North Melbourne legend David King believes Saints gun Jack Higgins was dropped for the team’s crucial clash with Sydney because too often “Jack plays on Jack’s terms.”
St Kilda omitted Higgins, who’s the club’s second leading goalkicking this season with 19 majors, in a bold selection statement after its shock 35-point loss to Essendon last week.
It comes after Higgins was touted as an All-Australian contender earlier this season with 14 goals through the opening six rounds, while he’s since kicked five majors from as many games.
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And speaking on Fox Footy on Thursday night, King said he thought it was a message to the 23-year-old to buy into team ethos more.
Asked why the Saints would’ve dropped Higgins, King told Fox Footy: “Because Jack, as has been pointed out so many times, plays on Jack’s terms. You can accept it or not — that’s the reality.
“That brings goals more often than not, but nothing else. No forward pressure and nothing that helps the team win on a weekly basis. They’ve let this fester and it’s gotten to a point at Round 15 — it’s deep in the season to be correcting this.”
The surprising loss to Essendon now sees St Kilda at risk of dropping out of the top eight, sitting in eighth place with an 8-5 record and on equal wins to the ninth-placed Magpies.
It means that the loser of the Saints’ clash with Sydney could well found itself outside of a finals spot by the end of the round.
Saints coach Brett Ratten told reporters this week “there were a lot of things broken” in the defeat to the Bombers in a performance his club “didn’t see coming.”
In particular Raten lamented his team’s defensive efforts and in the contest.
“Probably defensively that’s the worst we’ve gone for a long time, just allowing the ball to flow from one (end of the ground) to the other so easy, that hasn’t been us. You can’t win games of footy doing that,” he said.
“We haven’t really changed our review, we stuck to that process. The big part that came out of it was how far we were off. Some of the things we did in the game we were like, ‘how?’ It just looked like our awareness of what was going on was not at the level it needs to be.
“I think some of the players probably thought, ‘geez, we thought we were bad but maybe not that bad.’ Sometimes we need some home truths, every year is not perfect in the way that you play and go about it.
“I wish we didn’t have that performance, but sometimes they can kick you into gear again and away you go. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The Saints do however get a major boost this weekend as skipper Jack Steele returns from an AC joint injury that’s sidelined him for the past four games.
Ratten said while they can’t expect Steele to instantly ‘fix’ their contest work, he’ll be an invaluable addition to the midfield and from a leadership perspective.
“Some of our work around the stoppage and the contest has been down over the last couple of weeks. For him to come back as a leader of our football club, he excels in that part of the ground,” Ratten said of Steele.
“But it’s not like we get Jack back and it fixes it. He’s one part of it, and with his leadership I think he’ll influence others to give them confidence as well and I think that’ll help the group.”