Saints knew that if they didn’t deliver a high level of defensive intensity and pressure each week they would struggle to be competitive.
St Kilda are currently having their most successful period since Savage joined the club, having won seven of their last nine games to move up to ninth position after Round 18. Just three weeks ago after a disappointing loss to Gold Coast on the road St Kilda were in 13th position on the ladder with a record of six wins and eight losses, three games behind West Coast in seventh place and four games behind seventh placed North Melbourne. With three successive wins over Essendon, Melbourne and the upset win over the Western Bulldogs in Savage’s 50th game for the club the gap to North Melbourne in eighth position has reduced to two games and percentage. On Saturday night at Etihad Stadium in what shapes as St Kilda’s most important game since the 2011 Elimination Final against Sydney the Saints play North Melbourne in the clear-cut game of Round 19, a win would reduce North Melbourne’s advantage to one game and percentage and finals would be a very realistic possibility only a month after St Kilda were in 13th position, three games out of the eight. Whatever the outcome of St Kilda’s game this weekend, and the final four games of the 2016 home and away season after that it is clear that St Kilda are on the right path and some difficult list management decisions that were made in 2012 and 2013 are paying dividends.
Whilst some short-term pain was experienced by both Savage and the Saints in 2014 with the Saints finishing on the bottom of the ladder with four wins and Savage spending the middle third of the season in the VFL, the development of both player and club over the past two years has been more rapid than most people expected. The move of Savage to half-back has definitely been a win for both Savage and the Saints. After being moved to half-back Savage hasn’t looked back and has improved in all three seasons at St Kilda. In the AFL player Ratings after Round 18 2016 Savage is ranked 96th overall and fifth at St Kilda behind Jack Steven (10th), David Armitage (32nd), Leigh Montagna (75th) and Jack Newnes (84th). Savage is ranked 10th in the AFL for his position as small/medium defender with the top two being Heath Shaw (48th) and Easton Wood (52nd). During 2015 and 2016 Savage has been able to achieve a goal in cementing his position in the Saints best 22, the way things are tracking for both player and club it appears that it is only a matter of time until Savage can say he has cemented a position in an AFL finalist, St Kilda’s best 22 – whether this be in a couple of months, or a year or two down the track.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
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3 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2009, page 172
4 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2010, page 172
5 AFL, AFL Record Season Guide 2012, page 200
6 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2012, 7th edition, page 197
7 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2014, 9th edition, page 318
10 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2015, 10th edition, page 322
11 Champion Data, AFL Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2016, 11th edition, page 322